Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Shocker baseball hopes you’re not paying attention

The Wichita Eagle

You’ve probably noticed the strange, mystifying start for Wichita State’s baseball team. Or, if the baseball team is lucky, you’ve been distracted by college basketball, the NBA, your lawn or something else. Anything else.

The Shockers are 4-10. They lost Tuesday to Central Arkansas, 12-1, at Eck Stadium. They have dropped eight of nine games, are batting an anemic .247 and have a 4.31 team ERA.

None of it makes sense. The Shockers, of course, have never endured a start like this and the longer it lasts, the tougher it will be to turn in the right direction.

It’s fair at this point to wonder if turning the season in the right direction (i.e. starting to win some games) is even possible. Wichita State plays Arkansas-Little Rock at Eck Stadium Wednesday before a three-game home series against No. 21 UC Santa Barbara this weekend. Looming later this month is a trip to Fort Worth to take on No. 4 TCU.

It’s hard to know where to start with the Shockers and their miserable performance so far. They’re not losing to a bunch of juggernauts; the combined record of WSU’s opponents so far is 48-40. Long Beach State clamped down on the Shockers during a weekend series in California recently, holding Wichita State two two runs in three games and no-hitting the Shocks in the third game of the series.

Since, the Dirtbags are 1-3 and are 9-7 overall.

Wichita State plucked the junior college ranks for a bunch of new players and the early results looked promising. There appeared to be a significant amount of thunder in the lineup. But the Shockers’ offense has turned into a nice spring day with no wind.

Two returning Shockers the team was depending on to set the table in front of the big hitters, Michael Burns and Daniel Kihle, are not producing like top-of-the-order guys. Not only are they batting only .171 and .265, respectively, but they’ve combined for only one walk in 90 at-bats.

As a team, Wichita State has taken only 29 walks in 14 games, which indicates a lineup of impatient hitters or the most amazing pinpoint control by opposing pitchers early in the season in college baseball history. I’m guessing it’s the former.

Obviously, this is not the way Todd Butler wanted to begin his second season as Wichita State’s coach since replacing Gene Stephenson. The Shockers’ offense had slipped steadily under Stephenson, but never to the point of .247.

Butler is bewildered like everyone else. WSU juco transfers Chase Rader, Jordan Farris, Sam Hilliard, Ryan Tinkham and Willie Schwanke have impressive offensive credentials. So far, though, they’ve left those credentials in a bag back at their dorm rooms. Tinkham, at .341 with 10 RBIs, has shown some life. But after fast starts, Rader and Farriss have cooled significantly.

The Shockers’ pitching has been inconsistent. Starters Sam Tewes and Isaac Anderson have been good, which is a positive sign as they will be starting the first two games of WSU’s weekend Missouri Valley Conference series. But overall, WSU’s starters have a 4.13 ERA while the bullpen has a 4.56 ERA.

Defense is another issue. The Shockers have made 24 errors in 14 games that have led to 20 unearned runs. That’s unacceptable.

Wichita State has had issues in every facet, which explains the 4-10 start. The Shockers have been a bad team and they weren’t supposed to be. The mystery remains unsolved.