Brief commentary on a record crowd at Riley Park

On Wednesday night, The Citadel defeated South Carolina at Riley Park, 10-8. There were 6,500 fans in attendance, the largest crowd to ever see a college baseball game at the facility.

The previous record was 5,851 for a game at Riley Park between South Carolina and Clemson that was played in 2012. In the leadup to that game, columnist Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier wrote (among other things) the following:

For now, the South Carolina-Clemson baseball game set for Friday night at The Joe feels like the greatest sporting event and toughest ticket in Lowcountry sports history.

This is tell-your-grandchildren stuff, two-time defending College World Series champion and No. 3 South Carolina playing No. 15 Clemson in a bragging rights series opener within a small but famously charming facility.

The “War on the Shore” [1991 Ryder Cup] put the Ocean Course on the world golf map and a thrilling United States victory revived the Ryder Cup.

No need to knock one great thing to argue for another, but I’m guessing most Palmetto State people would rather watch South Carolina-Clemson baseball at its peak than any single day of golf.


Clemson and South Carolina baseball fans scrambling for tickets to tonight’s Bragging Rights series opener at Riley Park might have to settle for the large party outside The Joe, or dig a little deeper…the limited number of standing-room-only tickets were gobbled up quickly.

No. 3 South Carolina is the two-time defending College World Series champion. Clemson leads the overall series and is ranked No. 15. This is the first Gamecocks vs. Tigers appearance in Charleston since the programs clashed for the very first time, at Hampton Park in 1899.

Booster clubs from both schools have scheduled major tailgate events…

…The weather forecast keeps getting better for tonight’s much-anticipated South Carolina-Clemson baseball game at Charleston’s Riley Park.


The South Carolina-Clemson baseball squabble has reached fever pitch heading into the first pitch of a three-game series Friday night. The Gamecocks’ back-to-back national championships, the Tigers’ historical edge, a “Batgate” controversy and Omaha drama makes this rivalry a budding baseball version of Duke vs. North Carolina in basketball. The next game in the series is at Charleston’s Riley Park.


Readers may have been under the impression that South Carolina-Clemson at Riley Park was the sporting equivalent of World War III. Everything else in comparison appeared to be second-fiddle (if not second-rate).

Then the game was played. When the actual attendance didn’t quite fit his preconceived narrative, Sapakoff challenged the turnstile count:

There were only a few questionable calls Friday night, but one of them was the turnstile count.

An announced crowd of only 5,851?

On a jam-packed, standing-room-only night at a facility with a listed capacity of 6,000?

They were kidding, right?

Maybe it wasn’t the Riley Park record of 8,426 on Opening Night of the 2007 RiverDogs season, but, in a competition for South Carolina-Clemson games with Greenville and potentially Myrtle Beach, mistakes get magnified.

(Incidentally, notice how he got five paragraphs out of five sentences in that stretch. Excellent work by a veteran columnist.)

When I pointed out to him on Twitter that Wednesday night’s crowd was larger, his response was not unexpected:

hah. depends on who is doing the counting. If you were at both, you know

It’s very important to hold on to your beliefs, even when the cold hard facts don’t cooperate. Blame somebody. Blame the ticket-takers. Maybe the mob was involved.

On Wednesday night, more people attended a makeup of a rained-out game from earlier in the season between South Carolina and The Citadel than 2012’s relentlessly hyped South Carolina-Clemson game at Riley Park. It’s as simple as that.

Why does it matter, you ask? I’m glad you did.

First, Clemson doesn’t play in Charleston very often — only six times in the last quarter-century. One of those games was the 2012 matchup with South Carolina. The other five were against College of Charleston (played between 2002 and 2008).

Clemson has not played The Citadel in Charleston since 1990, when Bill Wilhelm was the Tigers’ head coach and the Bulldogs still played their home games at College Park. Clemson has never played The Citadel at Riley Park.

Instead of the hype machine being focused on Clemson-South Carolina, imagine that kind of coverage for a game at Riley Park between the Tigers and Bulldogs. I want The Citadel to receive that kind of positive attention from the local press, since it is a local school. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, either.

Also, the fact that South Carolina-The Citadel outdrew South Carolina-Clemson should put an end to the discussion about Clemson making a return trip to Riley Park in the near future. The next time the Tigers venture to Riley Park for a game, they should be playing the college team that actually calls the park home.

Clemson probably should play baseball games in Charleston more often. Six games in 25 years is not a lot, and is arguably a disservice to its fan base in the Lowcountry.

There are a couple of reasons why South Carolina always has a lot of fans at baseball games in Charleston. One is the success the Gamecocks have had in recent years, of course.

However, the other thing South Carolina’s baseball team has going for it when it comes to attendance in Charleston is the fact the Gamecocks have played at The Citadel almost every season since the early 1970s. The annual home-and-home series has been good for both programs.

Lowcountry fans of the Gamecocks have become used to the short yearly trip to see their team play. It is an event for them, and has helped build up the number of South Carolina’s “committed” baseball supporters in the area.

Obviously, Clemson is further away from Charleston than Columbia, so expecting the Tigers to play a game or two in Charleston each season is probably a bit much. However, it surely would be in the program’s best interests for the team to make its way to the Port City at least every two or three years.

Perhaps if Clemson played The Citadel in Riley Park on a semi-regular basis, another college baseball attendance record would be set, with no hype necessary…

Riley Report: a brief (and late) preseason preview

Yes, this is late. I was waiting on some information that as of yet isn’t available, so I can’t work on part of the statistical breakdown I had intended to make.

Anyway, what follows is a curtailed preview.

Links of interest:


“Quick Facts” from the school website

Season preview from The Post and Courier

SoCon preview, Baseball America

SoCon preview, College Baseball Daily

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is picked second in both)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams

Fred Jordan discusses the team’s preparations for the season (video)

Note: all statistics are for Southern Conference games only unless otherwise indicated.

This chart features the 2013 offensive statistics in league play for The Citadel’s returning players:

H. Armstrong 120 36 0 13 15 0.383 0.449 0.467 0.916
Mason Davis 140 30 3 7 17 0.336 0.377 0.464 0.841
Calvin Orth 124 26 7 4 25 0.331 0.366 0.565 0.931
Bo Thompson 105 27 9 33 13 0.314 0.493 0.610 1.103
Tyler Griffin 58 14 4 10 20 0.310 0.423 0.552 0.975
D. DeKerlegand 111 22 2 15 23 0.297 0.410 0.441 0.851
J. Stokes 121 20 3 9 18 0.289 0.333 0.413 0.746
Bailey Rush 55 8 2 5 16 0.273 0.328 0.473 0.801
Bret Hines 42 4 0 4 8 0.214 0.300 0.262 0.562
Jason Smith 21 2 0 1 7 0.048 0.087 0.048 0.135
Connor Walsh 3 0 0 0 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
Totals 900 189 30 101 163 0.309 0.389 0.471 0.860

Now, compare that to the totals in conference action for the returning players from this time last year:

Totals 705 94 7 78 142 0.234 0.318 0.333 0.652

You can see why there is a lot of hope for the Bulldogs’ offense this season. Every one of last year’s regulars returns except for catcher Joe Jackson (though he is a big exception, to be sure), and most of those returnees had good-to-excellent campaigns in 2013. The outlook is a lot rosier than it was prior to the 2013 season.

Assorted stats from this year’s returning players: as a group they were hit by pitches 25 times in SoCon play. Their walk rate (11.2%) per at bat was a tick higher than in 2012 (11.1%), with almost a third of that total courtesy of Bo Thompson, who walked in 31.4% of his at bats.

Thompson was also hit by pitches six times in the league regular season, second on the team to Drew DeKerlegand (seven).

Hughston Armstong had seven of the team’s 23 sacrifice bunts in SoCon action. Nine of the eleven Bulldogs to get at bats in conference play had at least one sacrifice fly (the team had 12 in 30 league games).

The Citadel’s 2013 returnees stole 30 bases last year in conference play (out of 42 attempts). Armstrong, DeKerlegand, and Mason Davis combined for 28 of those steals, with Bret Hines swiping the other two.

That percentage of successful steals (71.4%) isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either, and doesn’t include the seven times Bulldogs on the current roster were picked off in SoCon action.

However, what isn’t taken into account with those numbers is the potential for advancing on errors, balks, etc. Defensive execution in college baseball is not at the same level as it is in the professional ranks, and that goes a long way to explaining the emphasis by many teams on the running game and “smallball”.

Is it overdone on occasion? Yes. However, I never got the sense that was the case for The Citadel last year (other than a Bo Thompson bunt attempt early in the season that made me cringe).

That said, the Bulldogs can do better. In 2012, The Citadel stole bases at a 77.8% clip (42 for 54) while only having five baserunners picked off in league play.

SoCon-only statistics for the Bulldogs’ returning pitchers:

Brett Tompkins 1 0 3 1 0 0 0 0.00 15.00 6.00
Ross White 9 0 8 10 4 2 0 2.25 6.75 1.13
James Reeves 13 3 32 27 11 9 1 2.53 7.59 1.69
Logan Cribb 10 8 50.1 50 30 21 9 3.75 8.23 1.97
Skylar Hunter 16 0 20 17 10 10 2 4.50 10.35 4.50
Zach Sherrill 23 0 19 16 13 10 0 4.74 7.11 3.32
David Rivera 18 0 19.2 22 11 11 1 5.03 7.32 2.29
Austin Mason 10 9 33 59 43 34 2 9.27 6.00 2.45
Austin Livingston 2 0 1.2 3 2 2 0 10.80 5.40 5.40
Kevin Connell 10 0 10.1 24 17 15 1 13.06 4.35 2.61
Totals 114 20 197 229 141 114 16 5.21 7.58 2.51

Last year’s corresponding totals:

Totals 91 29 226 259 144 123 14 4.91 5.38 3.83

During last year’s preview, I wrote:

The walk rates [in 2012] were obviously too high, and must be lowered. They were not completely unmanageable…but typical Bulldog pitching staffs do not walk people at that rate. Teams that contend for league titles do not walk people at that rate.

I am particularly concerned with the strikeout totals, however. Having a 5.38 K/9 rate as a team is problematic. Pitchers need those strikeouts.

Well, they got those strikeouts, all right. Look at those improved K and BB rates for the 2013 campaign .

In conference play, Bulldog pitchers struck out almost 2 1/2 more batters per nine innings than they did in 2012, and at the same time lowered their walk rates by about 1 1/3 BB per nine IP (remember, this doesn’t count Austin Pritcher’s numbers, and he was only the league’s Pitcher of the Year).

Based on that comparison, you would have to say the Britt Reames Experience is having a very positive effect.

There are some things to be cautious about, however. The Bulldogs do have to replace Pritcher in the weekend rotation. Last year, returnees had started 29 of the previous year’s 30 league games.

Also, pitching success can vary from year to year, even among returning hurlers. The good news is that the Bulldogs have a lot of options.

The obvious statistic of concern is the team ERA, which actually increased in league play by 0.3 of a run per nine innings. What is interesting about that is the hit rate per nine innings showed almost no variance from 2012 to 2013.

Homers were up, though. On the other hand, nine of the sixteen home runs hit off Bulldog pitching in conference play were allowed by Logan Cribb, and he still fashioned a fine 3.75 ERA.

The increased ERA can be partly attributed to a few bad outings by Bulldog pitchers,and the conference run environment was also an issue. Updated park factors for the league are not available yet, but there was a significant increase in runs (and corresponding league ERA) in 2013.

There were 2068 runs scored in SoCon play in 2013, after 1843 runs were scored in conference action in 2012. The league ERA jumped from 4.69 to 5.42.

One other thing: no, that’s not a typo, Zach Sherrill really did pitch in 23 of 30 conference games in 2013. He appeared in 48 games overall, shattering the school record for pitching appearances and leading the entire nation in regular-season games on the hill.

At one point during the season, Sherrill pitched in 11 consecutive games. He was very effective (which is why he kept getting the call from the bullpen), but part of me hopes the Bulldogs don’t have to lean on him so often this year.

The Citadel’s DER (defensive efficiency rating) in SoCon play last season was 68.9%, right around where it had been in 2012 (68.8%). The Bulldogs’ DER the last two seasons is much improved from 2011 (63.2%).

While The Citadel committed many more errors in league action in 2013 (57) than in 2012 (39), in terms of actually getting to balls and recording outs, the results were about the same. This indicates that a number of the “extra” errors were overthrows and other types of mistakes, which allowed opponents to advance further on the basepaths.

Double play totals declined from 25 to 14. That may be related to ground ball/fly ball rates from Bulldog pitchers, however.

The league DER in 2013 was only 66.1%, which was down considerably from 2012 (68.4%). I’m not quite sure what to make of that, other than it certainly contributed to the higher run totals across the conference.

Opponents were 29 for 42 on stolen base attempts against the Bulldogs in SoCon games. Ten opposing baserunners were picked off.

The conference as a whole averaged 52 attempted steals per team in league games, with a success rate of 74.3%. Those numbers are inflated slightly by Wofford, which attempted 101 steals in its 30 SoCon contests (and was successful 78 times).

Only Western Carolina allowed fewer stolen bases in conference play than The Citadel, with the Catamounts having a very impressive 51% defensive caught stealing rate (21 for 41).

This is a season that Bulldog fans have been waiting for since…well, since last season ended. The Citadel should be very good on the diamond in 2014. The squad has considerable talent and a lot of experience.

I really like the non-conference schedule this year. Plenty of quality opponents are on the slate, both at home and on the road.

As a result, the Bulldogs may struggle at times in the early part of the season, but they should be well prepared once league play rolls around.

A few things to watch:

1) The weekend rotation, especially the Sunday starter

2) Possible platoon situations at first base/third base/DH

3) The pitcher-catcher dynamic (particularly with regards to baserunners)

4) New contributors, including some who have been around the program (Ryan Kilgallen, for example), and others making their collegiate debuts (such as Austin Mapes)

5) Whether or not Bo Thompson can hit a ball on the fly into the Lockwood Boulevard parking lot

I’m tired of winter. I’m ready for spring.

Spring on the diamond in 2014 could be a lot of fun.

Bill James’ Hall of Fame predictions from 1994

A baseball Hall of Fame post, because I haven’t written about baseball in a while, and that needs to change…

In 1994, Bill James published a book called The Politics of Glory (the title was later changed to Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?). It is, in my opinion, the best book ever written about baseball’s Hall of Fame.

I was rereading it the other day and came across his list of predictions for future Hall of Famers. James wrote:

I could give you long lists of totals for active players, but they all change every year. History suggests that there are probably now about 30 or 40 players in the major leagues who will eventually be in the Hall of Fame, but it will be at least 70 years until we have a firm total, and in that time the Veterans Committee could be abolished and reinstituted several times. Here’s the way I see the BBWAA votes for the next quarter of a century. I wouldn’t even try to guess what the Veterans Committee will do (other than they’ll have to elect Bunning and Fox).

James then made a list for the years 1995 to 2019, picking two players to be enshrined each year.

First, James was correct on several of the points he made in the above paragraph. Jim Bunning and Nellie Fox were both indeed elected by the Veterans Committee, and the VC has changed in multiple ways over the past twenty years.

Here is how James saw things going forward. Players actually enshrined in Cooperstown are in bold.

1995 — Mike Schmidt, Jim Rice
1996 — Don Sutton, Pete Rose
1997 — Steve Garvey, Phil Niekro
1998 — Gary Carter, Al Oliver
1999 — Nolan Ryan, George Brett
2000 — Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk
2001 — Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield
2002 — Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith
2003 — Dave Parker, Jim Kaat
2004 — Dennis Eckersley, Ted Simmons
2005 — Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken Jr.
2006 — Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor
2007 — Tony Gwynn, Roger Clemens
2008 — Kirby Puckett, Dale Murphy
2009 — Jack Morris, Lee Smith
2010 — Tim Raines, Ryne Sandberg
2011 — Barry Bonds, Joe Carter
2012 — Brett Butler, David Cone
2013 — Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker
2014 — Goose Gossage, Don Mattingly
2015 — Jack McDowell, Greg Maddux
2016 — Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden
2017 — Frank Thomas, Ruben Sierra
2018 — Ken Griffey Jr., Roberto Alomar
2019 — Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzalez

Of course, James had no idea when the careers of most of these players would end, so the years themselves were pure guesses. Some of the players retired earlier than he had anticipated (like Puckett, Alomar, and Sandberg), while others hung on longer than expected (Rickey Henderson).

The PEDs debate/debacle also wasn’t an issue (at least, in terms of mainstream knowledge) in 1994; otherwise, his choices of Bonds and Clemens would be right on target. Pete Rose’s exclusion from the Hall needs no explanation.

All in all, though, it’s not a bad projection at all.

Let’s review the cases of some of those listed who have not been elected:

– Steve Garvey: James doesn’t seem to have actually favored Garvey’s candidacy, despite this projection (James rated Garvey the 31st-best first baseman of all time in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, released in 2001). Garvey would remain on the ballot for the full 15 years without ever coming close to election (peaking at 42.6% of the vote).

When James wrote The Politics of Glory, Garvey’s public “clean” image had largely dissipated due to some well-chronicled personal issues. Garvey was at one time an extremely popular player; without those off-the-field foibles, I suspect he would have come much closer to election and probably would have been a serious contender to gain election via the Veterans Committee. I could see arguments for/against him developing along lines similar to what we have seen with the candidacy of Jack Morris.

– Al Oliver: I’m not sure why James picked Oliver for this list. Oliver was only on the BBWAA ballot once, in 1991, and dropped off after only getting 4.3% of the vote.

Having said that, Oliver was a really good player. He could flat-out rake, leading the league in doubles twice and RBI once while compiling over 2700 career hits (.303 career batting average). In votes by two recent iterations of the Veterans Committee (2008 and 2010), Oliver has received some support (but not a lot) for enshrinement.

– Dave Parker, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy: These three guys stayed on the BBWAA ballot for 15 years, but none of them ever got as much as 30% of the vote.

I think all three stand a decent chance of future enshrinement by some version of the Veterans Committee, particularly Kaat (who won 283 games and has had a significant career in the broadcast booth). I have always supported Murphy’s candidacy, though most of the BBWAA voters certainly didn’t agree with me. Parker had some peaks and valleys in his career, but no matter what will always have the 1979 All-Star game.

– Ted Simmons: In 1994, Simmons appeared on the BBWAA ballot for the first time — and the last, as he received only 3.7% of the vote.

In the Historical Abstract, James rates Simmons as the 10th-best catcher in baseball history, though by this point Simmons will have been passed by Ivan Rodriguez. I’m guessing that Simmons will be elected some day; that day, however, may be in the distant future.

– Brett Butler, David Cone, Joe Carter, Jack McDowell, Ruben Sierra: You’ve got to give James a little credit for listing Cone, even if he didn’t wind up a Hall of Famer. Entering the 1994 season, Cone was in the middle of a nice career (95-65, 3.14 ERA), but projecting the then 30-year-old Cone as a Cooperstown candidate might have been a stretch. Of course, in 1994 Cone proceeded to win the AL Cy Young Award. He would win 99 games after James published the book.

Brett Butler and Joe Carter are good examples of well-known players who had long, successful careers that didn’t quite rise to Hall of Fame quality. Carter was very prominent at the time The Politics of Glory was released, thanks to his walk-off homer to win the 1993 World Series.

As I mentioned, David Cone won the 1994 Cy Young Award. Jack McDowell had won the award the previous year, winning 22 games.

McDowell was 27 years old. He would only win 46 more games for the rest of his career, and was finished as a major league pitcher by the age of 33.

Ruben Sierra was the AL MVP runner-up in 1989, when he was 23 years old. That turned out to be his career year. Sierra played for nine different clubs between 1994 and 2006, his last season in MLB.

– Lou Whitaker: In 2001, Lou Whitaker debuted on the BBWAA ballot. He received only 2.9% of the vote.

Whitaker’s one-and-done BBWAA vote has been scrutinized (and criticized) for the past decade. Bill James rated Whitaker the 13th-best second baseman of all time, ahead of Hall of Famers Billy Herman, Nellie Fox, Joe Gordon, Bobby Doerr, Tony Lazzeri, Johnny Evers, Red Schoendienst, Bill Mazeroski, and Bid McPhee. (Two other second basemen rated behind Whitaker, Miller Huggins and Bucky Harris, are in the Hall for their managerial careers.)

All of the Hall of Fame second basemen named in the preceding paragraph were Veterans Committee selections. I suspect that Whitaker will ultimately join them as a VC pick.

Of the 12 second basemen James rated ahead of Whitaker, all but two are in the Hall. Craig Biggio is one of them, and he will probably be elected this year. The other, Bobby Grich, would be a worthy choice for the Hall as well.

– Dwight Gooden: From 1984 through 1993: 154-81, 3.04 ERA, 2128 1/3 IP, 1.169 WHIP

From 1994 until his career ended in 2000: 40-31, 4.99 ERA, 672 1/2 IP, 1.532 WHIP

What might have been…

– Juan Gonzalez: He actually won two MVP awards after James’ projection. Gonzalez lasted for all of two BBWAA ballots, which arguably was one more appearance on the ballot than he deserved. Igor only had 781 plate appearances in the majors after his age 31 season.

Then there are the players James didn’t list who are now serious Hall of Fame candidates (or who have been elected). Here are a few of them:

– Bert Blyleven: James only mentioned Blyleven once in The Politics of Glory, and even that was only in passing. In the Historical Abstract, however, he rated Blyleven the 39th-best pitcher in baseball history (as of 2000, the year he rated pitchers). That is basically right on the border of the Hall of Fame.

Only one pitcher rated ahead of Blyleven (Carl Mays) is not in the Hall, and there are many behind him who have been enshrined. Some of the guys rated lower than Blyleven should not have been elected, honestly, but quite a few of them are deserving. In other words, Blyleven is definitely not out of place as a Hall of Famer, a conclusion James had already reached.

– Craig Biggio: James initially rated Biggio the 5th-best second baseman of all time in the Historical Abstract, which he later acknowledged was probably a mistake. Still, there is no doubt that James is on board with Biggio’s Hall of Fame case (calling him “the greatest underappreciated player of my lifetime”).

James had no way of knowing in 1994 that Biggio still had over 2000 games to play in his career. Through the 1993 campaign, Biggio had played in exactly 800 games, having converted from a catcher to a second baseman in 1992. His career OPS+ following the 1993 season was 113. His OPS+ when his career finally ended? 112.

I think it’s interesting that Bill James listed Biggio’s Houston teammate, Jeff Bagwell, in his Hall of Fame projections despite Bagwell having only played three MLB seasons at the time.

– Tom Glavine: It’s a little surprising that Glavine didn’t get the nod from James. As I mentioned above, at the time of the publication of The Politics of Glory, David Cone was 95-65. Glavine was 95-66, with three consecutive top-3 Cy Young Award finishes (including winning the award in 1991). Glavine did have a significantly higher career ERA through the 1993 season (3.53 to Cone’s 3.14). Cone was three years older than Glavine, though.

In closing, let me quote Bill James one more time:

…the effect of [Hall of Fame] discussion is to create confusion, and in general this is how the Hall of Fame argument progresses: cacophony, leading to confusion.

It’s been 20 years since James’ book made order out of some of that confusion. Given the current controversies surrounding the process, however, the topic remains one of bewilderment…

Riley Report: Missing mojo; must find immediately if not sooner

This is going to be a ramble more than a coherent essay; I’m just throwing together a few thoughts prior to the SoCon baseball tournament…

Links of interest:

Fred Jordan interview (video)

The Citadel’s tournament notes

Appalachian State’s tournament notes

Western Carolina’s tournament notes

Samford’s tournament notes

Furman’s tournament notes

Elon’s tournament notes

College of Charleston’s tournament notes

Georgia Southern’s tournament notes

SoCon release

Tournament bracket

Quick note on the bracket: The Citadel plays the early game on Wednesday (10 am ET) versus Appalachian State. If the Bulldogs win, they will play at 5 pm on Thursday unless Furman also wins on Wednesday; if both the Bulldogs and Paladins are victorious, The Citadel would play the late game on Thursday (estimated 8:30 pm ET start).

If The Citadel loses to Appalachian State, it will again play the early game (10 am ET on Thursday).

Sunday’s title game is a winner-take-all affair; it is strictly single-elimination, regardless of whether or not the teams playing in it have one loss or no losses. I dislike this format. It should be double-elimination throughout the tournament. The league does it this way for television, but A) the process of determining an automatic bid should not be so subverted by TV; and B) the game isn’t going to be on broadcast TV, anyway.

If you can’t make it to Greenville’s Fluor Field, a free (!) video stream of each game is available from the SoCon. The league championship game will be televised by It wouldn’t hurt to register at the league website beforehand, just in case.

Directions to Fluor Field

Ballpark layout

Basically, it’s a carbon copy of Fenway Park, complete with a monster-ish left field wall. The dimensions mirror Fenway.

Day Passes are available for each day of the Southern Conference Tournament, for the low price of just $10. The Day Pass allows you to attend every game for the day in which you purchase.

A Student Day Pass will be also available to students from each of the respective colleges and universities, for only $6. While regular Day Passes can be purchased online, over the phone at (864) 240-4528, or at the Fluor Field Box Office, the Student Day Pass must be purchased at the Box Office and proper school identification must be shown.


To say The Citadel is not riding a hot streak as it enters tournament play is an understatement. The Bulldogs are 5-5 in their last 10 games, but perhaps more pertinent is the fact that The Citadel has lost five of its last seven league games, with four of those losses coming to teams that did not even qualify for the conference tourney. Several of those losses have been brutal, none more so than the last two games of the UNCG series.

At this point the Bulldogs have major issues with the bullpen and some uncertainty about the starting rotation beyond Austin Pritcher. The defense has remained problematic, though the offense has continued to excel. Because of that offense, I expect the Bulldogs to be competitive in this tournament. There is a big difference between competing in the tourney and winning it, though, and pitching problems and defensive foibles suggest that it is unlikely The Citadel will be celebrating a championship on Sunday.

The Bulldogs do have a few things going for them, though.

– The main reason The Citadel is a 4 seed rather than a 1 or 2 seed is its less-than-stellar record against the three schools (Davidson, UNCG, and Wofford) that did not make the tournament. The Bulldogs were only 4-5 against those teams. On the bright side, however, The Citadel won’t have to face any of those squads in Greenville. The Bulldogs are 14-7 against the rest of the conference — 7-2 at home, 7-5 on the road. That’s very solid. Western Carolina, the 1 seed, was 15-6 against tourney teams; CofC was 12-8, and Elon was 10-10. The Citadel’s opponent on Wednesday, Appalachian State, was 7-11 against the other seven teams in the field.

– I think that three of the four teams that the Bulldogs wouldn’t want to face until the championship game are on the other side of the bracket. While Western Carolina has been the best team in the league this year and will presumably be the toughest out, The Citadel is fortunate that Elon, College of Charleston, and Furman will have to get past each other to make it to Sunday. (Things got tougher for CofC with the news that its top starting pitcher, Matt Pegler, is out for the tourney with a broken hand.)

The Paladins, in particular, are a team to watch, not as much for being the host school but because they have a much higher ceiling than a typical 6 seed. Furman has multiple quality victories out of conference this season (including two wins over Coastal Carolina and another versus South Carolina), and also won two out of three against all three schools in its bracket (Elon, College of Charleston, and Georgia Southern). Furman has been inconsistent in league play (and was 4-5 against the bottom three teams, just like The Citadel), but seems to be playing fairly well right now. The Paladins enter the tournament on a five-game winning streak.

– While The Citadel struggled down the stretch, so did several other teams in the league. Georgia Southern has lost seven straight, nine of its last ten, and nineteen of its last twenty-three games. The first three losses in that 23-game downward spiral came against the Bulldogs. Appalachian State is 7-11 in its last eighteen contests. Samford has lost seven of its last nine.

Fred Jordan is going to start Austin Pritcher against Appalachian State, a decision with which I completely agree. The first game in tournament play is critical, and even more so for The Citadel following its last-season slide. The Bulldogs have to get their mojo back sooner rather than later. I don’t like The Citadel’s chances of rebounding from a loss on Wednesday.

Starting the league’s Pitcher of the Year on Wednesday also gives Jordan the option of having Pritcher on the hill on Sunday, should the Bulldogs get that far. Pritcher is probably capable of giving The Citadel some decent innings on three days’ rest. If you started him on Thursday, I have my doubts he would be too effective on only two days’ rest.

The other thing that sometimes doesn’t get taken into account is that there is no guarantee which team will win the other game in The Citadel’s bracket. The idea of “holding” Pritcher to Thursday so as to have the Bulldogs’ best pitcher face Western Carolina is based on an assumption that the Catamounts will easily handle Samford on Wednesday. Maybe they will, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it. WCU swept Samford in Cullowhee earlier in the season, but the score of the first matchup was 9-8.

I’m not overly confident that the Diamond Dogs can shake off the last two weeks and run the table in Greenville, but luckily I’m not one of the people who has to be confident. That requirement falls on the players (and coaches). It will be interesting to see if they are up to the challenge.

Riley Report: From average to good to a championship — taking the next step

When I last wrote about The Citadel’s baseball team, it had an overall record of 17-16, 6-6 in SoCon play. It now has a record of 27-18, 14-7 in the league. Clearly, the squad has played very well over the past three weeks. What has gone right for the Bulldogs?

Let’s take a look at the pitching, the defense, and the offense.

On April 7, the pitching staff had an ERA of 5.64 in SoCon games. That was through twelve games. Nine league contests later, and the team ERA is 4.56, a significant improvement. I think it is also worth pointing out that six of those nine league matchups were on the road.

I thought at the time that the ERA was a bit misleading, as the Bulldogs’ peripheral statistics suggested that the pitching had been a little better than that. The staff had a K/9 rate of 7.36 through twelve SoCon games, and a BB/9 rate of 3.33 in conference action. The K/9 rate is essentially unchanged after nine more league contests (7.35), but the BB/9 rate has actually dropped to 2.88, a very pleasant trend.

Another excellent downward trend has been home runs allowed. The Citadel has only allowed one homer in its last nine league games. The Bulldogs had allowed 10 in its their first 12 SoCon matchups, but now are on a homers allowed pace similar to last year’s 17 in 30 games, which is perfectly acceptable.

Time to talk defensive efficiency again. Defensive Efficiency (DER) is the rate in which balls put into play are converted into outs by a team’s defense. With 21 league games played, there is a little more to work with in terms of sample size.

The Citadel has a DER in SoCon play of .688, which is a little better than last season (and which has improved slightly over the past nine league contests). It is also better than the SoCon mean of .684 in 2012 (I am not able to get the current league mean DER, at least not without spending more time than I have calculating it).

You may recall that prior to its recent 10-game winning streak, The Citadel was having an issue with what I termed overaggressive fielding — in other words, errors committed while trying to throw out baserunners who were already on base (pickoffs, steal attempts, runners trying for extra bases, etc.). Through twelve league games the Bulldogs had committed twelve such errors, averaging one per game. In the past nine SoCon contests, however, The Citadel has committed only four of those types of errors.

Perhaps not coincidentally, two of them came in the only game the Bulldogs lost during that stretch.

The offense has kept putting crooked numbers on the board. Counting all games, not just conference matchups, The Citadel ranks in the top three among SoCon teams in OBP (leads league), homers, batting average (leads league), slugging, OPS, runs, hits, and walks. The Bulldogs put the ball in play when they aren’t walked or hit by a pitch, as they are second in the league in sacrifice bunts and have the second-fewest strikeouts.

Four Bulldogs rank in the top 7 in OBP in the Southern Conference. Each of those four players — Bo Thompson, Joe Jackson, Drew DeKerlegand, and Hughston Armstrong — also rank in the top 12 in park/schedule adjusted wOBA.

Thompson, in particular, is having a season to remember at the plate. He is currently fifth nationally in park/schedule adjusted OPS, which is an outcome of being third nationally in pk/sch/adj OBP and sixth in pk/sch/adj slugging.

He has not been getting good pitches to hit lately, but Thompson has been patient enough to take a lot of walks. He only has 20 hits in his last 22 games, but has still batted .290 over that stretch because of all those bases on balls (and occasionally HBPs).

For reasons not readily apparent, Furman decided to pitch to him in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Thompson proceeded to go 5-5 with two homers and a double.

Thompson has twelve home runs this season while striking out only fourteen times, which is rather remarkable, but he isn’t the only Bulldog with pop who doesn’t strike out that often in SoCon action. Joe Jackson has hit seven of his eight homers in league games while only striking out nine times in conference play.

I don’t think there is any question that The Citadel’s offense, if it keeps up its current pace, is championship-caliber. If Tyler Griffin is able to return from his injury in time for the SoCon tournament, that will add yet another quality bat to the mix.

Another thing to watch is Bo Thompson’s ability to play first base. He played in the field last week against Charleston Southern, his first game in a role other than DH since hurting his ankle early in the season. If he can return to playing first base on a semi-regular basis, that could give Fred Jordan a bit more flexibility in his lineup options (though Calvin Orth has now cemented a role as an everyday player with his fine performance this season).

Whether or not the Bulldogs can take the “next step” from being merely a good team to a title-winning squad is clearly dependent on the pitching and defense. As far as the defense is concerned, I think it is basically a known quantity at this point.

The Citadel has an average to slightly above-average Southern Conference defense, one that can probably hold up as long as it avoids “unnecessary” errors. The team is capable of making the routine plays in the field, and its overall defensive range is adequate.

I am not entirely sure about the pitching, though there are a number of positives to consider, particularly in a tournament situation. The Citadel has the all-but-required “ace” in Austin Pritcher, who while not quite in the mold of Asher Wojciechowski or Jonathan Ellis is definitely a quality No. 1 starter.

The bullpen also has the depth the Bulldogs will need at Fluor Field in late May, provided that Zach Sherrill and David Rivera don’t wear out by then. The two pitchers have combined for 65 appearances in The Citadel’s first 45 games. Having a closer who can finish off batters (Skylar Hunter has 35 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings) will also be helpful.

Earlier I mentioned that The Citadel has a K/9 rate of 7.35 in SoCon play, which is good but not quite at the level of some of the Bulldogs’ championship teams. For example, the 2010 pitching staff had a K/9 rate of 8.72 in league play. That is not insignificant, though it is also true that with the new BBCOR bat standards, pitching to contact tends to be rewarded now more often than it was in 2010.

Three quick notes:

– I don’t think the Bulldogs have much of a shot at an at-large bid this season. Jeff Hartsell summarized The Citadel’s case; it’s just not good enough, not in a slightly down year in the Southern Conference. Now, if the Bulldogs were to beat UNC on Wednesday and win all but one or two of their remaining league games, then maybe this subject can be revisited.

It would also help if Western Carolina went into a tailspin and opened up the league title race, though that doesn’t look likely. The Catamounts are hot and only have six conference games remaining, three of which are against Wofford and all of which are in Cullowhee.

– The Citadel doubled up on last week’s SoCon awards, claiming both Pitcher of the Week (Austin Pritcher) and Player of the Week (Johnathan Stokes). Pritcher is finishing a fine career at the military college in style. He also is one of three Bulldog starting pitchers named Austin, which probably leads the nation.

Stokes has a respectable 22 hits in 21 league games — but in those 21 games, the shortstop also has 18 runs batted in. He makes his hits count. When runners get on base, Stokes is ready to bring them home.

– I tweeted about this a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to mention it again. Appalachian State’s last scheduled appearance in Riley Park will come at the 2014 Southern Conference tournament, much to the Mountaineers’ relief. Counting the league tourney, The Citadel has an alltime record of 29-2 against Appalachian State at Riley Park. No, that’s not a typo.

29-2. Just incredible. App hasn’t always been that strong in baseball, but it has usually been decent. Fred Jordan’s combined College Park/Riley Park record against the Mountaineers is a staggering 37-3. Appalachian State’s only series win against the Bulldogs in Charleston came in 1973, when Chal Port was still an assistant on the football team (in addition to his duties as head baseball coach).

It’s stretch time for the Diamond Dogs. There are eleven regular season games remaining, including nine league games, a game at Charleston Southern, and the aforementioned contest in Chapel Hill this week versus North Carolina. After the final league series, the action moves to the league tournament in Greenville.

It’s time for the team to make its case as a championship outfit. The potential is there.

Riley Report: We must defend this park

The Citadel has now played 33 games this season, including 12 SoCon contests. There is still plenty of action left on the diamond (including 18 league games to come), but I thought it would be worth taking a quick look at how things are progressing so far in the 2013 campaign. To sum up:

– Offense: Good

– Pitching: A work in progress, but the potential is there

– Defense: Ugh

When I previewed the season, I primarily concentrated on league statistics. I’m going to go back and forth between overall and SoCon stats in this post, mainly because 12 games isn’t much of a sample size.

Offensively, the Bulldogs have been solid. The breakout star has been Bo Thompson, who has established himself as one of the league’s premier power hitters, combining patience with pop — and when I say pop, I’m talking serious moonshots. Thompson has hit some of the longest home runs ever seen at Riley Park.

He also is willing to wait on his pitch, and is not easy to strike out (10 homers, 12 strikeouts). Thompson has an OPS of 1206 overall, which rises to 1478 (!) in SoCon play.

Joe Jackson is also having a nice season at the plate. Jackson has a 939 OPS overall and has been even better in league action (1167). Like Thompson, he doesn’t strike out very often (13 times in 134 plate appearances).

Drew DeKerlegand is having a fine bounce-back campaign, hitting well overall (998 OPS) and in Southern Conference games (1000 OPS). He also leads the team in getting hit by pitches, having been plunked 10 times.

Hughston Armstrong leads the team with a .383 batting average. He isn’t a power threat (only 3 of his 41 hits have gone for extra bases), but he can handle the bat (10 sac bunts, leading the squad) and knows his way around the bases (9-9 in steals).

Mason Davis continues to lead off for the Bulldogs, and has started to pick things up with the bat as of late (934 OPS in SoCon games). He is 13-16 in steal attempts and leads the team in runs scored, with 32.

Tyler Griffin has eight home runs for the Bulldogs, along with 30 runs batted in. He has been a mainstay in the batting order all season, appearing in each game, usually batting fifth. Of late he has been a bit strikeout-prone, but his overall production has been good (902 OPS).

In general, it is hard to find too much fault with the offense. At times I think the Bulldogs have been too quick to play “little ball” (The Citadel has 41 sacrifice bunts this season), but it’s hard to argue with the overall results.

The pitching hasn’t been great, but the 5.64 team ERA in SoCon play is perhaps a bit deceiving. Well, it’s deceiving in both directions…

The Citadel’s peripheral pitching statistics are actually better than last year in a couple of key categories. The K/9 rate overall is 6.85, and that rises to 7.36 in league games (it was 5.65 in SoCon action last year). The BB/9 rate is 4.01 overall, 3.33 in conference games.

Bulldog pitchers have been more homer-prone in SoCon play this year, already allowing 10 in just 12 league contests. Last season, The Citadel only allowed 17 home runs in 30 conference games.

That still doesn’t quite explain the increase in team ERA. Defensive issues could explain it, but then things get complicated. Actually, let’s talk about the defense right now.

Defensive efficiency is the rate in which balls put into play are converted into outs by a team’s defense. The Citadel’s overall defensive efficiency so far this season is .690, which is actually almost exactly the same as the overall DER last year (.687). Through 12 SoCon games (again, small sample size), the DER is .663, which isn’t great, but not too far off last season (.678).

I was puzzled at first when I ran the numbers, because they show that the Bulldogs are getting to batted balls in play at about the rate one would expect. Still, the team ERA is arguably higher than it should be, given the peripheral stats, and that doesn’t even take into account the unearned runs (22.75% of the runs scored by Bulldog opponents have been unearned). Then it dawned on me what the real problem with the defense has been, at least in league play.

The problem hasn’t been that the defense has allowed too many extra baserunners. The problem has been the defense once runners get on base.

I went back and looked at the play-by-play for all twelve SoCon games played so far this season. In those 12 games, the Bulldogs have committed 26 errors, a horrific total (their opponents have only committed 11 errors in those same contests).

However, what stands out is that twelve of those errors — almost half — were committed trying to pick off or throw out baserunners. In other words, the Bulldogs have been giving up a ton of extra bases by making bad throws. Pickoff attempts by the pitchers gone awry, overthrows from the outfield, infield singles in which the runner advances a base on a bad throw, etc.

In the Sunday game against Elon, the Bulldogs committed four errors, including three in one inning. Two of those errors in that inning were bad throws on pickoff attempts by the pitcher — and they were from two different pitchers.

I’ve heard of overaggressive baserunning, but I am starting to wonder if the Bulldogs have been guilty at times of overaggressive fielding. If The Citadel is to become a factor in the Southern Conference race down the stretch, that aspect of the team’s play must be fixed.

The Citadel also has to solidify its weekend starting rotation, which after Austin Pritcher is still a question mark. Pritcher, on the other hand, has been as dependable as ever. He has issued a few more walks than one would like, but has also managed to toss 48 2/3 innings so far this season without allowing a home run.

While the bullpen hasn’t been bad at all (and Zach Sherrill and David Rivera have done yeoman’s work, combining for 50 appearances), it is concerning that the only inning in which the Bulldogs have been outscored this season is the ninth — and that by a 16-3 count.

The Bulldogs have their work cut out for them this week, with four road games. On Tuesday, The Citadel makes its annual trip to Columbia to play South Carolina. Then the action moves to Statesboro for the weekend, with three games against Georgia Southern. The Eagles are 9-5 in league play, which is currently good enough for second place in a tightly bunched Southern Conference.

The following week features four home games. Tony Skole brings his ETSU squad to Charleston for a weekday game, and Appalachian State is the weekend opponent for a three-game conference series.

It’s the time of year when seasons begin to wax or wane. Let’s hope the Bulldogs have a lot of life left in this year’s campaign.

Below are some pictures I took at Riley Park on Saturday, a 14-7 victory for the Bulldogs over Elon. The day was sunny but rather windy, a nice day for a game, though I prefer baseball games that don’t take more than three hours to play…

Riley Report: The Citadel’s 2013 baseball campaign begins (Part 2)

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

Note: as I mentioned in Part 1, all statistics are for Southern Conference games only unless otherwise indicated.

This chart features the 2012 offensive statistics in league play for The Citadel’s returning players:

    AB      R   HR    BB      K      AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS
 Mason Davis 127 15 2 9 23 0.244 0.304 0.354 0.658
 Joe Jackson 117 22 1 16 17 0.308 0.396 0.462 0.858
 Bo Thompson 88 7 2 15 12 0.250 0.367 0.341 0.708
 D. DeKerlegand 73 13 0 7 18 0.192 0.291 0.260 0.551
 Bailey Rush 70 8 0 6 21 0.186 0.266 0.214 0.480
 Tyler Griffin 68 8 1 10 26 0.118 0.238 0.250 0.488
 Calvin Orth 55 5 1 1 10 0.291 0.298 0.400 0.698
 H. Armstrong 50 5 0 6 7 0.220 0.304 0.300 0.604
 J. Stokes 45 8 0 5 4 0.267 0.340 0.311 0.651
 Ryne Hardwick 9 2 0 2 3 0.111 0.273 0.222 0.495
 Zach Sherrill 2 1 0 1 0 0.500 0.667 1.000 1.667
 Ryan Kilgallen 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Totals 705 94 7 78 142 0.234 0.318 0.333 0.6517

Before I started compiling all these numbers, I would have said that one of the things The Citadel’s players needed to do was take more walks. However, I was surprised to find out that the returning Bulldogs actually had a higher percentage of  walks per at bat (11.1%) than the 2011 squad (9.1%), and a similar number to the 2010 title team (11.3%).

One thing that 2010 team did a lot was get hit by pitches, though (29 times in 30 league games).  The 2012 team was plunked 19 times (13 of those bruises were suffered by players on the current roster).

It’s also important to be careful about comparing pre- and post-BBCOR numbers. I think that in today’s game, it is even more important to take advantage of free passes, with power numbers and batting averages down throughout college baseball (though the best players can maintain high averages no matter what kind of stick is being wielded).

While there are some individual players who could stand to increase their walk totals, the bottom line is that to make a jump offensively the team as a whole needs to make more consistent hard contact, and improve those BAA/SLG categories to something approaching at least 2011 levels.

There is no question which position in the lineup needs to improve the most at the plate this season. That position would be…Designated Hitter.

I went through all 30 league games and totaled the numbers at the DH spot. The stats are not pretty. Numerous players manned the position last year, and the batting line wound up looking like this:


That is not a typo. The Bulldogs’ DH position had a 560 OPS in conference play. Almost 22% of the ABs resulted in strikeouts. The Citadel only got six extra base hits from its designated hitters in SoCon action (five doubles and a homer). Only one of those extra base hits came at Riley Park.

Fred Jordan’s biggest challenge among his position players may be to find the individual (or platoon) capable of handling DH duties on a regular basis, and producing the kind of offense one would expect from that spot in the order.

SoCon baserunning statistics of note:

The Citadel stole 42 out of 54 bases last season, for a success rate of 77.8%. That doesn’t count the five times Bulldog baserunners were picked off in league play.

Bulldog opponents stole 47 out of 60 bases in conference action (78.3%). There were nine pickoffs by The Citadel’s pitchers in conference action, including four by Austin Pritcher.

Both The Citadel and its opponents had success rates higher than the league average of 74.5%. Elon attempted the most steals in conference play (69), while UNCG only tried to swipe 30 bags. On the defensive side of things, the range was 30 (the number of steal attempts against Elon during the season) to an incredible 85 (against Georgia Southern, of which 70 were successful).

Pitching and defense are intertwined, but it’s possible to get some idea of a team’s defensive quality independent of its pitching.

In 2011, the Bulldogs had arguably their poorest fielding squad in over a decade, with a defensive efficiency rating of 63.2%, by far the worst in the SoCon. That included leading the league in errors (58 in 30 games). The Citadel turned 17 double plays in conference action.

In 2012, the glovework got a lot better. The Citadel’s DER was 67.8%, meaning the Bulldogs were making two or three more plays per game than they did in 2011. That’s a big difference. The standard defensive measures also reflected this improvement, as The Citadel only committed 39 errors in league play, and also turned 25 double plays in SoCon games.

That isn’t to say The Citadel can’t get better in the field. The Bulldogs actually were slightly below average defensively in the SoCon, per DER (the league average was 68.4%).

Nevertheless, it was a marked difference from the season before, and there is no real reason to worry about regression. As Jordan has noted, The Citadel has solid up-the-middle performers, and some observers believe the players at the corner spots have the potential to become excellent defenders as well. This is a group that will help its pitchers more often than not.

Incidentally, while I am concentrating on league statistics here, I did notice that The Citadel’s DER for the entirety of the 2012 season (58 games) was actually better than its league DER. The overall DER last season was 68.97%.

Here are the 2012 SoCon statistics for The Citadel’s returning pitchers:

      G     GS    IP      H      R    ER    HR       ERA       K/9     BB/9
 Austin Pritcher 10 10 67.0 73 33 26 2 3.49 5.51 2.28
 Logan Cribb 10 10 47.1 54 35 32 5 6.08 6.27 4.20
 Kevin Connell 9 6 30.1 37 17 13 2 3.86 3.26 5.98
 James Reeves 11 3 22.2 31 20 20 1 7.94 5.56 3.65
 Ross White 15 0 13.1 13 12 8 1 5.40 5.40 4.12
 Zach Sherrill 11 0 12.0 19 14 13 3 9.75 5.25 5.25
 Ryan Hines 16 0 22.1 20 5 5 0 2.01 2.82 2.44
 Brett Tompkins 6 0 8.1 9 5 3 0 3.24 5.40 3.33
 Connor Walsh 3 0 2.1 3 3 3 0 11.57 3.86 12.86
Totals 91 29 226 259 144 123 14 4.91 5.38 3.83

(Actual total of league innings worked by returning pitchers: 225 2/3. My chart had some issues, hence the “226” total listed.)

Austin Pritcher and Logan Cribb were in the rotation every weekend. One thing The Citadel will need this year is for its starting pitchers to go deeper into games. Last season, starters in conference action averaged just over five innings per start. If you take the starts by the dependable Pritcher out of the equation, the average dips even further, to under 4 1/3 innings per start.

Those non-Pritcher outings featured 39 walks in 85 1/3 innings by Bulldog starters — and only 47 strikeouts.

The walk rates were obviously too high, and must be lowered. They were not completely unmanageable (and among returning pitchers were actually not that much higher than the SoCon average of 3.77 BB/9), but typical Bulldog pitching staffs do not walk people at that rate. Teams that contend for league titles do not walk people at that rate.

I am particularly concerned with the strikeout totals, however. Having a 5.38 K/9 rate as a team is problematic. Pitchers need those strikeouts.

(For clarification, the K/9 rate for the team in league play last season, including pitchers no longer on the roster, was 5.65.)

It may be that punchouts are slightly less valuable in the post-BBCOR era because “pitching to contact” is more likely to be rewarded with an out, but it’s still important to restrict the number of batters who put the ball into play. There are occasionally pitchers capable of succeeding despite relatively low strikeout rates (Tommy John comes to mind), but they are atypical.

The coaching staff knows this, of course. After all, the pitching coach had a career K/9 of 11.63 when he was at The Citadel.

Actually, from watching the games last year at a safe distance, I got the impression that the coaches were very careful with what was a very young group of hurlers. Britt Reames wasn’t afraid to pull a starter early (which contributed to the  short duration of some of the starts). I’ve used the phrase “transition season” a lot to describe the 2012 season, and nothing reflects that description more than the way the pitchers were used. There was a lot of on-the-job training on the hill.

That’s not a bad thing if it results in sizable improvement, and Fred Jordan seems very confident about the prospects for this year’s pitching staff, which includes some talented freshmen.

I linked a couple of video Q-and-A sessions in the “Links of Interest” section of Part 1. They feature Jordan answering questions posed by media relations director (and crooner extraordinaire) Mike Hoffman. In the video focusing on pitching, Jordan discusses the possibility of having a freshman closer, among other things.

In that video, Jordan also mentions that Joe Jackson will shoulder even more of the catching load this season. It sounds like Jackson will catch all three games in a weekend series, plus a weekday game, perhaps getting a day off from his receiving duties when the Bulldogs play two weekday games.

It is vitally important that Jackson not get worn down over the course of the season. He was the only Bulldog regular to bat over .300 in SoCon play. His solid work with the bat, combined with his status as a catcher, is why Baseball America pegged him as the #8 pro prospect in the conference. Jackson participated in the Cape Cod League this summer, furthering his development and gaining valuable experience playing against outstanding competition.

Jackson won’t be the only returnee with expectations. I won’t go through the entire roster, but a few other names to follow:

– Educated Bulldog fans should make sure they time their trips to the concession stand so that they don’t miss Bo Thompson’s at bats. The sophomore from Mauldin is capable of producing monstrous, tape-measure home runs. He’s not afraid to take a walk, either. With more consistent hard contact, Thompson could conceivably become one of the league’s premier power hitters.

Mason Davis had a very respectable debut season, starting (and leading off) every game as a freshman. This year, he will be expected to get on base more often, which should lead to an increase in his stolen base totals.

– After a fine freshman campaign in 2011, Drew DeKerlegand struggled at the plate last season as a sophomore. The native of Texas will move to left field this year, which may help him return to the batting form he showed two years ago.

Those players and others are discussed in some depth in the school’s video Q-and-A about position players.

Last year was a banner season for the Southern Conference, which finished the season with an RPI that ranked seventh-best in the country. Three schools advanced to regional play.

The league should still be good in 2013, but it may take a small step back. Several squads are going to have to rebuild their weekend rotations, and two schools (Appalachian State and UNC-Greensboro) will have new coaches.

Most of the nation’s baseball cognoscenti are of the opinion that at least six teams could win the league. Baseball America gave its preseason nod to the College of Charleston, as did the SoCon media. College Baseball Today favors Western Carolina. College Baseball Daily and the league’s coaches like Elon.

The experts do not think much of The Citadel’s chances. Most observers put the Bulldogs in a second tier, with at least two outlets projecting the cadets to miss the SoCon tournament, despite all the returnees from a team that did make the tourney last season.

That is not unlike 1990, when The Citadel was the preseason choice to finish sixth in a seven-team league. The Bulldogs wound up tying for fifth…in the nation.

I won’t go so far as to say that will happen this season, but I could see The Citadel having a campaign not unlike it had in 1994, when after a tough start the team put everything together and went on a huge run that ended in the NCAAs. Like that squad, the 2013 outfit may need some time to jell, but I think it has the talent to make some major noise in the SoCon. (I would prefer not to have a repeat of the 1994 team’s 5-17 start, however.)

I can’t wait for the season to begin. There isn’t anything better than a day at the ballpark, especially when you’re rooting for a winning team.

I’m ready to root for a winning team again.