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Through two-thirds of its schedule, Syracuse is in the midst of its conference-heavy slate to round out the final stretch of the season. While the Orange have handled several smaller, nonconference schools, they have struggled in Atlantic Coast Conference play, with a conference record of just 3-8.
Neli Casares-Maher, Syracuse’s only returning All-ACC selection from a year ago, leads the team in most offensive categories, including batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and hits. Freshman Kelly Breen’s power-hitting has also been a boost for a Syracuse team that lost almost half of its home-run production from a year ago. And fellow freshman Tessa Galipeau leads the team in walks, a mark that’s the best among ACC true freshmen.
Advanced stats, although common in professional baseball, are not as widely available in softball. So, I recreated some of those advanced stats for Syracuse’s hitters (with at least 10 at bats). Some, like home run, walk and strikeout percentages are simple. For example, HR% is the percentage of a players’ plate appearances that result in a home run. Percentage statistics are often more useful than raw statistics in determining a player’s value because they account for variations in sample sizes.
Isolated power, or ISO, is a statistic used to measure a hitter’s raw power and ability to hit for extra bases. It’s calculated by subtracting a hitter’s batting average from their slugging percentage, thus showing how often a player records an extra-base hit as opposed to a single.
But ISO is not the most accurate measure of extra-base hitting because it weighs every extra-base hit equivalently. This is where weighted on-base average — or wOBA — comes in. wOBA is based on the idea that not all hits are created equally and weighs each type of hit in proportion to its actual run value. For example, a double is not worth exactly twice as much as a single, and a home run is not worth twice as much as a double. Since there are no softball constants available, I used the MLB constants from the 2021 season.
Kelly Breen fills power void
Breen has started every game this season and leads the team in home runs and RBIs. As her team-leading .277 ISO suggests, Breen is one of the best players on SU at driving the ball and hitting for extra bases. Her 14 extra-base hits are tied with Casares-Maher for the team lead.
Syracuse ranked 10th in the ACC in home runs last year and graduated two of its top three home run hitters, Toni Martin and Gabby Teran. This left Casares-Maher, Angel Jasso and Paris Woods as the only returning players on the roster with more than one home run in 2021. Syracuse needed Breen’s injection of power, as she is the only freshman to put up big power numbers. Galipeau — the only other player aside from Casares-Maher and Breen with more than two home runs — hit three in her first 12 games but has not hit one since conference play began in early March. This leaves the Orange very thin in terms of power hitting as only Breen, Casares-Maher and Galipeau have more than two home runs.
Although Breen also leads the Orange in at-bats, her team-leading 6.7 HR% shows that her home run numbers are not just due to her high usage. Breen also has a low strikeout rate for a power hitter with a strikeout rate of 19% which ranks fifth-lowest on the team.
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Assistant coach Katie McEachern said that as the season has progressed, Breen has gotten better at outsmarting pitchers, who have learned not to pitch her inside due to her power stroke. She also pointed out that Breen’s power numbers are important because she protects Casares-Maher in the lineup, ensuring opposing pitchers aren’t able to pitch around the Orange’s star player.
But despite her relatively good strikeout numbers, Breen has struggled to draw walks. She has walked just three times in 105 plate appearances, and one of those was intentional. Her 2.9% walk rate and 20-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio are both third-worst on the team. But McEachern said that Breen’s low walk numbers are indicative of her approach. McEachern wants her to go after pitches instead of being cautious at the plate, since she has the ability to frequently make good contact.
“We have some kids that tend to walk a lot like Tessa that just has a really good eye and is really waiting for her pitch, and we have other players like Kelly who don’t walk a lot because they are really good at hitting the ball,” McEachern said.
Casares-Maher proves she’s still the team leader
Casares-Maher was a second-team All-ACC selection a year ago where she led the Orange in nearly every offensive statistic. This season, Casares-Maher leads the team with a .452 wOBA, more than sixty points above Jasso, who ranks second. She is hitting for power – she ranks second on the team in ISO and third in HR% – while still leading the team in contact statistics like singles and batting average.
Casares-Maher also ranks second on the team with a strikeout rate of just 11.9% and slots in at fourth with a walk rate of 10.1%. McEachern said Casares-Maher’s low strikeout numbers are a product of her work ethic and knowledge of the strike zone as a fifth-year senior.
“If she has a bad weekend, she will go and hit until her back probably falls apart… if she struggled with down and in she’s going to go work on it until she figures it out,” McEachern said.
Galipeau shows veteran plate discipline
On a list populated by upperclassmen and graduate students, Galipeau ranks in the ACC’s top 10 in walks as a true freshman. Her walk rate of 19.3% is the best on the team, and although she ranks just seventh on the team in batting average, she ranks third in on base percentage because of her strong walk numbers.
Galipeau has already recorded three three-walk games. In back-to-back games against Southern and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville early in the season, Galipeau reached base nine times in ten plate appearances thanks to drawing six walks.
McEachern said that Galipeau is extremely detailed and process-oriented and her ability to break down pitches leads to her plate discipline. According to McEachern, teammates will ask her about what she saw at the plate, what kind of spin the pitcher has and how to break down pitches.
“She is very good at breaking things down so it doesn’t surprise me at all that she is really good at knowing her strike zone and being able to get the pitch she wants,” McEachern said.
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