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Vanderbilt Baseball Mail Bag #4: Answers to your Questions

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

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2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Question from KnockinOnHeavensDore:

1) Do you attribute SEC teams doing poorly early to just teams settling in, or is the SEC just less competitive this year?

2) Why is Texas ranked ahead of us this morning in the D1 baseball poll despite them losing the South Carolina series and us only losing two games to a #11 Okie State?

1) “Poorly” is a relative term. I mean, if you check the rankings (go ahead and click those links in my answer to question #2), there are either 7 or 8 SEC teams ranked in the top 25 right now in the big three rankings (again, see below). Really, it’s just Clanga who is down relative to pre-season expectations, and brother, I am here for that.

2) Mostly, it’s rankings-based inertia keeping Tejas near the top. Beyond that, the Dores haven’t really played anyone (save for yesterday’s midweek game against Michigan) since that season opening series loss to the Okie Pokes. Oh, and the Okie Pokes have done us no favors in the aftermath, as they are currently 9-6, with losses to Sam Houston State in a midweek game, BYU (though they did win that series), and a mind-boggling sweep to Gonzaga in the first week of March. Gonzaga is ranked #20 in BA, #25 in D1, and #25 in USA Today, but that’s almost exclusively on the backs of that sweep over the Okie Pokes.

We also haven’t lost to anyone since opening weekend. You cannot say that about the University of Texas long Fedoras, as they’re currently 13-5, fresh off a three game losing streak (lost both ends of a Sunday double header to the South Cackalacky Game Penises and last night’s midweek to the College of Charleston Fightin’ Mark Twain Impersonators). They also struggled last week in a two game midweek set against Texas State San Marcos (won game one 9-8; lost game two 4-6). Their only other loss is a completely understandable 1-5 loss to UCLA on the Sunday of a mini tourney where they impressively beat both LSU and the Chuggers the previous two days.

Let’s look at where both teams are ranked in the top three rankings (in order: Baseball America, D1 Baseball, and the USA Today Coaches Poll):

University of Tejas Long Fedoras: 4; 2; 2.

Vanderbilt Diamond Dores: 6; 4; 3.

More than anything, what you want is to be in the top 8 by NCAA Tourney selection time, as that gets you a “National Seed,” meaning you get home field advantage through the Supers. If we stay top 5 all season, we have done our job. Other than getting the bragging rights of being the #1 overall seed, it really doesn’t matter come tourney time. Make the top 8 and you’ve got the only advantage you need.

The weirdest thing is one of those three rankings has Arky a spot above us. That injustice will not stand. Doesn’t D1 Baseball know they can no longer call the Kopps on everyone?

Oh, and I’m not even going to comment on the rank lunacy of BA putting Notre Dame at the top. No. Just no.

*Note: Tejas lost Sunday Starter Tanner Witt (2-0, 1.64 ERA) to a UCL (Tommy John) injury. Their pitching staff is still strong, as their top two are still their top two. They haven’t won on Sunday since Witt went down. They are still a very strong team, but that is a relatively big loss.

Question from Nova_Dore:

Please rank team hitting, pitching, and defense in order of strength. Wich [sic] one should improve the most during the SEC portion of the season? Which one has to improve the most for another trip to Omaha?

1) Pitching (13-2, 1.94 ERA, 12.81 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, 1.01 WHIP). #2 in the SEC in ERA.

2) Hitting (.327/.419/.530 with 35 2B, 5 3B, 19 HR, 113 RBI, 8.27 Runs per Game and, 25-29 steals). #2 in the SEC in average.

3) Defense (.967 FLD % and 18 errors—for comparison, our opponents have a .969 FLD % and 16 errors). #11 in the SEC in FLD %.

*Note: These numbers do not take into account the Michigan game, as the site has yet to update their stats today.

Those numbers—especially where we rank among our fellow SEC members heading into conference play—tell the whole story. I fully expected our bats to produce like this (in fact, I’m a little disappointed in at least three players who have started at least 10 games). The pleasant surprise, and the reason we have a good shot at winding up with a National Seed in the Tourney (prior to the season, I predicted us to host, but was unsure we’d be one of the coveted 8 National Seeds) is just how good the pitching staff is after losing Leiter, Rocker, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Luke “The Law” Murphy. I expected Holton to be this good eventually, but he’s pitching like an All-American right out of the gate (not just a Freshman All-American, either). Similarly, other than a bad day against Wagner, Chris “McBain” McElvain has had a great start to the season, as well. We’re less settled at #3 starter, but as you saw last night, that doesn’t matter as much, as we’ve got crazy depth in Devin Futrell and Christian Little if we ever move Maldo back to the back of the pen (which, again, we absolutely should).

The defense—though the outfield defense has been great, and Diaz, though a future gold glover at SS, is currently a gold glove type defender at 3rd—has just been shitty. We knew we’d take a step back at the catcher position, as you don’t just lose one of the best ever defensive catchers and not take a hit, but that’s not really been the problem. It’s brain farts on the infield, like Tater’s error last night which nearly cost us the game (of course, he made up for it in the 9th at the plate, but still), that have us near the bottom of conference fielding stats. That needs to stop, and it should. We’re talented defensively... so stop with the damned brain farts.

I don’t want to talk about who is currently #1 in the SEC in pitching and hitting. I will not say their name and you cannot make me.

Question from VandyFan1:

Was the first game of the Wagner series an outlier or is that what this team could be on a bad day?

By definition, “what this team could be on a bad day” is an outlier, so yes? It’s baseball. If you don’t show up, you’re going to get got no matter your competition. The good news is we snapped out of it, and plated 8 unanswered after being down 7-4. That’s fine.

Question from Johnny ‘10:

With Diaz (it seems clearly) staying put at 3B, do you think Noland can hold off Casas at 1B?

Casas has more thunder in his bat and has started at the cold corner in the last three games. That’s a trend, and one I would expect to lock in if he keeps performing at the plate. I’ll say yes. I still believe in Noland, but he’s going to have to get things going really quickly unless he wants to play about as often as Troy LaNeve.

My one knock on Casas right now is he seems to want to leave the park on every swing. Astronaut Mike Baxter needs to continue to work with him on situational hitting.

Question from Nova_Dore:

I have heard commentary that VandyBoys wouldn’t want two left-handed starters on the weekend. Why is that?

I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want an advantage...

Remember when David Price and Mike Minor were on the same weekend rotation? That was a good thing, no?

You put your best starting pitchers in the weekend rotation. Futrell very much seems to be one of the three best starters right now. I have no problem with him being on the Walker Buehler midweek plan right now, but this will work itself out naturally by postseason play.

Question from JesseCuster44:

What player on the team without a nickname, needs a nickname, and what should said nickname be?

This is, of course, my favorite question in this batch. I’ll first list all Diamond Dores I have currently given nicknames (listed in order, by jersey number), and then figure out which remaining player is most deserving of an AoG moniker.

Diamond Dores with AoG Nicknames:

#2 Javier “Vaz Deferens/Vaz Offerens/Cloney Kemp” Vaz

#3 Rob “Flash” Gordon

#6 Tate “Tater” Kolwyck

#9 “Mighty” Carter Young

#11 Davis “Diaz de los Muertos” Diaz

#12 Dominic “The Dominator” Keegan

#16 Jack “Whitey” Bulger

#19 Troy “LaLeaves the Yard” LaNeve

#20 Carter “Southpaw Sonny Gray/Rev. Holton Heat” Holton

#25 Parker Noland “Can’t Lose” (of course, this is turning ironic, and that was not its intent)

#29 Nick “Maldo” Maldonado

#30 Nelson “Son of Sam” Berkwich

#33 Hunter “Mr. Manager” Owen

#36 Grayson “Gitmo” Moore

#39 Gavin “The House” Casas

#40 Sam “Hliboki Bartokomous” Hliboki

#42 Christian “The Answer” Little

#43 Michael “Doolin Banjo” Doolin

#51 Enrique “Shockwave” Bradfield, Jr.

#66 Thomas “The Mayor” Schultz

#77 Brett “Mmm-Bop” Hansen

#88 Patrick “Life of” Reilly

#95 Devin “The Future” Futrell

#97 Bryce “Big Richie” Cunningham

#99 “Prancetown Grad Transfer” Jack Anderson

All told, that’s 25 Diamond Dores who have already been given AoG certified nicknames. 18 hitters and 17 pitchers have seen action in our first 16 games. Though I have ideas for some of the freshmen who have not yet seen action (and may well be redshirting), I will only choose from the pool of players who have seen action in ‘22. Of the 35 players who have gotten in a game, 23 have nicknames, so there are only 12 eligible to be given a (hopefully) humorous moniker.

I probably want to limit it to those who are most deserving (played the most/performed the best thus far), so that limits the pool to three hitters (Matthew Polk, Calvin Hewett, and T.J. McKenzie) and probably just Donye Evans (though he has only thrown one inning thus far, it was a shutout inning) and Greyson Carter (0-0, 4.50 ERA in 2 IP) among the pitchers.

The winner should be obvious:

#21 So. OF Calvin “Silent (but Deadly) Cal” Hewett (.429/.500/1.000 in 7 appearances).

I will be taking no questions at this time.

Question from Chasrad:

Apparently Carter Holton is a great hitter in addition to his pitching. Can you see him playing in the field or even just DH-ing this season?

Not on this team, no. We’ve got a Stephen Scott type slugger in Troy LaNeve who has only managed to get into 7 games (starting 4) this season. Beyond that, with the NL adding the DH permanently, we’re no longer in the ERA of pitchers wanting to hit. Holton’s future is on the mound, and there’s no reason to put him at risk of a hand injury by getting plunked.

Question from Dinard’oh:

Who is better, Christian Little or Rich Little? Little Debbie or Little Caesars? Little House on the Prairie or Little Miss Sunshine? Little Jimmy Dickens or Little Richard? Little Miss Can’t be Wrong or Give a Little Bit? Li’l Abner or Tiny ‘Zeus’ Lister?

Explain your reasoning (please and thank you)

My readers, ladies and gentlemen.

Okay (deep breath)...

Christian Little, Little Caesars, Little Miss Sunshine, Little Richard, “Little Miss Can’t be Wrong,” and Tiny Lister.

Little Richard, of course, is the Platonic ideal of all Littles.