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2019 Baseball Mail Bag #1: Answers To Questions from our Readers

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You have-a the questions; I give-a the answers.

IMG NYFW: The Shows 2019 PARTNERS - February 7 Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for IMG

*Note: Send your questions to andrewvu04@gmail.com for inclusion in the next mail bag.

Question from Tom Stephenson:

Hi. Yes. Why the hell does college baseball season start in February? That’s basketball season, you dolts.

Interestingly enough, West Virginia head baseball coach Randy Mazey has been crusading for a “Spring Training” of sorts for college baseball for years now, with the regular season not beginning until April. In a 2015 post on the baseball blog National Arms Race, this proposal is given the pro and con treatment. The Wasington Post wrote about Mazey’s idea then, as well.

In short, northern baseball programs get screwed by the early baseball start, as they basically play the first month on the road so as not to get snowed in (and/or have a plethora of fingers shattered by inside pitches). Vanderbilt, though not northern by any stretch of the imagination, typically heeds the advice of Horace Greeley and has its young men “go west.” Typically, we head out to California and play a group of top seeded teams to test our mettle well before conference play starts. This year, we’re heading out to Talking Stick, Arizona to face UVA (Friday at 6pm CT), Cal State Fullerton (Saturday at 2pm CT), and TCU (Sunday at 12pm CT). *Note: The first game will be on the MLB Network, and the next two are supposed to be on MLB.TV (which is really an excellent product if you, like me, live out of the market of the MLB team you follow).

My best guess as to why the season starts so early is that the NCAA wants all of its major sports to happen while students are on campus. I would argue that the conference tournaments and NCAA tournament largely happen when students have long since returned to the land of summer jobs and parents, so who cares when it starts? Frankly, I’d prefer that it start in March or April and go through the entire summer because, well, more good baseball. I’d also propose that the MLB draft be held AFTER the College World Series has concluded, as this boondoggle screws with the emotions of all the top juniors and seniors during the toughest time of the season. It’s so dumb, and so easily fixed. Get on it, people with much more power than I have, like MLB commissioner (checks notes) Rob Manfred. No, that can’t be his name. That’s the type of name an alien chooses after climbing into a human skin.

However, do you really want to watch any more Vanderbilt basketball?


Question from VandyTigerPhD:

We’ve often talked about how awful most sabermetrics are, even written articles about it. Some sabermetrics are straight up awful (e.g. WAR, ZR, and wRC+). A search to find some truly awful sabermetrics did not disappoint. Did you know that there’s a sabermetric for a batting average when it’s in the 7th or later and your team is down by <4 runs? It’s called LIPS! I also found out that someone proposed tracking the “catcher’s ERA” (CERA).

No, this question isn’t about what sabermetric you hate the most (though feel free to get on that soap box, too). I was curious as to what sabermetric you may like. I’m going to take the time to (once again) trumpet WHIP as my personal favorite.

I actually think WAR (or bWAR or fWAR if you prefer), is not a bad metric. It’s just not the be-all-end-all. It’s basically like the RPI in that it can give you a pretty good sense about how good a player is, but it would just be lazy to stop there. Before I answer which sabermetric stat I love, can we all finally agree that individual +/- in basketball and hockey are just irresponsibly stupid, myopic, and lazy? In a team sport, who is around you matters, con sarn it! If TJ McConnell exclusively plays with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons out of the lineup, of course his +/- stats are going to look horrible! Then, once you give him Tobias Harris to play with, of course his +/- stats are going to look phenomenal! Try harder, NBA and NHL.

My personal favorite sabermetric stat is like the inverse of the problematic +/-. I am such a fan of the FiP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in conjuction with the ERA. FiP (though admittedly not perfect) attempts to factor out the defense behind a pitcher to give you a pitcher’s true ability regarding outcomes he can personally control. By keeping both FiP and ERA in mind, you can get a good sense not only of a pitcher’s abilities, but the ability of the defense behind him. From mlb.com’s statistics glossary:

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)

Definition

FIP is similar to ERA, but it focuses solely on the events a pitcher has the most control over -- strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs. It entirely removes results on balls hit into the field of play.

For example: If a pitcher has surrendered a high average on balls in play, his FIP will likely be lower than his ERA. Balls in play are not part of the FIP equation because a pitcher is believed to have limited control over their outcome.

The formula

Where the “FIP constant” puts FIP onto the same scale as the entire league’s ERA: ((HR x 13) + (3 x (BB + HBP)) - (2 x K)) / IP + FIP constant.

Again, it’s far from perfect, as a pitcher who gives up a ton of base hits to spots where defenders cannot conceivably get to relative to his peers would have an artificially inflated FiP. Beyond that, it doesn’t take into account the value of a tactician like Dallas Keuchel, who pitches to the strengths of his defense. Still, on teams with horrific defenses (like the Phillies last year, who played nearly everyone out of position and thought Rhys “Mr. Heavyfoot” Hoskins could play in the outfield), it is useful in determining which pitchers would be useful on your roster in the future if, you know, you fixed all the damned holes in your defense.

Here is footage of Rhys Hoskins putting on his pants and then running a marathon.

I like the WHIP, too. Quite a lot, actually. Not just because I like the name “Steny Hoyer.” Of course, very few of these sabermetric stats have made their way into college baseball, as no one has put in the capital to film everything at a precise enough level to track defensive range, etc. Yet.


Question from BlindRef69:

Which players have the highest 2019 MLB draft potential? Bonus question: Which players without draft eligibility (fresh/soph) have the highest future draft stocks? cough cough…Kumar Rocker

I’m going to answer this regarding players currently draft eligible on the team, and not those who have committed to us for next year. With that in mind, the answer is easy: Jr. OF JJ “Say Hey” Bleday.

Not sure how much you paid attention to last year, but when he was healthy, we won. When he was hurt? Not so much. Bleday is a 4 tool athlete (not fast enough to truly be a 5 tool guy) who will likely have to play a corner OF position at the next level. As such, he will be devalued due to his defensive position. However, the man can rake, and his bat is a legit carrying tool.

Let me crib from my article this summer in which I wrote about Bleday being named “Top Pro Prospect in the Cape Cod League” (a wood bat league that routinely features the top pro prospects in the summers following their freshman and sophomore years):

For those who watched Vanderbilt baseball last year, it should be no surprise that outfielder JJ Bleday is regarded as a top pro prospect for the 2019 draft. Simply put, his impact on the lineup was staggering.

In his 39 games played, Bleday slashed .368/.494/.511 (yes, you read that right, Moneyball Bleday was on base in nearly half of his plate appearances). Further, in the five and a half weeks Bleday missed due to injury, Vanderbilt slipped to 8-14 (losing the first five games of Bleday’s absence, to boot). When he returned, the boys immediately picked it up, going 10-5 and were an eyelash short of a trip to Omaha. Overall, the team played at an impressive .675 clip (27-13) with him, but were a .364 team without him.

In other words, the 2018 Commodore squad were basically the Boston Red Sox with Bleday, and the Chicago White Sox without him.

Bleday’s bat has not been as hot (again, the man was on base damn near half the time) in the Cape Cod League, but he has hit .311/.374/.500 in the top wood bat league in the land, which was enough to pique the curiosity of the MLB scouts in attendance. Yesterday, he was awarded the McNeese Outstanding Pro Prospect Award.

Bleday is our top junior, and it’s not even close. He has a great shot at being picked in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft, winning the Golden Spikes Award, slugging the team to a title, and coming close to supplanting Dansby Swanson in our hearts.

Junior pitchers Drake Fellows, Jackson Gillis, and Zach King should be taken in the top 5 rounds. Junior catcher Ty Duvall—though trapped in one hell of a battle for innings and at bats at catcher with Philip Clarke and sentient fire hydrant Stephen Scott—has a bat that can play, and should at least receive a look.

As for our seniors, many of them turned down minor league contracts to come back, so they should expect to be drafted again in 2019. Ethan Paul and Stephen Scott should expect to be redrafted. I expect Julian “Chinfante” Infante to have a bounce back year and put on a power display. If this happens, he should be drafted, as well. Patrick “Mad Dog” Raby will need to have a hell of a year to hear his name called before the 20th round, as MLB teams almost never draft pitchers who can’t top 90mph in the high rounds—no matter their pedigree or performance in college. Like Infante, he will have to have a hell of a year to move up draft boards. It is nigh on impossible to predict which rounds seniors will go, as MLB teams like to pick more than a few in the top 10 rounds for lower bonuses so as to keep enough money in their coffers to go after tougher to sign college juniors and high school seniors.

Not to dismiss the 2nd part to your question, but we have so many extremely talented and highly regarded freshmen and sophomores, I would be here all day running it down for you. However, yes, freshman fireballers Kumar “Harold” Rocker and Austin “Big Walnut” Becker currently have the most upside regarding the draft. Keep your eye on sophomores Austin Martin (especially if he wins the SS job and scouts think he can stick at the position), Pat DeMarco, and Philip Clarke.


Question from VanDSIRROM:

How many games into the season will VU be when Rocker gets his first weekend start? How many mid-week games will he have won by that time?

Will he play more than 1 year at Vandy?

Last question first: yes. I fully expect him to play three years at Vandy and then get drafted, as per the rules of Major League Baseball. Once you enter a four year college, you have to stay three years to re-enter the draft. If you enroll in a two year college (junior college), you can leave for the draft at any time.

As for the rest of the question, I would think Rocker will be put on the same plan as Walker Buehler was early in his VU pitching career. In fact, as long as Raby is pitching well enough to hold onto his weekend slot, it wouldn’t surprise me if Rocker held the mid-week slot into postseason play. By the postseason, like Buehler, he will force the hand of Corbs and Brown, and make multiple starts. Of course, we are stacked in the rotation, and either Becker or Eder could compete for and win a weekend spot. On the flip side, like Tyler Beede, he might win a weekend rotation spot right away (though I don’t expect this to be the case). It’s a hell of a good problem to have.