You can't really find a "bad" team when you look at Vanderbilt Baseball under head coach Tim Corbin. What you will find is two teams that stand out so strongly that they cast shadows on to the others. Vandy's 2011 squad set the standard for success in Nashville by making it to baseball's final four. This year's team has the chance to not only exceed that example, but deliver an NCAA Championship that would validate the careers of Corbin, pitching coach Scott Brown, and Vandy AD David Williams.
Corbin's 2014 Commodores have already won as many games at the College World Series this summer (two) as they had for their entire first trip in 2011. That leads to a natural comparison - which team was superior? Was it the '11 squad that boasted a .331 hitter as their weakest link in the lineup? Or is it the '14 team who can't make a run to the bullpen without tripping over a handful of 1st round draft picks on the way? That 2011 team made history, but this 2014 team can take those accomplishments even further when they return to TD Ameritrade Park on Friday.
So, to borrow a phrase from US Weekly - who wore it best? Which of Tim Corbin's teams was better on a player-to-player basis? Here's a position-by-position breakdown of those two teams - and a look at which team would have the advantage in a head-to-head matchup. Feel free to state your disapproval with these picks in the comments below.
At the Plate:
2011: Curt Casali (.303 BA/.387 OPB%/.475 SLG%)
2014: Jason Delay (.264/.388/.349) / Karl Ellison (.215/.378/.246)
Advantage: 2011. Ellison's defense brought the 'Dores tremendous value in game one of the CWS, but Casali's ability to call games and contribute in the heart of the Vandy lineup makes him the more important player.
1st Base -
2011: Aaron Westlake (.344/.463/.640)
2014: Zander Wiel (.277/.383/.436)
Advantage: 2011. This was the year that Westlake powered Vandy past Oregon State in the Super Regional with a three home run performance. If anyone could get a ball out of a stagnant TD Ameritrade Park, it would be the 'Dores moose of a first baseman.
2nd Base -
2011: Riley Reynolds (.331/.383/.373)
2014: Dansby Swanson (.341/.419/.494)
Advantage: 2014. Reynolds often gets forgotten in the shuffle when discussing the 2011 team, but he was a solid player for the 'Dores up the middle and a former Freshman All-American. However, he can't match up with Vandy's most consistent offensive threat in 2014. Swanson gives 2014 their first win here.
2011: Anthony Gomez (.336/.352/.392)
2014: Vince Conde (.297/.414/.401)
Advantage: Push. This is a tough matchup, and I'm sure that several Commodore fans would take Gomez in a heartbeat if given the choice. However, where Gomie was a key piece in an offensive juggernaut, Conde has often stood out as an island of offense when this team has needed him. Two great players with similar strengths at SS. I can't choose a favorite between them - should Gomez's clutch play supersede Conde's patience at the plate and vacuum defense in the field?
3rd Base -
2011: Jason Esposito (.340/.403/.530)
2014: Xavier Turner (.284/.355/.368)
Advantage: 2011. Turner would have to be Superman to catch up to Espo, who was good enough in college to fill the hole that Pedro Alvarez left behind in 2008. Like Westlake, Esposito had the long-ball power to make TDAP's vast expanses seem a whole lot smaller.
Right Field -
2011: Mike Yastrzemski (.296/.422/.378)
2014: Rhett Wiseman (.279/.347/.393)
Advantage: 2011. Here we have two outfielders from Massachusetts who made it to Omaha in their sophomore seasons. Yaz was dangerous in every facet of the game, earning him the nod over Wiseman in a close decision. Yastrzemski wasn't yet the player who would earn NCAA Regional MOP honors, but he was a terror on the basepaths who created run-scoring opportunities in a way that Wiseman can't...yet.
Center Field -
2011: Connor Harrell (.289/.355/.497)
2014: John Norwood (.281/.351/.377)
Advantage: 2011. Harrell brought major league power to the middle of the 'Dores lineup while playing plus defense in centerfield. Norwood has been a very underrated piece of Vanderbilt's 2014 success, but he doesn't hold up individually to the first Vandy player to roam center in Omaha.
Left Field -
2011: Tony Kemp (.329/.434/.417)
2014: Bryan Reynolds (.341/.397/.494)
Advantage: Push. Take your pick of overachieving freshman here. Kemp was more valuable over the course of the season, but Reynolds has been Vanderbilt's most consistent bat in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Both are guilty of making Commodore fans tremble with anticipation for their sophomore years.
Designated Hitter -
2011: Conrad Gregor (.353/.456/.471)
2014: Ro Coleman (.214/.333/.259) / Karl Ellison / Nolan Rogers (.213/.323/.259)
Advantage: 2011. Gregor raked as a freshman, giving the 'Dores a legitimate power threat all the way down in the bottom third of their batting lineup. Corbin's 2014 squad of designated hitters this summer is a core of role players who each have their own strengths, but none have developed as solid all-around batters at this stage of their college careers.
Game 1 Starter -
2011: Sonny Gray (2.43 ERA, 9.43 K/9, .213 BAA)
2014: Carson Fulmer (1.88/9.63/.194)
Advantage: 2014. Twist! Fulmer, who has been a reliable inning-eater in the 2014 NCAA Baseball Tournament, earns the narrowest of nods here over former Ace Sonny Gray. The '14 sophomore has been more consistent and currently totes a better postseason ERA (3.66 to 3.69) and strikeout rate than Gray did back in 2011. His ability to give Vandy 5+ solid innings has been a major benefit for Tim Corbin in Omaha.
Game 2 Starter -
2011: Grayson Garvin (2.48/8.07/.232)
2014: Tyler Beede (3.80/9.45/.214)
Advantage: 2011. If Vanderbilt knew they were getting the guy who struck out 14 Xavier batters on a regular basis, Beede would get the nod. Instead, his control issues make this a win for the 2011 SEC Pitcher of the Year.
Game 3 Starter -
2011: Taylor Hill (2.73/8.36/.238)
2014: Tyler Ferguson (2.51/7.29/.199) / Walker Buehler (2.27/9.88/.218)
Advantage: 2014. Hill has somehow pitched like a crafty veteran from the time he was 19 years old, and his big start against UNC kept Vandy alive in 2011. However, the 'Dores depth and ability to punch one of two dominant starters in at the late stages of a double-elimination tournament gives the 2014 squad the advantage here.
2011: Will Clinard, Corey Williams, Kevin Ziomek, Mark Lamm, Navery Moore.
2014: Ferguson/Buehler, Adam Ravenelle, Hayden Stone, Brian Miller, Jared Miller.
Advantage: 2014. The Commodores had a very good bullpen in 2011. They have an outstanding one in 2014.
The 2011 and 2014 Commodores were two different teams, but they both rode their depth to a pair of College World Series wins. This year, the 'Dores are relying on a stacked cupboard of pitching prospects and making the most of their opportunities on the basepaths to generate wins. While they lag behind their earlier version in terms of pure talent, they've - so far - had more success in Omaha thanks to Tim Corbin's gameplans from the bench. Though the 2011 team wins most of the matchups in this comparison, it's tough to argue with the results that the '14 Commodores have delivered so far.