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Baseball Mail Bag #6: Answers To Questions from our Readers

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

Stock Markets Re-Open After Dow Takes A Deep Dive Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

All in all, this was a pretty good week. We got dominant starting pitching, went four for four in the win column, beat the ever-loving crap out of a hated rival from Jortsville, got Corbs his 700th Vanderbilt victory, and saw the emergence of Harrison Ray as a certified bad-ass.

On top of that, I took a much needed vacation, hiking in the hills of Arkansas. Reader/commenter “shoogymgshoogs” posited on Thursday’s game thread:

“If we keep up these shutouts, we’re going to have to send Andrew on vacation forever!”

*Note: I am not opposed to this. If you are all willing to pool your resources for the purpose of sending me on a lifelong vacation to give our baseball boys good juju, I will make that sacrifice. I have calculated it, and I believe I can do it for either $5 million up front, or $200k per year pre-tax for a one year contract with additional one year opt-ins for me ad infinitum. I can promise not only to be on vacation every day from here on out, but to write multiple travel books about the experience—all while maintaining the irreverent/astute coverage of the Vandyboys you have come to know and love. At least one of you must know and/or be John Ingram. If there is enough interest in this in the comments, I will set up a GoFundMe account this week. Seriously.

This week, we look to keep the train rolling against Tuesday against The David Lipscomb University Bisons (again, this is not a joke—an institute of supposed higher learning continues to advertise in the most public way its lack of knowledge regarding the proper pluralization of its own mascot) and Friday through Sunday against The Chuggers.

Onto the questions...

Question from VandyImport:

Lord help me, I’m back on my bullshit...

Is it time to worry about the bullpen again, or are we just gonna hang a Shurmer-spot on everybody and let two touchdowns make our relief pitching inconsequential?

I’m still in the camp that college bullpens—especially young ones, like ours—get better with more experience. Beyond that, our bullpen is as talented, if not more talented, than any other team in college baseball. We currently have the best RHP reliever in college baseball in sophomore Tyler “The Delivery Man” Brown (more on him later).

Beyond Brown, we have three uber-talented lefties in So. Jake Eder, Jr. Zach King, and Jr. Jackson Gillis. All three have taken their lumps, but the potential of having three shut-down southpaws is worth the stumbles we might see as they get themselves right.

Eder (0-0, 3.60 ERA, 2 SV, 1.30 WHIP, .162 B/AVG, 11.7 K/9, 6.3 BB/9, 1.86 K/BB) has the most arm talent of the bunch, as he can routinely get it up there at around 97mph with minimal effort. He had a bit of a rough outing this weekend, as he gave up 2 R on 2 H and 3 BB in one inning of relief of Patrick Raby. Of course, we were up 11-0 at the time, and he did strike out two in the inning. When he’s fluid and repeating his motion, he’s damn near unhittable. However, he has a tendency to get a little stiff in the back, which causes him to elevate his pitches arm side. The prescription for this is to keep throwing him out there, keep working with Brownie in the Pitching Lab (tm), and build both his muscle memory and confidence. He’s a stud, so we have to let him pitch his way out of jams. Ben Bowden went through the same issues, and even Bowden did not have the ceiling of Jake “Pitt the” Eder. The thought here is Eder will reward our patience come tourney time.

Jackson Gillis (1-1, 6.75 ERA) was likely the veteran bullpen arm you had the most confidence in coming into the 2019 season. But a 6.75 ERA?!?!?!, you say? Two things: 1) Small sample size. Gillis has only appeared in 4 games, averaging 1 IP per appearance. In those 4 innings, yes, he has surrendered 3 ER, but he’s only given up 2 hits (.154 B/AVG), and has K’d 5 (11.25 K/9). As you likely have guessed (or seen), finding the strike zone has been a challenge for Gillis, as he has 5 BB and 2 WP in 4 IP. Those numbers are rough, but... 2) Gillis is coming back from an offseason injury which caused him to miss the early part of the season, and is in the process of building arm strength and rounding into form. Case in point, his velo has been steadily increasing. Think of Gillis right now as the Spring Training version of himself. If we can get the Regular Season Gillis we have become accustomed to seeing by the postseason (and I’m betting we can), our bullpen will be naaaaaaaasty come tourney time.

Zach King (0-2, 7.02 ERA) has also not performed to the back of his baseball card. He has been the beneficiary of some poor defensive play, bad luck, and Corbs leaving him out there when he doesn’t have his top stuff thus far, but just like Eder and Gillis, his strikeout numbers are more than favorable (11.88 K/9). His opponents’ batting average (.290) is worrisome, but like Gillis, he certainly has the ability to round into form as the season progresses.

Beyond that, as Fellows, Raby, Rocker, and Hickman have fully established themselves as the starting four, expect freshmen Chance “The Pitcher” Huff and Austin “Big Walnut” Becker to join Ethan Smith as freshmen RH options in the pen. They all have staggering arm talent—all they need are innings.

In short, yes, we need to monitor the bullpen going forward. However, we have the arms to be scary. Remember, it took a while for our bullpen to emerge last year. Give it time.

Three Questions from Athanatos504:

1. Which would you prefer? A lockdown 1-inning closer or a reliable 3-inning reliever?

2. Who of the VandyBoys do you think is closest to either of those roles?

3. Have the bUTchuggers finally found a good head coach?

  1. Generally speaking, I prefer the lockdown 1-inning closer following a shutdown set-up man, but if you have the luxury of multiple guys who can be 3-inning game enders—as I believe we do in Brown, Eder, and Hickman—you can effectively shrink a game to 6 innings in the postseason. Beyond that, having them go 3 IP keeps their arms stretched out just in case we need them to start.
  2. It’s Tyler “The Delivery Man” Brown in both roles right now, and it’s not particularly close. As of press time, the sophomore has been throwing darts, going 0-0, 2.12 ERA, 5 SV, 0.88 WHIP, .206 B/AVG, 13.76 K/9, 1.06 BB/9, and an otherworldly 13 K/BB. He has done so largely in 3 inning saves, but Corbs has also used him in high intensity situations. In short, he’s our most valuable arm in the pen, and Corbs will use him in crunch time. We haven’t had a whole lot of high intensity situations this year thus far, but they will come, and Brown is the guy who has Corbin’s trust. Mine, too, for what it’s worth. He has replaced Reid Schaller and then some.
  3. Are you talking about Rick Barnes? If so, yes. If you’re talking about Chugger Baseball coach Tony “The Calf” Vitello... well, there is not even remotely enough data to conclude anything. They were not great last year, talent wise, and Vitello had them at a respectable 29-27 (12-18 SEC). This year, they beat up on non-conference foes (sweeping Indiana was impressive, to be honest), but are 2-4 in conference (20-5 overall), having been swept on the Plains by a post-Casey Mize Auburn team. They bounced back admirably this weekend, though, taking 2 of 3 against the South Cackalacky Game Penises at home. They blew out the Penises 15-5 on Friday, but particularly impressive was the 4 run 8th that propelled them to the rubber match win in a come from behind effort on Sunday. However, the Penises are a flaccid bunch this year, and are not exactly a team with aspirations of Omaha. Ask me again after this weekend’s series. He certainly doesn’t seem to be a complete moron, like Dave Serrano, but again, I haven’t seen enough to conclude anything beyond that.

Three Questions from RancorIsGold:

1. Senior leadership, injury, and excellent nickname notwithstanding, Infante continues to hit below the Mendoza line. At what point does Corbs need to make a move there as we go through conference play?

2. Against Florida Man, Rocker turned in a 6 inning performance with more consistency than earlier outings, recording 6K and improving on his conference debut vs aTm. Has he secured a weekend gig at this point?

3. THEY started the season in dominant fashion behind impressive pitching. Will the Dores be able to hang football scores on the Chuggers next weekend?

  1. Here’s the thing: I almost never go back on what I write in these columns, but I no longer think Stephen Scott can play a cromulent enough first base defense to keep Chinfante out of the lineup. I know, I know... anyone should be able to play first base, but at the moment, only Chinfante has proven capable of stretching to get the close out, being able to catch the tough short hop throw, and hence, providing stability at the position. I will grant you that it is extraordinarily odd that our weakest hitter mans the cold corner, but unless Corbs wants to give Clarke a shot there, or freshman man-mountain John Malcom comes out of obscurity to wrest the position away, Chinfante it is. Scott can play a passable left field, and should be the every day DH once DMC returns to CF, but that aTm series was enough to convince me Scott should only be an emergency option at 1B. He just doesn’t have the height/arm length for the job. I am becoming more and more okay with this. Beyond that, if Chinfante can ever get back to the power-hitting form he displayed as a sophomore, our dominant lineup will achieve Death Star status.
  2. Yes. My only concern is with Rocker being on the same page as Philip “The Hitman” Clarke. On more than one occasion this Saturday, Clarke looked flabbergasted with Rocker. At one point, Rocker shook off a pitch call, but then threw the original called pitch anyway—resulting in a wild pitch. Clarke threw off his mask and openly wondered what his freshman pitcher was doing. This is not a small concern, and Brownie and Corbs are on it. They have roomed Rocker and Clarke together. It does seem Clarke will have to do most of the work in this relationship, but the hard work will be worth it. I don’t think I have to tell you how rare Rocker’s arm is.
  3. Yes.