24 Players’ Stats Show Case vs Nate Thompson Is Far from Cut and Dry

Nate Thompson, Arkansas baseball
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

Since Arkansas was knocked out in the regionals for a second straight year, one topic has dominated all others: the future of assistant coach Nate Thompson.

A very vocal segment of the fan base is ready for head coach Dave Van Horn to move on from Thompson after his seventh year as the Razorbacks’ hitting coach.

The frustrations are understandable. Arkansas’ offense sputtered for much of the year and the bats went ice cold against a soft-tosser in the season-ending loss to SEMO. It was an all-too-familiar feeling for fans hungry for a national title.

Those fans probably didn’t like what Van Horn had to say when asked about his confidence in Thompson following the season.

“He’s ate up with the offense and analytics,” Van Horn said. “He really tries to train a swing. He does a great job. Nobody works harder than him at it.”

However, his response to the first part of that question — which was about a potential philosophical change to the offense moving forward — was more enlightening than some may realize.

Clarifying Van Horn’s Comment

What Dave Van Horn said, though, has seemingly been misconstrued by a chunk of the fan base. Here’s a refresher for those who missed it or might have forgotten:

“We’ve got to get a little better athlete,” Van Horn said. “We can’t just have eight guys that hit homers. I like guys that hit doubles and I like guys that hit homers, but you’ve got to have some guys that can run, too. You’ve got to be able to create some offense the days the wind’s blowing in or they’re really good on the mound and you’re having trouble making contact. That’s something that we want to do, and we’re trying to get the right players.”

Some have taken that answer as Van Horn blaming his players for the Razorbacks’ 1-2 showing in the Fayetteville Regional rather than taking ownership.

Better athletes?! You regularly sign top-5 recruiting classes!

The problem with such an argument is that’s not what he was saying at all. He was simply giving a thoughtful answer (which he does better than most college coaches) to a question about how he may consider changing the offense moving forward.

Van Horn was referring to implementing more small ball so they can manufacture more runs instead of relying solely on the long ball. That requires different kids of players, similar to how when a football team shifts from “three yards and a cloud of dust” to an Air Raid system.

The Razorbacks tried to bring in some of these kinds of guys last year, but saw their top four position players — shortstops Aidan Miller, Walker Martin and Nazzan Zanetello, and outfielder Kendall George — selected within the first 52 picks of last summer’s MLB Draft. They also brought in Ty Wilmsmeyer as a transfer from Missouri who was in a similar mold, but he didn’t pan out like they hoped.

That quartet of high school players have now combined to play in 160 minor league games and produce 55 total stolen bases. That’s more stolen bases than the Razorbacks had as a team this season…and in 2023…and in 2022…and in 2021.

George was a particularly big loss in that department, as he was considered the fastest prep player in last year’s draft and drew comparisons to Vanderbilt’s Enrique Bradfield. Sure enough, he already has 35 steals in 65 career professional games.

The last time Arkansas ranked in the top half of the SEC in stolen bases was 2019. That team also ranked 17th nationally in scoring at 7.4 runs per game. The Razorbacks have ranked 93rd, 57th and 164th in that category the last three years.

It’s unlikely that Van Horn completely shifts to a small-ball style of offense, but it sounds like he wants to use it more in 2025 and at least complement it with the power bats Arkansas will inevitably deploy.

Should Arkansas Fire Nate Thompson?

That is the question still at the forefront of many fans’ minds, even a week after the end of the 2024 season.

Despite the pitching also faltering down the stretch, Nate Thompson has taken a brunt of the blame for the disappointing early exit.

To be fair, the Razorbacks struggled mightily at the plate this season. They ranked 12th in the SEC and 164th nationally in scoring at 6.7 runs per game, plus were 10th or worse in the league in all three slash categories — batting average (.271 — 12th / 191st), on-base percentage (.381 — 10th / 160th) and slugging percentage (.453 — 11th / 130th).

However, the decision isn’t a simple one. As is typically the case, it’s too nuanced of a discussion to fit into 280-character tweets.

One such tweet that went viral during the loss to SEMO claimed that the Razorbacks had a .176 batting average over the last seven postseasons. There are numerous things wrong with that stat, the first of which is that the time frame includes the season prior to Thompson’s arrival in Fayetteville.

Since 2018, which was Thompson’s first season, Arkansas has played in 45 games across six NCAA Tournaments — the most in the country entering this weekend’s super regional round. Its batting average over that span is .279, so 103 points higher than the fake stat. (It’s .278 over the last seven postseasons, which includes the 2017 Fayetteville Regional won by a Missouri State team with Thompson on its staff.)

That may not blow you away, but among the 53 teams that have played at least 10 NCAA Tournament games since 2018 (entering the super regional round), that ranks 28th. To provide a more complete picture of the offense, let’s look at OPS — or On-base Plus Slugging — which is widely viewed as a superior stat to batting average because it incorporates other aspects, like walks and extra-base hits. The Razorbacks rank 19th in that group with an .853 OPS.

(For no reason whatsoever, Tennessee has a .265 batting average and .848 OPS in 29 postseason games over that span.)

The postseason stat that gets thrown around quite a bit and is actually accurate is about how the offense disappears in the final game of the year, regardless of which round of the NCAA Tournament it is.

In the Razorbacks’ last seven season-ending losses — which, again, includes the year prior to Thompson’s arrival — they have averaged just 2.1 runs and hit a paltry .145.

Those are undeniably terrible numbers, but it’s also worth noting that it’s expected for stats to be worse in losses because, well, if they were better, they probably would have turned into wins.

As for the season as a whole, here are Arkansas’ numbers under Thompson, excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 season:

YearAVG (SEC / NCAA)OBP (SEC / NCAA)SLG (SEC / NCAA)Scoring (SEC / NCAA)
2018.296
(2nd / 23rd)
.391
(2nd / 29th)
.475
(2nd / 13th)
7.0
(3rd / 23rd)
2019.298
(3rd / 21st)
.393
(3rd / 24th)
.489
(2nd / 10th)
7.4
(3rd / 17th)
2021.267
(10th / 144th)
.387
(1st / 40th)
.482
(2nd / 17th)
7.7
(1st / 13th)
2022.276
(12th / 153rd)
.380
(8th / 116th)
.481
(5th / 52nd)
7.0
(6th / 93rd)
2023.273
(12th / 189th)
.389
(10th / 100th)
.468
(11th / 97th)
7.6
(5th / 57th)
2024.271
(12th / 191st)
.381
(10th / 160th)
.453
(11th / 130th)
6.7
(12th / 164th)

The Razorbacks’ batting average has fallen off a cliff the last four years, but for the most part, they’ve still been able to score. Prior to this season, they had always been sixth or better in the SEC in terms of runs per game, including leading the league in 2021.

Last year’s team was only marginally better than this year in the three slash categories, but averaged nearly one more run per game and ranked fifth in the SEC because of its timely hitting. Its batting average with runners in scoring position was .287 – 14 points higher than its overall average. That’s a stark contrast to this year’s team, which hit 3 points worse in those scenarios (.268) than its overall average.

It’s perfectly reasonable to look at the trend over the last few seasons and come to the conclusion that Arkansas should try to find a new hitting coach. However, this isn’t Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz keeping his son on staff as offensive coordinator despite his unit consistently being among the worst in the country.

Hunter Yurachek doesn’t have to step in and force Van Horn’s hand. Thompson has earned the right to get at least another year to help the Razorbacks implement the tweaked offensive approach laid out above.

It also shouldn’t be discounted that every time Van Horn has been asked about the consistency of his program since 2017, he’s cited the continuity on his coaching staff as a primary reason. That includes Thompson, who is also an ace recruiter.

Dispelling the “Nate Thompson Effect”

Another stat that has made the rounds on social media and message boards features a list of players and their year-to-year slash lines. Some of them are in the tweet below and more are included in this Hogville post.

While these numbers are technically accurate, there are a couple of problems with them.

First of all, they display state from cherry-picked players – a classic example of anecdotal evidence used to make a broad point. Secondly, several of them lack a significant amount of context.

For example, Jack Wagner (Tarleton State), Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond) and Wehiwa Aloy (Sacramento State) each made significant jumps in competition. 

When factoring in that, Sprague-Lott and Aloy were actually pretty good, albeit the latter struck out more than Arkansas probably would have liked. Even Wagner’s numbers were pretty comparable to what he did his last season at Kansas (.257/.385/.363) despite getting sporadic playing time.

Also, Peyton Holt’s batting average dropped quite a bit, but he had twice as many at bats this season (meaning a much larger sample size) and he still posted an impressive .919 OPS. The same happened to Ben McLaughlin, but his OPS actually increased by 8 points. The tweet and post both mention Diggs’ injury, which is certainly relevant, as is the fact that Jayson Jones was far from a regular player.

To determine if there actually is a “Nate Thompson Effect” that results in players getting worse under his leadership, Best of Arkansas Sports examined all 24 regulars during the Thompson era who played multiple seasons for the Razorbacks. We also looked at the 14 Division I transfers over that span.

(The transition from JUCO to Arkansas was not included in this breakdown because it’s such a significant increase in competition, there is no value in comparing the stats. We also excluded the shortened 2020 season because it was only 16 games and all non-conference play.)

What we found was that the multi-year Razorbacks’ OPS (again, a superior stat to batting average) from their first to last seasons in Fayetteville has actually increased by an average of 47 points. Only nine of the 24 players saw their OPS decrease, and that is without the aforementioned context.

For those who may argue that the average is skewed by the top end of that list, the median is also positive — an increase of 18 points.

It’s also worth noting that despite the team’s overall lower batting average the last few seasons, the individual player development is still happening because those nine players are pretty evenly spread out across Thompson’s tenure.

Only five of the 14 transfers saw their OPS increase from their previous season, but many of them were making a jump in competition. Trevor Ezell, Sprague-Lott, Michael Turner and Aloy were among those whose OPS dropped, but still had great-to-solid seasons for the Razorbacks.

The latter of those, Aloy, will also get a second season in Fayetteville. The only other Division I transfer to play two seasons with Arkansas baseball was Jace Bohrofen and his OPS increased by 280 points between his first and second year with the Razorbacks.

Multi-Year Razorbacks under Nate Thompson

PlayerAVG/OBP/SLG at ArkansasOPS at ArkansasOPS Change
Jack Kenley*2017: .133/.278/.167
2018: .222/.389/.259
2019: .311/.428/.553
.445
.648
.981
(+.203)
(+.333)
Total: +.535
Jace Bohrofen2022: .228/.333/.435
2023: .318/.436/.612
.768
1.048
+.280
Carson Shaddy*2017: .279/.383/.450
2018: .330/.426/.609
.833
1.035
+.202
Christian Franklin2018: .274/.361/.413
2019: .274/.420/.544
.774
.964
+.190
Braydon Webb2021: .174/.372/.413
2022: .283/.418/.542
.785
.960
+.175
Eric Cole*2017: .282/.349/.413
2018: .313/.407/.520
.762
.927
+.165
Peyton Stovall2022: .295/.373/.425
2023: .253/.330/.939
2024: .340/.409/.535
.798
.723
.944
(-.075)
(+.221)
Total: +.146
Casey Opitz2018: .222/.303/.296
2019: .243/.379/.311
2021: .257/.367/.346
.599
.690
.713
(+.091)
(+.023)
Total: +.114
Cayden Wallace2021: .279/.369/.500
2022: .298/.387/.553
.869
.940
+.071
Jalen Battles2021: .269/.371/.407
2022: .289/.364/.480
.778
.844
+.066
Dominic Fletcher*2017: .291/.356/.495
2018: .288/.338/.468
2019: .313/.385/.528
.851
.806
.913
(-.045)
(+.107)
Total: +.062
Jared Gates*2017: .246/.328/.418
2018: .241/.348/.421
.746
.769
+.023
Kendall Diggs2022: .197/.367/.361
2023: .299/.436/.547
2024: .229/.346/.395
.728
.983
.741
(+.255)
(-.242)
Total: +.013
Ben McLaughlin2023: .346/.442/.487
2024: .302/.447/.490
.929
.937
+.008
Heston Kjerstad2018: .332/.419/.553
2019: .327/.400/.575
.972
.975
+.003
Jacob Nesbit2019: .255/.333/.344
2021: .205/.341/.288
.677
.629
-.048
Casey Martin2018: .345/.418/.556
2019: .286/.364/.548
.974
.912
-.062
Zack Gregory2021: .245/.440/.412
2022: .212/.414/.363
.852
.777
-.075
Brady Slavens2021: .284/.347/.560
2022: .255/.332/.523
2023: .277/.340/.488
.907
.855
.828
(-.052)
(-.027)
Total: -.079
Matt Goodheart2019: .345/.444/.517
2021: .264/.386/.418
.961
.867
-.094
Grant Koch*2017: .264/.358/.498
2018: .245/.358/.375
.856
.733
-.123
Robert Moore2021: .283/.384/.558
2022: .232/.374/.427
.942
.801
-.141
Peyton Holt2023: .392/.489/.581
2024: .322/.412/.507
1.070
.919
-.151
Jax Biggers*2017: .338/.423/.498
2018: .280/.388/.382
.921
.770
-.151
*2017 was the season prior to Nate Thompson’s arrival

Additional context…

  • Peyton Stovall’s OPS likely would have increased in his second season with Arkansas baseball, as well, had he not suffered and then played through a shoulder injury that eventually required season-ending surgery. It’s also not far fetched to think his OPS in 2024 would have been higher had he not missed the first few weeks of the season, all against non-conference foes, with a broken foot.
  • Heston Kjerstad’s position on this list is a bit surprising, but it’s worth noting that he was slashing .448/.513/.791 when the 2020 season was canceled after 16 games. He likely wouldn’t have sustained his 1.304 OPS, but it’s not a stretch to think it could have stayed above 1.100, which would have given him a much bigger change in OPS.
  • The same can be said for Christian Franklin, who was slashing .381/.467/.619 at the time of the shutdown. His OPS probably would have dropped from 1.086, but he probably would have improved on his previous season’s OPS of .964.
  • Casey Martin is one of the most common examples people give of people regressing under Nate Thompson. While his batting average did dip quite a bit from his freshman to sophomore season, he still had a .912 OPS in 2019, which is still pretty good. His downward trend seemed to continue to start the 2020 season, but he was showing signs of turning things around about the time the season was canceled, at which point he was slashing .271/.386/.458 for an .844 OPS.
  • Injuries likely played a significant role in the careers of Kendall Diggs, Matt Goodheart and Brady Slavens.
  • It feels weird having Peyton Holt at the bottom of the list of Arkansas baseball players because he still posted a .919 OPS as essentially an every day player in 2024. He just had a whopping 1.070 OPS in more limited action the previous season. His at bats more than doubled from season to season, from 74 to 152.
  • Ben McLaughlin’s at bats increased even more, from 78 to 202, but he still managed to post a higher OPS in 2024.

Transfers under Nate Thompson

Player (prev. school)AVG/OBP/SLG before/at ArkansasOPS before/at ArkansasOPS Change
Tavian Josenberger (Kansas)2022: .276/.357/.386
2023: .287/.414/.490
.743
.904
+.161
Chris Lanzilli (Wake Forest)2021: .259/.325/.482
2022: .326/.424/.513
.807
.937
+.130
Jared Wegner (Creighton)2022: .343/.459/.635
2023: .313/.457/.674
1.094
1.131
+.037
Cullen Smith (ETSU)2019: .304/.428/.473
2021: .263/.395/.519
.901
.914
+.013
Jace Bohrofen (Oklahoma)2021: .252/.347/.408
2022: .228/.333/.435
.755
.768
+.013
Trevor Ezell (SEMO)2018: .377/.442/.558
2019: .329/.436/.561
1.000
.997
-.003
Hudson White (Texas Tech)2023: .296/.397/.550
2024: .298/.396/.525
.947
.921
-.026
Ross Lovich (Missouri)2023: .306/.383/.541
2024: .286/.408/.429
.924
.837
-.087
Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond)2023: .314/.440/.583
2024: .290/.425/.491
1.023
.916
-.107
John Bolton (Austin Peay)2022: .287/.384/.399
2023: .206/.358/.248
.783
.606
-.177
Michael Turner (Kent State)2021: .337/.439/.640
2022: .323/.388/.502
1.079
.890
-.189
Wehiwa Aloy (Sacramento State)2023: .376/.427/.662
2024: .270/.355/.485
1.089
.840
-.249
Ty Wilmsmeyer (Missouri)2023: .311/.380/.482
2024: .214/.319/.256
.862
.575
-.287
Jack Wagner (Tarleton State)2023: .337/.451/.692
2024: .260/.344/.500
1.143
.844
-.299
Bolded players made a significant jump in competition from their previous school.

Additional context…

  • Hudson White finished the 2024 season with almost an identical batting average and on-base percentage as he had last year at Texas Tech. The difference in his OPS is because of his slugging percentage, which can be attributed to no longer playing in the Red Raiders’ home run-friendly ballpark.
  • John Bolton’s OPS dropped quite a bit (177 points) with Arkansas baseball, but he wasn’t exactly a dangerous hitter at Austin Peay and earned the starting job at shortstop for defensive purposes.
  • Even though Michael Turner’s OPS dropped by 189 points, his slash line of .323/.388/.502 was still incredibly impressive – especially considering he got nearly three times as many at bats at a much higher level of competition (MAC vs. SEC) and was a full-time catcher for the first time.
  • Jack Wagner’s OPS fell by nearly 300 points, but at .844, it was still nearly 100 points higher than his last season at Kansas (2021).

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Nate Thompson was one of many topics discussed in the episode of Hoggin’ the Mic recapping the Fayetteville Regional:

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More coverage of Nate Thompson and Arkansas baseball from BoAS… 

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