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WTF Vandy? Bad Luck Play-In Round: (8) Tyler “Turd” Ferguson vs. (9) Houston Nutt Changes the Wind Direction

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A million-dollar arm with, uh, control issues vs. Tom’s introductory experience to Vanderbilt football.

(8) Tyler “Turd” Ferguson

It’s an oversized hat. It’s funny.

Before we begin, I think it’s important to note the obvious: anyone named T. Ferguson was always going to be given the name Turd Ferguson. My ex’s dog is named “Gus,” which was enough for me to call him Turd Ferguson exclusively for nigh on 6 years.

Turd Ferguson. It’s a funny name.

Second, to re-iterate, the name was given prior to Tyler Ferguson’s first appearance on the mound as a Vanderbilt Commodore. It had nothing to do with his performance. He was one of the most exciting—and perhaps the most heralded—arms in a recruiting class that included Walker Buehler and Carson Fulmer. We wanted nothing but for the 6’4 225lb flame-throwing RHP from Fresno to don his black leather suit jacket, red dress shirt, bolo tie, and over-sized hat, and with the effortless confidence of The Bandit himself, mow down SEC batters with his 97mph high heat. Still, I can’t shake the notion that the nickname became a self-fulfilling prophecy/evil monkey’s paw, as Tyler Ferguson was in the top 1% of Vanderbilt pitchers when it came to innate arm talent, but was undone by control issues (which are almost always more mental than physical).

The thing you need to remember is this: On a team with Tyler Beede, Carson Fulmer, and Walker Buehler, Tyler Ferguson’s nickname was “1-1,” meaning the first pick in the first round of the MLB Draft. That’s what that pitching staff—all first rounders, themselves—thought of Tyler Ferguson coming into his sophomore year.

Not only was Ferguson innately talented, but he had command over his arsenal early in his career, making 4 mid-week starts on a stacked 2013 team, and won the Sunday starter’s job on the 2014 Championship team (which had an even more loaded pitching staff!). You know the ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers? The 2019 All-Star? The guy who’s one of the select few frontrunners for the 2020 Cy Young Award (if/when they finally are able to play games)? That’s right... Tyler “Turd” Ferguson was so good as a sophomore, he bumped Walker Buehler to the mid-week starter’s role.

Let’s look at his stats for all three years:

Freshman (2013)

3-1, 4.21 ERA, 8 appearances (4 starts), 25 & 23 IP, 7.4 K/9, 3.9 BB/9.

Sophomore (2014)

8-4, 2.69 ERA, 17 appearances (15 starts), 77 IP, 7.6 K/9, 3.5 BB/9.

Junior (2015)

0-1, 6.30 ERA, 15 appearances (3 starts), 20 IP, 10.8 K/9, 15.8 BB/9.

Quite simply, if you only look at his yearlong splits, it looks like the story is simple: after his first two years, this was a pitcher on the trajectory to super-stardom—a pitcher expected to be a weekend starter, someone who would be a key component in our attempt to repeat as champions in 2015, and someone who, if he simply repeated his sophomore overall numbers, would be a 1st rounder at the end of his junior year.

As always, year-long numbers rarely tell the story. In fact, if his sophomore season would have ended after his March 30th start against Kentucky, his numbers would have been right in line with the type of pitcher who does go 1-1 in the draft, and MLB teams views as a future ace.

Through his first 7 starts as a sophomore, the Turd put on his over-sized hat and put up the following stat-line:

5-0, 1.36 ERA, 7 appearances (7 starts), 39 & 2/3 IP, 7.49 K/9, 1.13 BB/9 (!!!)

To reiterate: through the first 7 starts of his sophomore year, it was the Turd—not twice a first rounder Tyler Beede, not first rounder Carson Fulmer, and not first rounder and current Dodgers ace Walker Buehler—who was leading the charge to be the ace of the Commodores’ 2014 staff.

Then, in his 8th start of the season, against THOSE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED, he picked up his first loss of the season, and on May 4th against Mizzourah, the wheels fully came off, as he completely lost his ability to hit the catcher’s mitt, walked the bases loaded, and was pulled from the game in the 4th.

Here is a recap of his sophomore season (in which we won a National Championship, mind you) from his roster card at vucommodores.com (emphasis mine):

2014 – Punched out two in one inning of relief vs. Virginia 6/24 in CWS Finals… Struggled with command in loss to Texas 6/20 at College World Series allowing two runs on one hit, two walks, and two hits while recording two outs… Came out of the bullpen for the first time this season working 2.2 scoreless innings and stranding two runners to earn the win against Stanford 6/6 in Super Regional victory… Walked three and scattered six hits while allowing one run over five innings of a no decision against South Carolina 5/17… Tossed five scoreless innings at Florida 5/10 scattering two hits and walking three in his seventh win of the year… Lost control in the fourth inning at Missouri 5/4 walking the bases loaded to end his day, allowed one run on two hits with five strikeouts across 3.2 innings in third no decision… Earned his sixth win of the season and snapped a personal three-game slide with victory vs. Georgia 4/27 allowing only one unearned run on three hits with five strikeouts over five innings… Lost his third straight game allowing three runs on three hits with two walks and two hit batters over four-plus innings at Arkansas 4/20… Took his second straight loss giving up six runs, five earned, on seven hits with five strikeouts across six-plus innings against Texas A&M 4/13… Pegged with his first loss of the season allowing a career-high seven runs, five earned, on six hits over 4.1 innings at Tennessee Earned his fifth win of the year with six quality innings against Kentucky 3/30 allowing two runs, one earned, on six hits with no walks and five strikeouts… Tossed six scoreless innings to notch his fourth win of the season scattering two hits and fanning three at Mississippi State 3/23… Lasted just 3.2 innings in a no decision against LSU 3/15 G2 allowing two runs, one earned, on one hit with three strikeouts and two walks… Pushed his career-best to seven innings pitched with seven strong to earn the win over Winthrop 3/9 allowing one run on four hits with six strikeouts… Upped his career-high for innings pitched for the third straight start going six-plus innings in no decision vs. Stanford 3/2 allowing two runs on five hits with six strikeouts… Earned his second win of the season with a career-high 5.2 innings of work against UIC 2/23 and a career-best seven strikeouts allowing one run on three hits and three walks… Made his 2014 season debut and first career start in the weekend rotation at Long Beach State 2/16 tossing a career-best 5.1 innings to earn the win, allowed two unearned runs on one hit with no walks and three strikeouts.

I won’t post the recap of his Junior season, as it’s too hard to look at.

So what was the culprit? He never dropped in velocity, so it wasn’t an arm injury. No, it was bad luck, Rick Ankiel syndrome, the yips, Knoblauch-itis... whatever you want to call it, Ferguson lost his ability to throw strikes mid-way through his sophomore year, and never found his true north again.

After his junior year, despite all of this, the Texas Rangers took a gamble on him in the 6th round, and offered him a $200K signing bonus.

As I said in the linked article when Ferguson was drafted:

After a season that could be called “trying” at best, and “a harrowing, Kafka-esque journey through the dark recesses of the mind” at worst, RHP Tyler Ferguson’s million dollar arm is apparently worth one fifth of that.

Ferguson (pictured below) became the first member of the 2015 Vanderbilt Commodore baseball team to sign a pro contract, as the 6th rounder agreed to terms on a $200,000 bonus with the Texas Rangers. It’s an under slot deal, but, more than that, Ferguson represents a great value lottery ticket of sorts. Even with his horrid case of Rick Ankiel-itis this year, Turd Ferson can throw 96mph+ and spike a curve with the best of them. That’s a high end major league arm - at the very least a back of the bullpen guy - if their minor league development staff can help him put it all together. In short, Ferguson represents the Platonic ideal of the term “boom or bust,” and the Rangers are taking a calculated, and in my opinion, smart risk in signing him.

Ferguson is no longer in the Rangers system, and never made it out of High A Ball. He pitched in 2019 for the Trois-Rivieres Aigles of the Canadian-American Association Independent League. He was a reliever with a 4.75 ERA.

The Dodgers have taken a no-risk flyer on him, and given their success in minor league development and with Vanderbilt players, there may still be hope for Ferguson to resurrect his career. In 1 & 23 IP in a pandemic-shortened 2020 Spring Training with the Dodgers, Ferguson allowed 4 hits, 2 runs, and a walk for a 10.80 ERA. We’re not sure if there will even be a minor league season this year.


(9) September 16, 2006: Arkansas 21, Vanderbilt 19

Back story here: I enrolled at Vanderbilt University Law School in the fall of 2006. This was the first home game of the 2006 season, and the day before, my contracts professor was encouraging all the students to go to the football game. Somebody (clearly not familiar with the SEC) had the nerve to ask the professor if we were good.

The professor’s response: “I’ve been teaching here since 1988. Do you know how many winning seasons we’ve had? Zero.”

So, the stage was set properly. In 2006, Arkansas featured a dynamic running back duo of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, and also sported true freshman Mitch Mustain, the nation’s top quarterback recruit in the 2006 class. (Mustain, of course, would go on to be a key player in the drama that would engulf Houston Nutt in the offseason.) Vanderbilt was off to an 0-2 start, albeit with losses coming to Michigan and Alabama, both on the road, and the latter was by three points.

The game itself was back and forth. Vanderbilt took the opening drive 87 yards for a Chris Nickson TD run, then Arkansas evened the score on a Marcus Monk touchdown later in the first quarter. Cassen Jackson-Garrison put the Commodores back ahead with a touchdown in the second quarter, but then botched the snap on the extra point attempt (which in Vanderbilt tradition would end up mattering later in the game.) Mustain then threw touchdown passes in the second and third quarter, giving the Razorbacks a 21-13 lead. Nickson scored his second rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but a failed two-point conversion made the score 21-19.

But Vanderbilt managed to keep McFadden in check (he ended the game with 71 yards on 19 carries) and had a chance to kick the winning field goal on 4th-and-2 with 55 seconds left. Houston Nutt called timeout to ice the kicker — and, also, apparently to summon the wind gods.

“There was no doubt in my mind (it was good),” (Hahnfeldt) said. “It was one of the better kicks I had all day. I got up, and even started celebrating, me and Mackenzi (Adams), the holder, and all of a sudden, the wind just killed it.”

“Believe it or not, actually, the wind picked up just a littlebit right before he kicked it,” Vandy coach Bobby Johnson said.”I swear, it picked up. You can’t plan on that. You can’t controlthat. I wish I could. I’d be undefeated.”

Yep. You can’t plan on that. On the other hand, I can’t think of a better introduction to being a Vanderbilt fan than... that.

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