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Vanderbilt Baseball Mail Bag #1: Answers to your Questions

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

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-NC State v Vanderbilt Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Question from Dore31:

I only followed the games via AoG and twitter this weekend due to a friend’s wedding but sounds like the bats picked up right where they left off in Omaha last year (I obviously mean that in a no good very bad way). Still too many strikeouts with runners on base and no timely hitting or am I missing context by not watching live? How good did the OSU pitching staff look vs. our hitters just struggling?

The Game 2 loss was the most egregious, as two separate innings ended because Keegan and Noland watched strike three, back to back, with runners on 3rd. We win Game 2 if either gets a sac fly, drops down a bunt, or even hits a weak dribbler past the pitcher. Instead, they went down looking. It was infuriating.

Sunday was a little better, but every time we got back in things, Okie State jumped back ahead. This was more of a normal Sunday loss. Not great, but any means, but not as infuriating.

In short, we won Game 1 entirely due to the pitching; lost Game 2 because of Keegan and Noland watching strike three repeatedly; and lost Game 3 for more normal reasons (breaking in a freshman starting pitcher and Schultz being far too hittable with the game tied in the 9th).

I still believe in this offense, and want to remind you all about small sample sizes, but those caveats aside, Saturday and Sunday were disappointing.

More broadly, the fanbase is going to have to adjust their expectations downward this year. You just don’t lose Rocker, Leiter, and Rodriguez, and not take a hit. Even losing IT’s bat and RF defense will be noticeable (and no, we have no idea what led to the meltdown, him leaving the team, or if he’s even playing baseball in any league right now).

The parallel is the 2016 Diamond Dore squad. That team lost Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler on the mound, and, you know, Dansby freaking Swanson in SS and at the plate. Beyond that, they were coming off a CWS title in ‘14 and a CWS Runner Up Silver Medal in ‘15. That team had an emerging ace in So. Kyle Wright, a fireballer returning from shaking hands with Tommy John in RS Fr. Jordan Sheffield, a solid contributor in Fr. Patrick Raby (who proved more ready for the role early in his career than many would have hoped for), and the future Ace that never was (RIP Donny Everett).

Tragic death aside, I can see Chris McElvain potentially turning into the 2016 version of a Kyle Wright type Ace if things go right for him (they will not be remotely the same style of pitcher, as McElvain is more in the Jordan Sheffield or Carson Fulmer blow it by you mode than the Kyle Wright throw a bunch of fancy junk, out-think you, and oh yeah, also blow it by you mode). Still, I can see his season going similar to Wright’s 2016 (8-4, 3.09 ERA). The Patrick Reilly to Jordan Sheffield comp has legs, as well, as both will throw straight gas. Sheff had more command, perhaps, but I could also see Reilly coming close to 2016 Sheffield (8-6, 3.01 ERA) if moved into the starting rotation sooner rather than later. The win-loss record, I mean. Reilly still has too much of a “one wild, bad inning” self-destruct button in him to have an ERA that low, I would think. Carter Holton is a much more physically talented version of 2016 Patrick Raby (7-1, 2.61 ERA), and Christian Little is the potential All-World Helium Arm with all the risks that accompany such an arm (again, RIP Donny).

On the offense and defense side of things, that team also had Jeren Kendall as a sophomore, so that role will be taken by Enrique Shockwave (more speed, less power, but the same overall impact on a lineup and defense). It had an offensive monster in the junior year version of Bryan Reynolds. That role is going to have to be taken by a combination of Carter Young (please, please, get back to the early 2021, pre-injury version soon) and Dom Keegan. The rest of the lineup were freshmen who, while talented, were not exactly ready for prime time (except for Ethan “Chili P” Paul). Ro Coleman also got 42 starts, despite hitting .236, so this lineup doesn’t have that problem, at least. Overall, the 2022 lineup should be just a smidge better than the 2016 lineup, even without a Bryan Reynolds type do-everything star.

That 2016 team was a #1 seed and hosted a Regional. Sure, they lost that regional to Xavier and Washington, but do I need to remind you of the unfathomable amount of grief that team was going through right then? Let’s just say that was a team that could have made it to Omaha, and should have made it at least to Supers, but didn’t. Beyond that, they were hardly the favorite in that year’s tourney. That’s about where the 2022 team lives in my mind. If things break right, they’re in Omaha. I expect them to at least make the Supers. It’s not 2019 through 2021 where I fully expected them to win the whole damned thing, as they were that much better than everyone else. It’s just not. That’s okay. A three year run of dominance—especially flat out dominance on the mound—is all but unprecedented. It’s LSU in the 90s and early 00s, but on the mound, and not with Gorilla Ball bats that really should not have been legal.

Question from kgj513:

A) Putting aside this weekend’s series...there is no way Parker Noland is the best option at 3rd base. If you add in what we saw this weekend, it only further confirms it. Between the lackluster defense and total lack of hitting, what perspective am I missing that allows him to have that spot locked up?

B) Do we have any idea what happened to Miles Garrett?

I disagree with you on Noland. Corbs does, too. If I did put aside this weekend’s series, as you suggest, then Noland would have an even stronger case to start at 3rd. Exponentially so. It was a bad weekend, to be sure, but Noland has basically been Will Toffey his entire career (at each stage of their development, respectively, I mean). It’s a beginning of the season slump. He’ll have to get out of it, and fast, as positions at Vandy are merely rented, and there’s always a few players on the bench who can take your spot. Noland can heat up, and has the type of power potential to be precisely the same weapon in the lineup that Toffey was his junior year.

As for Kilometers Garrett, all we know is Corbs said he’s no longer on the team. Unless a student reporter at The Huslter or the beat reporter at The Tennesseean, Aria Gerson, do a story on the situation, that’s all we’re going to know. I mean, Isaiah Thomas had a semi-public meltdown and left the team this summer... and we don’t know anything more about it than that. Corbs keeps these things in house. Again, you’ll probably never know.

Question from Johnny ‘10:

Maybe I missed it, but do we know what actually happened with IT? Also, where is he now?

Best I can recall, though it has been a while since I’ve seen the film, some kids see a balloon in a gutter and it belongs to a killer clown. Chaos ensues. Basically Stand By Me if Stephen King wrote it. Wait... Stephen King also wrote the novella The Body which was adapted into the film Stand By Me? Then what was The Tommyknockers?

*See above. To quote Spaceballs, “we ain’t found shit.”

Question from chasrad:

Of those currently on the bench, who could play third base absent Noland Parker [sic]?

There are 43 players on our roster. The NCAA allows 40. What happens to the extra three players?

I would assume they are not allowed to dress out, but can they practice?

Any one of our freshmen shortstops—Davis Diaz, Rob Gordon, or Jonathan Vastine—could easily handle the position defensively. Parker Noland is still our best option, as he’s basically Will Toffey. I just think he had a really bad weekend. If he gets things ironed out in the next 5 games (we play 5 this week starting Tuesday), you’ll agree with me. If he continues to slump, one of those freshmen may force Corbs’ hand.

43 is how many are listed on the website, but I’ll bet internally we’re at 40. Maybe I’m wrong there. Of course, at least two of the pitchers (Hliboki and Doolin) are injured. There’s likely another player either injured or redshirting. This roster crunch may well be why Kilometers Garrett is no longer on the team (though don’t quote me on that, as it is pure speculation). Once we hit conference play, though, that roster number will shrink immensely, as the SEC ruled only 27 will be allowed to play. What that means is that all 40 will be allowed to practice, but only 27 will be allowed to dress for games, travel for road series, etc. (*Note: I don’t read rule books, though, as I am a rebel.)

*Note: Based on the amount of questions referencing him, it seems like Parker Noland can lose... but no, I have been assured by this graphic that he cannot.

Question from Dinard’oh:

What do you make of Christian Little getting one inning of work on Sunday?

This was the biggest head-scratcher to me. If you had asked me after Omaha, I would have penciled in Little as one of the weekend starters for 2022. Even after learning that both McElvain and Maldonado would be starters (at the beginning of the year, at least), I would have expected Little to get the piggyback 4 IP treatment (like Pat Reilly got following McBain on Friday) on Saturday. Then, when that didn’t happen, I figured they were saving him to start Tuesday or Wednesday’s games vs. North Alabama and Evansville, respectively. Then, when he came in to start the 5th on Sunday, I figured, “Ah, so they are going to piggyback him, but just with Carter Holton.” Then... (this will be the last of my repetitive “Then” sentence construction, I promise) he threw a perfect inning, striking out one. Though his pitch count was a little high (24), it would have made sense to keep him out there for a few more innings. Instead, Hunter Owen got the ball in the 6th.

Make this make sense, as I cannot.

Question from vandyfan1:

We seem like our pitching is much better than our hitting again. Is this bad?

It wasn’t bad last year, but last year’s pitching was astronomically good. This year, our lineup was supposed to pick up a transition year of sorts for the arms—especially in the starting rotation. I tend to think it will get sorted out—as hitters you should be able to count on, especially in clutch situations, like Keegan, Noland, and Young started out cold this weekend—but yes, this is not the year to be averaging under 4 runs per game.

Question from Back Dore Cut:

Always a great question when the offense doesn’t produce enough runs to win: Why are we bunting too much? Also, why aren’t we bunting more?

I cannot recall one bunt (sacrifice or for a base hit) in the opening weekend series, so we’re certainly not bunting too much. In looking over the stats, yep... no bunts at all. That’s not ideal. There are many things for Corbs to yell about this week, but yes, in fact, bunting will be one of them. There’s too much speed in this lineup not to make adequate use of it.

Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Is Schultz the closer?

He closed out Friday’s game and got the save on a perfect inning with 1 K. He then came in again on Sunday with the game tied and surrendered 3 H and 2 R to get the loss.

Based on that, you’d have to say he has the inside track to be the closer... still, I’mma go with no. I just can’t see Maldo sticking in the rotation past the start of conference play, and he’s the far superior closer. Beyond that, if Maldo does manage to stay in the rotation, and Reilly doesn’t, Reilly has the type of lights out, one inning stuff that could close in the majors right now.

So yes, for now, but no long term. I bet Schultz settles in as a mid to back end of the bullpen guy (6th, 7th, or 8th inning type set-up man).

Question from VU1970:

Do we need more age 35+ guys on the team? I might still have some eligibility left.

We already have a roster crunch. Beer league softball teams will have spots open soon enough, though. That’s where guys like us shine.

Question from Patrick Sawyer:

Having fallen all the way to #5 in D1 Baseball’s rankings, how many rankings spots are we from firing [...] Tim Corbin?

Not only that, we’ve crashed to the depths of #7 overall in Baseball America’s Rankings (no word yet on the carnage that will come following the Coaches’ Poll). The horror... the horror...

*Note: Both the question and the answer were tongue-in-cheek irony here. Corbs is immortal and will coach at Vanderbilt until long after the Robot Wars of 2057. I know you know that, but what about that guy over there reading this? He’s a damned fool!