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Vanderbilt Baseball Mail Bag #12: Answers to Your Questions

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

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Question from Dinard’oh:

Are there any players you think need to take a series off, either to make sure they are fresh for the postseason or because their at-bats are harder to watch than Carl Lewis singing the national anthem?

The first names that come to mind are Carter Young and Davis Diaz. I could see arguments for both at the very least riding bench in the midweek game, with Carter Young possibly staying on the bench this weekend. Though CY made some phenomenal plays defensively on Sunday, he also boofed an easy one that could have led to the game getting away from us (that it did not was a testament to Carter Holton battling through adversity). In addition, Young has just been broken at the plate the past few weeks.

Young is batting .213/.342/.400 on the year, and here are his last three weeks:

Kentucky: 1-13

aTm: 1-10

Louisville: 0-2

Ugga: 1-11

That’s a combined 3-36 (.083), which is just brutal in the past month. Worse than half a Mendoza brutal. He needs time in the cage and time to get his head right.

As for Davis Diaz, he may well be coming out of his “hitting the rookie wall” slump offensively, but he was just brutal defensively this Saturday in the one game we lost against Ugga. He had 3 Errors in that game.

At the plate, however, Diaz looks to be improving. Though he took an 0-fer from 4/16-4/22 (Jorts and UK series), he has gone 4-19 (.211) in the last two weeks. It’s not great, but at least with Tater out of the lineup due to injury (though he did see some late inning defensive replacement work on Sunday), we probably can’t have both Diaz and Young out of the lineup from a defensive standpoint. Even though Vastine would be the replacement at SS (and he’s by no means lighting things up offensively), I do believe it is time to sit Carter Young.

No, I did not expect to be saying that in May. I expected our Mighty Carter Young commentary to be focused on him being the All-SEC SS and how high he will go in the draft. Now, though? It’s time for the bench.

Question from Dore31:

Baseball America currently has us as a 2-seed and D1 baseball has us as a 3-seed (subject to change when they update their projections this week). Is there anything we can do down the stretch at this point to secure a 1-seed or are we pretty locked in as a 2 or 3 as long as we don’t completely blow up in our last two series?

Seeing as we’re still in the top 10 in the RPI, I actually do see a path for us to get a #1 seed. We’d have to (at the very least) win our two remaining mid-week games (ISU; Empty-S-U), and win both remaining SEC series (at Arky; vs. LSU). Do that (assuming it’s 2 games to 1 series victories over both), and we’d finish 37-17 (16-14 SEC). That would be enough to make the committee consider us strongly. Finish any better than that, and I’d think we’re a lock (as long as we don’t lose on day one of the SEC Tourney).

However, that’s not going to be easy to do. Lose 2 to 1 to Arky and we would then have to sweep LSU to keep that record. The only SEC team this team has swept all year is actually a Big XII team (Missourah), so pardon me if I don’t see this path as all that probable.

Realistically, we probably need to play better than we did this weekend to beat either of those teams, and certainly to beat both.

If I had to bet, just like I said when a similar question was asked two weeks ago, we finish at .500 in conference play and are given a #2 seed.

Question from Johnny ‘10:

Has Little earned the start next Sunday? Or do we see [Futrell] move into that role now that we’re [past] the Louisville game?

Seeing as Futrell threw 6 IP on Tuesday 5/3 (and took a hard luck 1-0 loss against a good Louisville team), and Little threw 4 IP Friday 5/6 (and looked good in the win against Ugga, though his defense did him no favors), I’ll put this in the category of “A good problem to have.” Here’s the thing... we need every win in the remaining 8 games (ISU, 3 at Arky, Empty-S-U, and 3 vs. The Gumbo Bengals). Beyond that, whether we climb up into the top 4 seeds for the SEC tournament or not, our first game will either be a single elimination game on Tuesday (6 through 12 seeds) or entering the double elimination phase on Wednesday (1 through 4 seeds vs. winners of the 6 through 12 seed Tuesday games). If the SEC Tourney started today, we’d be playing on Tuesday. As such, I’d rate the Tuesday starter’s role as pretty much equal to the Sunday starter’s role from here on out.

Given that Little will not be able to throw this Tuesday, and moving Futrell to Sundays would have him pitching on short rest this week against a tough Arky team, I think the best call is to give the ball to Little on the weekend and Futrell on Tuesdays.

In fact, I’d keep Little in on Fridays (with Reilly et al as a piggyback) to maximize McBain and Holton’s ability to win games against the non-Aces of Arky and Yellow Shoe, respectively.

Though Little’s line on Friday was 4 IP 5 H 3 R 2 BB 4 K in 70 pitches, those who saw the game can tell you he looked good. He was really let down by his defense, as Jack Bulger surprisingly kept losing the ball, and there were far too many routine plays botched by the defense overall.

Though Futrell may well be our best pitcher right now, Little has the best stuff. So yeah, that’s what I’d do.

Question from Chasrad:

Once Hewitt gets over his injury, where do you put both Hewitt and Vaz in the lineup/field?

For maximum pop and defense, it seems to me both must play.

Yeah, we should probably be platooning them at LF/DH for the rest of the year. Both are excellent fielders, but I like the more natural routes Silent Cal takes to the ball, so I’d probably play him more in LF and Vaz either as DH or 2B.

If (referencing an earlier question), Corbs did decide to bench CY, moving Vaz to 2nd and Vastine to SS could help solve that positional logjam.

*Note: Here’s an update on injuries to Silent Cal and Gavin “The House” Casas.

Question from Vandyfan1:

Can you explain the super hero themed gloves to me, and what is your favorite one?

The Tennessean beat writer Aria Gerson did an entire feature article on this, so I’ll just link to it here:

As for my favorite? The last superhero movie I watched was Ang Lee’s abomination Hulk in 2003. I’m not the guy you go to for superhero nerd stuff. I’m the guy you go to for book, comedy, and baseball nerd stuff. Also esoteric films and TV. If they ever decide to do gloves based on Chan-Wook Park’s revenge film trilogy, or the films of Preston Sturgess, I’m your guy.

That said, Christian Little’s teal glove is pretty badass. I’ll guess that’s for “Teal Man,” or “Former Florida Marlins Colors Guy.”

Question from Parlagi:

I think we all still agree Davis Diaz has a high ceiling, certainly much better than what we saw last weekend. He’s smacked hard into the freshman wall, and it’s frustrating for everyone, but it happens.

What ceiling do you see on some of the other freshman role players like Polk, Vastine, and Gordon? I’m working under the notion that the college game hasn’t slowed down for them yet, but would like your updated thoughts after nearly a full season.

Of those three, only Vastine has gotten enough playing time for me to do more than speculate. I’d say he’s got the lowest ceiling of the bunch, but also the highest floor. I see him as someone who should be able to play SS or 2nd next year. I also see him as currently outclassed at the plate. He’s hitting .163/.208/.209 in 25 games (10 starts). That’s bad. That’s “if you don’t at least become a .250 hitter, that glove won’t matter” bad. Of course, even defensively, I see him more as a Vince Conde/Ethan Paul than a Connor Kaiser with the glove. This could all change, but I see him more as dependable than spectacular with the glove, and a real liability at the plate. He will have to have a hell of an offseason to change that narrative.

On the other hand, both Polk and Gordon have popped, but look raw. Polk could (if things break right) turn into a John Norwood type at the plate, as he has good raw power. Young Hickory is hitting .259/.375/.407 in 18 games (6 starts). I’ve not seen enough of him in the field to gauge his abilities there, but in his few appearances in the outfield, none of them looked like when we tried to play Jack Bulger in LF last year or anything. He was mostly not noticed, which is fine. His loud tool is his power.

Rob Gordon has gotten, by far, the least playing time of the three, but his speed tool popped, and I liked his confidence at the plate (if not the results yet in this really small sample size). He’s been sold as a great defensive prospect, but hasn’t gotten enough playing time for me to confirm or deny said report. Gordon’s hitting .182/.308/.364 in 8 games (3 starts). Both of his hits were doubles.

It might seem ironic that I view Polk and Gordon as more intriguing prospects than Vastine, whereas Corbs clearly prefers Vastine at this point, but again, I think that’s due to their relative floors. Vastine can play steady defense right now, whereas there is more need for refinement in both Polk’s and Gordon’s games.

Question from AspenVU:

Are there any stats on the effectiveness of the defensive shift? Do most college teams employ this?

I don’t like it, but I also don’t know the facts.

This is probably a better question for the beat writer of The Tennesseean, as I have long promised to utilize no advanced statistics/analytics and further, to do no research whatsoever. This is the promise I make to my readers and I aims to keep it.

Aside from that, my argument is a simple one: there are just not enough points of data to successfully employ aggressive shifts at the college level. With MLB players, the regulars get about 500-600 AB per 162 game season. In college, even if you make it to the CWS finals (as we did last year), it pales in comparison.

For this exercise, I’ll use the player who had the most AB last year: leadoff hitter Enrique “Shockwave” Bradfield. In 2021, he appeared in 67 games, starting all 67. He had 244 AB. In short, for him to even approach the average AB an MLB regular gets in one season, you’d have to wait until the beginning of EBJ’s junior year. By the end of his junior year, he’s gone.

Note that Shockwave had put up enough tape that good coaches had adjusted to his tendencies earlier this year, so he has then shifted up his approach at the plate, and the dance begins. They’re not shifting on him, however, as he’s got the type of bat control to destroy a team that attempts to get cute.

*Note: If you’re wondering why he’s looked so good the last few series relative to how he has performed somewhat below expectations earlier in the year, this is your answer. Well, this and the fact that he’s no longer trying to be a power hitter anymore.

Now, if you see a spray chart where a hitter is a classic pull hitter, and cannot go the other way, then yeah, you can shift. However, what if that same hitter’s spray chart reads as a classic pull hitter before teams employed shifts, and one who spreads things around a bit more in reaction to said shifts? Well, again, how long would you have to wait to be able to compile that data? Can you do that with any degree of certainty within a college baseball season?

I am of the opinion that we have been over-aggressive in our shifts, and my anecdotal data of “if they would have just left them where Abner Doubleday put them” thoughts happening multiple times each game is all I need. I’m fine with moving a few steps, but the massive 4 infielders to the left of 2nd base stuff just needs to stop happening. It’s ridiculous.

Beyond larger sample sizes, one of the reasons the MLB shifts work is that their pitchers—especially their relief specialists—are so damned filthy that they can shift to a pull defense and quite literally never give you a pitch you could inside-out without shattering your bat or popping it up weakly. College pitchers are just not on that level.

Question from KnockinOnHeavensDore:

Why doesn’t Vaz play more often? I mean, I get that Corbs moves the lineup around for defensive positions and handedness, but I think that he’s proven he can be a pretty valuable hitter, and definitely a great defender. He’s certainly earned it.

Good question. First of all, he has started in about 23 of this year’s games, so that’s a lot given the particulars of this roster (36 games played, 30 starts). Still, I agree with you that he should be in the lineup every day. This year, he’s played as close to a poor man’s Tony Kemp as we’ve had since Kemp was drafted following the dominant 2013 season (which ended poorly, but still, that team was phenomenal). Vaz Offerens’ slash line on the year is .271/.372/.477.

*Note: For comparison, Kemp’s sophomore year slash line (‘12) was .261/.393/.386. Of course, Kemp’s junior year (‘13) slash was .391/.471/.485, so yeah... he really was one of the best to ever play the college game, and you best put some respect on his name.

Still, given the relative strengths and weaknesses of this lineup, Vaz is a 2 hole hitter who can hold his own with seeing pitches, moving up Shockwave, and being the first RBI threat in the lineup; or a 7 hole hitter who can come through in the clutch. With Diaz running into the freshman wall, that skillset is now in even higher demand.

The problem is where to play him. In the OF, 2 of 3 positions are locked in no matter what—Shockwave and Dr. Jones—and Silent Cal Hewett has been a revelation (.393/.513/.574). As such, Cal, when healthy, has forced his way into the LF or DH role no matter who is available. Vaz, on the other hand, has had hot and cold streaks. He’s currently on a heater. He can slot in at either LF, 2B, or DH. Now that Bulger’s catching full time on the weekends, and Dom is the full time first baseman, DH has opened up a bit. Silent Cal is coming back from being slightly dinged up, as is Tater (though it might take Tater a bit longer to be able to grip a bat). As such, there should be a lineup spot open for Vaz Offerens (whether or not they want to play him on Vaz Deferens) for the foreseeable future. Once Tater’s back to full health (knock on aluminum), I’d still try my best to keep Cloney Kemp batting 2nd or 7th. He’s just too valuable to sit right now, as he’s seeing the ball like everything thrown is fat, and making highlight reel catches with ease.

This stat will also help explain it:

Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Rank our bullpen staff. Who do you want to see in a one run game? Who should sit on the bench until next year?

Thomas “The Mayor” Schultz is #1 with a bullet. Since the Okie Pokes series, he has been the definition of a shut-down closer. Beyond The Mayor, Maldo, though he has been injured, is the 2nd guy I would trust (note: all this is assuming a starting rotation of Little, McBain, Holton, and Futrell in some order). Pat Reilly is the best piggyback/fireman. Prancetown Grad Transfer Jack Anderson and Mormon Mission Mmm-Bop Brett Hansen should be given more bullpen opportunities (and that they haven’t gotten them is, frankly, bullshit). Cunningham and Owen are in the next tier. Evans, Berkwich, and Gitmo also exist. The rest will likely stop seeing game action soon enough. Of course, if either Hliboki Bartokomous or The Doolin Banjo are able to return before the postseason, that changes the calculus. If not, they’re guys you should be able to count on next year.