The offense turnaround

BY JACOB SHEYKO | APRIL 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa baseball head coach Rick Heller has three goals for his players each time they step up to the plate.

Give a quality at-bat, put out the best swing in each at-bat, and work the count with the goal of forcing the opposing team to go to the bullpen before they can turn to their closer.

Whether as a result of these goals or not, no one can deny that Iowa has gone through somewhat of an offensive revolution under first-year coach Heller. And it’s not just by Iowa’s standards; the Hawkeye one of the best offenses in the Big Ten.

“It comes down to our approach at the plate,” junior Jake Mangler said. “Knowing what to look for in specific situations and other pitcher’s tendencies. Just being able to put a better swing on better pitches. It’s funny how working on the little things has helped that much.” 

To fully understand the offensive turnaround of the Hawkeyes, one must look towards their numbers last year.

In their 2013 campaign, the Hawkeyes ranked seventh in the Big Ten in batting average (.263), last in slugging percentage (.308), second to last in runs scored, last in doubles; and the worst of them all, last in home runs with a measly two dingers.

To put that last number in perspective, Indiana led the league in home runs with 53.

But this season has been the opposite. Iowa ranks second in batting average (.292), slugging percentage (.392), runs scored, and doubles. Perhaps most surprisingly, they also lead the Big Ten with 11 home runs.

“We changed a few things philosophy standpoint and from a mechanics standpoint,” Heller said. “And with some older guys on the team, I think that had paid off.”

Some of this success can be attributed to how Iowa filled their time before they even saw a single pitch. When Heller took over as head coach, he made a significant emphasis on hitting the weight room.

And as a result, Heller believes that a lot of the position players put on additional muscle. And thus far this season, it’s hard to ignore the results.

“We lifted a lot harder this fall than I thought we had in the past,” Taylor Zeutenhorst said. “That’s a big part of it, too.”

Despite these numbers, something lingers that either makes the Hawkeyes’ hot start more impressive or worrisome. Iowa hasn’t homered in more than two weeks; making March 17 the last time they took an opposing pitcher deep, when they went yard on Otterbein three times.

But there could be a reason for this recent drought.

The majority of Iowa’s success at the plate, particularly in the power department, occurred when they were playing in warm locations such as Florida, Tennessee, or Kansas. Iowa is now far from those conditions, trading them out for high winds and low temperatures.

But it should be pleasing for Heller to see that even despite the less than ideal conditions, Iowa has managed to score runs against Big Ten competition.

They’ve been able to do so by adhering to Heller’s final rule — work the count. Iowa has walked 113 times — second in the Big Ten. The Hawks also rank first in on-base percentage. In other words, Iowa has found more than one way to score runs.

Of course, you won’t hear any complaints from the Hawkeyes if the ball starts to leave the park as it did early in the season.

“It’s going to be something that we’ll definitely strive for,” Mangler said. “If we score a lot of runs, we’re obviously going to win a lot of games.”

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