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2019 Baseball Mail Bag #4: Answers To Questions from our Readers

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

Life On The Line: Living On The Irish Border Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

*Note: Questions were asked and answered before Wednesday’s 12-4 victory over ETSU.

After a three game sweep over Dayton, and a 24-2 drubbing of the Davidson University Fightin’ Steph Curries, the boys sit at 10-2 with most major rankings publications keeping us in the #1 slot. HomeRunDMC showed up with a grand slam and an RBI double in the same damned inning, and Austin “Big Walnut” Becker got the first trip to the mound of his Vanderbilt career under his belt (3 shutout, no-hit IP, with a mind-boggling 8 Ks for a three inning save!!!).

Today at 2pm, we play The Eastern Tennessee State University Fightin’ Nascar Racetrack-Adjacent Tri-Cities (checks notes) Bucs. This weekend, a three game slate against the Illinois State Fightin’ Kevin Stallingses.

Onto the letters:

Question from Vandy Exile:

SEC play is upon us, and it’s time to get the lineup nailed down. I say play Julian Infante at 1st base and Harrison Ray at 3rd all 3 games of the Illinois State series, let Scott and Davis carve up left field/DH and be glad we have Ty Duvall as a catching/pinch-hitting option. What say you?

Until Julian “Chinfante” Infante recovers fully from his concussion (no, it was never reported, but we can all put two and two together) and proves to have no adverse affects in practice and in the cage, there is no reason to tinker with first base. Stephen Scott has played admirably at the cold corner, and I have seen no drop-off in defense w/r/t Scott vs. Infante. In fact, though he has less of a reach, he has much more range/athleticism, so it’s at least a push. Beyond that, before the concussion, Infante was not even remotely the offensive threat Scott has proven himself to be.

As for the other positions that would be impacted by putting Chinfante back into the lineup, Cooper Davis over Scott in LF is a clear defensive upgrade, and we should never again remove him from the OF or his spot as the leadoff man. Hell, if not for Austin Martin and JJ Bleday, Davis is a contender for SEC POTY.

Finally, both Clarke and Duvall have been excellent behind the plate and standing upwards to the side of said plate (I wanted to be long-winded instead of saying “on offense” for some reason). Against RHPs, they should be the C/DH seesaw, as I don’t see what we gain by losing their left handed bats in this lineup. Further, by alternating them game by game behind the plate, we keep their knees fresh for the year, and have offered each enough playing time as incentive to return next year (Duvall is a junior and Clarke a draft eligible sophomore). Against LHPs, it would make sense to have Gonzalez or Infante (if healthy/productive) at DH.

At the hot corner, Ray does appear to be a defensive upgrade, and their bats are comparable (kind of). I could see an argument for a platoon here, if the stats become obvious that there is a platoon advantage to be had. With both as RH bats, and not enough data to conclude anything, I think both need to see more ABs. Ray is the better contact hitter (by a bit); Gonzalez the better power hitter (by far). I would split their time pretty much 50/50 until a clear winner emerges. Let Corbs ride the hot hand.

In short, Infante should pretty much only get ABs against LHP from here on out (knocks on wood), you cannot yet give up on a power hitter like Gonzalez, we have an embarrassment of riches at catcher, and moving Cooper Davis from LF and/or his leadoff spot would amount to baseball malpractice.

Question from Bob Smith:

1. On a general level, how much do midweek losses end up affecting national seed contention? If an SEC team won every weekend series of the year but lost every midweek game, do you think it would still be a national seed despite the RPI hit?

2. Is there hope for Gillis to return to form this year considering his big dip in velo?

3. Who won the bet?

First, I don’t believe there has ever been a ranked team (or even a Power 5 team) to lose every mid-week game. That sounds like the kind of research Parlagi could do (hint hint). A few mid-week losses are not going to drag down a top team who is beating the pants off of top competition. In general, teams good enough to be in contention for National Seeds just don’t lose enough mid-week games for it to register. We have lost one thus far, and it wouldn’t shock me if we lost another, or even two more—as mid-week games are when you try to get innings for the young’ns so they’re ready for prime time as sophomores. It would shock me, however, if we lost seven, like we did last year. That was batshit nuts, but, of course, our team last year was never really in contention for a National Seed.

As for the hypothetical, I think the good would still outweigh the bad. Such a team would definitely get a #1 seed, but it would be coin flip odds on getting one of the 8 National Seeds.

As for your 2nd question, Gillis has only appeared in 13 of an inning thus far (an abysmal 2 walk, 2 run performance against Austin Peay), so he’s clearly rehabbing from something (what it is they never tell us). Going into the year, he was the odds on favorite to be the closer. Luckily, we have a crap-ton of pitching depth, and Eder has taken the role and run with it. Still, it would be great to get Gillis back to form. Let’s trot him out there in a few more mid-week, low intensity games, and let him build arm strength organically. I’m sure Brownie has him on a long toss program, and has put him through all the requisite drills in the Pitching Lab (tm). So... I hope so?

For question three: no one. Neither Hickman nor Rocker got the Sunday start (Zach King was on the mound, and performed admirably), so we both lost. Neither Randolph nor Mortimer Duke shall get their dollar.

Question from VandyTigerPhD:

(gets on tree stump)

(squeezes a fresh glass of lemonade from a half destroyed tree)

It’s a decades old argument, but I tells ya, it’s still the correct one. The way to “fix” MLB is to call the damned letter high strike.

In looking for a cloud to yell at for this letter, I found a NYT article from 2010 making this same point, and it points out the argument has been around for a lot longer that I even imagined.

I can see the argument for calling the high strike in these two distinct areas:

  1. Literalism: It is in the rule book, so we must enforce the rules as written.
  2. It would remove the obsession with launch angle (as an uppercut swing ain’t doing squat against a high heater).

I can see the argument against calling the high strike in these two distinct areas:

  1. Pitchers already dominate the game, as literally everyone throws 95mph+ now, and pitching coaches are teaching pure wizardry such as spin rate—giving them the high strike would result in soccer scores aplenty, and boredom would ensue.
  2. Dingers.

Personally, I would be fine with calling the high strike, as “three true outcomes” style baseball is boring, but I’d need an accompanying change to juice the offense to balance things out. I would demand pitchers must face at least three batters before being pulled, the shift be outlawed, the NL get the DH, the mound be lowered, and rosters be allowed one more bench bat. That’s how much would have to change to even come close to evening out the pitcher’s advantage. Not even sure if that would stop the soccer scores.

Further, MLB pitchers have already been shifting more towards throwing higher in the zone to counter the launch angle swing. See this Washington Post article for more.

Question from Parlagi:

That Twitter thing...is that “Most runs since ‘91” emoji supposed to be a Trogdor arm?

I mean, it’s definitely Trogdor’s beefy arm, right?

Parlagi is referring to this tweet:

Yes. The answer is yes.