Clearly, something is amiss with Wichita State baseball. The Shockers have missed the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row and it took a miracle for them to get there in 2009.
A 110-72 record since '08 is Wichita State's worst three-year stretch in history.
WSU is 27-37 in road games the past three seasons after playing well over .500 baseball away from home historically.
Theories abound as to why the Shockers, after playing in super regionals against UC Irvine and Florida State in 2007 and 2008, have fallen off so dramatically since.
There have been recruiting issues — signed players opting to sign professional contracts instead of coming to Wichita State.
There have been injuries — right-hander Tim Kelley made only eight starts before missing the remainder of this season, for instance.
More schools, especially northern schools, are paying more attention to baseball. Kansas State has at least temporarily passed Wichita State as the state's dominant baseball program and the Shockers have also had a difficult time holding serve against Kansas head-to-head.
WSU still has more than its share of talent.
Catcher Chris O'Brien put up All-America numbers this season. Shortstop Tyler Grimes, despite making 30 errors, is regarded as an outstanding pro prospect. Left-handed pitchers Charlie Lowell and Brian Flynn are expected to be taken early in next week's major-league draft.
The downward trend for Shocker baseball has a variety of causes, but lack of offense is at the head of the list.
There have been, as expected, lower offensive numbers in college baseball this season because of a change to less-volatile bats. The Shockers' team batting average was .280, the second lowest in history. But let's not solely blame the less- cooperative bats.
Wichita State has batted below .300 as a team in each of the past three seasons, four of the previous five and five of the previous seven.
Before 2005, the Shockers' team batting average was below .300 once (1990) in 27 seasons under Gene Stephenson.
Wichita State averaged 6.23 runs in 2011, its second-lowest total (5.37 in 2009).
O'Brien (.410) was the only Shocker player to bat higher than .300. Grimes finished at .300, but no other Shocker regular batted higher than .289.
The change in bat dynamics is a factor. Home runs nationally fell from 0.85 per game per team last season to 0.47. Runs dropped from 6.98 to 5.63 and batting averages plummeted to .279 from .301. College baseball players still aren't using wood bats, which would even more dramatically decrease offensive production. The current bats do play more like wood, though.
But a .280 average in the college ranks is just so-so, ranking the Shockers squarely in the middle of the country, No. 146 of 292 Division I programs. Fifty-one teams are batting .300 or better even with the toned-down bats.
WSU is 68th in runs per game because the Shockers take a lot of walks, steal bases and move baserunners. It's what's happening inside the batter's box — not on the basepaths — that is a concern.
Wichita State batted .334 collectively from 1978, the year Stephenson resurrected the program, until 1996, the year the Shockers last appeared in the College World Series.
Since 1997, that average has fallen to .310. And in the past seven years, the Shockers' batting average is .294.
Finding fault with WSU's pitching is difficult.
From 1979, when Brent Kemnitz joined Stephenson's staff as pitching coach, through 1996, WSU's earned-run average was 3.60.
During the 15 seasons since, it's 3.68.
This season, the Shockers' 3.27 ERA ranks No. 33 nationally, in the top 15 percent.
When Wichita State was having its most success, pitching and offense were constants. For the past several seasons, though, pitching has had to carry most of the load while offense has lagged.
There were many seasons when the Shockers' lineup scared opposing pitchers from 1 through 9. That's not so much the case nowadays, when the bottom of the WSU order lacks production.
If O'Brien can hit .410 with these bats, increasing his numbers dramatically from his first two seasons, it's fair to wonder why others aren't doing the same.
When I write about this offensive downturn, I inevitably hear from Wichita State coaches who take exception. Well, the numbers are pretty powerful.
The 2007 squad that lost to UC Irvine in a super regional batted only .299, but had a spectacular 2.68 team ERA, the second-lowest in Shocker history. Pitching carried that team.
The 2008 team that lost a super regional to Florida State came alive offensively, batting .314 with a lineup that included Conor Gillaspie and Andy Dirks, recently called up to the Detroit Tigers. That's the second-highest team average since 1999 and more like what an elite team should be hitting.
Even with bats that don't quite do what they used to do, there is offense to be had. The Shockers need to find more of it.