When Butch Thompson was hired as the head coach at Auburn last fall, everyone knew what he brought to the table as a pitching coach and a recruiter. One thing that was in question was how well the Tigers would do at the plate.
To handle the hitting coach duties, he reached out to a veteran player, coach, executive, etc. in Doug Sisson. Sisson had a good foundation to work with in the talent level of Auburn's hitters, but after two years of the small ball philosophy of Sunny Golloway, how would the Tigers look at the plate under Thompson and Sisson?
Things are going just fine by all appearances. The official site tweeted an interesting series of stats this morning comparing 2015 to 2016. It's important to note that Auburn has played only 1/3 of the total games and 1/10th of the SEC games compared to last season, so it isn't a perfect metric, but it is an interesting look. I'd be very curious to see what the stat comparison is through a similar portion of last year's season for a better idea, but this still provides some good food for thought.
Averages and percentages will fluctuate, so it's hard to get a good idea how those will change as the Tigers get into the meat of the SEC schedule. The hard numbers are a little bit easier to look at. Let's examine them, anyway.
One thing to note, though, before we dig in. We have a sample size of one SEC series, so far, but the Aggies are not a bottom-of-the-barrel SEC team. They may be the best of the best. That's going to be a point you should keep in mind throughout this, so I'm not going to repeat it in each section.
Batting AVG: Auburn hit below .300 as a team against the SEC and overall. That's less than stellar. Averaging .317 overall (which includes some very bad days in Pensacola and elsewhere) and .335 in the SEC right now is excellent. Hopefully, those numbers continue.
Runs Per Game: 4.9 per game, 4.0 per SEC game in 2015. So far, 8.15 per game and a staggering 9.0 per SEC game. There's no way these numbers remain that high, right? If they do, though, then Auburn will be well positioned to win a few series that they weren't expected to at the start of the year.
Doubles: Auburn is already almost halfway to the total number of doubles hit last season. A good 1/4 of those belong to Cody Nulph, though, so maintaining that number's trajectory will depend on Nulph not falling into a prolonged slump.
Home Runs: Here's the big category that shows a huge difference in hitting philosophies. Auburn hit only 18 total home runs and 4 home runs in SEC play last year. No Tiger had more than 3 total. This year? Auburn is at 16 total home runs, 3 in SEC play, with Niko Buentello owning 5 and Anfernee Grier owning 4. The bats are free on the Plains, this season. No wasting an out and a great hitter just to move a runner over.
Stolen Bases: No, this season we're trying to steal bases outright rather than trade an out and good hitters for a runner in scoring position. Auburn is already over halfway to the total number of stolen bases from 2015 (62 vs 33). There weren't many stolen bases in the A&M series, but there weren't many needs for it. Auburn did a good job of getting hits, including multi-base hits, to put runners on 2nd or 3rd.
Slugging Percentage: .371/.332 last season overall and in SEC play. Right now, the Tigers are at .467/.513. Is that a result of no more small ball? It could be, but I don't think that would be enough to cause those number to jump like that. I also don't expect the slugging percentage in SEC play to stay that high, but you never know.
On-Base Percentage: Another number that's up. Again, though, this is why I wish I had the stats through the exact number of games from last season to compare to. It's hard to gauge trends without a similar data set.
Total Bases: Auburn is almost halfway to the number of total bases (multi-base hits are wonderful) from last season (745 vs 345) and about 1/6th of the way to total bases in SEC play (329 vs 58). To make that connection on the multi-base hits again, Auburn is 1/7th of the way to the total number of doubles from last season, which is referenced above.
By all appearances, Auburn's hitters are on an excellent track. I'd like a more direct comparison from the first 20 games of last season, but it is what it is. Getting away from the small ball mentality and going more towards swinging away is definitely helping the numbers in the stat lines. Unfortunately, that's not going to help if the Tigers can't find ways to keep the opponents from scoring more like Texas A&M did in 2 out of 3 games this weekend.