The Wright State baseball team has been on a hitting rampage this season, scoring at a pace that’s among the highest in school history. And while much of that prowess comes down to sheer talent, the Raiders also have gained a mental edge through coach Jeff Mercer’s scouting program.
The players do extensive study of opposing pitchers in the offseason to help with their pitch recognition — the technical term is video-occlusion — and they’re seldom fooled at the plate because they usually know what’s coming.
“The idea behind it is the sooner you recognize the pitch from the release point of the hand, the better your ability is to swing at good pitches,” Mercer said.
The second-year coach notes that the ball arrives at the plate in about fourth-tenths of a second, which means batters have to make instantaneous decisions. But pitchers tend to stick to their strengths and often give away what they’re throwing with subtle changes in their deliveries.
“We do a bunch of scouting report work,” Mercer said. “Hitting coach Matt Talarico will have a video compilation of every starter and almost every pitcher we see. It’s just like looking at tapes of football or basketball. We look at it the same way with pitching.”
The Raiders are 25-13 overall and firmly in first place in the Horizon League at 13-5 mostly because of an offense that’s producing 7.6 runs per game. The school record of 8.1 was set in 2010, while the 1989 team has the second-best mark at 7.7.
They have five of the top 10 hitters in the conference: Zane Harris (.400), Peyton Burdick (.358), Gabe Snyder (.340), J.D. Orr (.321) and Alex Alders (.316).
Snyder leads the league in homers (12) and RBIs (49).
That production should continue as long as they stay selective at the plate. The team has fewer strikeouts (214) than the combined number of walks (190) and players hit by pitches (55), which is rare.
“In an ideal world, we want to have a 1:1 ratio. In reality, I’ve never seen a team that’s anywhere close to that. Never even CLOSE. Usually, it’s about twice as many strikeouts. It’s a pretty incredible ratio,” Mercer said.
The coach is pleased his players are learning they can trust their pregame notes on pitchers, who seldom deviate from season-long patterns.
“The thing is, if you look at a starting pitcher, he usually has a plan A and plan B. And once he gets past plan B, if plan C was good enough it’d be plan A,” he said. “You really want to be able to work him off plan A and B, and then you have him where you want him.
“People say, ‘Well, aren’t they going to try to pitch to a hitter’s weakness?’ Most college pitchers aren’t good enough to do that. If there are, they’re going to be really high draft picks, which we don’t see many of, or they’ll already be in pro ball.”
The Raiders finished fourth in the 54-hole conference tournament, 25 strokes behind champion Cleveland State.
Freshman Bryce Haney and junior Mitch Lehigh were tied for ninth with 11-over-par 227 totals at the El Campeon course in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. Senior Chris Rossi was tied for 13th at 229 and sophomore Austin Schoonmaker tied for 20th at 233.
The Raiders will play in the conference tourney at West Lafayette, Ind., this weekend. The sixth-seeded men’s team, which posted its first winning season in six years at 13-11, will play No. 2 Cleveland State on Friday. The fourth-seeded women (19-12) will face No. 5 Oakland.