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2021 Vanderbilt Baseball Mail Bag #10: Answers to Your Questions

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

Britain Continues Period Of National Mourning Following The Death Of Prince Philip, Duke Of Edinburgh Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage

*Note: I was unable to answer last week’s mail bag, so I will answer both rounds of questions now.

Question from Force10JC:

Are we hitting a wall or is it the current stretch of brutal competition?

Similar question from RocketCityVandy after the series against The Chuggers:

First off: we have reached midseason. How do we feel about the team still, and our post-season outlook?

Second: having pulled out the win over THEM this past weekend, and watching MSU win their series over Ole Miss, we know that this weekend will be a challenge. How challenging will it be?

I’d say we’re smack dab in the middle of a stretch of brutal competition that even the best Vanderbilt teams (2019, 2014, 2013, 2015, 2011, 2007) would not have escaped unscathed. Our last three series were against teams poised to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament, all of which have the type of firepower to get to Omaha (though, of course, who they will eventually match up with in the Super Regionals will have a lot to say about that). If they keep up their current level of play, it would not be shocking for all three of The Chuggers, Clanga, and The Jorts to be #1 seeds and Regional hosts.

If I told you we went 5-4 against three different #1 seeds and Regional hosts, 6 of those games being on the road, would you be fine with that? (*Note: I would not, but of course, I would have been more than fine with 6-3, so occasionally, I am irrational, too.)

I still firmly believe this team can win it all. Will we need Kumar and Jack to get back to their early season form to pull it off? Of course. I believe they can do just that.

The goal of the regular season is to be a National Seed (one of the top 8 teams who gets to host both a Regional and Super Regional). We are still on track to hit that goal. With some maturation at the plate by a few young guys, the return of Ethan Smith to the pen, and Kumar and Jack returning to early season form, we’re the most dangerous team in the land (okay... maybe tied with Arky for that honor).

Question from Mauberly:

Is it too early to analyze what (if anything) is ailing Leiter’s recent outings? Mechanics? My understanding is he has a pretty strong mental game

I would not say it’s too early. From my vantage point, he’s missing his spots more than he did in the beginning of the year (when he quite literally never missed a spot), which is resulting in SEC power hitters taking his mistakes out of the yard. My worry is that last year’s shortened season has messed with a lot of young pitchers, as they just haven’t thrown this many innings in their career.

You see this with prospects in the minors, as teams try to increase their inning workload every year, but gradually, so they’re finally able to handle the rigors of a 162 game regular season.

Jack’s mind game is top notch. His arm may need to work through this, though. My guess is he’s just got a bit of arm tiredness, not unlike Kumar had a few weeks back. I trust Brownie to monitor this. In fact, if I were Brownie, I would at least consider sitting Jack one start, or at the very least, putting him on a 75 pitch count against Bama this weekend. Of course, our bullpen is not exactly fully stocked right now, so it’s a devil’s bargain either way.

Question from dore31:

How do you rank the available arms in the bullpen with emphasis on who is SEC-ready? Does Reilly hold onto the Sunday starter role?

*Note: This was asked before McElvain started this past Sunday.

I honestly don’t know who will be our Sunday starter going forward. I suspect it will be McElvain, but either way, it’s a Johnny Wholestaff situation. As for our current bullpen guys, I will rank them like this:

Tier One (Closers)

  1. Maldonado
  2. Murphy

Tier Two (Set-Up Men)

  1. Smith (when healthy)
  2. McElvain (unless he’s starting)
  3. Fisher

Tier Three (Not Ready for Prime Time, but Talented)

  1. Reilly (unless he’s starting)
  2. Little (unless he’s starting)
  3. Berkwich
  4. Owen

Tier Four (In Case of Emergency, Break Glass)

  1. Garrett (though he could be #6 when healthy)
  2. Evans
  3. Moore

Question from Volundore:

Is there a particular weakness that scares you for this team? Or, relatedly, an opponent or profile of opponent that would give you pause in a postseason matchup?

As alluded to in previous questions, it’s starting pitching and bullpen depth. Coming into this year, we had the top frontline starters, at least three additional SEC Weekend Starter types in the pen, and a fully stocked pen of fireballers.

The injuries to Michael Doolin (Tommy John before the season started), Dr. Jones (Tommy John in Summer Ball), Sam Hliboki (a few weeks back, and yes, I fear the worst there, too, as he grabbed his arm around the ligaments), and the Covid protocol to Ethan Smith has robbed us of our pitching depth. That, combined with Christian Little not quite being ready for prime time, and Thomas Schultz having a bit of a Turd Ferguson season, means we’re going to be short staffed for a while, and perhaps the rest of the year. It’s a white knuckle proposition.

As for an opponent profile, well, let’s go with Arky, The Jorts, and Clanga, as all have more than formidable offenses which will stress a pitching staff to the gills in a three game series. Luckily, a postseason three game series can only occur in the CWS Finals in Omaha. I’m more than comfortable crossing that bridge if/when we get there. If any of those teams is able to get to Rocker and/or Leiter early (forcing us to go to the pen before the 7th inning), we’ll be in trouble, as we’ll have to go Johnny Wholestaff in Game Three.

Of course, if Rocker keeps pitching as he has of late and Leiter regains his early season form, there isn’t a team who won’t have nightmares about us.

Question from Mark Lonergan:

A lot of competitors in the SEC believe that Vanderbilt is intentionally skirting the Title IX restrictions by offering Tuition, Room and Board to all our baseball players. Is there any truth to this scurrilous rumor? And how do we extend this approach to sports that really matter to all of us, football and basketball?

Despite what the angry necks at Clanga and Ole Miss would have you believe, no, Opportunity Vanderbilt does not mean all of our baseball players are on full scholarship. As Corbs has said before, most of our players have north of $20K in student loans by the time they move onto the minors and/or graduate. Let’s also remember that Opportunity Vanderbilt didn’t go into effect until 2008, which is a full year past when the Dores were the wire to wire #1 team in college baseball, and if not for a fluky 10th inning HR off David Price (who had started just a few days earlier) by Michigan, we might have gotten our first CWS Trophy before any of this kicked in.

Tom did a great job diving into the minutiae of the issue in 2019, and seeing as nothing has changed since then, I will just link to that article now.

In short:

More accurately, Opportunity Vanderbilt simply levels the playing field.

At many of the public schools in the SEC, through the neat tricks of in-state tuition, out-of-state tuition waivers, and HOPE scholarships, they can get pretty close to filling out their roster while having the vast majority of the players paying relatively little to attend. Without Opportunity Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt would barely be able to fill out a starting lineup and a weekend rotation on the 11.7 scholarship limit alone — at least, not without finding a few kids willing to pay $30,000 or more to attend the university.

So the truth is that Vanderbilt’s generous financial aid program mostly just has the effect of erasing the advantages that cheaper state schools have in the scholarship game. The real heavy lifting here is done by Vanderbilt’s academic reputation (which makes it a bit more palatable for families to pay in the low five figures) and Tim Corbin (who is, in fact, one of the best coaches in college baseball.)

If you have any follow up questions after reading it, let me know.

Question from ConquerAndPrevail:

VU has bid to be a Regional and Super Regional site. Due to COVID, I am concerned a National Seed may not be enough. Should we get to host the Dolly Parton-Moderna Regional and Super Regional, or will the NCAA offer us the chance to compete for Omaha at…say… the Wigsphere? Is there a 11.7% chance of the bright lights of Starkvegas in our future?

We’ll be Regional and Super Regional hosts as long as our record says we should be. I have no worries about this.

Question from Charles Faulkner:

You need to add The Man Who Can Not Lose, with explanation (to the Anchor of Gold Glossary of Terms).

Also suggest adding Paul Patruska, the former SEC football official who tried to job the Dores out of a first down in Knoxville during Brigadoon. Thankfully, his call was overturned upon review and the Dores went on to win the game.

Not a bad idea at all. We will likely update the glossary this summer.

Question from Force10JC:

The little step brother to the east seemed to think their “next year was here,” but they proved they are SOV (same ole Vawls). Will they ever have a prominent baseball blue-blood program or, are they doomed to be bottom dwellers most years with the occasional regional appearance every 3 to 5 years?

As much as we dislike him, Tony “The Calf” Vitello and The Chuggers have already turned the corner. Of course, they’re doing it almost exclusively with JuCo guys, and their pitching’s not yet where it needs to be to frighten anyone (despite the fact that nearly all of their names sound like the killer in an Agatha Christie novel). That offense, though? As terrifying as a Mullet Luge. I don’t see them going away any time soon. Prepare for them to be a top third of the SEC type program ceiling, with a top half of the SEC type program floor. I don’t like it, either. Bring back Serrano!