Riley Report: The Citadel’s 2013 baseball campaign begins (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a two-part preview of the upcoming season. For Part 2, click here: Link

The Citadel will open its 2013 baseball season on Friday, February 15 at 4 pm ET, against George Mason, with the game being played at Joe Riley Park in Charleston. The contest is part of a round-robin tournament that also includes Kansas State and High Point.

Links of interest:

Schedule

Preview of the upcoming season for the Bulldogs from the school website

2013 “Quick Facts” from the school website

Preview article in The Post and Courier

SoCon preview, Baseball America (The Citadel is picked to finish 7th in the league)

SoCon preview, College Baseball Today (The Citadel is picked to finish 9th in the league)

SoCon preview, College Baseball Daily (The Citadel is picked to finish 9th in the league)

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is 8th in the coaches’ poll, and 7th in the media poll)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams (No Bulldogs made either the first or second team)

Videos: Fred Jordan discusses The Citadel’s pitchers and The Citadel’s position players

More video: Fred Jordan discusses his team’s preparation for the opening weekend of the season

Audio: Jordan talks to Phil Kornblut about the upcoming season

It is time for college baseball season, no matter what the weather forecast for the next few weeks says. I’m looking forward to it, as always. This season should prove to be an interesting one for The Citadel, after three very different kinds of campaigns over the past three years.

2010: Southern Conference regular season and tournament champions

2011: Last place

2012: Transitional season

Yes, last year was a transitional season, both on the field and on the coaching staff. The Citadel finished with a losing record, both overall (25-33) and in league play (13-17). However, after the debacle of the 2011 campaign, the goals for last year were relatively modest.

New arrivals were put in key roles, and for the most part did not shrink from the challenge. In the end, a tie for 7th in the SoCon and a berth in the league tournament seemed to be a reasonable outcome for the Bulldogs.

That won’t be the case this year. The Citadel is used to winning, and contending, on a near-annual basis. Losing seasons in what has historically been the school’s most successful sport are generally not acceptable.

So how will the Bulldogs fare this season? Well, most of the players who saw action on the diamond in 2012 are back this year, including seven regulars among the position players and the bulk of The Citadel’s pitching staff. Many of them showed promise last season.

There are things that  need to be improved this season, however. Some of those necessary improvements are obvious, while others are perhaps more subtle. As usual on this blog, I’m going to be a bit stat-intensive in discussing the team and league. I have even gone so far as to create a new statistic; feel free to mock it with reckless abandon.

One quick note: unless I state otherwise, all statistics are for Southern Conference games only. That’s because A) it’s easier, and much fairer, to compare teams within a specific subset, and B) ultimately, conference play is what most of the season is about anyway. The Citadel’s baseball team will succeed or fail this year based on how it does in SoCon action. I do recognize the limitations of the sample size when making comparisons or analyzing trends.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory, each conference team plays a round-robin schedule of three-game series for a total of thirty SoCon games. There are fifteen home games and fifteen road games. In 2012, there were no postponements that weren’t eventually made up, so the complete league schedule was in fact played.

Last year’s league team batting statistics:

     AVG      OBP    SLUG      R      H   HR   RBI   BB   SO   OPS
App State 0.312 0.392 0.459 212 329 25 192 115 180 0.851
WCU 0.308 0.376 0.417 174 332 21 157 100 194 0.793
Samford 0.302 0.387 0.443 199 323 27 181 121 172 0.830
Furman 0.285 0.361 0.404 157 304 20 138 109 191 0.765
CofC 0.278 0.369 0.445 202 287 33 180 128 240 0.814
Elon 0.277 0.367 0.391 190 295 18 169 131 229 0.758
GSU 0.274 0.353 0.375 158 279 14 131 101 186 0.728
UNCG 0.273 0.353 0.368 157 283 13 139 112 214 0.721
Davidson 0.244 0.329 0.326 120 251 11 105 109 256 0.655
The Citadel 0.239 0.319 0.333 143 244 11 123 106 204 0.652
Wofford 0.238 0.316 0.333 131 234 16 109 102 219 0.649

That looks rather ugly for the Bulldogs, doesn’t it? Next-to-last in batting average and OBP, only ahead of one other team in slugging percentage, tied for the fewest home runs.

I’m not going to sell you on the idea that The Citadel was an offensive juggernaut. However, the Bulldogs weren’t quite as bad as those raw numbers would lead you to believe. You have to consider park effects.

Ah, yes, park effects. The Citadel plays half of its league schedule at Riley Park, which is a true “pitcher’s park”. The question becomes, then, how do you compare these numbers? I decided to give it a shot.

First, I used the Park Factors calculated by the estimable Boyd Nation. His numbers are based on all games played at a school’s home park over the past four seasons (2009-12). That gives us a chance to make a more valid comparison.

One caveat: The four-year period in question includes two years in the pre-BBCOR era, and two years after the new bat standards went into effect. That could have a marginal impact on the ratings. However, I feel reasonably comfortable using these Park Factors.

Riley Park has a Park Factor (PF) of 82, by far the lowest in the league. Appalachian State’s Smith Stadium has a PF of 121, which is the highest for the 2009-12 period.

I took the PF for every team’s home park, came up with a “road park factor” based on the five different road stadia each team played in during the 2012 season, and added them together. Each school thus has a total park factor that is based on where it actually played all 30 games.

Okay, now for the magic!

Let’s look again at how many runs each team scored in league play:

   R
App State 212
CofC 202
Samford 199
Elon 190
WCU 174
GSU 158
Furman 157
UNCG 157
The Citadel 143
Wofford 131
Davidson 120

Runs are the building blocks of the game, obviously; you want to score them, and you want to prevent them from being scored. Scoring runs is the truest measure of a team’s offense. It doesn’t matter if you score them the Earl Weaver way or the Whitey Herzog way.

Appalachian State led the league in runs scored. However, we’ve already seen that half of the Mountaineers’ games are played at the friendly confines of Smith Stadium. What happens when you take park factors into account?

   R    HomePF  RoadPF  TotalPF    SS+ rating
Elon 190 98 101.8 99.9 1.901901902
CofC 202 99 115.4 107.2 1.884328358
App State 212 121 107.4 114.2 1.856392294
Samford 199 109 106.2 107.6 1.849442379
WCU 174 119 100 109.5 1.589041096
The Citadel 143 82 106.2 94.1 1.519659936
GSU 158 117 96.2 106.6 1.482176360
Furman 157 103 109.6 106.3 1.476952023
UNCG 157 117 107.4 112.2 1.399286988
Wofford 131 94 101 97.5 1.343589744
Davidson 120 104 111.8 107.9 1.112140871

Hmm…

These are sorted by what I’m calling the team’s SS+ rating. The SS+ rating is derived from dividing runs scored by a team’s total park factor. As you can see, this suggests that Elon actually had the league’s best offense last season (although the four teams at the top are tightly bunched).

It also shows that despite being ninth in the league in runs scored, The Citadel actually had a decent offense, though it was still slightly below the league average; the league mean SS+ was 1.5846948.

Of course, scoring runs is only half of the equation. Preventing runs is just as important, and I ran the PF numbers for pitching and defense too.

    ERA     BAA        IP       H       R     BB       K     HR   BB/9    K/9
CofC 3.37 0.250 267 253 124 71 229 15 2.39 7.72
Samford 3.80 0.254 275 267 137 99 228 12 3.24 7.46
Elon 3.87 0.263 281.1 282 148 109 219 21 3.49 7.01
GSU 3.93 0.267 265.1 272 141 103 246 21 3.49 8.34
WCU 4.14 0.267 263 269 156 124 218 21 4.24 7.46
App State 4.40 0.271 264 272 156 118 197 15 4.02 6.72
Wofford 4.75 0.275 263.1 285 175 117 243 20 4.00 8.31
The Citadel 5.01 0.294 264.1 305 175 118 166 17 4.02 5.65
Furman 5.77 0.300 270 325 193 114 205 24 3.80 6.83
UNCG 6.18 0.290 262.1 302 210 139 169 23 4.77 5.80
Davidson 6.40 0.301 267.1 329 228 122 165 20 4.11 5.55

Those are the team pitching statistics for the 2012 SoCon campaign. I’ll now list the runs column separately:

      R
CofC 124
Samford 137
GSU 141
Elon 148
WCU 156
App State 156
Wofford 175
The Citadel 175
Furman 193
UNCG 210
Davidson 228

Here is the pitching/defense version of the park factors chart I ran earlier for the offense:

      R    TotalPF  SS- rating
CofC 124 107.2 1.1567164
Samford 137 107.6 1.2732342
GSU 141 106.6 1.3227017
App State 156 114.2 1.3660245
WCU 156 109.5 1.4246575
Elon 148 99.9 1.4814815
Wofford 175 97.5 1.7948718
Furman 193 106.3 1.8156162
The Citadel 175 94.1 1.8597237
UNCG 210 112.2 1.8716578
Davidson 228 107.9 2.1130677

I skipped the home/road PF factor columns; they are the same as the columns in the offensive chart (as is the Total PF column, but it was easy enough to include it in this chart too).

This result is similar to the actual runs allowed column, with Appalachian State faring a little better and The Citadel a bit worse. Just to avoid confusion, I want to point out that the SS- rating mean for the 2012 SoCon season is the same as the SS+ rating mean (1.5846948).

While I’m concentrating on league play in this preview, I want to devote a small section of this post to non-conference scheduling.

If you rank the difficulty of a team’s 2013 non-conference schedule by its opponents’ RPI ratings from 2012 (which definitely has its limitations in terms of analysis, but is still interesting), this is what you get:

Elon (8th-toughest 2013 OOC slate by 2012 RPI)
Georgia Southern (31st)
College of Charleston (48th)
Furman (69th)
Western Carolina (76th)
Davidson (79th)
Appalachian State (95th)
The Citadel (113th)
UNC-Greensboro (187th)
Wofford (188th)
Samford (221st)

(Note: ratings courtesy of Southeastern Baseball’s RPI Ratings Blog)

Elon’s non-league slate includes Coastal Carolina, Kentucky, UNC-Wilmington (twice), Wake Forest (twice), North Carolina (twice), North Carolina State (twice), East Carolina (three times), and Louisville (three times). That’s a tough schedule.

Samford has to replace its entire starting pitching rotation from last season’s SoCon tournament champions, which might explain an easier-to-navigate OOC slate. However, I tend to think that 221st overall rating (out of 298 Division I teams) is a bit misleading. Samford’s non-conference schedule is not that bad.

This season, SoCon teams will play 179 non-conference games at home and 108 on the road (numbers again per Southeastern Baseball). That does not include any neutral-site action. Of those 108 road games, 41 of them are against SEC or ACC teams.

The Citadel’s non-league slate includes a home-and-home set with South Carolina, along with a home-and-home against Coastal Carolina (played on consecutive days). Four games are scheduled against Charleston Southern, and Tony Skole will bring his ETSU squad to town for a midweek contest. There are also matchups against North Carolina and Georgia Tech (both on the road), and a potentially tricky early-season three-game series at North Florida.

As has become traditional during Jack Leggett’s tenure at Clemson, there will be no games between the Bulldogs and Tigers.

This concludes Part 1. In Part 2, I’ll break down The Citadel’s 2012 season a bit more and note some specific improvements the Bulldogs need to make to contend in the SoCon. Part 2 is right here: Link

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