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Vanderbilt Baseball End of Season Mail Bag: Answers to Your Questions

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

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NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 04 Nashville Regional - Vanderbilt vs Xavier Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Question from Dore31:

What is your best guess at next year’s opening lineup, weekend rotation, and top 2-3 arms out of the bullpen?

I hope you know this is all but impossible to answer right now, as we have no idea who will get through the draft (both high school commits and current draft-eligible Diamond Dores), who will transfer out, and who might transfer in. As such, many of these guesses may well be null and void by a month or so from now. Though there is always the possibility we move RJ Austin to CF—A-Mart style—or bring in a grad student transfer there, I think Silent Cal has the defensive chops to be a league average CF. Catcher is entirely up in the air. Regardless, time for wild speculation.

The Lineup

CF Hewett

3B Diaz

1B Maldonado

LF LaNeve

2B Austin

RF Polk

SS Vastine

C Espinal (or a Freshman/Transfer)

DH Freshman/Transfer

Starting Pitchers




The Best Freshman Pitcher (I’ll guess McElvain’s little brother here, as I’m relatively sure the top two commits will go pro)

Top Relievers




Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Is Mike Baxter the problem on offense? In your answer, be sure yo provide reasons both for and against your argument.

I refuse to answer this question. On the other hand, I accept.

On the plus side, Baxter seems to have fixed Davis Diaz’s swing and approach. On the negative side, well... the Regionals.

To be honest, I do not think Astronaut Mike Baxter is in the upper echelon of hitting coaches, and, as such, we could improve if we got one. You know, like bringing back Travis Jewett. He’s right below that upper echelon, though. I’ll say it this way: Baxter is not the problem, but someone better could do better than he has. The problem, in so much as there is a problem, is that it has been a while since we’ve brought in the best offensive talent. Back when Holliday and Jewett were hitting coach and recruiting coordinator, we both identified top hitters and got them through the draft. Part of it is that in the last decade, MLB scouts have noticed our commits that get through the draft were very good, and hence decided to look closer at anyone we sign. In last year’s draft, there were a few players I had tabbed as “will be offered 3rd round money and hence come to campus”—specifically Sal Stewart and Ryan Clifford—that instead were either drafted in the first round, or offered first round money. All you can do is scream into a pillow when that happens.

In my opinion, and I doubt most will disagree with me, Josh Holliday (‘10-’12) and Travis Jewett (‘13-16) brought better hitters to The Hawk than Mike Baxter (‘18-present). Further, though Vanderbilt always prioritized recruiting very athletic kids who can play up the middle defensively, it seems like we’ve done that exclusively in the Baxter era, thereby sacrificing power. Further, during the Holliday and Jewett eras, we were better at getting the less heralded but amazing players, like Swanson, Reynolds, Bleday, and Kemp. Again, it’s not a massive drop-off, but it has been noticeable. Just saying.

Question from Your Uncle Mike:

Do we put the blame on our pitching on Brownie? Was he too preoccupied with taking over the Tennis coaching duties?

Why was there not more “starter-ready” talent in the bullpen?

Hahahahahahahahaha no. Brown is easily one of the top 3 pitching coaches in college baseball. He’ll be the head coach if Corbs ever retires. We’ve been really blessed with pitching coaches, specifically with Derek Johnson being the best college pitching coach of his era, and Brownie being amongst the best, if not the best, year in and year out.

No. Just no.

Oh, and the answer to your second question was injuries. This team would have had the best depth in all of college baseball if Holton, Owen, Doolin, and Dutkanych did not get hurt.

Question from AspenVU:

Why did the team not use EB’s speed on the bases a lot this year or is that not a correct observation? Seems like he was satisfied with playing good D and swinging for the fence.

This is a correct observation, but I’d say you have the wrong target. EBJ had the perma-green-light to steal on every pitch. He chose not to use his superpower far too often this year. Not sure why.

He was 47-53 as a freshman, 46-46 as a sophomore, and 37-44 this year. Aside from not playing in as many games (67 in ‘21, 62 in ‘22, 62 in ‘23) as, you know, we flamed out in Regionals this year, he just wasn’t on base as much as his freshman year. He had an OBP of .451 in ‘21, .415 in ‘22, and .410 in ‘23. Yeah, much of that was changing his approach (which some of the blame goes to Baxter), and some of that were prolonged slumps in both ‘22 and ‘23. Either way, though EBJ was phenomenal in his three years at Vandy, yes, he definitely left something on the table in the final two years.

His biggest improvement in his 3 years at Vandy was his defense. He went from being a fast, capable CF to being a cheat code out there this year.

Question from Chasrad:

Speaking of EB: after watching this fantastic talent for three years, and he was really as good his first day on the field as the last, I have a question. How can he have been so “overlooked/undervalued” in the draft?

I assume you mean 3 years ago and not a month from now. I can answer that pretty easily. First, he was 155 lbs with very little power potential in a sport that was dominated by the three true outcomes (K, BB, HR) based analytics nonsense for over a decade. Further, those nerds devalued the stolen base so much that other than the Trea Turners of the world, it was effectively an endangered species in MLB. Finally, EBJ was largely thought of as being around a top 50 player in his graduating class (which would put him around top 100 overall for his draft year), whereas he thought of himself—quite correctly, I might add—as a first round talent. Had an MLB team offered first round money, he probably would have signed. They were more offering 3rd round money, or thereabouts.

Then, you know, MLB finally changed their rules to prioritize athleticism and limit the effects of weird nerds on the sport.

CBS sports detailed how the new rule changes (limiting pick-off throws and bigger bases, in particular) were causing MLB teams to put more emphasis on the running game:

MLB teams right now are averaging 0.68 stolen bases per game. If that holds up, then it will be the highest such figure since 1999, or almost a quarter-century. It’s not just a matter of raw steal totals, too. Base-stealers in 2023 have been successful almost 80% of the time (78.8%, to be precise). That’s on target to be the highest stolen-base success rate in the history of MLB. Success rates have trended higher and higher over the years, but 2023’s rate is notable even by contemporary standards.

Then, a few days later, The Athletic wrote a similar story:

Entering May 1, the average stolen bases per game is 1.8, which is a jump up from last year (1.4) and 2021 (1.2) and the highest number since 2012. The stolen base success rate, 79.4 percent, is among the highest in recent baseball history.

All MLB teams will react to this data, and players with EBJ style profiles are going to be taken a lot higher than they were in the last decade.

At Vanderbilt, EBJ proved he could be a gold glove major league center fielder right now, he lit up the base paths early in his career (and yes, I’m a little angry he didn’t run enough this year... see above), and he even improved his strength/power (to the detriment of his game, in my opinion, but you’ve heard me rant on that enough). You prove you can do that against SEC competition, and your stock raises. Also helping his stock out now is the shift ban helping out left handed hitters.

He’s now a no doubt first rounder (likely middle of the round), and had MLB implemented these changes before his senior year of high school, he might never have made it to campus.

Question from Kslaught:

In my opinion, Corbin needs to be willing to use the portal. Do you think he will do this?

Nope. Though I do agree with you in theory, Corbs is just never going to move away from his program being one that seeks to develop players more than acquire them. Never going to happen. The occasional grad transfer in a position of need from a similar academic institution—see RJ Schrek graduating from Duke and coming over for a grad year—will happen, as will the even more rare Juco Javy Vaz type, but we are never going to turn into LSU. Nor should we. Fuck that mercenary college basketball nonsense.

Question from Jerry_Palms_Sphincter:

I believe that Tennessee’s current success is a direct result of the dose of narcan we hit them with. Is that an oversimplification due to my being pissy about how everything has shaken out, is it accurate, or is it somewhere in between?

I will agree that we could have effectively killed their season had we swept them, and them sweeping us turned their season around. They always had the talent on the mound, though.

Question from VU1970:

Which is more likely?

a) The Chuggers still don’t get to Omaha

b) The Chuggers get to Omaha and get laminated (or eliminated) without scoring a run

c) The Chuggers win the CWS and go home, never to be heard from again, like the proto-chugging Old Mess and Clanga

The most likely is B, as the Chuggers are a better team than Southern Miss, but not as good as Florida or LSU.

Oh God... two Chugger questions in a row (runs to bathroom to vomit).

Question from Parlagi:

Oh crap, am I supposed to type up a Moroccan entry? I guess we could use a distraction from (gestures wildly at every news outlet).