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Vanderbilt Baseball Mail Bag #9: Answers to Your Questions

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

Syndication: The Tennessean
Calvin Hewett demonstrates traditional Irish step dancing to the delight of his teammates.
Mark Zaleski/ The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Question from vandyfan1:

Does this last couple of series completely change the way u see Jack Bulger?

Yes and no. Yes in that he is now the #1 catcher, but no, in that he always should have been the #1 catcher, as he’s noticeably better defensively than The Dominator. Corbs gave Dom every chance to show MLB scouts he could catch, and thereby help out his draft status, but we can’t afford to fuck around any more.

The best development has been Bulger turning into The Bulge—a frightening middle of the order power bat who also forces pitchers into deep counts. That this has coincided with him getting more work behind the plate is not coincidental. It’s about confidence. He has it again.

Question from Dinard’oh:

There seemed to be new signs of life this weekend. Is there still time for this team to gel and make a run in the tourney, or does the season end as a 2/3 seed in some far-flung regional?

I cannot with any degree of certainty tell you what will happen, but yes, this team can still make a run and be a Regional host. It all starts with a strong showing in Lexington this weekend. If McBain and Holton can get back to their early season form, and/or if the lineup can play to their potential, this is a team no one wants to face in the postseason. We’re not last year’s team, but trust me, no one wants to be in our Region.

Question from Dore31:

Is it just me or does it feel like we are giving up a lot of long balls? Seems like 75% of the runs we’ve given up the last few weeks are via home run.

Related, a question for the weekly Christian Little update. I thought he looked great on Sunday other than the one mistake that unfortunately led to Florida’s win in the 10th. Are we in spot where him and Reilly are best used as firemen piggy-backing off the weekend starters? None of our guys (other than maybe Futrell and he is obviously unproven on the weekend) can consistently give more than about 4 solid innings so it could be to our benefit to start targeting 7-8 innings from two guys before turning it over to Schultz and Maldo to finish it out. Similar to the Rays opener approach. Would love to get 6+ innings from the weekend starters but I don’t think that’s happening this year.

On the season, we’ve given up 25 HR to opposing hitters. Only aTm (16) and Arky (22) have yielded fewer dingers.

Of course, 21 of those 25 dingers have happened in SEC conference play. We’re 6th in the conference in that statistic. That’s what you’re seeing.

In short, we gave up basically no home runs in OOC play, but SEC hitters are just a different breed, and that breed digs chicks who dig the long ball.

As for Christian Little, I agree that he’s looked great (and that one mistake has not changed anything for me). I’m not a fan of the opener, but I do like the piggyback strategy (i.e. two guys who get about 4 IP each). That’s how we opened the year, and it’s what I would go back to. I would not be shocked if Friday is basically a McBain-Reilly Piggyback. We could do the same with some combination of Holton, Cunningham, Futrell, and Little on Saturdays and Sundays (swap in Owen for Futrell if we want to keep Futrell in the Walker Buehler role all year). We certainly have the bullpen depth to pull it off.

Question from KnockinOnHeavensDore:

1) What would it take for Carter Young’s spot in the lineup to be in contention? I get that he brings a lot to the table defensively, but at what point (if any) does his lack of production at the plate outweigh his defensive contributions?

2) Thoughts on the Vaz-Diaz lineup switch?

1) See my answer to the next question, as the only way for Young’s spot to be in contention would have been for a similarly talented middle infielder to have been putting up great offensive numbers, thereby allowing that thought to even creep into Corbs’ mind. With Diaz at 3rd (and possibly hitting the freshman wall), that guy is Vastine. Vastine has been at least a full standard deviation worse at the plate as has MCY, without the history of offensive production MCY has in gangster pajamas. It’s not happening. Instead, root for MCY to put it all together, as he could very well be the key to taking this from a good to a great lineup.

2) Well, there have been a series of lineup switches of late, so I think Corbs is just tinkering with the lineup. Beyond that, Diaz is slumping a bit, as SEC pitchers have him on tape now. Both Corbs and the hitters involved will have to make the right adjustments. Case in point:

Diaz lead off on Friday, hit 8th on Saturday and Sunday, and 7th on Tuesday.

Vaz did not start on Friday (he came in late for Silent Cal), hit 2nd on Saturday and Sunday, and not at all on Tuesday.

That’s not enough to establish any sort of trend, though I do, in theory, like Vaz’s speed and bunting ability behind Shockwave.

Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Have you seen anything from Vastine that tells you why he’s getting ABs over Hewett et al.?

I have not, no. I’ve seen the potential for gold glove level defense from Vastine, but I haven’t seen much from him at the plate this year. Vastine is slashing .182/.216/.212 with 1 2B and 4 RBI. On top of that, he’s Kd in exactly 13 of his AB (11 K in 33 AB). If we need him to play SS, 2B, or 3B due to injury, or to come in for some late inning defense, that’s great. Of course, we’ve played him at 1B and DH a few times this year, which... no. Just no. This is pretty indefensible.

Silent Cal Hewett has been deadly (.500/.611/.750 with 1 2B 2 HR and 7 RBI in 28 AB) in ‘22, and has been given 5 fewer AB than Vastine. This doesn’t seem right, even accounting for the platoon advantage (as college RHB don’t really have much trouble against college RHP unless they’ve got an odd delivery like The Jorts’ closer did). Silent Cal has also scored 11 times to Vastine’s 4, which, though such a stat can be attributed to luck, most of it is that Cal’s been on base a staggering 22 times this season (14 H, 4 BB, 4 HBP). Note that last stat, as Cal crowds the plate and is unafraid of getting plunked. Hell, his batting stance and swing is geared towards scaring pitchers off the inside corner, as though it’s unconventional, his “dive towards the plate” front foot works out for him more often than not. Vastine has only been on base 8 times (6 H, 2 BB).

Oh, and if you need the platoon advantage, there’s Gavin Casas and Parker Noland. Vastine may well be the starting SS or 2B next year, but for this year, he should mostly be a defensive replacement. We don’t have Kumar Rocker nor Jack Leiter suiting up for us any time soon. We need the runs. We need the OBP. We need Silent Cal.

*Come on, you know you want to play Silent Cal in Hooverville this May.

Question from Chasrad:

Sully won his only CWS in 2017. Could he possibly be on the proverbial hot seat?

Thank you for adding Vitello to the garbage pile.

Oh Tony “The Calf” Vitello added himself to the garbage pile due to his “bro fight in a Hooter’s parking lot at 2am” hissy fits. He’s 10 lbs of douche in a 5 lb bag.

As for Sully... if he was fired, he would not have to wait long to get a laundry list of job offers. Clemson, for one, would probably try to bring him back into the fold. While you are correct that the Jorts have been down this season relative to their past success—and really down since 2019 relative to the successes of the beginning of the Sully era—it would likely take a complete bottoming out for the Fat Toad to be fired this year. Not only has Sully led the Jorts to their only National Championship (‘17), he’s also been to 12 of their CWS Finals appearances (‘11), made the trip to Omaha 7 times (‘10. ‘11, ‘12, ‘15, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18)—Florida has been to Omaha 12 times total in their history, so that’s pretty damned significant—and made the NCAA tourney every season he’s been at the helm (save for the Covid shortened 2020 season where there was no tournament, of course).

Though fanbases change once a coach raises their expectations—see Stallings, Kevin—Sully would have to put together at least one catastrophic season, or miss the NCAA tourney at least two years in a row to get shit-canned from Jortsville, methinks.

For context, let’s look at the guy he replaced: former Clanga HC Pat McMahon. McMahon took over in 2001 and took the Jorts to the NCAA Tournament in his first five years (‘01-05), building the program up to teams who won Regionals in ‘04 and went all the way to the CWS Finals in ‘05.

Then, well, it all went to hell. The Jorts were the consensus #1 team to open the ‘06 season—which, I’ve heard, is better than being the “consesus #1 team,” Vitello—and they, well... shit the bed. They imploded to a 28-28 (10-20 SEC) team, and didn’t make the tourney. Oh, I’m not even talking about the NCAA tourney they clearly wouldn’t make with a .500 overall and .333 conference record. They didn’t make the SEC Tournament in ‘06. It was an all time crater job and we salute him for it. Then, in ‘07, rather than redeem himself, McMahon’s final Jorts team finished under .500 (28-29), and that was that. McMahon got a pink notice in his locker and the Jorts went shopping in the Clemson assistant coaching pipeline.

So, yeah, we can go ahead and root for Sully to crater that hard, but unless he fully burns out and stops ‘crootin’ well, I don’t see it. We’ll likely be yelling for him to sit down for as long as he wants to stay in Jortsville.

Question from Stress Fracture:

Why does Tony Vitello have the arrogance of Augie Garrido when he has one division championship? Non serious answers only. Please and thank you.

I don’t see this as something that can be given a non-serious response. See the first paragraph in the response to the previous question. He’s like a combination of Lane Kiffin and Todd Grantham, in that he’s equal parts smug and a sentient human anus. In short, he’d have the same amount of arrogance if he was your kid’s Little League coach. He’d also cheat as much. You’re telling me Tony “The Calf” Vitello’s Little League roster wouldn’t be filled with fake birth certificates from the Dominican? Please.

Question from BarnDore1950:

Will we ever see Hliboki and Doolin on the mound again? Both appeared to have tremendous potential before injuries. Hliboki in particular was impressed in the short 2020 season.

I’ll go with yes for both, but for next year. Though we were optimistic at least one might be able to return by the end of this season, I haven’t heard about either being close to returning. Either way, I don’t think either has shown enough to be drafted and signed this year given their injuries and the Covid shortened 2020 season. Both could be candidates to start in 2023. If I had to prognosticate, as long as both return to full health and are pitching at least as well as they did as freshmen, Doolin could be a weekend starter and Hliboki the closer. They’re that talented.

Question from KnockinOnHeavensDore:

I guess I’ll take the last spot. Seems sorta unfair that despite all Futrell has done, he hasn’t gotten a shot at a weekend starter role. As of before the Tech game, he’s 7-0. Seems like he would be the solution to the uncertainty as to who’s pitching Sunday, and I’d rather have pitching uncertainty on a midweek game than a potential rubber match SEC Sunday game. I guess my question here is: Why hasn’t Futrell gotten a chance to start on Sunday? And what else can/must happen for him to be given a chance?

Counterpoint: The Sunday starter job in 2022 has been anathema. Perhaps even anathema maranatha. Do we want that Juju on Devin “The Future” Futrell?

Juju aside, there are two competing lines of reasoning here.

1) Keep him in the Walker Buehler role at least until the penultimate week of the regular season. Remember, though we don’t have a midweek game this coming week (as we welcome aTm to The Hawk for a Thursday-Saturday set), we do play Louisville in the Battle for the Barrel on May 3rd and The Indiana State Fightin’ Larry Bird’s Hideous Moustaches on May 10th. Both of those teams are perennial NCAA Tourney teams, and both are almost always chosen to be either a Regional or Super Regional opponent for The Dores.

2) On the flip side, as we have no mid-week game coming, we could easily use Futrell in a relief role this Saturday or Sunday and then start him on the final games against aTm, Ugga, Arky, and The Gumbo Bengals.

It’s a bit of a Sophie’s choice, but if I’m making the call, I’m going with option #2. Bryce Cunningham (or Christian Little, though it seems like they want him in the pen) could be moved into the Midweek starter role for Louisville, ISU, and Empty S-U. With McBain scuffling a bit, Reilly may well have to play the Friday Fireman. Why not close with the two freshmen southpaws? Futrell has certainly kicked open the door of possibility.

Question from Parlagi:

We’re halfway through conference play — which 2 teams miss the SEC Tournament?

Counting this weekend, there are 5 weeks of SEC play left (I know many reading this are saying, “Duh, he said ‘halfway through,’ you moron,” but remember that some times, non-expert fans read this), so all of this comes with the caveat that a whole shit-ton can happen in 15 games. That said, here are your contenders:

The “Thanks for Trying” Tier

#14. Missourah (spits) Tigers: 5-11 SEC; 22-13 overall. Missourah (spits) started yet another SEC-Big XII Challenge series on Thursday in some Tiger on Tiger violence at LSU. The Gumbo Bengals won 5-3 to push Missourah (spits) temporarily into the cellar. Though LSU’s pitching depth is basically the players’ dads volunteering to pitch so the kids can have some fun, I’d still say Missourah (spits) is likely to be swept this weekend. Maybe they can salvage a win.

*Though they don’t exactly face a murderers row the rest of the season (Clanga, Ole Piss, The Jorts, and Ugga), I also don’t expect them to win any of those series.

#13 (though, let’s be honest, they’re basically tied for #14). The Kentucky Blue Balls: 5-10 SEC; 21-16 overall. The Blue Balls are just one spot ahead of Missourah (spits) because their series against the Diamond Dores begins Friday, whereas Missourah (spits) played and lost Thursday. Kentucky lost the head-to-head series against Missourah (spits) two games to one last week, and worse yet, they let the moribund Big XII lineup attack their arms to the tune of 6, 9, and 10 runs, respectively. Expect the Diamond Dores’ bats to feast this weekend. Their only SEC series win is a two games to one victory over Ugga in the first week of conference play. That likely feels like a lifetime ago to the Blue Balls fans—ah, who are we kidding, those Mashburn jersey wedding attired opioid addicts don’t even know they have a baseball team.

*Their remaining 5 SEC series will kick them in the grundle. They play Vanderbilt, The Jorts, The Chuggers, The South Cackalacky Game Penises, and close against The War Tigers. It is highly probable that Missourah (spits) is only keeping the #14 spot warm for The Blue Balls.

The “Believe Me, This is Killing Them” Tier

#12. Clanga: 6-10 SEC; 22-17 overall. Oh how the annoying have fallen. The 2021 National Champs (grumble grumble) have not had many reasons to clang their annoying cowbells this season, but I bet if anyone in the state of Mississippi was literate enough to understand a reference to a “Faustian bargain,” they would have taken it. If 2022 is a redneck monkey’s paw cursed season, so be it. 2021 will be enough to sustain them for a lifetime, like the Chuggers who always feel like it’s ‘98. Still, I just can’t see Clanga finishing worse than the previous two teams. Not even if they’re coached by Dr. Chris “Lemon Party” Lemo-Faustus. Of course, they should probably salvage at least one win where the Ox Ford the river this weekend, so as to not drop down into the aforementioned tier of ignominy. Ole Piss beat them 4-2 last night.

*Even if they’re swept in Oxford, they get to play Missourah (spits) next week. They close with The Jorts, aTm, and The Chuggers. If they’re going to turn things around, they will have to take the remaining games of the series against Ole Piss, as it doesn’t exactly get easier from here on out. Still, I expect them to go around .500 in their remaining conference games. Do that, and they won’t make the NCAA Tourney, but they will qualify for the SEC tourney (which was the question).

#11. Ole Piss: 6-10 SEC; 22-15 overall. Remember when they were the #1 team in the country? Pepperidge Farm remembers. Though it’s understandable to have been swept by this year’s Cheatin’ Chuggers, it’s unfathomable that they were swept by the Ramajama Gumps. I’m not going to count out a team with The Elk Sans Knee Ligaments anchoring their lineup, but they haven’t exactly played to the back of their baseball cards of yet. Like Clanga above, their season could turn around on Egg Base-Bowl Rivalry Week. Unlike Clanga, Ole Piss is in the driver’s seat after not just winning game one 4-2, but not having to use any relievers in doing so.

*Ole Piss closes with the remainder of this series against Clanga (which, for some odd reason is a 4 game set including a midweek game this Tuesday), Arky, Missourah (spits), LSU, and aTm. Similar to Clanga, it’s tough to see them doing all that much better than .500 in their remaining SEC games. Of course, a 4 game sweep against Clanga may well right the ship and propel them into the NCAA Tourney. Lots of baseball yet to be played.

The “The Bottom Could Completely Fall Out at Any Moment” Tier

#10. The South Cackalacky Game Penises: 6-9 SEC; 19-17 overall. I know they beat us when we were slumping, but this just isn’t a good Penis team. I mean, the week after they took two of three from us, they lost a series to Missourah (spits). By all accounts, this team could easily join the previous tier, and if not for Kentucky’s rough schedule down the stretch, could be in the bottom tier with Missourah (spits).

*The Penises close with Auburn, Alabama, aTm, Kentucky, and The Jorts. They could either go around .500, or the tires could fall off as all but one of those teams should have eyes on an NCAA Tournament bid when they play the Penises (though The Jorts may not get a bid, even without Barco, I have a tough time seeing them as being completely out of consideration by the last week of the season).

The “The Bottom Would Have to Completely Fall Out, but I Don’t Expect it To” Tier

#9. The Jorts: 6-9 SEC; 23-14 overall. That was a really tough series last week, and even though the Diamond Dores took it, it could have gone either way. This Jort team may not be one of their best, but they certainly don’t have the look of an SEC cellar dweller. Yes, they just lost their ace. No, that doesn’t turn them into Kentucky or Missourah (spits). They took two of three from Arky two weeks back, con sarn it!

*They close with The Cheatin’ Chuggers, The Kentucky Blue Balls, Clanga, Missourah (spits), and The South Cackalacky Game Penises. Other than this weekend, that is quite literally the most favorable SEC schedule for the last 4 weeks of conference play. No one else has it easier. As such, if the tires do completely fall off against those four teams, yeah, Sully’s fat ass might be told to sit down on a seat that’s at least a slight bit warm.