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Slumping Gators unlucky during non-conference schedule

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Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 12:12 am

Several of the Gators’ key offensive veterans have gotten off to slow starts in the 2014 campaign.

Some players, such as outfielder Justin Shafer and utility player Zack Powers, have had such poor results at the plate it seems downright unfair.

Other players insist they are not worried about when these players will turn their slumps around.

But luckily for Florida, career averages suggest that these players haven’t forgotten how to swing the bat — they’ve just been on the wrong end of spectacularly bad luck.

“We need those guys,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Every team needs the older guys to have solid seasons.

“They don’t have to have great seasons. They don’t have to hit .350 … Doesn’t have to be off the charts, just got to be solid. (If) they’re solid, we’re going to be a really good team.”

The players who are slumping have lower-than-usual batting averages on balls in play. BABIP is a stat generally used to determine how “lucky” a player has been by calculating how well a player is doing when he puts the ball in play. The formula is hits minus home runs divided by the number of at-bats subtracted by home runs and strikeouts plus sacrifice flies.

While a normal batting average is typically around .260, a usual BABIP is closer to .300, according to sabermetrics website Fangraphs.com.

Although the first 16 games of the Gators’ season make up a small sample size, it is more likely that the players who are doing poorly in the area will recover to close to their career averages.

Shafer is one of the players whose BABIP differentiates drastically from his career average.

Shafer, who came into the season with a career batting average of .293, has struggled to hit a meager .171 in 14 games. His BABIP, which sat near average in his first two seasons, dropped to .206 — 102 points below his 2013 mark of .308.

The junior outfielder may not recover from his early-season slump numbers-wise, but with a BABIP that low, there is a chance his luck may turn and some of the hard hits he sent directly at fielders may begin to fall.

Powers has experienced the same struggles as Shafer.

In 2013, the versatile Powers hit .268 and got on base in nearly 39 percent of his at-bats. But he has been the worst everyday player for the Gators so far this season with a .148 batting average and .281 on-base percentage — the worst and third-worst marks on the team for players with more than 10 at-bats.

But, like Shafer, Powers is due for better performance. The junior accrued a .320 BABIP last season but is down to only .190 this year — a massive decline.

There is hope for these slumping players. Another junior teammate started off the season poorly before getting hot at the plate.

Third baseman Josh Tobias started the season in an 0-for-14 slump before cracking two hits against Florida Gulf Coast on March 1.

But Tobias has begun turning his luck around. Before Florida played Connecticut last weekend, the third baseman’s BABIP was in the low .200s. After five hits in the series, Tobias is hitting .321 on balls in play — a testament to a change in luck and the smallness of the sample size.

“Every hitter goes through that,” Tobias said. “I knew I was going to come back eventually. I just kept swinging and eventually it’d fall in.”

Although some key contributors have slumped so far this season, there is reason to believe they will turn their seasons around soon — numbers don’t lie.

“The last couple days, the [batting practice] has been better,” O’Sullivan said. “Eventually it’ll show up. It’s not over. There’s a lot of work still to be done, but at least let’s show some life.”

Follow Adam Lichtenstein on Twitter @alichtenstein24

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