Sam Selman was a wild card coming into this season. "Crazy Legs" had undeniable talent, but control problems kept him either on the bench or in the bullpen during his first two seasons at Vanderbilt. Despite being able to throw mid-90s fastballs deep into his starts, the junior lacked the composure to be a true threat for the Commodores.
He made only seven appearances in 2011 behind a stacked Vanderbilt pitching rotation that featured a pair of first-round draft picks. However, when the bulk of that staff left Nashville, it became clear that Selman was going to be one of the guys that head coach Tim Corbin counted on to lead this team's young and rebuilding pitching staff. Two years of collegiate experience essentially made him the team's elder statesman on the mound. He was slotted into the team's weekend rotation and given the chance to be a stabilizing presence for the 'Dores on Saturdays.
That move did not pay immediate dividends.
Selman struggled out of the gate, going winless in his first five starts as Vanderbilt sputtered to 7-15 through the first month of the season. His control issues were a serious problem and a shoddy defense behind him did little to boost Selman's confidence. Facing a crisis, Tim Corbin and pitching coach Derek Johnson made a move that should make them popular coach of the year candidates.
Selman, who had limited success earlier in the year against mid-major Rhode Island, was moved to the less stressful weekday spot. Instead of facing top 25 teams and SEC juggernauts, the junior was given the chance to polish his pitching against teams like Tennessee Tech and Middle Tennessee State. It was the college pitching equivalent of getting sent down to the minors to bust a slump. And it worked like a charm.
Selman immediately found success on Tuesdays, earning three straight wins without giving up an earned run in any of them. His strikeout numbers were up and his baserunners were down. Suddenly, the lanky Texan was dialing in to his immense talents on the mound. These performances earned him more work in meaningful games. It started with 2.1 solid innings against then-#3 Kentucky. That evolved into 4.2 innings of long relief against Tennessee.
Corbin and Johnson couldn't hold Selman back any longer. He officially moved back into the team's weekend rotation in a major series at LSU. In his first SEC start since getting beaten up by Florida, he threw five quality innings to beat the Tigers. He rolled that momentum into another quality start at Ole Miss before putting on last night's "how to escape a jam" clinic against the Gators.
Now Selman is beginning to look like the starter that many scouts thought that he could be coming out of high school. While his control issues are still a problem, he's shown the composure to pitch his way out of whatever trouble he finds. That demeanor, along with the emergence of T.J. Pecoraro, has made Vanderbilt's starting pitching one of the team's strongest assets late in the season.
The numbers back this theory up as well. Vanderbilt has won the last 10 games that Selman has appeared in. During that stretch, the team's overall winning percentage has climbed from under 33 percent to over 56 percent. In the Vandy's 11 wins with Selman on the mound, the Texan is striking out 10.36 batters per nine innings and has an ERA of 1.26. In his losses in the beginning of the season, that strikeout rate dropped to 7.62 per nine and his ERA was an astronomical 11.77.
|Sam Selman in 2012|
|Date||Opponent||IP||Hits||Earned Runs||Strikeouts||Walks/HBP||W/L?||Vandy's Overall Record||Vandy's Win Pct|
|11-Mar||vs. San Diego||2.1||5||7||2||5||L||5-10||0.333|
|27-Mar||vs. Tenn Tech||5||2||0||7||2||W||10-15||0.400|
|18-May||vs. Ole Miss||6.1||6||0||3||2||W||28-25||0.528|
|*Bold indicates ranked teams||*11-4|
|ERA in wins:||1.26|
|ERA in losses:||11.77|
|K/9 in wins:||10.36|
|K/9 in losses:||7.62|
|Baserunners/9 in wins:||10.99|
|Baserunners/9 in losses:||24.92|
This observational data paints a telling story. Vanderbilt's improvement has coincided with Selman's development into a top-level SEC pitcher. The team's turnaround seems to have been driven by this marked improvement from a player that had been tabbed to lead a core of young pitchers into a new Commodore era.
Selman's game improved by leaps and bounds when he was able to rebuild his confidence as a weekday starter. He was then able to translate that success against some of the SEC's best teams, recording huge wins over LSU and Florida when the Commodores needed them the most. On a team chock full of great stories, Sam Selman's emergence might just be the best one. The junior never gave up and pushed himself to become this team's most reliable starter as the postseason rolls around.
Here's hoping that Vanderbilt can count on him even more as the season winds down.