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2019 Baseball Mail Bag #3: Answers To Questions from our Readers

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Letters... we get letters... we get stacks and stacks of letters...

A Conversation With David Letterman & Spike Jonze And Bennett Miller
Let’s see if anyone gets this visual pun.
Photo by Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

Though the rain punished us all weekend, Austin Martin stayed hot, the real Drake “Safari Planet” Fellows showed up, and Kumar Rocker struck fear into the hearts of every hitter in a soul-destroying three innings of hellfire. The Commodores improve to 5-1 on the year, and likely eased VandyImport’s concerns with our pitching staff.

This week, we have 5 games on the docket, all at The Hawk: Tuesday v. Southeast Mizzourah St., Wednesday vs. Austin Peay, and a weekend series with Dayton.

Onto the letters:

Question from VandyImport:

So Cooper Davis is out here trying to single-handedly bring back the Vanderbunt...

Question is, aside from his own running-away-from-the-Mounties speed, do we have the resources team-wide to get back to the Robber Baron triple steal days or is this just going to be part of his arsenal alone?

It would appear the bunt-as-weapon (i.e. The Vanderbunt) is Cooper Davis’s alone given our current roster construction. However, we do have the speed talent to pull off the triple steal, provided it’s some combination of the following players on 3rd and 2nd: Cooper Davis, Austin Martin, Pat DeMarco, and Ethan Paul. Believe it or not, but the trail runner (man on first stealing 2nd) is all but immaterial in the triple steal. Absolutely everyone one our current roster could pull it off.

The most important cog in the triple steal wheel is the runner on third’s ability to read the pitcher and situation. Has the pitcher stopped paying attention to you? Does the count and situation suggest an off speed pitch, or better yet, a spike? I think any of the aforementioned four players have the speed to pull off stealing home, but until I see it, the only player who has that Anthony Gomez-esque Quixotic confidence to actually go for it is Austin Martin. Sure, this confidence may veer towards hubris, and he may get picked off from time to time, but when I watch Martin on the base-paths, I see that same Velociraptor type hunting intensity that I saw in Gomez. The Ontario Barrel-Maker may well have more speed, but Martin is constantly waiting to pounce the very instant a pitcher lets his guard down.

Question from Athanatos504:

Anyone else think Rocker doesn’t have a strong move to first?

You are correct, sir. It’s his biggest current area of weakness. At the moment, his strengths are a fast, heavy-boring fastball, a naaaaaaaaaaaaaasty hook, and the near-constant fear opposing hitters have that he will grind their bones to make his bread. Out of a wind-up, he’s damn near unhittable already. However, he needs to put in some big time work in Brownie’s Pitching Lab (tm) on all areas of pitching with men on base.

First, his move to first is less “pick-off move” and more “soft toss to remind the runner that he may, if he is so inclined, throw over from time to time.” It is, in a word, weak.

On a related, but far more important note, his slide-step delivery when pitching with men on base is just... well... let’s be generous and go with “unpolished.” To be less generous, it’s a weakness. Again, from a wind-up, you’re not touching him. From the stretch, his mph, movement, and control weaken significantly.

Still, the man was beastly on Sunday. He came in during the 5th with the game tied 2-2 and straight up dominated—facing 4 batters, fanning 3. On the day, he went 3 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 5 K, 0 BB with an economical 41 pitches, and picked up his first collegiate win. He brought real juice to the mound, and that level of confidence had to help with the psyches of our hitters, who dropped a 3 spot on the Waves in the wake of Rocker’s dominant 5th.

In sum, he is the most tantalizing freshman arm to come to the West End since a man named David Price, but he’s still a freshman. I would start him this Sunday vs. Dayton... and it wouldn’t be penciled in, either.

Question from VandyTigerPhD:

(pulls up box scores)

Well I didn’t watch a pitch, but looking at these, looks like our pitching has started to settle in some. One thing box scores fail to tell us though is how things happened. Were the Pepperdine batters chasing too much? Did they fail to punish bad pitches? Was this more a case of the VU pitchers returning to a form we expect? How was their pitch selection/placement?

I declare this multi-part question not cheating as it all fits the same theme.

Drake “Safari Planet” Fellows returned to Ace form, and his placement and selection were pin-point accurate. I’m not sure anyone would have fared much better against him. Raby was a little shakier, but still got the job done. Kumar Rocker (see above) was an absolute beast. Jake Eder may well have locked down the closer role by striking out the side in game 2 (at least until Jackson Gillis returns from what I can only assume is an unreported ailment—*note: this is the thing I hate about covering college baseball... they never tell you who is hurt, what is hurt, and for how long they are expected to miss... you’re just expected to assume and guess based on whether or not they have received playing time). Tyler Brown pitched a ho-hum 1-2-3 8th, and will likely be the reliever we turn to in high-leverage moments. Mason Hickman was not as sharp as he was last weekend, but he still held the lead and got a 3 inning save.

In short, I thought the pitching was pretty damned great this weekend. Solid strategy from Brownie and the catchers; admirable execution by the arms. Of course, only 6 of them even got an inning this weekend. You’re going to want to open up your schedule to watch this team, VTPhD. Put it in the agenda.

Question from RocketCityVandy:

So, it’s great that we swept Pepperdine this past weekend, but it wasn’t as great as it could’ve been since we still lost a game from the weekend [*Editor’s note: due to rain]. Will we make it up later this season, and who would it likely be against? Any ideas?

Also, take on LSU being #2 in the nation still?

They will not make that game up, as far as I know. In the past, non-conference rain-outs have not been made up, unless it is between us and a local team, and even then, it has not necessarily been made up.

As for your second question, LSU is 7-0, yes, but they haven’t played anyone yet. All 7 of their games have been at home, and the best competition they’ve faced was this past Tuesday against Southeastern Louisiana (a 6-5 win). On the flip side, we played in one of the toughest (if not the toughest) tournaments, and more than held our own. Sure we have a loss, but many teams are going to lose to TCU this year. They’re one of my Omaha picks, to be honest. Baseball America currently has us ranked #1 and LSU ranked #2, as does D1Baseball (the two most cromulent publications for ranking and college baseball coverage, in my opinion). Neither changed from last week. Other rankings sites/publications, such as Perfect Game, have #1 LSU, #2 Oregon State, and Vanderbilt at #3.

In other words, don’t put much stock into rankings until at least mid-way through conference play. I do expect Vandy, LSU, and Oregon State to make it to Omaha (as well as TCU and Mississippi State). That’s my two cents. Of course, I have not seen one inning of UCLA, Texas Tech, UNC, etc. this year thus far, so take that for what it’s worth.

Question from Parlagi:

Dayton is this weekend’s opponent, and their offense is really struggling so far. Only two of the ten hitters who’ve started a game are above the Mendoza line, and six of them are batting .118 or worse. They slugged .100 in their only win against Seton Hall.

Thanks to the rain this weekend, the rotation has to be straightened back out at some point. Fellows threw 84 pitches on Sunday, which is basically a full outing. Is putting him out there on Friday a bridge too far, even against such an anemic offense, or would you bite the bullet and get it over with?

An excellent question. At the moment, Dayton is historically bad on offense. They currently sport a .179/.319/.245 triple slash line through 5 games (in comparison, ours is .336/.440/.495). In simpler terms, Dayton has averaged just under 3 runs per game, whereas we have averaged 8. Like many pre-conference games, this will be a mismatch.

In Sunday’s game-thread, I posited the following:

What will be even more interesting is what Corbs and Brownie do next week. Will they try to run Fellows out there on short rest, or will they use Hickman or Rocker next Friday, so Fellows will be only short one day of rest, Raby will be on full rest, with the idea that the following week, they return Fellows to Friday and Raby to Saturday both one day short. That’s what makes the most sense to me (as we really don’t need to battle Ace vs. Ace until SEC play, as few non-conference teams will have a true ace), but an alternate plan would be to pitch all at their regular spots, but just put Fellows on a pitch count (say 75) and go to the pen after 4 IP.

After having shut down an effective Fellows at 84 pitches, I could have sworn I saw Brownie tell Fellows he was taking him out then so he would be able to pitch Friday. It was a lip-read, and I’m no expert lip-reader, but that’s what I saw. Further, it’s what I would do. Plan to pitch-count him around 80 again—hope for 6 innings, but be glad with a solid 5. Had Safari Planet thrown 100+ pitches in high stress innings on Sunday, I wouldn’t entertain the option of pitching him on 2 days less rest, but he was in a groove, and was shut down early. Had to have been for a reason.

*Bonus Question from Parlagi:

Two of Dayton’s starting pitchers have ERAs of 12.46 and 21.60, WHIPs of 2.44 and 2.90, and BAAs of .313 and .471.

Can those numbers get any worse this weekend?

Let’s consult my Murphy’s Law brand Magic 8 Ball. Signs point to yes.