Arkansas Hitting coach Nate Thompson has a simple explanation for why the Razorbacks are sitting on top of the SEC and number one in the country with a rather ordinary .280 team batting average. Base hits aren’t the only way to get on base and score runs.
“It’s not just the batting average for me,” Thompson told the Pig Trail Nation. “Obviously I’d love to say, ‘Hey, we’re hitting over .300 as a team.’ We’ve been right around there the past few years. To me it’s all about scoring runs. We might be first or second in the country in that category and so it’s all about run production but the big piece is getting on base.”
There are a number of ways to reach base, some not very dramatic like walks, hit by a pitch or on by error. But the effect can sometimes be quite dramatic, like in game two of the A&M series. With the score knotted at 1-1 in the bottom of the 10th, Cayden Wallace hit into what looked to be a double play with runners on first and second. The relay from short to second cut down Matt Goodheart but the throw to first one-hopped past Aggie Will Frizzell allowing Robert Moore to come home with the winning run. A walk off on a fielder’s choice with a throwing error.
In Thompson’s system even a failure to reach base can qualify as a quality at bat.
“About half of all at bats end up with a two-strike count,” Thompson revealed. “You need to be really good at hitting with two strikes and that doesn’t always result in a hit or getting on base. One of the categories for a quality at bat, if you saw four or more pitches after you reached two strikes. Those four extra pitches that pitcher just threw, if the whole lineup can do that, then we’re into the bullpen earlier. It makes a difference in the course of a game.”
But the various hitters in Arkansas’ lineup don’t necessarily come to the plate trying to extend the pitch count. The Hogs NCAA leading 74 home runs suggest batters that are very aggressive at times. Like Robert Moore’s first pitch, two-out solo slam to right field in game one against South Carolina which put Arkansas up 1-0 in the 2nd.
“Coach Van Horn doesn’t put a lot of take signs on,” Thompson explained, “so we’re not up there just trying to draw out long counts. We’re looking to do damage. We want them to have the confidence to do whatever the situation demands. What kind of pitcher they’re facing. I can be in there, first pitch ready to drive or if I need to have a ten pitch at bat and hit with two strikes for a long time, I can do that too.”
Those home runs can also affect another batting category that Arkansas dominates. Razorback batters have reached first 240 times on walks so far this season, tops in the nation by a wide margin
“When you put those kinds of swings on the ball you sometimes end up drawing more walks,” Thompson pointed out. “Pitchers don’t want to make mistakes and miss over the plate to somebody that’s ready to hit. It’s a credit to our guys and their work.”
“It’s all about scoring runs however we do it,” Thompson continued. “One of the first things I said when I got here was, ‘I don’t care how we do it. We just need to score as many runs as we can.’ “
The validity of Thompson’s philosophy is borne out by the current NCAA D-1 statistics. Arkansas’ team batting average is 72nd in the nation but it’s on-base percentage is 16th with a run production that is 3rd.
Clearly it’s a concept that is working.