Riley Report: Hey, baseball season is starting!

From The Citadel’s varsity sports website:

The Citadel baseball team opens the 2017 season with the Charleston Crab House Challenge beginning Friday at Joe Riley Park.

The Bulldogs welcome Kansas, Virginia and Liberty to the three-day tournament. They will face Kansas on Friday at 4 p.m., followed by Virginia on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Liberty on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The tournament begins at 12 p.m. on Friday when Virginia faces Liberty. On Saturday, Kansas and Liberty open the day at 11 a.m. Virginia and Kansas will play on Sunday at 10 a.m.

Live video will be provided on the SoCon Digital Network for all three of The Citadel’s games, while live stats will be available for the entirety of the tournament.

Links of interest:

– The Citadel’s 2017 baseball schedule

The Citadel’s 2017 baseball roster

– Season preview from The Post and Courier

Weekend preview from The Post and Courier

Beer will be sold at Riley Park when The Citadel is playing this year

– Fred Jordan “retools” his program

– Bulldogs picked to finish last in the SoCon by the coaches, next-to-last by the media

– No player from The Citadel was selected to the preseason all-conference teams

– Former Bulldog James Reeves got a non-roster invitation to the Yankees’ big-league camp

SoCon weekly release

The Citadel’s game notes for opening weekend

Additional links:

Kansas baseball website

Virginia baseball website

Liberty baseball website

2016 SoCon league-only baseball statistics, with a little commentary

The Citadel won the league title in 2010 with an overall record of 43-22, 24-6 in the SoCon. Since that season:

  • 2011: 20-36 overall (3-18 road), 8-22 SoCon
  • 2012: 25-33 overall (5-18 road), 13-17 SoCon
  • 2013: 35-25 overall (10-12 road), 18-12 SoCon
  • 2014: 24-34 overall (3-17 road), 8-18 SoCon
  • 2015: 28-30 overall (6-13 road), 10-14 SoCon
  • 2016: 17-42 overall (4-23 road), 6-18 SoCon

That six-season stretch adds up to 149-200 overall (31-101 road), 63-101 in the SoCon.

Averaged out for one year, it would come out to 25-33 (5-17 road), 11-17 in the SoCon. In the 19 seasons that Fred Jordan coached The Citadel prior to 2011, he never had a team with a league record as bad as 11-17, and only had one team with a worse overall record than 25-33 (and even then just barely; the 2005 squad was 25-34).

His road record before the 2011 season began was a respectable 195-207, just a bit under .500 for his career. The Bulldogs have only won 23% of their road games in the last six years, though.

A fair number of Bulldog supporters have become increasingly frustrated with the program’s results in recent years, particularly after last year’s 42-loss campaign (which resulted in The Citadel finishing with a worst-ever RPI of 260). It is possible, however, that the most frustrated supporter of them all might be the head coach:

After watching his team struggle to a 17-42 record last season — the worst in his 25 seasons as The Citadel’s baseball coach — Fred Jordan vowed to “retool” his program.

Jordan wasn’t kidding, as he brought in an unprecedented (for The Citadel) four transfer players for this season. That includes junior-college standout Jonathan Sabo, a two-time All-Lowcountry player of the year during his career at West Ashley High School.

The Bulldogs’ three graduate-student transfers are catcher Joe Sabatini from Baylor, right-handed pitcher Aaron Lesiak from Presbyterian and left-handed pitcher Marlin Morris, who’s pitched at USC Sumter and College of Charleston.

 

“I just felt like we needed more maturity in the back end of our bullpen…And in reality, that’s the new wave of recruiting. Everyone is doing it in all sports. I made the statement last year that we’re going to change some things, and that’s one of the things we changed.

“I’m very excited about it. Guys who are 21 or 22 and have had success in college, they step into our clubhouse and demand respect, and that’s what they’ve done.”

…”We’ve got a tremendous graduate program, and our football and basketball programs have done it for years,” said Jordan, whose led the Bulldogs to seven Southern Conference tournament titles and five regular-season championships.

The issue of transfers at The Citadel is not a new one. For this blog, I wrote about it as far back as 2010; in the linked piece, I referenced a Ken Burger column from 2003. The football team had a junior college transfer on its roster back in 1970 who was not a member of the corps of cadets.

I still have some misgivings about graduate transfers, for a variety of reasons that I outlined in my blog post from six years ago. However, this is still my take on things from a coach’s perspective:

I don’t blame any of the individual coaches for bringing in graduate students. Coaches are trying to win. Winning is not easy to do at The Citadel…

At any rate, I hope the graduate transfers give the squad a badly needed forward push. I also appreciate the commitment junior college transfer Jonathan Sabo (a member of the corps) made in order to attend The Citadel. I think a lot of people can identify with that.

About beer sales:

…Fans of legal drinking age will be permitted up to three beer purchases, tracked by wristbands and hand stamps.

An alcohol-free zone also will be set up for each game, the school said…

  • All patrons wishing to purchase or consume beer must present proper identification showing they are of legal age.
  • People wishing to drink beer will have a wristband placed on their wrist and their hand stamped with indelible ink, limiting each person to one wristband per game.
  • Each wristband will have three tabs which can only be removed by the concessionaire upon purchase of a beer.
  • Beer will be served in a clear, plastic 12-ounce cup, with a three-beer maximum.
  • All beer sales will cease at the end of the 7th inning.
  • A designated driver program will be in place allowing all properly credentialed designated drivers one free soft drink.

I’m ambivalent about this move. It could be a boon for attendance; it could also be counter-productive. If it had no impact on attendance at all, that would not be a surprise either.

Personally, I think cadets should not be served beer, even if they are of age. It that an an unfair (if not irrational) position to take? Perhaps. However, there is something to be said for optics.

Instead of beer sales, I just wish the concession stand sold Sprite instead of Sierra Mist…

How did returning players fare last year in SoCon play? I’m glad you asked.

First, the batters (keep in mind these statistics are only for the 24 conference games played in 2016):

Player AVG GP-GS AB R H 2B 3B HR
Martin 0.304 22-18 69 15 21 4 0 2
Charpia 0.281 20-17 64 12 18 2 0 5
Peden 0.276 22-21 76 17 21 1 0 7
Phillips 0.218 19-18 78 13 17 5 1 0
Kinney 0.205 24-24 83 9 17 6 0 2
Cothran 0.300 15-4 20 4 6 1 0 0
Buffington 0.000 4-0 4 2 0 0 0 0
Total 0.254 126-102 394 72 100 19 1 16

 

Player RBI TB BB HBP SO OB% SLG% OPS
Martin 11 31 15 4 16 0.449 0.449 0.898
Charpia 8 35 4 4 29 0.356 0.547 0.903
Peden 15 43 18 0 26 0.411 0.566 0.977
Phillips 9 24 7 1 17 0.284 0.308 0.592
Kinney 12 29 8 1 22 0.277 0.349 0.626
Cothran 0 7 2 2 6 0.417 0.350 0.767
Buffington 0 0 0 0 2 0.000 0.000 0.000
Total 55 169 54 12 118 0.355 0.429 0.784

 

Player GDP SF SH SB-ATT PO A E FLD%
Martin 0 1 3 4-4 48 2 1 0.980
Charpia 0 1 2 0-0 16 28 4 0.917
Peden 0 1 0 0-0 140 13 3 0.981
Phillips 1 2 3 2-2 49 2 1 0.981
Kinney 0 2 6 0-0 32 55 9 0.906
Cothran 0 0 0 0-0 12 14 0 1.000
Buffington 0 0 0 0-0 7 0 0 1.000
Total 1 7 14 6-6 304 114 18 0.957

Returning players account for 47% of last season’s starts among position players. Five of the seven players started at least 70% of league games.

They took 48% of The Citadel’s at bats in 2016 SoCon play and scored 57% of the team’s runs, drew 48% of the walks, hit 67% of the Bulldogs’ homers, and suffered 58% of the squad’s strikeouts.

The returning seven position players didn’t get a lot of singles (just 64 in 102 starts).

The Citadel’s overall batting numbers in SoCon action last season were not good when compared to other league outfits. The Bulldogs scored 127 runs in 24 contests (5.3 per game). That was next-to-last in the conference.

Of course, park effects have to be considered. “The Joe” is a pitcher’s park in a hitter’s league.

I used Boyd Nation’s park effects data (2012-15, the most recent edition) to come up with a “normalized runs” total for The Citadel of 136. Alas, that still ranked next-to-last in the SoCon, only ahead of VMI. League teams averaged 163 runs (6.8 per game) in conference play.

Note: the statistics in this section are for all games, not just league contests.

Southern Conference baseball revolves around offense. Yes, pitching (and defense) wins championships, but you have to score runs to succeed in the SoCon, preferably in bunches.

Mercer led the nation in home runs per game (1.52) and walks. UNC-Greensboro topped D-1 in on-base percentage (.425), batting average (.346), and slugging percentage (.538).

Six SoCon teams finished in the top 17 in home runs per game. Five finished in the top 30 in runs scored per contest.

Conversely, no conference team finished in the top 150 in WHIP.

Speaking of pitching, here are the returning hurlers’ numbers in SoCon play:

Pitcher ERA W-L APP GS IP H R ER BK
Smith 6.04 0-1 16 0 22.3 27 20 15 1
Byelick 7.14 1-4 7 6 29 44 31 23 1
Sears 7.81 2-5 8 8 40.3 49 37 35 0
Foulks 2.25 0-0 4 0 4 0 1 1 0
Strickland 4.91 0-0 11 0 14.7 15 8 8 0
Spence 11.12 0-1 6 1 5.7 7 9 7 0
Stamler 11.12 0-0 8 0 5.7 7 7 7 0
Buster 12.15 0-1 11 1 13.7 18 20 18 0
Bialakis 27.00 0-0 1 0 0.3 1 1 1 0
Merritt 99.00 0-0 1 0 0 3 2 2 0
Total 7.76 3-12 73 16 135.7 171 136 117 2

 

Pitcher BB K 2B-A 3B-A HR-A WP HP SF-A SH-A
Smith 12 13 6 0 6 6 2 1 0
Byelick 13 27 7 0 2 3 8 1 3
Sears 22 48 12 0 5 6 2 2 5
Foulks 4 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Strickland 6 12 2 0 3 0 1 0 0
Spence 6 3 2 0 2 4 0 0 0
Stamler 7 3 2 0 0 2 0 1 1
Buster 17 10 9 0 2 5 3 1 0
Bialakis 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1
Merritt 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 87 120 42 0 20 27 17 6 10

Returning pitchers started 16 of 24 conference games last season. The ten pitchers in the two tables above combined to pitch 65% of the league innings for the Bulldogs.

Fred Jordan stated in one of the quoted articles above that the bullpen needed “maturity”. It is easy to understand why he said that, after the struggles last year out of the ‘pen.

The Citadel’s overall team ERA in SoCon play was 7.29, which is obviously poor, but the bullpen ERA in league action was actually even worse than that. In 94 innings pitched in relief, Bulldog pitchers allowed 82 earned runs, for an ERA of 7.85.

Of course, needing 94 innings out of your bullpen in 24 league games isn’t ideal, either. That is just under 4 innings of relief pitching per contest. Bulldog starters must go deeper into games this season.

The Citadel allowed 190 runs in conference action in 2016, second-most in the league. That is an average of 7.9 runs allowed per game. Only VMI allowed more runs than the Bulldogs.

When runs are normalized, The Citadel had the worst total in the league (204; as mentioned earlier, the league average per team was 163). VMI had a “normalized runs” total of 203.

The Citadel’s park factors average was 98.625, while VMI’s was 111.375. That is why, even though the Bulldogs allowed fewer runs than the Keydets (190 to 213), VMI’s pitching/defense in league play was actually slightly better (because the Keydets played in generally tougher environments for pitching over the course of the conference schedule).

In terms of fielding percentage, The Citadel finished next-to-last in the league, ahead of VMI (sense a theme here?). Of course, fielding percentage doesn’t really tell the whole story when it comes to defense.

The Citadel’s defensive efficiency rating (DER) in SoCon action was 0.663205, which was seventh-best out of the nine league teams. Western Carolina was eighth, and Wofford ninth. VMI was sixth, which suggests the Keydets were a better defensive squad than their raw chances/error totals would suggest.

The two best fielding teams in the SoCon, per DER, were Mercer and Samford.

The Citadel’s catchers threw out 10 out of 47 potential base-stealers in conference play. By percentage, that was seventh-best in the league, ahead of only Furman and UNC-Greensboro. However, the Bulldogs allowed the most total stolen bases in the SoCon (and were run on more than any other team).

Western Carolina’s catchers had a 44.8% caught stealing rate, which topped the conference.

The school website notes that 14 Bulldogs on this year’s squad are newcomers — the four transfer students and ten freshmen.

Of those ten freshmen, six are pitchers (one lefty). The four position players include two outfielders, a second baseman, and a catcher.

The returnees from last season include eleven sophomores, five juniors, and two seniors.

Last year, The Citadel began the season with 21 non-conference games (16 at home) before opening the league campaign at VMI. The Bulldogs were 9-12 in those 21 games.

In 2017, The Citadel will also open with 21 non-conference games before starting its conference slate against VMI (this time at Riley Park). Of those 21 games to begin the year, 17 are at home (and two of the four road games are nearby at College of Charleston).

The Bulldogs have a chance to get off to a good start, and build some confidence leading up to the SoCon slate. The team has to seize that opportunity.

It is time for baseball season to begin. I’m looking forward to it.

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