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2015 Kansas Baseball Season in Review

A final review of the Jayhawks and the 2015 season.

Now that the baseball season has ended (for the Jayhawks, anyway), it's time to take a look and recap what was in the 2015 season.  We did something similar before conference play, and it will be interesting to see how playing conference teams affected the Jayhawks.

The stats provided throughout are courtesy of either Big12Sports.com or KUAthletics.com, and are current as of May 28 and include all games (presumably including any NCAA Tournament games).

As a team, the Jayhawks (23-32, 8-15) hit .276 on the season, good for fourth in the nine-team Big 12.  Here is how KU ranked in other team categories:

BATTING
CATEGORY STATS CONF RANK
Avg .276 4th
Obp .366 T-2nd
Slg .396 5th
HR 34 6th
BB 230 2nd
SO 308 1st (Fewest)
SB 27 9th
CS 18 T-2nd (Fewest)
PITCHING
ERA 5.56 9th
Avg .302 9th
R 337 9th
ER 302 9th
BB 229 9th
SO 331 7th
HR 39 9th
BB/9 4.22 9th
SO/9 6.10 7th

There are many words that could be used to describe the pitching staff this year - I'll use the word atrocious.  As you can see in the table above, the Jayhawks finished dead last in every pitching category I reviewed except for two.  The one thing KU pitchers had going for them in non-conference play, strikeouts, fell off drastically during conference play.

Jayhawk pitchers did seem to get better over the course of the season, as they closed the midseason gap between them and the eighth-place Baylor pitching staff.

BAYLOR KANSAS DIFFERENCE
Midseason ERA 4.87 6.17 1.30
Final ERA 4.71 5.56 0.85
Improvement 0.16 0.61 0.45
Midseason BAA .289 .314 .025
Final BAA .286 .302 .016
Improvement .003 .012 .009
Midseason ER 113 142 29
Final ER 252 302 50
Difference 139 160 21

The offense slipped a little in conference play, but just a little, as the overall batting average only slipped .008, with similar drops in the on-base and slugging percentages.  Overall, the offense was above average in the Big 12, and had the pitching staff even been slightly below average, KU may have threatened to make another run at an NCAA Tournament bid.

Individually, several players earned All-Conference awards and finished in the Top 10 in several categories.

Junior SP Ben Krauth (7-5, 3.65) earned Newcomer of the Year award in addition to being named to the All-Big 12 Second Team.  On the year, Krauth was fifth in the Big 12 in innings pitched (91.1) and third in strikeouts (84).  In conference play, Krauth went 3-3 with a 2.45 ERA in eight starts.  He pitched 55 innings in Big 12 play, striking out 54 batters.  Those 54 strikeouts were tops in the league, and his 2.45 conference ERA ranked seventh. Krauth has the potential to be a bona fide Friday night ace for the Jayhawks in 2016.

The only other KU pitcher of note this season was sophomore CL Stephen Villines (3-5, 3.40, 13 SV), who finished second in the Big 12 in saves, one behind league-leader Riley Ferrell of TCU.  Villines was selected for the All-Big 12 Honorable Mention team.

Now let's talk about offense!  As a team offensively, the Jayhawks held their own in the conference.  Individually, several Jayhawks stood out, earning All-conference recognition and finishing in the Top 10 in many individual offensive categories.

Senior LF Connor McKay (.346, 3 HR, 22 RBI) earned himself All-Big 12 First Team honors.  McKay finished fifth in the Big 12 in batting average, tied for third in hits (79), fifth in runs scored (45), first in doubles (22), second in total bases (122), and first in slugging percentage (.535).

Sophomore C Michael Tinsley (.337, 3 HR, 39 RBI) made the All-Big 12 Second Team.  Tinsley finished ninth in batting average, eighth in hits (66), tied for fifth in doubles (15), tied for fourth in RBI (39), and tenth in on-base percentage (.407).

Senior 1B Blair Beck (.270, 8 HR, 37 RBI) earned an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention nod. Beck finished in a fourth-place tie in home runs and seventh in RBI.

Senior 2B Justin Protacio (.236, 13 RBI) also saw himself on the All-Big 12 Honorable Mention team.  Protacio finished the season with only 9 errors for a .962 fielding percentage.

Freshman SS Matt McLaughlin (.293, 1 HR, 25 RBI) claimed a spot on the All-Big 12 Honorable Mention team as well as the All-Freshman team. McLaughlin was rated as the #12 shortstop in California coming out of high school, and put up a solid season offensively while starting 51 of 55 games for Kansas this year.

Senior OF Dakota Smith (.256, 7 HR, 39 RBI) finished tied for eighth in the league in home runs and tied for fourth (with Tinsley) in the league in RBI.

The Jayhawks will be losing Smith, McKay, Beck, and Protacio to graduation, along with OF Joe Luvisi and pitchers Colin Toalson and Drew Morovick.  The 'Hawks will greatly miss the four All-Conference players, and Morovick (4-4, 4.27) had a decent season as the team's Sunday starting pitcher.

Coach Ritch Price will need to develop the pitching staff in the off-season and will look to McLaughlin and Tinsley to lead the team offensively next year.  As noted above, the KU pitchers did improve over the course of the season, even during the more-difficult stretch of conference play.  If the Jayhawks can replace the offensive production they're losing and the pitching staff can improve enough to provide even average statistics, Kansas could realistically make a run to postseason play in 2016.