Bulldog Baseball: revisiting the Battle of 1714

I just wanted to make a quick post about Saturday’s game between The Citadel and the College of Charleston, which struck me as a game deserving of a closer look. The Elias Sports Bureau won’t be providing any statistical minutiae, but I’ll channel my inner Jayson Stark anyway and list a few “nuggets”…

Saturday’s game was the second of a three-game series between the two schools. The Citadel won the opener, 6-2, behind a fine complete-game effort by Matt Talley, while the College of Charleston would win the third game, breaking out to a 10-0 lead before hanging on for a 10-5 victory.

Saturday’s final:  The Citadel 17, College of Charleston 14.  The score doesn’t begin to tell the story:

  • Nine pitchers (five for The Citadel, four for the CofC)  combined to throw 362 pitches — and The Citadel didn’t come to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
  • Eight of the CofC’s nine batters had multi-hit games (the Cougars used no pinch-hitters, not that they needed any).
  • The only Cougar who didn’t get at least two hits was the #9 batter, catcher Robert Pritcher; however, his one hit was a two-run homer that gave the CofC a 6-4 lead in the 5th inning.
  • That home run was one of three plate appearances for Robert Pritcher in which he faced The Citadel’s starting pitcher, sophomore Austin Pritcher.  The two are brothers.  Robert Pritcher also walked and struck out against his younger sibling, but the homer clearly carried the day in the family matchup.

The lesson, as always:  older brothers rule.

  • That strikeout in Pritcher v. Pritcher, by the way, was one of only three times a Cougar batter struck out in the game, and the only one of those that was swinging.
  • With 23 hits, the CofC had a batting average of .489 for the game.  Bulldog batters “only” batted .395 as a group.
  • The Cougars sent 56 batters to the plate during the course of the game.  On 34 of those occasions, the batter reached first base (23 hits, 7 walks, 1 HBP, and 3 runners reached via an error).
  • T.J. Clarkson had an ERA of 3.00 through his first 17 appearances of the season.  His ERA went up to 4.21 after pitching on Saturday.  Ouch.
  • After scoring six runs in the 5th inning, the CofC probably thought it had an insurmountable 12-5 lead, given that The Citadel entered the game 0-12 in contests when its opponent had scored six or more runs.

And yet, The Citadel won this game.  Somehow.

  • Each team had 23 at bats with runners in scoring position.  The Citadel was 9-23 with RISP, but the Cougars were only 4-23 and left 15 men on base (the Bulldogs had just 6 LOB).
  • Clutchness:  the Bulldogs scored 11 of their 17 runs with two outs, including all five runs in the seventh inning.  Nick Orvin’s three-run double in the eighth, which proved to be the game-winner, also came with two outs.
  • Orvin was 5-5 at the plate (with three doubles), drove in five runs, scored twice, and walked once.  I guess that’s a pretty good day for a leadoff hitter.
  • Matt Simonelli had both a sacrifice bunt and a sac fly in the game — and on both occasions, he reached base after Cougar errors.
  • The BABIP and defensive efficiency (or lack thereof) numbers for this game were, uh, horrendous…

The Citadel’s pitchers had a combined BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .560 in this contest, which is much worse than even the below-par .370 number for the team entering the series against the College of Charleston.  As I noted earlier, this is often a reflection of defense (and sometimes luck).

The Citadel had a mind-numbing defensive efficiency rating (DER) of .463 for the game; in other words, only 46% of balls put into play were turned into outs.  (The average D-1 squad this season is turning about 65% of balls put into play into outs.)

However, the College of Charleston’s defensive numbers were even worse, as Cougar pitchers had a combined .577 BABIP.  The team DER on Saturday was .449; by comparison, the DER in the Cougars’ 24-4 loss at South Carolina was a much more respectable .590 (the team pitching BABIP that day, incidentally, was .556).

It remains to be seen if this game might help The Citadel recover from a bad start to the season.  It didn’t seem to matter much on Sunday, but winning the series against the CofC might prove to give the team a much-needed confidence boost going forward.  The bats seem to be coming around, at any rate.  Grabbing a spot in the eight-team Southern Conference tournament becomes the goal for the rest of the regular season.

A few thoughts on Bulldog baseball

Wow, this place is dusty.  I guess I need to post more often.

It’s been a tough year so far for The Citadel’s baseball team, to say the least.  One year after claiming the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles, the Bulldogs are 10-19 overall, 5-10 in the SoCon (entering a weekend series against the College of Charleston).  If the season ended today The Citadel would barely qualify for the league tournament.  The Citadel failing to make the SoCon tourney, held again this year at Riley Park, would obviously be a painful outcome for the program and could have repercussions going forward (in terms of future SoCon tourneys in Charleston).

Obviously when a team is 10-19 there are multiple issues at play, but let me put my own spin on things…

The Citadel is 2-9 in one-run games, and 1-5 in two-run games.  Yes, that’s a lot of one-run games (tied for most in the nation heading into the weekend).  The Bulldogs played 12 one-run games all last season (going 6-6 in those contests).

One thing to keep in mind is that there have been more one-run games this season in college baseball.  Across the board, 10% more games have been decided by one run this year (through the first 45 days of the season) than last.  That means that almost one-fourth of all Division I games are being decided by one run.  There are also more games going into extra innings.

The reason for all the close games?  The games are lower-scoring, thanks to the new bats.  The new bats also make it very hard to compare statistics from last season to this season, but I’ve taken a look at a couple of things with regards to The Citadel that I want to note.

Before I start, I want to say that some of the general information I’m posting comes courtesy of CollegeSplits.com, although most of the numbers are not posted on that site (which provides analytical and data services to about half of MLB).  However, occasionally one of the site administrators publishes an article on ESPN Insider and discusses some of the data they have compiled.

Defensive efficiency is a statistic that measures the rate batted balls become outs — in other words, plate appearances that lead to the ball being put into play, as opposed to walks, homers, strikeouts, etc.  It’s a good way to judge a team’s defensive ability, as it doesn’t have the biases inherent in fielding percentage.

Last season South Carolina and Texas were the two teams that had the highest defensive efficiency in the country, which should come as no surprise to anyone.  They each rated at 72.6%.  This year, more balls are being put into play (thanks to the decline in homers), so the national leader after 45 days has a higher rate (74.6%).  That would be Louisville, led by former Bulldog second baseman Dan McDonnell.

What this means is that defense is arguably even more important this year than in previous years.

I can’t calculate exact defensive efficiency data for The Citadel in 2010 and 2011, mainly because I don’t know the number of runners who have reached base via an error.  I could get that data if I went through each game log for the past two seasons, but I can only be a dork for so many hours at a time.  At any rate, I have the BABIP data, which tells more than enough of a tale.  BABIP means batting average on balls in play, for anyone wondering.  The numbers for The Citadel are instructive.

Last season in Division I, the average BABIP was .351 (so slightly more than 35% of batted balls that weren’t homers turned into hits).  This year, with the new bats, that number is down markedly, to .334, as more balls are being gobbled up by fielders and turned into outs.

In 2010, The Citadel had an impressive .332 team BABIP.  In 2011, though, it’s at .370 through 29 games.

Yikes.  In my opinion, that goes a long way to explaining the team’s struggles, particularly in close games.  Those are extra outs Bulldog pitchers are having to get, and they aren’t always getting them.

Last season Matt Talley had a .302 BABIP; through April 7 of this year, it’s at .370 (right at the team average).  Drew Mahaffey had a .267 BABIP last season, which wasn’t likely to hold up this year, but as of today he’s got a .431 BABIP.  Wow (and not in a good way).  In other words, 43% of balls hit into play against Mahaffey are turning into hits.  Either teams are hitting screaming line drives off him, or a lot of bloops are finding holes.  I think it’s the latter.

It isn’t just about defense.  The Bulldogs have not pitched as well this season as last, although interestingly they are striking out batters at a very high clip (almost a batter per inning).  The Citadel is also averaging about a walk allowed per two innings, significantly higher than last season.  Neither of those numbers are in line with the “new bats data”, as strikeouts are just slightly up nationally, and walks are down.

The Bulldogs’ bats have been very slow to get started, as some of the returning regulars have struggled with the new “lumber”, although there are signs that they are heating up.  Good thing, too, as The Citadel is 0-12 in games in which the opponent scores 6 or more runs.

I have been impressed with two of the freshmen.  Drew DeKerlegand has had a solid year at the plate, and looks like he will be manning the hot corner for the next few seasons.  Joe Jackson (the great-great-great nephew of The Shoeless One) can really hit, too.  I am not sure yet about his abilities as a receiver, although I haven’t seen anything to suggest he won’t eventually become a fine catcher.  With that bat, he’ll play somewhere regardless.  I’m hopeful that he will develop more power with time, too.

One of the problems Fred Jordan has had is figuring out a way to keep the five returning regulars from last season in the everyday lineup (including all three of last year’s outfielders, catcher Grant Richards, and 2010 primary DH Brad Felder) without leaving out Jackson (DeKerlegand being set at third base).  All the jumping around has probably had an effect on the defense, particularly at shorstop, but also including the outfield.

However, I can’t blame Jordan for shuffling things around trying to find the right combination.  If I had a suggestion, it would be to settle on the best defender at shortstop and stay with him.  Easy to say from a distance, to be sure.

Another thing I want to mention briefly is the baserunning.  While the Bulldogs’ stolen base totals are okay, I don’t think the baserunning has been good at all.   Too many guys have been picked off, and there have been multiple miscues on the basepaths.  In a lower-scoring environment, The Citadel cannot afford giving up outs (and killing potential rallies) with bad baserunning.

Personally, I think The Citadel is better than its record suggests, but as Bill Parcells would say, “You are what your record says you are.”  The Bulldogs still have time to salvage the season, but the team needs to avoid losing confidence as a whole.  I’m a little worried about that — two of the last three games have been blowout losses — but I believe the squad will perservere.

The recipe for success over the remainder of the season?  Hope, faith, and less charity on defense…