The search is on for The Citadel’s new baseball coach

Media interest in the position of baseball coach at The Citadel was once a bit on the light side.

The first mention of Chal Port in The News and Courier came in a column by sports editor Evan Bussey on August 30, 1964:

…Chal Port joined The Citadel staff this summer. Port will be head baseball coach as well as serve as a football assistant.

He’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and played two years of professional baseball. For the past six years he served as head [football and baseball] coach at Titusville, Pa., High School.

“As long as he gets us some of those big Pennsylvania linemen, he won’t have to do any coaching,” quipped Jack Hall, another Cadet assistant yesterday. “We’ll set a quota of four tackles and four guards a year.”

Those spare paragraphs on Port came after Bussey devoted most of his column to The Citadel’s new wrestling coach, Dave Fagg (who was also hired to be a football assistant). Both Port and Fagg were also mentioned near the end of a long article on fall football practice, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it throwaway line.

I’m guessing there will be a little more local media coverage when Fred Jordan’s replacement is named…

“Raw” feed of Fred Jordan’s retirement presser at Riley Park (via WCSC-TV)

WCIV-TV report

I enjoyed Fred Jordan’s comments during his press conference. Of particular interest were his thoughts on the SoCon tournament, where he got right to the point:

…unfortunately, when the league moved it for the first time, just for that two-year span, it destroyed that momentum. And it left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths, because it went afar for less money. And that’s not good business. [And the] thing about it, people got tired of The Citadel winning. No brag, just fact.”

(Those last two sentences were presumably for the benefit of former UNCG coach Mike Gaski.)

Jordan is the winningest coach in the history of the Southern Conference, but the league’s honchos probably didn’t enjoy his observations about the fate of the conference tournament. Sometimes, the truth is hurtful.

I would say Jordan’s remarks might hurt his chances of being enshrined in the SoCon Hall of Fame, but his chances of induction are probably close to nil anyway. After all, Chal Port has never been elected — or any other player or coach from The Citadel, for that matter.

I would respectfully disagree with the coach, though, about the idea that The Citadel’s sustained success between 1994-2013 will “never be done again”.

This notion has been pushed by P+C columnist Gene Sapakoff. When mentioning Fred Jordan’s seven NCAA tourney appearances, Sapakoff tweeted that “We’ll be dead before there are another 7” NCAA bids for The Citadel, an idea he doubled down on in a later newspaper column.

Sorry, but I’m not buying the suggestion that The Citadel is incapable of that kind of run in the future. (Also, when it comes to personal days left on the planet, Sapakoff can manage his own timetable, thank you very much.)

It’s not an easy job, and times have certainly changed, but there is still opportunity at The Citadel. It should be pointed out that in one 15-year span, Chal Port’s squads played in five NCAA tournaments, which strikes me as not dissimilar.

I expect the next head coach at The Citadel to have high expectations for the program. The fan base certainly will — and deservedly so.

The Citadel’s last two hires to run the baseball program were:

  • a high school football/baseball coach from Pennsylvania who had no connection to the military college (but who had served in the Air Force)
  • a local high school baseball coach who had played for the previous coach

Both of them wound up spending more than a quarter-century in charge. If the new coach stays at The Citadel until the school’s bicentennial in 2042, he will still have had a shorter career in Charleston than either Port or Jordan.

That is a selling point, by the way.

Will the job “stay in the family”, or will there be a new relative in town wearing light blue and white?

Among possible candidates who played at The Citadel are current assistant coaches David Beckley and Britt Reames; Kyle Bunn, associate head coach and pitching coach for ex-Bulldog Chris Lemonis at Indiana; Chris Swauger, manager of high Class A Peoria in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization; and ETSU coach Tony Skole, a member of The Citadel’s College World Series team in 1990.

Each committee member listed the qualities they wanted to see in the next Citadel coach. Among Senter’s six bullet points are “demonstrated experience in turning programs around as a head coach or an assistant coach” and “preferred candidate with head coach experience.”

The “preferred candidate with head coach experience” line would tend to eliminate most of the realistic alumni candidates, with the exception of Tony Skole — and in the case of Skole, you’re talking about someone who A) already has a job in the SoCon, and B) has been in his current position for 18 years. Would he be interested?

Another potential candidate being bandied about in the press is current North Greenville coach Landon Powell, who is also a former star player at South Carolina (and an ex-major leaguer). As is the case with Skole, I don’t know how interested Powell might be in the job, though he hasn’t exactly taken his name out of consideration yet. There are at least two major questions to be asked about Powell:

  • Would he be able to cope with the unique environment at The Citadel?
  • Would the job be a “stepping-stone” position for him?

The first question, of course, is something that applies to any prospective coach at The Citadel (including alums). The second question is arguably more interesting.

There have only been two head baseball coaches at The Citadel since 1965. The position hasn’t been just another rung on the D-1 ladder for upwardly mobile coaches.

This is 2017, though. What if the best candidates for the job right now are likely to consider it as a way to audition for a post in the SEC or ACC?

That could be the case, and if it is, that opens up the field to a significant degree. There are undoubtedly a bevy of aggressive coaches (including some current D-1 head coaches) who would like the chance to get noticed at a place like The Citadel, a school in the SEC/ACC footprint with a tradition of success and a loyal fan base.

That particular dynamic is definitely something the selection committee will have to consider.

Members of that committee:

  • AD Jim Senter
  • Jay Dowd, CEO of The Citadel Foundation
  • Anthony Jenkins, author of the most famous slide in The Citadel’s baseball history
  • Gene Pinson of the Board of Visitors
  • Col. Jim Scott, president of the Diamond Dogs Club
  • Senior associate AD Geoff Van Dollen.
  • Baseball supporters Jimmy Reed and Wade St. John

Included on Jim Senter’s list of qualifications for the new coach: “Someone who can reengage Citadel alumni and baseball supporters to maximize fundraising, season ticket sales and attendance at Citadel baseball games”. This item has received a little bit of scrutiny (as has Jay Dowd’s inclusion on the selection committee).

Personally, I have no issues with this. After all, Fred Jordan’s second comment at his retirement presser concerned fundraising. I don’t think it’s a knock on the Diamond Dogs Club at all (which has done very good work over the years), but simply a reflection of what it takes to compete at the D-1 level.

You have to be more than just a coach these days. Admittedly, that was always the case. It’s even more of a requirement now, though.

Fred Jordan on recruiting:

On The Citadel’s struggles in recent years: “AAU (travel) baseball really affects the mid-major, and the mid-major that’s a little different…that’s probably the biggest difference from a recruiting standpoint…The Citadel doesn’t get a guy like Terrance Smalls in today’s times…Brian Wiley, I can remember watching Wiley strike out 15 [batters], and [I] was recruiting a guy off his team, that was two years older than him, a hitter…and we ended up getting [Wiley]…It’s a different world, and it’s difficult for everybody. You look around the state, it’s not just The Citadel.

Later, in that same article:

Committee members also emphasized recruiting in a changing college baseball landscape. One member pointed out that Southern Conference Tournament champion UNC Greensboro had as many as 12 transfer players on its roster.

“I don’t know how we do this, but whoever the new coach is, he has to figure out how to compete with that,” the committee member said.

The Citadel has always had to compete with a few schools that featured a heavy dose of transfers, though the transfer phenomenon seems to have accelerated in recent years.

It is just another reason why retention is so important to success at the military college. A coach just can’t fill multiple holes on the roster by bringing in a bunch of transfers.

When it comes to recruiting at The Citadel, football coach Brent Thompson made some comments (in response to a question) at one of his press conferences last season that are well worth repeating:

…really, a lot of it is more the development and retention of those players. I think over the past three years, since I’ve been here, we’ve lost very few players. We’re going to naturally be a better football team when we’ve got fourth- and fifth-year players, rather than those first- and second-year players. We’ve got a veteran ball club at this point, and that’s what we attribute a lot of [our success].

…When it comes to recruiting, the first thing that we really look for are good football players. We know that we can win and we can train good football players. They’ve got to have it inside of them first…

We’ve got to do our research. It takes a long time for us to figure out the players [out there] we want to recruit here. It comes down to the academics, it comes down to the corps of cadets, it comes down to being a good football player.

Sometimes it’s just not a good fit for us, and we understand that, and we can move on from that. [Basketball coach] Duggar Baucom has a great saying: “The next ‘No’ gets me closer to the next ‘Yes’.”

…We know that there are plenty of good football players out there for The Citadel, that fit what we do.

Thompson’s comments ring true for recruiting at any sport at The Citadel. You have to identify players who can compete on the field, in the classroom, and in the corps of cadets. You have to retain those athletes, and you have to develop them into better players.

Someone who is a non-factor as a freshman on the baseball team may turn out to be a key cog in the lineup or a weekend starter three years later, but he won’t be if he is no longer on the roster, or if he hasn’t further enhanced his skill set.

The next coach of The Citadel has to understand that from his first day on the job.

The hiring process will be interesting to watch, even if there won’t be a lot to see. Plenty of folks will be trolling for any and all tidbits until the new coach is named.

It’s an important hire for the military college. Baseball means something at The Citadel. Fred Jordan’s work over the last 26 years is a major reason why it does.

Best of luck to the selection committee.

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.

Riley Report: taking stock before SoCon play begins

This isn’t going to be a long post. Just some observations…

Team record as of March 23, 2016: 9-12 (8-8 at Riley Park, 1-4 on the road)

  • Batting average: .226
  • On-base percentage: .318
  • Slugging: .307
  • Number of players with 10+ at bats who are hitting .300 or better: 0
  • Number of players with 10+ at bats and an OBP greater than .350: 3
  • Number of players with 10+ at bats who are slugging .400 or better: 1 (Mike Deese)
  • Stolen bases: 8 (caught 5 times, picked off 4 times)
  • Number of pitchers used so far this season: 16
  • ERA: 5.25
  • K/9: 8.03
  • BB/9: 4.77
  • Unearned runs/game: 0.62
  • BAA: .278
  • Defensive efficiency: 66.55%
  • Current RPI: 193 (out of exactly 300 D-1 teams)

It’s not the prettiest of pictures, to be sure. The Bulldogs have struggled across the board, but particularly on offense.

There are 300 Division I baseball programs this season. The Citadel’s team OPS of .625 ranks 270th.

That number looks even worse when compared to other SoCon schools. UNCG is ranked first nationally in OPS (with a .982 mark); three other league teams (VMI, Mercer, Samford) are also in the top 15 in that category, with two others (ETSU and Western Carolina) in the top 50. Furman’s ranking of 146 is next-to-last in the conference, but still more than 120 spots ahead of the Bulldogs.

Now, park effects have something to do with that, and The Citadel has played most of its games in a pitcher’s park. Still, there is a big difference between an OPS of .625 and one of .761, which was what the Bulldogs finished with last season (and which was also last in the league).

There is hope, though. In 2015, The Citadel had a higher OPS in conference play (.784) than overall, so perhaps that could also be the case this year. For the Bulldogs to be successful in league play, it will have to be — but the improvement must be considerably more dramatic.

Also, the Diamond Dogs also have to get better at baserunning.

As far as pitching/defense goes, the numbers are mediocre. The Bulldogs have had some really ugly performances, including four games in which they have allowed 12+ runs. However, not all of the pitching has been bad.

From my (admittedly distant) vantage point, it seems to me that Fred Jordan and Britt Reames have thrown a lot of guys into the mix on purpose, to see exactly what they’ve got. It’s one way to figure out who may be useful — if not in the rotation, then in the bullpen.

While The Citadel is only 9-12, the pitching staff has done a fair job of holding leads. The Bulldogs are 4-1 with a lead after six innings, 7-1 after seven innings, and 8-0 after eight innings. The Citadel is 2-1 when tied after the 6th.

Conversely, the Bulldogs are not exactly the comeback kids, at least not yet. That’s not a surprise given the offensive struggles. The Citadel is 3-10 when trailing after six innings.

I wish the Bulldogs had a little more depth in its starting rotation; for one thing, it would be nice to have a better record in midweek games (1-5). There is also always the possibility of one of the weekend starters going down with an injury or losing effectiveness.

On several occasions this season, The Citadel has pieced together a start with what amounts to a “bullpen game” (to borrow a phrase from Tony La Russa). The problem with having seven or eight guys throw an inning or two each is that at least one of them is bound to not have his good stuff that day. That can be true of a normal starting situation as well, of course.

That DER of 66.55% I mentioned in the stat-pack above is in line with recent defensive numbers for The Citadel. It’s not great, but it could be worse. It’s also a little early in the season to get a true statistical marker for defensive play. Just watching the games, the defense appears to be respectable (at least to me). Opponents are 15-26 on stolen base attempts, which is a good percentage as far as the Bulldogs are concerned.

I’m not going to sugarcoat things. Early returns for this season have not been very promising. However, things may not be quite as bad as they seem on the surface.

The overall record is not good, but it is worth noting that the opposition has been very solid. The Bulldogs have played nine different opponents, and those teams have a combined record of 106-79.

There is room for improvement on the pitching staff, and the offense really, really needs to get going. We’ll see if they can get something started this weekend at VMI.

Riley Report: Previewing the 2015 baseball season for The Citadel

BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL

Links of interest:

Schedule and Roster

Season tickets are on sale now

“Quick facts” from the school website

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

Preview article in The Post and Courier

Preview article from 843Sports.com

College Baseball Today‘s national rundown (The Citadel is picked to finish 5th in the league, and is ranked 193rd out of 301 D-1 teams)

SoCon preview, Baseball America (Drew Ellis is BA‘s preseason Freshman of the Year)

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

SoCon preview, D1Baseball.com (The Citadel is picked to finish 8th in the league)

SoCon preview, Perfect Game (The Citadel is picked to finish 6th in the league)

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is tied for 7th in the coaches’ poll, and is 6th in the media poll)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams (Skylar Hunter and Johnathan Stokes made the second team)

Skylar Hunter named to the preseason NCBWA All-America third team

Two quick comments before getting started:

1) Unless I state otherwise, all statistics that follow are for Southern Conference games only. That’s because A) it is easier and generally fairer to compare teams within a specific subset, and B) ultimately, conference play is what most of the season is all about. I do recognize the limitations of the sample size when making comparisons or analyzing trends (The Citadel played 26 league contests in 2014).

2) This year’s preview includes the return of SS+ and SS-, the most meaningless SoCon baseball stats ever created by yours truly. They are also the only SoCon baseball stats created by yours truly. As a bonus, the SS numbers are based on another statistic that is currently out of date!

I’ll explain in detail later in the post.

The last five seasons for The Citadel’s baseball program have gone like this:

– 2010: League champions in the regular season; won the conference tournament
– 2011: Last place
– 2012: Transition season
– 2013: Good year; just missed winning the SoCon tourney
– 2014: Last place

Last year wasn’t a lot of fun for the Diamond Dogs. Expectations were fairly high, but actual results were rather low.

It isn’t like the league got a lot better last year, either. Here are the conference RPI rankings for that same five-year period:

– 2010: 10th
– 2011: 14th
– 2012: 7th
– 2013: 12th
– 2014: 13th

(Note: the numbers in this section are for all games.)

What must The Citadel do to improve in league play? Well, before answering that question, it might be instructive to see just what kind of league the SoCon was in 2014. I’m not talking about power ratings; no, I’m talking about…power.

I’ll put it like this: in 2014, the SoCon was college baseball’s version of a slow-pitch softball league.

The conference led all of D-1 in runs scored per game. SoCon teams averaged 6.05 runs per contest, the only league to break the six-run barrier (the national average was almost a full run less, at 5.08 runs per game).

How did league teams score those runs? By swinging from the heels. SoCon squads averaged 0.73 home runs per contest, again leading the nation.

They also struck out 7.06 times per game, most in D-1 (okay, maybe that wasn’t quite like slow-pitch softball). There were plenty of pitches thrown when SoCon teams were playing, as when not striking out or hitting homers batters were willing to take a walk. The league was fifth (out of 31 conferences) in walks per game.

Oh, and forget about bunting: no conference averaged fewer sacrifice hits.

Four SoCon teams finished in the top 10 nationally in home runs per game: Davidson (3rd), Georgia Southern (6th), Samford (8th), and Western Carolina (10th). Appalachian State and Wofford finished in the top 25 in that category as well.

Meanwhile, The Citadel was last in the league in home runs per game. Obviously, a good part of that is a function of park effects. Not all of it, though.

Given the style of offense employed by most of the league’s teams, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that SoCon pitchers piled up lots of strikeouts, with a K/9 that ranked third nationally (and that almost one-third of those strikeouts came on called third strikes, the fifth-highest percentage among conferences).

Okay, now for some SoCon-only statistics (with innings pitched totals, “0.7” equates to two-thirds of an inning; “0.3” equals one-third of an inning).

Here are batting totals for the league teams in 2014 in conference action:

TEAM AVG AB R HR SLG BB HBP SO OBP OPS
UNCG 0.322 867 163 19 0.461 85 11 141 0.384 0.845
Davidson 0.308 906 182 29 0.472 96 24 218 0.384 0.856
Furman 0.305 920 169 17 0.435 123 20 173 0.391 0.826
App St 0.294 934 176 26 0.454 100 17 165 0.369 0.823
Samford 0.279 941 193 29 0.446 98 28 205 0.361 0.807
W. Carolina 0.279 870 177 28 0.441 108 30 195 0.372 0.813
Elon 0.278 927 151 21 0.412 105 14 205 0.357 0.769
The Citadel 0.277 881 131 17 0.381 95 30 167 0.361 0.742
Wofford 0.251 844 136 22 0.374 89 38 167 0.344 0.718
Ga Southern 0.248 899 135 18 0.364 110 26 215 0.344 0.708
TOTALS 0.284 8989 1613 226 0.425 1009 238 1851 0.367 0.792

 

Pitching totals, 2014 league games only:

TEAM ERA IP R ER BAA WP HBP BB/9 K/9 HR/9 BABIP
Ga Southern 2.82 239 107 75 0.248 11 22 3.01 7.53 0.64 0.299
W. Carolina 4.32 231 128 111 0.265 32 23 3.90 8.38 0.86 0.323
Samford 4.81 236 157 126 0.273 22 31 4.27 7.25 0.84 0.318
Davidson 4.82 222 147 119 0.268 22 19 3.53 7.30 1.01 0.304
Wofford 5.59 227 168 141 0.294 26 20 4.28 8.13 1.15 0.348
Elon 5.75 234.7 180 150 0.288 24 29 3.95 5.91 0.92 0.313
UNCG 6.13 211.3 188 144 0.310 26 40 4.73 7.20 0.51 0.367
Furman 6.15 228.3 173 156 0.288 35 17 4.26 8.12 0.91 0.346
App State 6.27 224 186 156 0.306 28 20 3.17 6.79 1.13 0.346
The Citadel 6.51 225.7 179 163 0.304 26 17 4.83 6.50 0.96 0.343
TOTALS 5.30 2279 1613 1341 0.284 252 238 3.98 7.31 0.89 0.331

 

Fielding totals, 2014 SoCon games:

Team Chances PO A E FLD% DP SBA CSB SBA% PB DER
W. Carolina 984 693 265 26 0.974 18 15 13 0.536 4 0.6824
Furman 993 685 281 27 0.973 18 28 10 0.737 3 0.6614
Wofford 942 681 235 26 0.972 17 25 11 0.694 1 0.6604
G Southern 1046 717 295 34 0.967 19 34 17 0.667 6 0.7078
The Citadel 964 677 255 32 0.967 22 29 8 0.784 2 0.6605
Elon 1005 704 264 37 0.963 17 19 5 0.792 19 0.6939
Samford 1046 708 297 41 0.961 28 19 10 0.655 4 0.6897
UNCG 897 634 227 36 0.960 25 22 12 0.647 7 0.6385
Davidson 920 666 216 38 0.959 16 22 8 0.733 3 0.6994
App State 1009 672 293 44 0.956 28 37 6 0.860 1 0.6573
TOTALS 9806 6837 2628 341 0.965 208 250 100 0.714 50 0.6752

 

I thought it was interesting that the defensive efficiency rating in conference play (.675) was lower than when all games played by league teams were taken into consideration (.688). Of course, park effects would be one potential reason for the discrepancy.

Speaking of park effects, that brings me to my fabled statistical concoctions, SS+ and SS-, and an explanation.

It’s obvious that statistics can be skewed by park effects. The Citadel plays in a “pitcher’s park”. Western Carolina quite clearly does not. I try to account for this.

First, I use the Park Factors calculated by college baseball statistics guru Boyd Nation. His numbers are based on all games played at a school’s home park over the four seasons from 2010-2013. That gives us a chance to make a valid comparison, based on the “building blocks” of the game — runs. Teams want to score runs, and teams want to prevent them. How they do so doesn’t really matter in the long run.

There are a couple of caveats. One is relatively minor, while the other may or may not be.

The four-year period in question includes one year in the pre-BBCOR era, and three years after the new bat standards went into effect. That could have a marginal impact on the ratings, though to be honest I don’t think it’s that big a deal.

However, a slightly larger problem is that these aren’t the updated park factors. Ideally, I would base 2014’s numbers on park factors from 2011-2014, but Nation hasn’t released the data from last year yet (and probably won’t for another month or two). Despite that, I forged ahead.

Riley Park has a Park Factor (PF) of 83, by far the lowest in the league. Childress Field at Hennon Stadium, home of Western Carolina, has a PF of 123, which is the highest in the SoCon for the 2010-13 period.

I took the PF for every team’s home park, came up with a “road park factor” based on the different road stadia each team played in during the 2014 season, and combined them. Each school thus has a total park factor that is based on where it actually played all of its conference games.

Keep in mind that teams played an odd number of home/road games (and some games were rained out, so not every team played the full allotment of 27 league contests). In my formula, I do account for the different number of home/road matchups.

Okay, here we go:

TEAM Home PF Road PF Combined PF Runs SS+
Samford 102.00 94.20 97.66666667 193 1.976109215
Davidson 92.00 111.25 101.24000000 182 1.797708416
App State 115.00 102.80 107.96153850 176 1.630210189
UNCG 106.00 99.25 102.62500000 163 1.588306943
Furman 108.00 105.80 106.73076920 169 1.583423423
W. Carolina 123.00 102.25 113.42307690 177 1.560528993
Elon 99.00 101.00 99.88888889 151 1.511679644
Wofford 88.00 100.91 93.46153846 136 1.455144033
The Citadel 83.00 105.82 92.65384615 131 1.413864674
Ga Southern 102.00 94.00 97.55555556 135 1.383826879
TOTALS 101.08 101.47 101.27692310 1613 1.59266292

Samford, which scored more runs than any team in the league, did indeed have the best offense, even taking park factors into account. This table also suggests that despite finishing third in the league in runs scored, Western Carolina’s offense was actually slightly below league average.

To have had an offense that would essentially match Samford’s production, The Citadel would have had to score 183 runs in conference play last season (7.03 runs/game). The Bulldogs actually scored 131 (5.04 runs/game).

To be a league-average offense, The Citadel needed to score 148 runs (5.69 runs/game).

Now for the pitching/defense:

TEAM Home PF Road PF Combined PF RA SS-
Ga Southern 102.00 94.00 97.55555556 107 1.096810934
W. Carolina 123.00 102.25 113.42307690 128 1.128518142
Davidson 92.00 111.25 101.24000000 147 1.451995259
Samford 102.00 94.20 97.66666667 157 1.607508532
Furman 108.00 105.80 106.73076920 173 1.620900901
App State 115.00 102.80 107.96153850 186 1.722835768
Wofford 88.00 100.91 93.46153846 168 1.797530864
Elon 99.00 101.00 99.88888889 180 1.802002225
UNCG 106.00 99.25 102.62500000 188 1.831912302
The Citadel 83.00 105.82 92.65384615 179 1.931921959
TOTALS 101.08 101.47 101.27692310 1613 1.59266292

Ugh. Not a good look for The Citadel, which allowed the seventh-most runs in SoCon play, but was in reality the worst team in the league at preventing them. Wofford also fares a bit worse when using this metric.

To match the pitching/defense of Georgia Southern, The Citadel would have had to allow only 102 runs in league action (3.92 runs allowed/game). The actual total: 179 (6.88 runs allowed/game).

For league-average pitching/defense, The Citadel’s number was obviously the same as the offensive break-even point, 148 runs (5.69 runs allowed/game).

Now it’s time to take a look at The Citadel’s prospects for 2015. The difference in experience between the position players and pitchers is noticeable.

SoCon-only batting statistics (from 2014) for returning Bulldogs. It’s not a long table:

Player AB R HR BB K AVG OBP SLG% OPS
J. Stokes 97 13 2 11 15 0.289 0.351 0.412 0.763
Bret Hines 57 7 0 2 3 0.281 0.290 0.333 0.623
R. Kilgallen 63 10 1 9 16 0.254 0.365 0.333 0.698
Austin Mapes 14 2 0 2 2 0.286 0.375 0.286 0.661
C. Walsh 20 1 0 1 4 0.200 0.227 0.300 0.527
S. Windham 10 1 0 4 5 0.200 0.400 0.200 0.600
Bailey Rush 18 1 0 1 6 0.167 0.211 0.167 0.378
B. Charpia 3 0 0 0 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
S. Hansen 0 2 0 1 0 0.000 1.000 0.000 1.000
Totals 282 37 3 31 54 0.259 0.328 0.337 0.665

– Total SoCon at bats in 2012 for 2013 returnees: 705
– Total SoCon at bats in 2013 for 2014 returnees: 900
– Total SoCon at bats in 2014 for 2015 returnees: 282

Now that’s a dropoff. There are opportunities galore for position players in 2015. Basically, the Bulldogs appear set at shortstop (with Johnathan Stokes), catcher (Ryan Kilgallen) and maybe third base (potentially a platoon situation). That’s about it.

In 2014, Bulldog returnees had hit 30 home runs in SoCon play during the previous season. This year, that number is three.

From the school’s preview:

The offense will rely on the tradition hallmark of Citadel baseball – doing the little things which produce runs in a variety of ways but does not rely on the long ball – as the departed players accounted for 75 percent of the team’s extra base hits and nearly 70 percent of the RBIs.

Not relying on the long ball definitely goes against the grain when it comes to playing in the Southern Conference. While most of their league opponents will zig, the Bulldogs plan to zag.

Last season, The Citadel had an OBP of .361 in conference play, 7th-best in the league. If the Bulldogs are going to succeed at “small ball” in 2015, they will need to get on base at a better clip, something closer to the team’s OBP in 2013 SoCon action (.404).

Johnathan Stokes had one stolen base in 2014 SoCon play, the only steal in a conference game among Bulldog returnees. Overall, The Citadel was 12 for 20 in stolen base attempts in SoCon action last year, after going 33 for 48 in league games in 2013. It’s hard to swipe a bag when you don’t get on base.

A couple of names to watch who aren’t listed in the above table:

– Drew Ellis was named the preseason SoCon freshman of the year by D1Baseball.com. Ellis (6’4″, 225 lbs.) is a native of Columbia who swings the bat from the left side (but throws from the right). He’ll be competing for a spot at first base.

Shy Phillips played this fall on the football team, of course, but the freshman is also a talented baseball prospect who committed to The Citadel in that sport before his senior season on the gridiron (where the Hartsville resident promptly played well enough to make the Shrine Bowl). Phillips (6’0″, 165 lbs.) will be in the mix for a place in the outfield.

SoCon-only pitching statistics (from 2014) for returning Bulldogs:

Pitcher ERA IP R ER HR BAA K/9 BB/9 BABIP
Austin Mason 5.20 36.3 23 21 3 0.271 6.19 4.46 0.313
L. Meachem 1.69 5.3 1 1 0 0.200 8.44 3.38 0.267
Zach McKay 1.93 9.3 5 2 0 0.222 6.75 4.82 0.267
Skylar Hunter 2.65 17.0 5 5 1 0.155 7.41 6.88 0.186
P.J. Krouse 3.18 5.7 2 2 0 0.333 3.18 1.59 0.350
James Reeves 3.44 18.3 7 7 2 0.253 12.76 1.47 0.362
Zach Lavery 4.50 8.0 6 4 0 0.300 4.50 0.00 0.333
Nate Brecklin 9.66 4.7 7 5 1 0.440 3.86 7.71 0.455
Zach Sherrill 10.44 14.7 19 17 3 0.385 6.14 6.14 0.400
Ross White 11.00 9.0 11 11 0 0.429 6.00 9.00 0.500
Brett Tompkins 12.38 8.0 11 11 3 0.303 4.50 7.88 0.269
A. Livingston 12.94 16.0 26 23 1 0.400 7.88 6.19 0.468
Kevin Connell 15.89 11.3 21 20 4 0.407 5.56 8.74 0.400
C. Walsh 40.91 0.7 3 3 1 0.500 13.50 40.50 0.500
Totals 7.24 164.3 147 132 19 0.313 6.97 5.32 0.356

– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2012 for 2013 returnees: 225.7
– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2013 for 2014 returnees: 197.0
– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2014 for 2015 returnees: 164.3

There are spots to be won on the pitching staff, too, but for another reason. Plenty of Bulldog hurlers got a taste of the action in 2014. However, there weren’t many who had a great deal of success in league play.

As a group, The Citadel’s pitchers didn’t strike out batters as much in 2014 league games (K/9 of 6.50) as they did in 2013 (7.42). Worse, the BB/9 rate went up dramatically (from 2.56 to 4.83).

The gopher ball was also more of a problem in 2014, with an significant increase in HR/9 (from 0.73 to 0.96). Add it all up, and you get a team ERA (6.51) almost two runs per game higher than it was in 2013 league play (4.69).

There are several freshmen who will be candidates for the bullpen, and possibly the starting rotation. I want to make a couple of quick observations about two of the returning hurlers, though:

James Reeves only threw 18.3 innings in SoCon play due to injury. He is back this season, and if his elbow is okay the Summerville native should be a dependable fixture in the weekend rotation.

Reeves pitched very well last year before being shut down. The lefty was also solid in league play in 2013, with a 2.53 ERA that year, allowing just one home run in 32 innings.

Zach Sherrill had knee surgery in the offseason. Sherrill was a very effective (and frequently-used) reliever in 2013, but struggled last season. If he can return to his form of two years ago, he will once again be a weapon in the bullpen.

While Sherrill clearly got rocked at times in 2014 (allowing 3 homers in SoCon play after giving up none in league action the year before; he also walked too many batters), it’s also true he could use a little more defensive help. Sherrill’s BABIP in 2013 was .281; last year, that shot up to .400 (which was also reflected in his batting average against).

A few defensive numbers on which to ruminate:

– The Citadel’s DER in 2012 SoCon play: 68.8% (league DER: 68.4%)
– The Citadel’s DER in 2013 SoCon play: 68.9% (league DER: 66.1%)
– The Citadel’s DER in 2014 SoCon play: 66.0% (league DER: 67.5%)

– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 25
– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 14
– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 22

– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 47 (78.3% success rate for opponents)
– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 29 (74.4% success rate for opponents)
– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 28 (80.0% success rate for opponents)

– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 39
– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 57
– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 32

I should point out that the DER numbers mentioned above are not park-adjusted. Given the spaciousness of Riley Park, it may be that the Bulldogs were a little better defensively than the seventh-best defensive squad in a ten-team league (Georgia Southern led the SoCon with a DER of 70.8% in conference games).

Having said that, even if you bump the Bulldogs up a notch or two, they still wind up average or slightly below average defensively. Average or slightly below average is simply not good enough.

We’ve got to pitch and defend,” [Fred] Jordan said. “We feel like we should have enough starting pitching, and the back end of our bullpen is very experienced. We hope we will pitch extremely well. Defending? Some of the new faces are going to have to get their feet wet, and we’ll have to be patient with that. But if you can pitch and defend, you have a chance.”

The SoCon’s reshuffling means that this year three new schools are in the league (Mercer, East Tennessee State, and VMI), while four have departed (Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Elon, and Davidson). The conference now has nine baseball teams (Chattanooga dropped its program over thirty years ago).

Mercer and East Tennessee State were most recently in the Atlantic Sun conference, and both made regional appearances two years ago (2013). That season, the Bears were the regular season league champions, while ETSU won the A-Sun tournament under the tutelage of noted clutch hitter Tony Skole.

The Buccaneers had a losing season last year, though they were competitive (27-30). Mercer won 38 games (the fifth consecutive season the Bears had won at least that many games), but went 2-and-BBQ in the conference tourney.

Both East Tennessee State and Mercer should fit right in with the bombs-away nature of the SoCon. Mercer was 15th nationally in home runs per game last season, while ETSU was tied for 24th overall in the category.

VMI was 25-23 last year, with an 11-16 record in the Big South. In stark contrast to the Bucs and Bears, the Keydets hit just 11 home runs in 48 games. The paucity of circuit clouts was a two-way street, however, as VMI’s pitchers only allowed 16 homers in 2014.

In December, VMI named Jonathan Hadra as its new baseball coach, after Marlin Ikenberry unexpectly resigned. Hadra, a 2004 graduate of the school, is the only first-time head baseball coach in the SoCon this season.

ETSU has a relatively new park, Thomas Stadium (referred to colloquially as “The Thom”; at least, that is what Wikipedia claims). It opened in 2013. In a bit of a scheduling fluke, The Citadel’s baseball team will not travel to any of the three new members in 2015. Mercer, ETSU, and VMI all play the Bulldogs in Charleston.

Of course, those three schools will make a return trip to Riley Park for the 2015 Southern Conference baseball tournament, which returns to the Holy City this season.

With eight league opponents this season, The Citadel will play 24 SoCon contests, twelve at home (ETSU, Mercer, VMI, Wofford) and twelve on the road (Western Carolina, UNCG, Samford, Furman). The league opener for the Bulldogs is March 27 in Cullowhee, against WCU.

The non-conference schedule is interesting. There are no early-season “tournaments” at Riley Park this season, however.

The Citadel’s non-league slate includes a fair share of games against former league opponents (College of Charleston, Georgia Southern, and Elon). Air Force comes to town for the opening weekend. The Bulldogs also have three-game home series with Lafayette, UMBC, and Alabama State.

The Citadel plays midweek games against North Florida and several in-state squads, including Coastal Carolina, Winthrop, and Charleston Southern. As always, The Citadel has a home-and-home with South Carolina.

Also as always, there will be no games versus Clemson. The Tigers have not played the Bulldogs in Charleston since 1990.

Boyd Nation put together a preseason “strength of schedule” feature on his website for this season. Of course, no one knows in February what a team’s actual strength of schedule will be.

That said, I was curious as to how programs put together their non-conference schedules. Ranking the preseason SoS numbers, this is how it shakes out for the SoCon:

119 – Samford
149 – UNCG
180 – VMI
184 – Furman
186 – The Citadel
187 – East Tennessee State
197 – Western Carolina
208 – Mercer
280 – Wofford

The two teams that finished 1-2 in the preseason SoCon media poll have two of the three (presumed) weakest OOC schedules.

Just in case you were wondering, here are a few other teams’ non-conference SoS rankings:

1 – Stanford
2 – Cal State Fullerton
3 – Fresno State
4 – Pacific
5 – San Diego

(1 through 5 are California Dreamin’)

25 – Coastal Carolina
38 – Indiana (Chris Lemonis, immediately followed by…)
39 – Louisville (…Dan McDonnell)
45 – Liberty (ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason Top 25)
51 – Georgia Southern
55 – Clemson
59 – Appalachian State
85 – Kennesaw State (also ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason Top 25)
87 – College of Charleston

128 – Vanderbilt (the defending national champion, almost immediately followed by…)
130 – Virginia (…last season’s runner-up)
132 – Elon
168 – North Carolina
172 – North Carolina State
176 – South Carolina
237 – Winthrop
258 – Charleston Southern
296 – Army
300 – Lehigh
301 – Navy (there are 301 D-1 teams)

In the end, none of that will likely mean anything. It’s just early-season fun.

Odds and ends:

– Just like last season, this year’s edition of the Bulldogs will include three Austins and three Zachs. Five of the six Austins/Zachs are pitchers.

– In a further attempt to encourage fans to buy scorecards, The Citadel will also feature twins, freshmen Philip and Jacob Watcher. Both are expected to see plenty of time in the infield and on the hill.

– Zach Sherrill and the Watcher brothers are three of seven players on the roster from Sumter, which appears to be making a 21st-century attempt to become the Official Small Town of The Citadel. I am sure that Orangeburg, Camden, and possibly Kingstree will continue to battle for that title, however (although there is no player from Orangeburg on this year’s roster, which could come back to haunt Fred Jordan).

– The tallest of the Bulldogs is senior righthander Brett Tompkins, who is 6’5″. There are seven players listed on the roster at 5’9″; I bet at least one of them is shorter than that.

– Of the 45 players on the roster, 38 are from South Carolina. Of the seven Bulldogs from out of state, freshman catcher Justin Craft‘s hometown (Waldorf, Maryland) is the longest distance from Charleston.

– There are eighteen “true” freshmen among the Diamond Dogs, along with three redshirt freshmen.

– New volunteer assistant coach Aaron Gershenfeld was a catcher at Louisville, where he played for former Bulldogs Dan McDonnell (the Cardinals’ head coach) and Chris Lemonis (now helming the program at Indiana). Gershenfeld is slated to be the team’s hitting coach and will also work with the catchers.

I’m looking forward to the 2015 campaign. Unfortunately, I’ll have to be a bit of a fair-weather fan (literally) for the first month or so, as my blood is still a bit thin. I’ll be faithfully watching the SoCon Digital Network, though, and listening to cult faves Andy and The Chief (“This is the out we came here for!”).

Having said that, the weather for the opening weekend looks promising, and I plan to be at Riley Park for at least one game of the series against Air Force. I hope a lot of other fans make an appearance, particularly on Opening Day — which also happens to be Friday the 13th. Don’t let triskaidekaphobia stop you from seeing the Diamond Dogs.

The Citadel is not favored to win the Southern Conference this season. Truth be told, the Bulldogs are not expected to be serious contenders for the title, as this year’s team will feature a lot of players who weren’t starters in 2014, along with a bunch of freshmen. Rebuilding is a word being thrown around in some circles.

A lack of experienced players, some freshmen, rebuilding. Hmm…that reminds me of something:

We are not reloading; we are in a rebuilding process.  Our team is made up of reserves of past years and freshmen who will get the opportunity to play this year and hopefully be up to the challenge…Our baseball accomplishments measured by victories this year could be moderate.  From our players we need a dedication of purpose, firm self-discipline and tenacious determination.  Hard work and aggressive play must overcome our limitations.

We will be playing off the enthusiasm of youth, and that should result in some entertaining baseball.  We must judge this team on the basis of their performance, according to their individual abilities and improvement throughout the season.  We want to teach them not to beat themselves and to always play with a fighting spirit and essential mental toughness.

We need to stay out of the way of line drives and recover foul balls so that we can stay within our budget.

– Chal Port, from The Citadel’s 1990 Baseball Media Guide

Go chase down those foul balls. It’s time for baseball season.

The Citadel begins its search for a new AD

On Tuesday, Larry Leckonby resigned as director of athletics at The Citadel to take a similar job at Catawba College, a Division II school in North Carolina.

In doing so, he became the first “modern” AD at The Citadel to take another full-time position. The previous three directors of athletics at the school (Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, and Les Robinson) all retired after their respective tenures at the military college.

The move was not unexpected. Indeed, last month a Clemson-oriented website breathlessly reported that “Clemson Associate Athletic Director Bill D’Andrea is the leading candidate to become the new athletic director at The Citadel”, which was news to just about everyone, since at the time the position was occupied (more on that later in this post).

At the time, Leckonby told The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell “Not that I know of,” in response to a question as to whether or not he was leaving. However, rumors persisted through the end of April and into May.

There is a whiff of “jump or be pushed” in assessing the reasons for Leckonby’s departure.

In six years, he developed a reputation as being good at balancing a budget. Some observers occasionally maligned him as a “bean counter”, which was probably unfair.

For one thing, bean counters are necessary. Leckonby had work to do on that front when he first arrived in Charleston. From all accounts, he handled it well.

However, Leckonby’s time at the school was marked by generally unsuccessful performances by The Citadel’s varsity teams. While he was AD, the department only won one SoCon team title (2010 baseball).

The rifle team did capture the SEARC championship in 2011 (the SoCon doesn’t sponsor rifle). It is also only fair to note that the wrestling team had some truly outstanding individual accomplishments in the last few years.

The Citadel’s highest-profile sports, though, were a sore spot. In the last four decades, the military college has only had five school years during which the football, basketball, and baseball teams all had losing records. However, three of those years have come in the last four campaigns.

Leckonby’s hiring of Chuck Driesell as head basketball coach has yet to produce on-court success, to say the least. The football program has continued a 15-year rut (and counting) of mostly sub-.500 seasons, and even the Diamond Dogs have scuffled as of late.

All of The Citadel’s varsity sports are important to the college, but the “big three” have a special place in the hearts of the school’s alums/supporters. It hurts the department as a whole when none of them are doing well.

Leckonby was perceived in some quarters as being largely indifferent to a variety of issues of varying importance. Just to name a few: the corps of cadets’ seating during football gamesthe overall ambiance at Johnson Hagood Stadium; the disposition of the cheerleading squad; the mascot program; and the much-criticized video streaming service.

I’m not going to throw him under the bus for all of that, largely because it’s hard for me to determine how much of that was him being difficult (or shortsighted) and how much was Leckonby simply following orders. You can’t blame him for everything.

In accepting the position at Catawba, Leckonby stated that he wanted to focus on “one-on-one engagement with Catawba’s coaching staff, its student-athletes and with all of those who support the athletics program.” That’s an admirable desire. I wish him well at Catawba. I’m sure everyone else who supports The Citadel does, too. 

I think the newly open position will be an attractive one. It isn’t an easy job by any means (and may get more difficult as the years go by).

However, there is a lot to be said for running the department of athletics at an outstanding school, located in Charleston, with a loyal fan base, and that has a history of being patient with administrators and coaches (the person hired for the job will become only the fifth AD at The Citadel since 1957). It’s a good gig.

Already, a number of people have been mentioned as candidates. The first name that popped up, as mentioned above, was Bill D’Andrea, a longtime Clemson administrator who is retiring from that school. D’Andrea has not been particularly shy about his interest (confirming as much late Tuesday morning in an email to WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau).

I am more than a little dubious about the “sources” referenced by Clemson Insider‘s William Qualkinbush, who suggested in April that D’Andrea was “the leading candidate” for the position. His article also initially stated that The Citadel was a private institution; if a media member doesn’t know enough about the school to know that it is public, then I’m not really confident in any tips he is getting about the inner workings of the Board of Visitors.

Clemson Insider remains confident in its reporting. Fair enough.

D’Andrea has a fine reputation and is very popular in key Clemson circles. However, he is just one of many qualified people who will be in the mix. Other names that will be (or have been) mentioned for the job: Jerry Baker, John Hartwell, Fred Jordan, Geoff Von Dollen, Robby Robinson, Harvey Schiller, and Kelly Simpson. Some of them may not actually be interested. Many will be.

The search for a new AD should be a wide-ranging one that leaves no stone unturned. Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier wrote in his Wednesday column that there is “no need to search from sea to shining sea and bring in 11 candidates for first-round interviews.” I completely disagree.

I have no idea where he came up with the number eleven, but if it is in the school’s best interests to bring in that specific number of people for initial interviews, then the search committee should do so. And yes, I think a “search from sea to shining sea” is more than appropriate. It’s necessary.

This is an important hire. It has be made with due process and careful consideration.

Obviously, the new AD has to be able to grasp what The Citadel is all about sooner rather than later. That is just one of many attributes the new director of athletics must have. Two others are perhaps of the utmost importance.

1) He or she must be a great fundraiser. Not a good fundraiser, but a great one — both from a personal perspective, and in terms of organizational ability.

If a candidate tells the search committee, “I can raise $20 million per year,” the first question a committee member asks should be, “What about $40 million?”

2) The new AD has to have a long-term vision for varsity athletics, one that matches the needs of the institution.

There are some supporters of The Citadel (including me) who believe the school should have a more expansive sports portfolio. Not everyone is on board with that line of thinking, of course. However, I think most alums/supporters would agree with the idea that an educational institution should be treated as an investment, rather than a series of journal entries in a general accounting ledger.

I want the next director of athletics to be an imaginative thinker and a creative force of nature. I want him or her to have big plans, and possess the wherewithal to make those plans come to life.

The next few weeks are going to be fascinating. I hope they will also be productive.

I’ll be watching, and listening, and maybe pontificating from time to time.

Won’t we all…

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:

Schedule

“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:

Player AB R HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
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:

AB R HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
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:

G GS IP H R ER HR ERA K/9 BB/9
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:

G GS IP H R ER HR ERA K/9 BB/9
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.

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 ESPN3.com. 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.

Link

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.