Todd Butler has balanced preference with reality when setting Wichita State’s baseball lineup every day this season.
Butler, the Shockers’ coach, wants an established lineup, but hitting problems plagued WSU before Missouri Valley Conference play started, forcing regular tinkering.
The tinkering has slowed as WSU’s offense has seen marked improvement in recent weeks and hitters have settled into familiar spots. Still, the Shockers haven’t used the same lineup twice in a row since the first three games of the season.
“I’d like to have a consistent lineup, but we have some guys that are hitting a little bit over .200 – guys that had success last year,” Butler said. “It’s kind of hard to put a lineup together.”
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The Shockers (18-18), who begin a Valley series at Missouri State on Saturday (Friday’s scheduled game has been postponed), have used 31 lineups in 36 games and have had a different lineup in each of the last 31 games. No players, even those who are in the lineup most often, have been safe from frequent movement.
Trey Vickers has started every game at shortstop and batted in every lineup spot except third, fourth and ninth. Freshman Alex Jackson, who made his debut batting eighth in WSU’s fourth game, has also batted first, fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth.
Travis Young, Dayton Dugas and Gunnar Troutwine have started in five spots and none of them is batting better than .222.
“The guys, individually, are doing their thing,” Butler said. “Whether you put them at one or three (in the lineup), their job is to go up and give you quality at-bats.”
The lower half of the order has faced the most upheaval. Ten players have hit eighth at least once this season and 10 have hit seventh, while Butler has used nine players in the No. 5 spot and eight at No. 6.
With the return to the lineup of Willie Schwanke, who had stopped hitting to focus on pitching in early 2015, the lineup has become less volatile. Greyson Jenista, who led off for the first six games before moving to the middle of the order, has hit first for the last eight games.
Alec Bohm and Schwanke have been in the Nos. 3 and 4 spots – sometimes flipped – for the last eight games and Vickers and Jackson most often hit somewhere within fifth and seventh. Jordan Boyer has batted ninth for 15 straight games.
Jenista’s return to the leadoff spot has spurred the Shockers, who have scored 69 runs in the last eight games. Jenista has 13 hits in that stretch, raising his batting average to .324.
“I love it,” Jenista said. “Coach Butler made the move and it stuck.
“Coach Butler writes the lineup. We have full faith in him, he’s a great coach. He wants me hitting 1, he wants me hitting 3-4, he wants me hitting 9, I’m going to go out there and give my best swings for the team.”
Butler’s lineup philosophy has seemed to be solving one spot at a time. With Jenista at the top, he has worked from there, using Luke Ritter batting second. Ritter has a .229 average but a .362-base percentage.
Bohm and Schwanke fill run-producing spots with Dugas, Jackson, Vickers and sometimes catcher Noah Croft, and Boyer provides power at the bottom.
“You’re looking at on-base percentage and all the things that go into being a leadoff,” Butler said. “If I had my perfect leadoff, it’d be a different guy. But with on-base percentage, Jenista (.423) right now is the guy. It would be nice if one guy would emerge.
“Right now it’s nine guys on the field and the other guys are watching. You try to give other guys opportunities to see if somebody can get going.”
Wichita State baseball at Missouri State
- When: 2:05 p.m. Saturday, 1:05 p.m. Sunday (doubleheader)
- Where: Hammons Field, Springfield, Mo.
- Records: WSU 18-18, 3-3 MVC; MSU 24-13, 6-0
- Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM, 98.7-FM
- Online: ESPN3