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WTF Vandy? Baffling Decisions Play-In Round: (8) I’ll (Censored) Kill You vs. (9) Ro Coleman

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One, a hot mic moment. The other, Tim Corbin in a rare moment of non-clarity.

(8) February 26, 2015: I’ll Fucking Kill You

The 2015-16 basketball team might have left a bad taste in our mouths, but the reason that that team got so much preseason hype had to do with how the previous year had ended. After a 1-7 start to SEC play, Vanderbilt went 8-2 the rest of the way, including a five-game winning streak to end the regular season.

The second game of that winning streak was a master stroke. Vanderbilt went into Thompson-Boling Arena and, after falling behind by 11 points at halftime and 13 points with 13:14 left, the Commodores went on a 16-3 run and went on to outlast the hated Vols for a 73-65 victory.

But that was all overshadowed by what happened after the game. As Vanderbilt dribbled out the clock, freshman guard Wade Baldwin IV had the audacity to begin clapping in front of Tennessee players on the court. What followed lives on in ignominy:

“I’ll Fucking Kill You.”

Vanderbilt was on SportsCenter for all the wrong reasons. Stallings later apologized (we’re almost certain the Goldfather made him an offer he couldn’t refuse), but the damage was done. Arguably Stallings never recovered from this moment, as it left him with little good will when the team underachieved the following season.


(9) Ro Coleman

Before I begin this exercise, let it be known that 1) This is nothing against Ro Coleman the person or competitor, and 2) His usage was and continues to be one of the very few baffling decisions made by Tim Corbin in his remarkable tenure as Vanderbilt baseball’s Hall of Fame level Head Coach.

Here is my central thesis on this baffling decision: Coming off the all-world success of the speedy, yet undersized Tony Kemp, Tim Corbin saw Ro Coleman as Kemp’s heir apparent—despite continued evidence to the contrary over a four year career that saw him take ABs from draftable, more talented players. This... does not happen under Tim Corbin other than for Ro Coleman.

First, I will grant you that Ro Coleman’s Vanderbilt career, from the 2014-2017 seasons, obviously featured some of the best years in Vanderbilt baseball history—featuring a CWS Championship in his freshman year, a CWS Finals appearance where we fell one win short of repeating as champions against UVA in his sophomore year, an NCAA Regional appearance in his junior year, and an NCAA Super Regional appearance in his senior year.

Beyond that, he came through in the clutch during our ‘14 championship run, as seen in his vucommodores.com bio (I’ll bold his best Vanderbilt moments below, as well):

Singled and walked in championship clinching win over Virginia 6/25… Worked a walk in 10th inning, winning rally against Texas 6/21 to advance to CWS Finals… Singled and scored in College World Series win over Louisville 6/14… Went 0-for-3 as the team’s DH in win over Stanford 6/8 in Super Regional win… Went 0-for-3 in loss to Stanford 6/7… Picked up a pinch-hit, infield single in win over Stanford 6/6 in Super Regional… Came through with a walk-off hit in NCAA Regional championship game vs. Oregon 6/1, singling to left as a pinch hitter… Flew out to left field in his only at-bat vs. Xavier 5/30 in NCAA Regional…

So why is he competing with Kevin Stallings’ hot mic death threat to Wade Baldwin in the first play-in game on our packed Vanderbilt Misery Index? Simple: Tim Corbin played Ro Coleman time and again when better players sat on the bench. Tim Corbin never does this. As such, though at least the beginning of Coleman’s career coincided with the zenith of Vanderbilt Baseball (it can be argued the current team has reached an even higher height, but let’s not talk about why we currently have no baseball outside of the KBO...), I cannot think of a single baseball coaching decision that angered me more, and more consistently, that seeing Ro Coleman in the lineup over the likes of Stephen Scott, Walker Grisanti, Penn Murfee, Harry Ray, Kyle Smith (pre-eye injury), and whichever catcher wasn’t in the lineup when Ro served as DH.

First, let’s take a look at his stats (I’ll just do the slash line to save time—for those that don’t know, the slash represents batting average/on base percentage/slugging... and can pretty much tell you a player’s offensive value in a quick glance) and who he kept on the bench:

2017:

.290/.347/.328 in 56 games (32 starts). 3 2B, 1 3B, 8 RBI. 7-9 sb-att. 131 AB.

Players he kept on the bench: Stephen Scott (119 AB), Harrison Ray (78 AB), and Walker Grisanti (30 AB).

2016:

.236/.317/.292 in 52 games (42 starts!!!). 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 12 RBI. 3-8 sb-att. 161 AB.

Players he kept on the bench: Connor Kaiser (121 AB), Penn Murfee (69 AB), Walker Grisanti (43 AB), and Stephen Scott (22 AB).

2015:

.295/.402/.394 in 66 games (53 starts!!!). 15 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 26 RBI. 5-10 sb-att. 241 AB!!!.

Players he kept on the bench: Penn Murfee (78 AB), Nolan Rogers (73 AB), and Kyle Smith (16 AB). *Note: in 2014 and 2015, Coleman often served as a DH, which kept Jason Delay and/or Karl Ellison’s bat (whomever wasn’t starting at catcher) out of the lineup, as well.

2014:

.217/.343/.261 in 50 games (22 starts). 2 2B, 1 HR, 13 RBI. 4-9 sb-att. 115 AB.

Players he kept on the bench: Nolan Rogers (148 AB), Kyle Smith—pre-eye injury and all thunder-bat—(39 AB), and Tyler “Soup” Campbell (33 AB). *Note: in 2014 and 2015, Coleman often served as a DH, which kept Jason Delay and/or Karl Ellison’s bat (whomever wasn’t starting at catcher) out of the lineup, as well.

Compare any of these years to Tony Kemp’s amazing 2013 junior year—.391/.471/.485 with 13 2B, 6 3B, 33 RBI, 34-47 sb-att—and you can see the cognitive dissonance at play. Corbin must have thought that given enough ABs/playing time, he could turn Ro into Tony. However, a simple comparison of any of Ro’s seasons to Kemp’s perfectly cromulent 2011 freshman year—.329 with 8 2B, 7 3B, 34 RBI, 17-22 sb-att— and you can see why Corbin seeing Coleman and thinking Kemp never made a damned bit of sense from the get go.

As a former Kemp-sized baseball player, myself, I know that baseball doesn’t discriminate. If you can play, you can play. However, I also know that baseball very much does discriminate in favor of toolsy players with eye-popping height-weight-speed measurables, and if you are deficient in a tool or two, you damn well better make up for it with your other tools.

For instance, Stephen Scott’s speed and defense (tools which usually go hand it hand) were below average, but his hit tool and power were above average, so he’s a playable corner OF or IF.

For shorter than average players, you either need to be monkey-strong (outliers like Jose Altuve), or MUCH MORE LIKELY, you have to be whippet-fast, have an excellent baseball IQ, be an excellent base-runner, be an OBP maven who battles through ABs to work a lot of walks, and have at least an above average hit and defense tool to make up for the power deficiency (again, Altuve is the outlier of all outliers here).

Here is where Kemp hit all the compensatory criteria, whereas Coleman fell woefully short.

Let me take a quick shot at a tools rating of both players (20-80, with 50 being projected to be MLB Average):

Tony Kemp

Speed: 75 (72-94 career sb-att—77% success rate)

Arm Strength: 45

Fielding: 70

Hit (avg): 55

Power: 20 (hit only 1 HR during his 3 year college career)

Ro Coleman

Speed: 60 (19-36 career sb-att—53% success rate)

Arm Strength: 20

Fielding: 35

Hit (avg): 35

Power: 25 (hit only 3 HR during his 4 year college career)

Simply put, players like Tony Kemp don’t come around that often, and can only overcome their power deficiencies by possessing all-star level Speed and Hit tools. Kemp had them. Coleman didn’t... and all of this was obvious to everyone but Tim Corbin.

Let’s break it down tool by tool...

Speed

Anyone with eyes could tell you that Ro Coleman was fast. Few had his top speed, and watching him hit the turn on 2nd or 3rd base was glorious. Once he got going, his speed built and built and built. If you had a runner on 2nd late in the game and you needed a pinch runner, it made perfect sense to call for Coleman. However, his speed didn’t play up in the two areas that are 100% necessary for the no-power-all-speed type of player: Stolen Bases and Home to First speed.

For those who don’t know, a good college catcher will throw out about 40% of would-be base stealers. Ro’s 53% success rate means he made some average to below average pop time/arm strength type catchers look cromulent. Though he improved on this (7-9 his senior year) few catchers are going to worry about a guy who only goes for it 9 times a year.

The culprit was likely a slow first step. In other words, Coleman would be the type of runner at the NFL Combine with a great 40 time, but slower than average 10 yard split. Most would assume a player with Coleman’s speed must have weak base-running instincts to put up such weak stolen base numbers, but I don’t think that was the whole story. He pretty much never beat out infield grounders, though he was flying by the time he hit first base. It took him just a beat too long to get to top speed, and this doomed him on base to base efforts.

Kemp, on the other hand, had an elite first step, could get into both a pitcher’s and catcher’s head every time he was on base, and this messed with everything in the best possible way. He jumped and faked and took off so often, you had to account for him every second he was on the base paths. Speed is a valuable tool, but game speed/usable speed is all that matters in baseball. Kemp had it. Coleman? Not so much.

Arm Strength

Not going to spend much time on this one, as neither were great here. Coleman’s arm strength, however, was a clear weakness, and made him pretty much unplayable in the outfield... even at LF. Corbs disagreed for four years.

Fielding

This is another tool where Kemp was excellent and Coleman was sub-par. You could play Tony Kemp at any position on the diamond save pitcher and catcher—in fact, that’s how MLB teams use him today, as the super-utility guy—and he would put up highlight reel catches. During his 3 years here, he was our best second baseman and best left fielder, and you never worried for a millisecond if a ball was hit in his direction.

Coleman repeatedly had bad reads on fly balls. He got better throughout the years, but still, he was not an asset in the field.

Hit (avg)

Here is the 2nd of the two main compensatory tools needed to succeed for a player with a power deficiency (though, to be honest, it’s really 3 compensatory tools, as you have to be an asset, and not a liability, on defense to truly compensate for a complete lack of power). Kemp had it. Though he had a weaker sophomore campaign (.261 avg), he still demonstrated the batter’s eye he had in his entire Vanderbilt career—walking 39 times to raise his OBP to .364. Kemp’s junior campaign (.391 avg/.471 obp) was phenomenal in this area, and his freshman year (.329 avd/.415 obp) was indicative of a batter with a solid hit tool and strong batter’s eye, as well.

Ro had two solid average seasons in this area (.295 in ‘15 and .290 in ‘17), but awful freshman (.217) and junior (.236) campaigns. Beyond that, he just didn’t walk enough to fully make up for this. Though his sophomore campaign (by far his best overall season as a Commodore) was solid here (.402 obp), he was never again on base more than 34% of the time. That won’t cut it for the type of player who needs to be all speed and OBP.

Beyond that, though we don’t have barrel stats in college baseball, Tony Kemp made excellent line-drive, on the barrel, solid contact. Whereas Ro Coleman was great at making contact—he almost never struck out—far too many of his ABs ended with a weak fly to shallow-mid OF. Rather than beating it into the ground and trusting his speed, Coleman always seemed to want to muscle one out of there... and his desire did not match his abilities. Think Willie Mays Hayes being forced to do push-ups every time he popped up in Major League for the managerial strategy I would have gone with here.

Power

Let’s not. Was it fun to watch the three times Ro found a way to get one over the fence? You’re damned right it was! However, it was more a novelty than a feature of his game. Both players are power-deficient.

My Overall Argument

Okay, I have clearly established that Ro Coleman was not Tony Kemp—or a similar player able to compensate for their lack of power with plus fielding, hit, and speed tools—but the crux of my argument is this: Tim Corbin repeatedly started Ro Coleman over superior players like Stephen “The Human Fire Hydrant” Scott. Imagine how much quicker Scott would have turned into the junior and senior version of himself if he was given commensurate play time to fit his ability level in his freshman and sophomore years. Similarly, what if Corbs had given Kyle Smith’s immense power bat more ABs in his freshman season (pre-eye injury)? Or what if Corbs had just awarded playing time based on performance, regardless of a player’s perceived ceiling? Then certainly Walker Grisanti would have gotten more ABs. Or what if he would have decided to go the “catcher to DH when not behind the plate” strategy he has used for Ty Duvall and Phil Clarke? That gets Jason Delay more ABs (which would have been a clear upgrade). In all, I can only conclude that Tim Corbin always saw Ro Coleman through Tony Kemp colored glasses. And it still baffles me to this day that a man prone to so few poor managerial decisions had such a blind spot for one player.

Poll

Which moment advances?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    I’ll Fucking Kill You
    (92 votes)
  • 12%
    Ro Coleman
    (13 votes)
105 votes total Vote Now