"Chaos claims the unwary or the incomplete. A true man may flinch away its embrace, if he is stalwart, and he girds his soul with the armour of contempt."
-Dan Abnett, Ravenor
"It's called playing the percentages. It's what smart managers do."
-Mr. Burns, "Homer at the Bat"
Entirely too quick recap:
Tuesday v. Belmont: Win 2-1. Dansby "The Mansby" Swanson kicked off his MVP week with a late inning fake bunt that propelled us to close victory.
Friday v. UK: Loss 4-2 (Predicted a 4-3 win. Beede's in his head a bit too much since the LSU hard-luck loss two weeks back. We need him to regroup and focus on hitting his spots. All else will fall into place).
Saturday v. UK: Win 9-3 (Predicted an 8-6 win. I was way off. This is one of the few times it feels great to be wrong).
Sunday v. UK: Win 6-2 (Predicted a 2-13 loss, but in the greater scheme of things, I predicted a 2-1 series win, and was right. Would have switched this prediction following Friday's loss. Going to stop picking against Tyler Ferguson. He just keeps getting better and better, and there isn't a Sunday starter in the league that can match up with him favorably).
Overall Record: 23-6
Player of the series: #7 2B Dansby "The Mansby" Swanson
*I'll let his numbers speak for themselves. Swanson. He's so hot right now.
Friday: 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 2B, 1 BB
Saturday: 4-5, 3 R, 2 RBI, 1 HR, 1 2B (See highlights here)
Sunday: 2-4, 2 R, 1 2B
Pitcher of the series: #15 RHP Carson "The Florida Flamethrower" Fulmer
Saturday: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 K, 1 BB
Sunday: Save (8), 1.1 IP, 1 H, 2 K, 0 BB, 0 R
However, the numbers don't fully convey his impact on Sunday. In the 8th, with our boys holding precariously onto a series-winning one run lead, after Adam Ravenelle - who had bailed us out with an inning ending double play in the 7th - gave up two singles, we called on the closer. Even though he had thrown two innings the day before, it was the right call. He's our closer. Our bulldog. Our Florida Flamethrower. What did he do? Just the most clutch 3 pitch K on the ever-dangerous A.J. Reed with 2 outs and runners on first and third.
He's a bad man. Watch the dominance here.
Honorable Mention: #45 RHP Tyler "Force-Man" Ferguson
By now, it's obvious no Sunday starter is going to have a chance against the "Force-Man." He's now 5-0 and went 6 strong innings, striking out 5, walking no one, and giving up 2 runs (1 earned). Side note: I looked up the etymology of "Ferguson," and while it means "son of Fergus" (derp), Fergus comes from the Gaelic elements of "fear" (man) and "gus" (force, vigor, or choice). You can't make this stuff up.
Second Guesses No One Asked For: "Questioning the Platoon Advantage"
I want to start with a caveat I didn't think I'd need in these columns, but it appears I do. Tim Corbin is the best coach in the history of Vanderbilt athletics. He's indispensable, and has earned a contract for life. He's a man of integrity and character, and though he's masterful at selling this program on the recruiting trail, he's much more than a salesman, and what he sells isn't pre-packaged platitudes and snake oil. He could have bolted many a time (most notably for LSU, or for Oregon and their Phil Knight money) and I have to believe he's at least fielding calls from the professional ranks from time to time. He is Vanderbilt baseball, and he's the reason we're consistently amongst the top 10 teams nationally and are perennially hosting a Super Regional late in the spring. He. Is. The. Man.
That should go without saying.
That said, baseball is like speed-chess in Central Park, with the need for split-second, high variable decisions throughout a 2-3 hour contest, only the chess pieces are being hurled at you at upwards of 98 mph, and the knights have large clubs or something... and I've completely lost control of this analogy, but bear with me. Further, with advanced analytics changing the game over the last decade, there is no definitive "book" to go by any more. Rather, it's an ever-evolving contest of thinking strategically, spreadsheets, tendencies, high-variable probabilities, and the indefinable "gut call." As such, there is no other sport more open to questioning, more prone to critical analysis, or more open to debate. My second guesses are simply that, and you're more than welcome to disagree with me. That's what the comments section is for. That and Simpsons references. (It's also for agreeing with me, venting, posting your opinions of various bourbons, and wondering how the Aurora Borealis can be located entirely within a principal's kitchen.)
And with that, I will now openly question how he's filling out something as simple as a line-up card.
Second Guess #1: Using Ro Coleman as the DH and batting him in the leadoff spot both Saturday and Sunday.
Coming into this weekend's series, Coleman, the affable speedster with the infectious personality, has been hitting at an envious-of-Mario-Mendoza clip of .164. He'd taken a few walks, but not as many as his stature might suggest. He'd dropped down a few bunts, too, but he'd not been exhibiting the kind of bat control necessary to properly utilize his whippet-quick speed and leg out bunts or three-hoppers that make the shortstop move to his right. Worse yet, he's just not stinging the ball enough to get it through the infield, or hit the smaller gap between outfielders who will continue to play extremely shallow, and what he's mostly producing are weak pop-ups to shallow left and center, strikeouts, and ground outs to the first baseman.
Corbin had used Chris Harvey at DH on Friday against lefty A.J. Reed, and he'd produced quite strongly in the 7 hole, going 2-4 with a run scored. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, he went with the "platoon advantage." With players of similar production, or when their splits versus opposite handed pitchers are clearly one-sided, the platoon advantage is sound reasoning. However, like C. Montgomery Burns before him benching Darryl Strawberry for Homer Simpson because the opponent's softball pitcher was left-handed, Corbin's decision to platoon his designated hitters, with Coleman getting the lions share, is, at best, highly questionable at this point.
Further, when Coleman gets the start, Corbin often compounds the problem by leading him off, and thus giving him the most plate appearances of anyone in the line-up on a given day, statistically. In MLB, the average lead-off hitter will get approximately 150 more PAs than the #9 hitter in a given season. Adjusting that down to the approximately 60 games that makes up a college baseball season, we're talking about roughly 50 more plate appearances. If Coleman continues hitting at his current pace, we're talking about a difference of 7 or 8 hits lost due to batting order alone (*assuming the person replacing him at lead-off bats around .300), than if he were placed in the 9-hole. By batting him lead-off, Corbs is making a bad decision... well... worse.
Again, I hope Coleman's able to turn it around, but it's not just his current .156 BA or .276 OBP that's leading me to this conclusion. Let's look closer at a snapshot of his recent plate appearances, focusing on this weekend's series v. UK.
- 1st AB: K (swinging).
- 2nd AB: Had the count in his favor (2-1), got a good swing on it and barreled it up... and it was a weak fly to left.
- 3rd AB: K (looking).
- 4th AB: First pitch fly out to LF. Stranded a man on 2nd with one out.
- 5th AB: Grounded out to the 1B.
On Sunday, he was 0-3 with a K, but was pulled for Kyle Smith late in the game with Vandy clinging to a slim lead. On Friday, he was brought in as a pinch hitter to lead off the bottom of the 9th, with our boys down 2 runs. Fly out to CF.
Of course, everyone has bad games or goes through slumps, and this is clearly not enough of a sample size to definitively prove anything, but Saturday's game was a microcosm of both his approach and results at the plate thus far this season. It's not only that he's not producing, he's not using his skill set correctly. After his first AB, the announcer, in a less exasperated tone than I would have used, said, "I wish he would just drop a bunt down and make them throw him out." Exactly. With his current approach, he's a hole in the line-up, and you just can't afford to have a hole getting the most at bats in a given game.
I think he has the potential to be a top of the order batter eventually, but at the moment, at basically the season's mid-point, Ro continues to look (and be) over-matched as a freshman. Corbin needs to see that.
Scouting Report: #3 SS Vince "Senor Racha Caliente" Conde
Game Scouted: Saturday v. UK
Game Line: 2-4, 2 RBI, 1 K
Season Line: .326 BA, .447 OBP, .438 SLG, 17 R, 20 RBI, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 19 BB, 17 K, 0 GDP, 4-4 SB-ATT
Offense: In the past, Vince Conde had the tendency to bail and wail a bit, and as a consequence, can get pull heavy. This is the primary (non-mental) reason for why he tends to go on streaks. Right now, he's staying on the ball, going up the middle and hitting to the opposite field better than I've ever seen him. If he stays like this all season, he'll be a dangerous asset at the plate. He's the kind of hitter who gives a manager confidence to call the hit-and-run, and know he has the bat control to find the hole vacated by the 2nd baseman. He's a line-drive hitter, who mostly drives it up the middle for singles, but has gap power, and can occasionally reach the seats. Though he's been historically streaky, he's been solid all year, and is leading this young team by example.
Defense: Defensively, he's solid, but unspectacular. He's a man you can count on to make the routine to somewhat difficult plays, but his range will not lead to anyone projecting SS as his position in the minor leagues. However, he's extremely dependable, and possesses great defensive instincts. For example, in Sunday's rubber match against Kentucky, after John Norwood ignored Conde's call and attempted to throw the runner out at third, Conde expertly cut it off, spun, and gunned down the runner at 2nd on a bang bang play. It's this kind of leadership and baseball IQ that keeps him at short.
Base-running: Good base runner. Not elite speed, but he reads the ball off the bat as good as anyone, and can swipe a bag if the pitcher doesn't pay attention to him. He's a solid all-around ball player.
Scouting Report: #28 LHP Jared "The Stalwart" Miller
Game Scouted: Saturday v. UK
Game Line: W (6-1), 6 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 2 WP, 2 HBP
Season Line: 6-1, 1.73 ERA, 41.67 IP, 22 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 15 BB, 30 K, 2-1 K/BB, 6.48 K/9, .153 B/AVG, 5 WP, 3 HBP
The Good: Good fastball, good curve, plus change, plus control. His wind-up is a bit odd, as he largely stays in the stretch, raises the ball, showing it to the batter, then obscures it with his glove, dropping his arm again before driving towards the plate. It's got a bit of deception to it, but I can't help but wonder if it would be more deceptive without showing the batter the ball. I honestly don't know, though, even though showing the ball is never taught at any level. It might serve to keep his balance, and if so, I'm fine with it. You don't tinker with success.
Miller is "The Stalwart" in this rotation for the following reason: In the 6th inning of Saturday's game, Miller looked to be done, as he nearly threw 2 of his first 3 pitches to the backstop. However, his biggest strength is his mental toughness, and he composed himself, pitched to contact, and got out of the inning with 3 groundball outs. This aspect of his game is really quite impressive, as he was completely out of bullets, and had to think his way out to preserve the lead.
The Bad: His one Achilles heel is the inability to pitch deep into games. Perhaps this has to do with spending the past 2 seasons in the pen, but he often appears out of bullets past the 5th inning. This weekend, he came apart completely in the 5th, giving up 3 runs, hitting 2, and committing a horrible throwing error. Barely got out of the inning.
The Ugly: His occasional throwing errors. They need to stop.
*Author's Note: Andrew VU '04 is a writer, educator, and ne-er-do-well living in the whirlpool of despair (Baton Rouge, LA). "Scouting Report: Something Something Burt Ward" will be a weekly column written and posted every Sunday evening throughout the 2014 baseball season. In it, the writer will second guess at least one key decision made by Coach Tim Corbin, provide a frighteningly quick recap of the week's games (I'm just giving scores, you crum bums, so if you want more, read the damn box scores your damn selves), and write up a full scouting report on one pitcher and one position player. He might think up some other features; he might not. He's not going to write another long caveat like he did to open this column, though. Never again.