I don't know how to start this post, (this sentence is the third one I've typed trying to open this post, so hopefully it will be the keeper) so I'll start with the facts of the 2016 UT Arlington baseball season.
I'll begin with the statistical rankings. UTA is currently second in the SBC in team batting average at .295. They have been number one a good portion of the year. There team ERA is sixth, exactly in the middle of the SBC at 4.05. In theory a good offense and decent pitching should have a better showing in the standings, but UTA is in a tie for seventh, with the team they are tied with having the tiebreaker.
The offense is in the top half of every statistical category except home runs (dead last), walks, hit by pitch and sac bunts. They are at least fifth or better in the other 17 categories the Sun Belt Conference keeps. The pitching is not as good in terms of depth, as Joel Kuhnel, Kadon Simmons and Jacob Moreland have really brought the ERA down. They are literally middle of the pack in everything with the biggest outlier being they don't get many strikeouts, nor walk many batters.
UTA is 20-17 overall and 6-9 in the Sun Belt Conference. In something of a repeating pattern of the past few years, UTA is beating the top teams with wins over TCU (RPI #28), Oklahoma State (RPI #41), Baylor (RPI #79) and Louisiana Tech (RPI #90). They are also having some real head-scratchers. UTA has won only two SBC series at this point and lost three, with one being a sweep. Two of those losses are to teams UTA should have beat at home, ULM and Georgia Southern.
On the road, I can handle losing two of three to those schools, but at home, with the way the RPI is formulated, those are must wins. ULM, for example, is currently the SBC's worst pitching staff by ERA, second worst offense by batting average (8th out of 11 in runs scored) and worst defense by fieldng percentage. They beat the Mavs 8-3 and 3-2. Somehow, the SBC's best offense at the time couldn't get it going against one of the worst pitching staffs, twice.
Then Georgia Southern is currently 8th in batting average, third in pitching and 9th in fielding percentage. A bit better matchup for the opponents. Kadon Simmons was masterful in game one, complete game shutout with three hits given up. But games 2 and especially 3 were bad. UTA gets shutout 6-0 and lose the finale 10-6.
It's that finale that bothers me, as it is a pattern of with this team and has been for a while now. I'll stick with this year in the following examples, but has been an issue for a few years now.
-February 20, UTA leaves 10 men on base, compared to Oklahoma State's 3. UTA loses 5-3 . Mavs leave the bases loaded in the 1st and 6th innings. Six of the ten are left in scoring position when the inning ends.
-In an 8-6, 11 inning loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on March 5, UTA gives up five runs in the fifth inning, all unearned. Going inning by inning, UTA is is ahead or tied in nine of the 11 innings, but the one big, bad inning gives them a loss.
-TCU pitchers allow UTA to threaten on March 8 as the Mavs get base runners in six of the nine innings. UTA scores in one of them in a 5-1 loss.
-UTA gives Arkansas State a three-run first inning, and leave men on base in eight of the nine innings in a 4-0 loss. Six of the runners were left in scoring position. The March 13 game was UTA's first SBC loss.
-On March 15 against Texas Tech, UTA sees Tech score six runs on three hits in the second inning as the Raiders win 6-4. UTA wins or ties the other eight inning, but the one big one leads Tech to victory.
-A four-run third inning against South Alabama on March 19 gives the Jaguars a 4-3 win. Four straight hits and a throwing error seal the deal. UTA wins or ties the other eight innings.
-The following day, UTA leads 3-2 going to the ninth inning. The Jaguars get a single, wild pitch, hit by pitch then a double to get the win. The double is with two outs.
-In the rubber match of that same series, the Jaguars score six in the 1st and win 6-4. You guessed it, UTA wins or ties the other eight innings.
-Mavs lose to Georgia State 8-7 on April 3. In that game, UTA leaves eight on base, compared to one for the Panthers. Five of the eight were left in scoring position.
-Louisiana-Monroe gets three runs on two hits in the fourth inning on April 9. Mavs score in two other innings and are tied in the other six en route to a 3-2 loss.
-After dominating Georgia Southern the first six innings of the game (All-conference-caliber pitcher Joel Kuhnel returns from injury after a month) this past Saturday, the Eagles get 8 runs in the last three, finally taking the lead in the ninth. Four of the runs come on three homers.
I get that baseball is different than any other sport. That's what I love about the college game. On any given day, the worst team in DI can beat the best team. That will never happen in football or basketball.
But at some point there has to be some accountability. We're looking at seven games here where UTA has one bad inning and costs them the game. Five of them are conference games. Win one against South Alabama, ULM and Georgia Southern for three extra conference wins and beat Texas Tech and all of a sudden, UTA is an at-large candidate come NCAA Tournament time.
In four other games listed above, UTA is getting on base, but not getting that extra hit. Leading the conference in batting average is great. Leading in runs scored and RBI is better.
That's the difference between good teams and great teams. UTA is a good team. They aren't a great team because they aren't making the plays when they need to make them. They can beat anyone on any given day, and many times, that includes themselves.
The biggest frustration for me stems from the lack of production in the W-L column after the Athletic Department has invested in the program. Between the baseball and softball teams, in the last four years, UTA has spent near $8 million on player development and facility upgrades. Since the indoor practice facility was opened prior to the 2013 season, UTA has gone 108-102 (.514) in three full seasons and this unfinished one. In the prior four seasons, UTA was 112-111 (.502). So that $8 million is essentially worth one-hundredth of a winning percentage point.
This season is still not a loss. There are some good non-conference games coming up that could bolster UTA's standing. The Mavs still have conference series' against teams one through five in the standings, though most are on the road. There's no doubt in my mind they can win those series. Sadly, there's also no doubt in my mind they can lose them too. That's what is so frustrating. I just want to see consistency. The only consistency we are seeing is that of not knowing which Mav team will show up.