Talkin’ Bulldog baseball

I can’t believe I haven’t filed a post yet about The Citadel’s baseball team, but then, I haven’t been posting much at all as of late.  That will change (I hope) in the ensuing months.  At any rate, let’s talk Bulldog baseball.  The Citadel is in first place in the SoCon right now, so it’s the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon!

The Citadel heads into the upcoming weekend series with Samford at 16-2 in the league (28-15 overall).  I have to say I am pleasantly surprised at the Bulldogs’ success in the conference this season, as I thought it would be hard to replace the players The Citadel lost from last year’s team (including Richard Jones, Chris McGuiness, and Sonny Meade).

The Bulldogs needed to replace a ton of offensive productivity, and I didn’t think the pitching (which I expected would be good) would be able to overcome that.  I guess Kendall Rogers, college baseball writer for Rivals.com, deserves credit for picking The Citadel to win the Southern Conference.  I hope I didn’t just jinx the team by writing that.

What follows is a look at this season’s team and how it is faring in the categories of fielding, pitching, and batting.  Some of this is probably going to come across as overly negative for a team currently leading its league, but it’s important to examine the team’s weaknesses as well as its strengths.

Fielding

Fielding is definitely the Achilles’ heel of this squad, and if the Bulldogs fail to win the league, or do not impress in any post-season play, it is likely to be the key reason why.  The numbers are not good:

  • 73 errors in 43 games (1. 7 errors per game)
  • A fielding percentage of .955 (which would be the worst for a Bulldog team in at least a decade)
  • An average of 38.09 chances per game (which would be the lowest for a Bulldog team since 2003)

The Citadel has committed two or more errors in 22 of its 43 games.  That’s 2+ errors in more than half the games.

The Bulldogs have had defensive issues at third base, second base, and catcher.  There have also been occasional lapses in the outfield, which is surprising, as all three regulars in the outfield are solid fielders with good speed.  All of them are capable of making outstanding plays.

I don’t think it’s particularly surprising that Bryan Altman, playing primarily as a catcher after spending most of his college career at second base, would not be the second coming of Johnny Bench with the glove.  From what I’ve seen, Altman actually does a lot of things well behind the plate.  The one thing he doesn’t do well, as least from anecdotal evidence, is cleanly catch pitches.

The ball seems to pop out of his glove a lot when I watch the games, which would explain his 14 passed balls.  The Citadel hasn’t had that many passed balls in a full season since 2003 (there were 8 all of last year).

At third base, David Greene has committed 18 errors.  Greene committed 14 errors all of last season.  His fielding percentage to date (.860) is substantially lower than it was last season (.903).  This may be a “he was in a slump at the plate, and it affected his fielding” kind of thing.  He’s not in a slump now, though, so maybe his fielding will improve as well.

Then there is second base, where Legare Jones has spent the most time, with Altman and Josh Pless also taking turns at the keystone position.  Jones has 10 errors and a .921 fielding percentage.  Pless, in limited duty, has an .882 fielding percentage.

Last year, the Bulldogs had 39.0 chances per game, almost a full chance more than this season.  That team committed just 1.14 errors per game, more than half an error fewer per game than this year.  This means, essentially, that Bulldog pitchers are having to get 2 and a half more outs per game this season (when you combine the increased errors with the reduced chances).

It’s hard enough to pitch in college baseball as it is, without having to get an extra out every third inning or so.

Pitching

This was supposed to be the Bulldogs’ strength this season, and it has been.  Asher Wojciechowski was supposed to be one of the nation’s outstanding pitchers this season, and he has been.  A critical reason for The Citadel’s success in conference play has been getting consistently excellent performances from Wojciechowski in the Friday night games.

Not only have the Bulldogs claimed victory in those games (save last week’s game against Davidson), Wojciechowski’s ability to pitch deep into games has allowed the bullpen to do most of its work in a two-game stretch, instead of three.  Also, winning the series opener takes the pressure off the team for the remainder of the series.

This is why Matt Talley’s performance last Saturday (a complete-game shutout) may have been the most important individual start of the season.  For the first time all year, the Bulldogs trailed in a league series after losing the Friday night game.  Talley came up big under pressure, saved the bullpen, and set things up for The Citadel to claim the series by winning the second game of the doubleheader.

Wojciechowski’s numbers are uniformly great (.211 BAA, 98/19 K-BB in 73 IP, only 4 HR, 2.47 ERA).  His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is actually a little high (.328), suggesting he has been a tad unlucky in that area (and that also may be a reflection of the defense behind him).  Wojciechowski threw 138 pitches against Elon earlier this year, but has had only one 120+ pitching performance since then.

I suspect Wojciechowski is making himself a lot of money this season.  He certainly should be.

I’m hoping Talley’s performance last Saturday is a harbinger of things to come.  Last season Talley was 8-1 with a 3.42 ERA, but this season’s move into the weekend rotation (and against generally superior competition) has resulted in an ERA jump of over a full run (4.50) despite a better BAA (.251 this season; it was .273 in 2009).

Talley’s strikeout rate and walk rate are both better this season than last, and his BABIP is actually a touch better this year too, so he hasn’t been unlucky in that respect.   Last season, though, he only allowed 14 extra base hits in 71 innings.  This year in 60 innings he’s already allowed 19.

Also, teams have  finally figured out that Talley has a great pickoff move (only 2 pickoffs so far in 2010 after having 10 in ’09).  Eliminating the runners who were subsequently picked off would give him baserunners per inning totals almost exactly the same for ’09 and ’10.

Talley has also been hurt by the team’s defense.  He has allowed a team-high 12 unearned runs.  Talley has actually allowed two more runs than Michael Clevinger in the same amount of innings, despite having an ERA a full run and a third better than that of Clevinger.

Clevinger has done a respectable job as the Sunday starter for The Citadel, about as much as you could ask for a freshman put in that position.  He has kept the team in the game most of the time, which is the primary expectation of a #3 starter.  Clevinger has done an amazing job at preventing unearned runs (just one UER in 59 2/3 IP), a stat that jumps out at you when you read the pitching lines for The Citadel.  Curt Schilling would be proud.

The Citadel has not had a lot of luck with starting pitching beyond the three weekend starters, which partly explains the lack of success in midweek games.  T.J. Clarkson had an ERA of 3.92 last season; this year it’s 6.35, despite having very similar K/BB rates, hits allowed totals, and BAA.  Clarkson, however, has allowed 6 home runs in only 34 innings after allowing just one (in 41 1/3 IP) all last season.

Austin Pritcher is a freshman who has started six games.  He’s had a couple of bad outings which have really hurt his pitching line (6.89 ERA), but he has had his moments in relief, and could be a factor in tournament play (as could Clarkson, who has proven he’s capable of pitching well against quality opposition in the past).

The Bulldogs have had four pitchers get most of the bullpen duty this season.  Matt Reifsnider is the long man out of the ‘pen, and he’s had a fine year.  His numbers are up (in a good way) from last year in practically every category.  What he’s done best is avoid walking people.  Last season he walked 15 batters in 36 1/3 innings; this season, just 4 in 38 IP.  That, combined with a much-improved BAA (.284; in ’09 it was .398) has dramatically improved his WHIP.

The two setup men for the Bulldogs are Raymond Copenhaver and Chris Boyce.  None of Boyce’s numbers stand out as being exceptionally good, but he’s done a solid job just competing on the mound, and has managed to get some big outs along the way.  As a result he’s 5-0.  Only Asher Wojciechowski has more wins for The Citadel.

I believe Copenhaver is the pitcher most affected by the team’s defensive play.  This is perhaps reflected in his BABIP of .361 (his BAA is .286).  Last season Copenhaver’s BABIP was .327 (with a .284 BAA).  What he does best is not allow extra base hits (just 3 in 20 2/3 IP, with only one a homer).  Copenhaver struggled at times last season, but he’s been better this year, with an ERA more than a full run lower.  I have to wonder if he’s actually been a little better than his results, based on that BABIP figure.

Drew Mahaffey had a great year in ’09 as the Bulldogs’ closer.  This year he has really struggled, though, and what was a team strength now has to be considered a weakness, at least until he can put things together.  The numbers do not lie.  His BAA has gone up from .203 to .238, but more ominous are his K/BB totals.  After striking out 71 and walking just 14 in 50 innings last year, this year he has already walked 18 in just 21 1/3 IP (against 22 Ks).

If the Bulldogs have designs on a long post-season run, I think getting Mahaffey back to near where he was last season is mandatory.  I don’t know whether or not that’s possible.  I just hope it’s not an injury situation.

Batting

This is the area where I thought the Bulldogs would struggle the most, but they’ve held their own.  It’s not a deep team, with eight regulars who go to the post practically every day.  DH Brad Felder has started 41 of the 43 games, yet he’s eighth on the team in starts.

There are two players in Fred Jordan’s lineup who weren’t really there last season who have made a big difference.  One of them is Matt Simonelli, who had limited playing time last year because of injury.  He’s back full-time this year and making it count (.952 OPS).

The other player who wasn’t around last year was Kyle Jordan.  Well, at least this version of Kyle Jordan, the one with a respectable bat who can make the routine plays in the field.  Last year’s version, the one with the sub-.500 OPS who led the team in strikeouts?  Gone, and thankfully so.  The younger Jordan does need to walk more and strike out less (8 BB/39 K).

Leadoff hitter Nick Orvin leads the team in OBP and slugging, as he has improved on what was an outstanding freshman season.  He is the runaway leader on the team in walks, with 30.  Orvin should be on the all-conference team.

David Greene appears to have rebounded from an early-season slump and is starting to move his numbers closer to what they were during his excellent freshman campaign.  Greene is also walking more this year, a positive development that I’m hoping may also lead to an increase in power.

Bryan Altman’s power is not in question, as he is tied for the team lead in homers with Felder (nine each).  Like Simonelli, I wish Altman walked a bit more, but also like Simonelli, he’s a contact hitter who doesn’t strike out much.  Altman can also swipe a base (8-10 this year).

William Ladd is also having a solid year at the plate.  He really needs to walk more, though (only four BB all season so far) to take full advantage of his speed on the bases.  Ladd is surely one of the faster left fielders in the country.  Ladd does lead the team in hit-by-pitches (11).

Brad Felder is not a high-average DH, but he has good power (and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his batting average continue to rise).  He also has 10 steals, joining Simonelli and Orvin as double-digit base-stealers.  His respectable .373 OBP has been built up in part by 10 hit-by-pitches.

Justin Mackert’s first season on the field has been a good one.   He now has two home runs and looks to have the potential to hit quite a few more.  He’s also not afraid to take a walk, although not quite at Orvin levels.  He’s another Bulldog who is a threat to steal (9-11 SB).

The ninth position in the lineup has been in a state of flux.  Legare Jones has seen the most time, starting 26 games at second base.  He is only batting .235, however, and as mentioned has had his share of errors in the field.  Jones has actually been better than that .235 figure suggests, though.  He walks enough to have an OBP of .351, and 7 of his 19 hits have gone for extra bases.  In other words, he gets on base at a decent clip and he has some pop in his bat.

Fred Jordan has lately been rotating Jones, Josh Pless, and Altman at second base (with Grant Richards catching when Altman goes to second).  I would imagine this will continue, with Jones and Pless being in a platoon situation and Altman occasionally moving to second base as relief from the stress of catching every day.

Entering weekend play, The Citadel has an RPI of 31, per Boyd Nation.  According to Nation, if The Citadel goes 10-4 in its last fourteen regular season games (12 of those 14 are SoCon games), it will remain in the top 32 of the RPI.  A 7-7 mark would keep it in the top 45.

The Bulldogs’ last four SoCon opponents include the teams currently in second (College of Charleston), third (Samford), and fourth (Georgia Southern) place in the league — and all of those series will be on the road, beginning with this weekend’s trip to Birmingham to play Samford.  The Citadel has a lot of work to do to win the league.

I think a 7-5 finish in league play would be good enough to win the regular season title (8-4 would be a mathematical certainty).  6-6 might be enough, depending on other results.

If The Citadel wins the SoCon regular season crown, I think that would guarantee the Bulldogs a place in the NCAAs, as it would be hard to leave out the regular season champ of a top-10 league.  Possible, but not likely.  The Citadel’s non-conference record isn’t so hot (12-13), but its record against top-50 opponents (6-6, or 6-5, depending on source) is solid.

Of course, if the Bulldogs win the conference tourney at Riley Park next month, they won’t need an at-large berth (for the record, The Citadel has never received an at-large bid to the regionals).

I just hope The Citadel finishes strong and leaves no doubt about its NCAA-worthiness.  I’m ready to go to an NCAA regional again.  It’s been too long since the last one for my liking.

One Response

  1. Great BLOG !!!! It takes someone who has run a website to truly appreciate how much time, engergy and love it takes to do it right!

    Hope the Dogs get their bullpen situation straightened out and have a great end of the season, great SoCon tourney and a great run in the NCAA’s!!

    Doc JS

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