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: 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.

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

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

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

Links of interest:


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

2013 “Quick Facts” from the school website

Preview article in The Post and Courier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Jordan talks to Phil Kornblut about the upcoming season

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

2010: Southern Conference regular season and tournament champions

2011: Last place

2012: Transitional season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last year’s league team batting statistics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, now for the magic!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riley Report: midway through the SoCon campaign

The Citadel has now played fifteen Southern Conference baseball games so far this season, with fifteen more still to come. It’s a good time to take stock in where the team stands at this point. I’m going to discuss the team’s play as it relates to the league as a whole, and also some peripheral statistics associated with the action on the field.

First, though, let’s revisit Game 15 of the league campaign, which is almost certainly the most absurd comeback victory by any team this season in the entire country. For those who have been living under a rock for the past few days, the situation was as follows:

UNC- Greensboro 7, The Citadel 2. Bottom of the ninth inning at Riley Park, Bulldogs down to their last out. No one on base.

With two outs, Fred Jordan elected to give Ryne Hardwick a pinch-hit appearance. The native of Conway entered the game with only one base hit as a Bulldog, but he promptly doubled down the left field line off of UNCG pitcher Dylan Hathcock. This probably didn’t cause much concern for UNCG, although perhaps the Spartans should have been worried, as Hardwick had actually played a role in last year’s wild 17-14 victory over the College of Charleston, scoring a run in that contest.

It seems extreme baseball craziness can happen when Ryne Hardwick enters the fray…

After Nick Orvin legged out an infield single, Mason Davis doubled down the left field line, scoring Hardwick. At this point in the contest, UNCG coach Mike Gaski summoned Brennen James from the bullpen to replace Hathcock. James then proceeded to walk Justin Mackert on five pitches, loading the bases.

Joe Jackson came to the plate, representing the tying run. Jackson grounded to first, but UNCG first baseman Lloyd Enzor’s throw to a covering James was low and wide, and the pitcher couldn’t handle it.

Grant Richards was the next Bulldog to stride to the plate, and like Mackert he would walk on five pitches. Then Drew DeKerlegand would also walk on five pitches. That was it for UNCG’s James, who was replaced by Zach Furl.

After DeKerlegand reached, The Citadel trailed 7-6 and had the tying run at third base and the winning run on second. Hayden Hendry entered the game to pinch-run for Grant Richards. The batter was Calvin Orth, who had started the inning by grounding out to shortstop. Orth would again ground to shortstop — but this time UNCG shortstop Kris Richards bobbled the ball while moving to the second base bag. All hands were safe, and the game was tied.

Johnathan Stokes’ first at bat in the inning had resulted in a fly ball to left field. So would his second. Instead of being caught, though, the ball sailed over left fielder Zach Leach’s head. Hendry scored, and the Bulldogs had somehow won the game.

“You have got to be kidding me!” screamed Danny Reed over the radio.

I couldn’t believe it either. It was a great comeback for the Bulldogs, helped by UNCG’s decidedly unclutch pitching and defense. The Spartans could have ended the game several times, but were unable to make routine plays or consistently throw strikes. Credit The Citadel’s players for not giving in or giving up, though. Three other thoughts:

1) Why was the UNCG outfield playing so far in for Stokes? A left fielder at normal depth probably would have caught the eventual game-winning hit. It’s as if the Spartans thought there were less than two outs. I haven’t seen an outfielder as close to the infield in that situation since the days of Rafael Belliard.

2) The odds of winning a game when down five runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth are…not good. You can get an idea of the mathematics involved using a win probability calculator. Of course, something designed for MLB isn’t ideal for analyzing college baseball, but it’s probably a reasonable approximation. A 0.0006 win probability for The Citadel sounds about right.

3) You can bet that Mike Gaski will support an offer from Yemen to host the Southern Conference Baseball Tournament before he does a bid from the City of Charleston.

The three-game sweep of UNC-Greensboro improved the Bulldogs’ record in SoCon play to 7-8, which is currently good enough for seventh place in the league standings. The top eight teams in the conference will advance to the league tournament, which this year (and next) is being played at Fluor Field in Greenville instead of Charleston. (Actually, the tournament may not return to Charleston, but that’s a subject for another post.)

Longtime observers of The Citadel’s baseball program may be disappointed in being in seventh place, but to be honest I think a reasonable goal for this year’s team is to simply qualify for the league tournament. My reasoning for this is as follows:

– Last year The Citadel finished last in the conference for the first time. This happened the year after a championship season, so it came as a bit of a shock. It may be almost as shocking to realize that this last-place finish came in a year in which the league was down.

In 2010, the SoCon had a conference RPI that ranked as 9th-best nationally among all leagues. In 2011, though, that ranking dropped to 15th overall. This season, the league has had a good deal of success in non-conference play, and as a result the SoCon is currently ranked 8th in RPI.

In other words, The Citadel is trying to move up in the standings from one year to the next while the league as a whole is much improved from last year. The seventh-best team this year is probably considerably better than the seventh-best team from last season — and of course, the Bulldogs weren’t seventh last year. They were eleventh.

– Jeff Hartsell wrote recently about the team’s struggles (this came prior to the sweep of UNCG). I think the key point he made was about attrition. For any varsity sport at The Citadel, keeping attrition low is critical. The baseball program has had a tough run over the last couple of years when it comes to losing players, particularly pitchers, and it was a factor (though not the only factor) in last season’s collapse.

This year’s team is quite young, with three true freshmen manning the middle infield spots and a host of frosh hurlers making contributions. There are actually more freshmen (redshirt and “true”) listed on the roster in The Citadel’s game notes (18) than sophomores, juniors, and seniors combined (17).

Everyone associated with The Citadel knows the difficulty freshmen face in adjusting to life at the military college, both on the field and off. They are not likely to be consistently excellent on the diamond.

The one thing that has to happen, though, is that this year’s crop of freshmen needs to return in force next season. When a program at The Citadel starts turning over freshmen year after year, that’s when it gets in trouble. Retention is all-important, not just for the school’s mission, but for the success of its varsity teams.

– There is one other issue that might have an impact on The Citadel’s overall record (not necessarily its record in league play). The relatively recent compression of the college baseball schedule puts The Citadel at a bit of a disadvantage, even in good years for the Bulldogs. Having to play 56 games in a 13-week period means that more midweek games are being played, and that can test a team’s overall depth, particularly in regards to pitching.

The Citadel has never really been known as a team with a great deal of pitching depth. The Bulldogs have generally had good pitching staffs, but those staffs were built for conference games played on the weekends.

In 2010, The Citadel won the Southern Conference with a league record of 24-6. The Bulldogs wound up losing fewer conference games that year than they did games played on Tuesday. The Citadel was 1-7 on Tuesday.

I remember arguing a little that season with Baseball America college baseball writer Aaron Fitt about The Citadel’s viability as an at-large candidate. He pointed to the Bulldogs’ less-than-stellar non-league record as a reason for doubt. My argument in response was that The Citadel was winning a top-10 league. I could have also noted that regional matchups are not played on Tuesdays.

Basically, what I’m saying is that given the “tighter” college baseball schedule of today, The Citadel may drop an occasional midweek game that it shouldn’t. That won’t be a problem for conference play, and will only matter in years when the team is a legitimate at-large candidate for an NCAA bid.

I think the league can be broken into two distinct groupings this season. There are six teams that will be in the league tournament unless something strange happens (Appalachian State, Elon, Western Carolina, Georgia Southern, Samford, and the College of Charleston). Then there is another group of five teams, with likely two of them making the tourney. Right now The Citadel leads that group, which also includes Furman, Davidson, UNC-Greensboro, and Wofford.

The Citadel has already played UNCG and Wofford, both at home. The Bulldogs won five of those six games, which is important. The Citadel will play Furman later in the season at Riley Park, and will play Davidson on the road.

The Bulldogs’ only other home conference series remaining is against Georgia Southern. The Citadel faces a short trip to Patriots Point for a series against the College of Charleston, and a longer trip to Elon.

In my baseball preview a couple of months ago, I noted that The Citadel’s team defense was awful last season, regressing from a respectable defensive efficiency of 66.8% in league play in 2010 (slightly better than average) to 63.2% in 2011 (worst in the league by far). That differential is even worse when you consider that the new bat standards that went into effect for the 2011 season resulted in generally higher DER across the board.

The Citadel’s defensive efficiency in 2012 stands at 67.2% through 15 conference games, a significant improvement from 2011. It is probably not quite as good as the 2010 number once the changed bat standards are taken into account, but is still respectable.

There isn’t enough readily available statistical information yet to compare The Citadel’s DER to that of its conference brethren this year, but I will hazard a guess that the Bulldogs have been an average defensive team in league action. The fielding percentage stats would indicate The Citadel is actually nearer the bottom of the pack than the top, but I think that’s slightly misleading. There is definitely still room for improvement in this area, however.

Comparing pitching ERA from 2010, 2011, and 2012 (league play only):

Year    Dogs  SoCon avg.
2010    4.26       6.15
2011    5.44       4.69
2012    5.70       4.72

As you can see, the development of the mound staff by new pitching coach Britt Reames is still a work in progress. (The conference ERA over the last two seasons reflects the impact the new bat standards have had on the formerly hitter-friendly league.)

You have to be careful with sample sizes, of course. For 2012, keep in mind that nine of The Citadel’s fifteen games have been at home, at a “pitcher’s park”. On the other hand, three of the six road games took place at Smith Stadium in Boone, which per Boyd Nation had a park factor rating of 124 for the previous four seasons.

Freshmen are responsible for more than 42% of the innings pitched by Bulldog hurlers (that’s for all games, not just league contests), so there is a reasonable likelihood of improvement as the season continues. Reames has not been afraid to use a quick hook, but he has also not hesitated to give pitchers multiple opportunities (five of the frosh pitchers have appeared in at least twelve games so far).

My own sense of Reames’ approach, which may be completely off base, is that he is being careful with the young pitchers, not just from a physical standpoint, but a psychological one. He isn’t inclined to let someone hang around on the hill too long and get absolutely crushed.

I do have one concern with the pitching going forward, and that is the K rate. The Citadel’s pitching staff averaged 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 2010, and had a still solid 7.8 K/9 ratio in 2011. This season, however, that number has dropped to 5.5/9 in SoCon play. That’s too low.

The Citadel’s pitching staff has traditionally had strong strikeout rates, though it is also true that one pitcher (i.e., Asher Wojciechowski) can make a big difference in the overall numbers. Ultimately, the Bulldogs’ pitchers are going to have to miss more bats in order to reach their desired level of success.

I do want to highlight two pitchers who are getting the job done this year, but neither is a freshman. Friday starter Austin Pritcher has thrown at least 5 1/3 innings in each of his nine starts, with a solid 3.42 ERA. He has been a much-needed constant in the starting rotation.

Senior sidearmer Ryan Hines has appeared in 25 of The Citadel’s 37 games, all out of the bullpen, and has proven to be the kind of reliable setup man/closer type that any good team needs. If the Bulldogs qualify for the SoCon tourney, though, Hines is going to need some help in the ‘pen if The Citadel hopes to do more than its fair share of post-season damage.

The Bulldogs are still waiting for their bats to awaken, particularly in conference action. In 2011, the team batting average of .280 was a tad subpar, but it looks great when compared to the current .250 BA that The Citadel is sporting in SoCon play. The Bulldogs had an OPS of 741 last season in league games, which tied for 7th-best in the conference. This season, that number has fallen to 701, which is somehow still better than three other league teams (UNCG, Davidson, and Wofford, with the Terriers having an anemic 600 OPS).

I think the hitting will improve, which may be an optimistic viewpoint, but one that I believe is grounded in reality. Nick Orvin is not a .266 hitter; he’s better than that, and there is still plenty of time this season to prove it.

It may be that he has been the victim of some excellent pitching. Earlier in the season, Orvin was getting in some tough counts while at the plate. I took a lot at his plate appearances through March 11, and found that he was batting .500 when the first pitch of the AB was a ball but only .063 when it was a strike (or if he put the first pitch into play). At that time, he was seeing a lot of first-pitch strikes.

Orvin is going to get his hits, eventually. So will Joe Jackson, who I am hoping will also develop some more power. Another guy who should be about ready to break out is Drew DeKerlegand, who is only batting .250 after hitting .317 in his freshman campaign.

Those players are all proven commodities with a bat in their hands. It may be that opposing pitchers are working around them, not giving them good pitches to hit, and taking their chances with the bottom of the order. One of those batters in the lower part of the lineup needs to get hot. If so, it could prove contagious (to borrow one of Fred Jordan’s pet expressions).

It’s been a bumpy road at times this season for the baseball team. There are signs, however, that the path ahead may be a bit smoother. Don’t be surprised if there are still a few potholes to navigate, though. After all, we’re talking about The Citadel.

Riley Report: The Citadel begins its 2012 baseball campaign

The Citadel will open its 2012 baseball season on Friday, February 17 at 4 pm ET, with a game against Towson, to be played at Joe Riley Park in Charleston. The contest is part of The Citadel Memorial Challenge, an event which also includes Richmond and Liberty.

So far, winter has been unexpectedly mild in the Palmetto State. February debuted with high temperatures in the 70s. Soon, however, there will be a decided chill in the air, the wind will begin to howl, and local TV meteorologists will begin to discuss the potential threat of freezing rain or possibly even snow. How do I know this will happen?

I know because college baseball season is almost here. When it comes to wintry weather, early-season college baseball is the equivalent of the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia.

Despite that near-inevitability, I am looking forward to the upcoming season. Before that glance forward, though, I think it might be a good idea to revisit the recent past, to see just what this season may bring in terms of success for The Citadel.

With that in mind, what follows is a somewhat statistical review of last season’s diamond debacle. It includes comparisons between the 2010 and 2011 campaigns, which were as different as night and day. To briefly recap:

2010: 43-22 overall, 24-6 SoCon (first). That included a road/neutral record of 16-12.

2011: 20-36 overall, 8-22 SoCon (11th and last). That included a road/neutral record of 3-18.

Yikes. The Bulldogs went from winning both the regular season and tournament titles in the Southern Conference to finishing last in the league for the first time ever, not even qualifying for the conference tournament. What happened?

One thing that happened, of course, was some natural turnover in personnel, but that happens every year. Maybe it’s not every season that you lose a dominant #1 starter like Asher Wojciechowski or an outstanding infield mainstay like Bryan Altman, but The Citadel has had to replace good players before.

A decline in team pitching was a major problem, which in and of itself would have made the Bulldogs also-rans in the league, but then was combined with (and affected by) a horrific drop in the quality of team defense, resulting in the horror show that was Bulldog baseball in 2011.

I’m going to start mentioning stats now, some more dorky than others, so don’t say you haven’t been warned. Unless stated otherwise, all of these statistics reflect conference play only. This makes it easier to compare schedules, teams, and home/away considerations. You don’t get anomalies, either good (Logan Cribb’s masterpiece against South Carolina) or bad (losing 9-0 at Winthrop). Besides, a season is usually judged on how the team fares in league play.

Before I go too far with this, I do want to briefly mention park effects. Players are going to put up different numbers at Riley Park than they would at Clements Stadium, just to name two of the league’s more distinctive parks, and when half their games are played at their respective home fields, that will affect team statistics accordingly. Of course, when you compare things on a year-by-year basis it’s easier to see how those statistics translate.

Incidentally, Boyd Nation’s Park Factors data for the 2008-2011 time period indicates what most observers would probably suspect: The Citadel plays in the SoCon’s most pitcher-friendly facility, by far. Most of the league parks favor hitters, particularly those at Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, and UNC-Greensboro.

Every scheduled league game save one (Furman-Davidson Game 3) was played in 2011, so every school other than the Paladins and Wildcats played 30 SoCon contests, 15 at home and 15 on the road. As it happens, the same thing occurred in 2010 (just one cancelled game in the league). There were 164 conference games played in each season. That works out well for comparative purposes.

There was one huge on-field difference that changed things in the SoCon, and in college baseball in general. That would be the new bat regulations. The easiest way to statistically demonstrate the difference in the bats from 2010 to 2011 is this: in 2010, SoCon teams averaged 7.1 runs per game in league play. In 2011, that number dropped to 5.7 runs per game. The league no longer featured hitters with slow-pitch softball numbers, with the notable exception of Georgia Southern’s Victor Roache (who had one of the more remarkable campaigns in recent conference history).

The Citadel’s batting statistics declined markedly in 2011. That can partly (not completely) be attributed to the bats. The Bulldogs had an OPS of .901 in 2010; that number dropped to .741 in 2011. However, the league as a whole also saw a decrease in OPS. In 2010, the league OPS was .855; in the 2011 campaign, .768 was the mean. The Citadel finished fourth in OPS in conference play in 2010, but tied for seventh in the same category last season.

Most of the decline in OPS for the Bulldogs was a result of batting average. After a team batting average of .321 in 2010, The Citadel only batted .280 as a club in 2011. The Bulldogs also didn’t draw as many walks in 2011 (119 vs. 96). Basically, The Citadel drew one fewer walk per league game in 2011, and had 1.4 fewer hits per contest. For comparison, the conference as a whole in 2011 had about the same number of walks per contest as in 2010, but teams averaged about a hit per game less.

The difference in the bats really showed in the league’s power numbers. In 2010, there were 1131 extra-base hits in SoCon action. That number fell to 873 last season. Even with Roache’s heroics, the total number of homers in conference play dropped from 374 to 219.

The Citadel’s extra-base hits declined at a rate similar to that of the rest of the league, although instead of hitting slightly more homers than league average, as it did in 2010, the Bulldogs’ 18 home runs in league play during the 2011 season lagged slightly behind the conference average (20). The trend held true for doubles as well.

In a recent radio interview, head coach Fred Jordan suggested that the company which makes The Citadel’s bats may have been a bit behind the curve in terms of adjusting to the new NCAA bat standards, and didn’t produce mondo-mashing metal quite as successfully as other bat manufacturers used by Bulldog opponents. That may have affected the team’s hitting (at least, in relation to other teams’ hitting). Jordan seemed to believe that any problems in that respect had been worked out for the upcoming season.

The Bulldogs’ pitching wasn’t nearly as good in 2011 as it was in 2010. After finishing first in league play in a variety of pitching categories (including ERA and strikeouts) during its championship season, The Citadel’s hurlers suffered through a disappointing 2011 campaign, one in which team ERA increased dramatically (from 4.26 to 5.44) despite the new bats generally holding down offense. The conference as a whole saw a decline in ERA from 6.15 to 4.69 (to reiterate, all these statistics reflect results from league games only).

Interestingly, Bulldog pitchers still maintained a solid K rate (7.8 per game). That isn’t quite as good as the 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings from the 2010 staff, but it was still enough to put The Citadel near the top of the league in the category. On the other hand, walks allowed increased from 3.2  to just over 4 per 9IP in conference play.

The Bulldog pitching staff gave up 9.4 hits per nine innings in 2010; in 2011, that number rose to almost 12 per 9IP. Included in that total was an increase in extra-base hits allowed, despite the nerf-like war clubs being used around the league. The Citadel allowed 28 homers in 30 SoCon games, up from 19 in 2010.

Curiously, the Bulldogs hit only 15 batters in those 30 conference games, tied with Davidson for the league low. That is something which can be interpreted in different ways — good control, lack of aggression/pitching inside, opponents getting out of the way because they want to hit, etc.

It’s hard to fully judge pitching without taking defense into consideration, and that is particularly the case with the 2011 Bulldogs, probably one of the worst fielding teams The Citadel has had in quite a while. One way to measure that pitching BABIP (batting average on balls in play).

In other words, forget about homers, strikeouts, walks, HBPs, or anything the pitcher (at least nominally) controls. What was the batting average for balls hit into the field of play? That should give one a decent idea of a team’s fielding prowess, or lack thereof.

— In 2010, The Citadel’s pitching staff had a BABIP of .345, better than the league average (.353) and fourth in the conference in that category.

— In 2011, The Citadel’s pitching staff had a BABIP of .391, much worse than the league average (.338, thanks to those new bat regs) and dead last in the conference in that category.

It’s no secret the Bulldogs struggled defensively last season. The Citadel committed the most errors in league play (58 in 30 games) and had the worst fielding percentage (by far). The reality was actually worse than the error totals, though, because (as BABIP tends to highlight) the defensive woes were as much about the plays not made as they were about errors on plays attempted. The Bulldogs also finished last in the league in total chances and double plays.

In 2010, The Citadel’s defensive efficiency (how many balls in play were turned into outs) was solid at 66.8%, a little better than the conference average. That was fourth-best in the league, more than good enough for a team with strikeout pitching and dependable hitting. Incidentally, that season South Carolina and Texas each had a DER of 72.6% to lead the country (that obviously included every game played by those two teams, not just SEC/Big XII contests).

Nationally, DER increased in 2011 (again, the bats were the key factor). However, the Bulldogs’ defensive efficiency nosedived to 63.2%, by some distance the worst in the conference. Western Carolina was the only other league team with a DER  lower than 67%.

Simply put, the Bulldogs failed to make two or three defensive plays per game in 2011 that they were able to make in 2010. Those two or three plays are extra outs for the opposition, and when you combine that with a more homer-prone pitching staff already allowing a couple more baserunners per nine innings, all in a lower-scoring environment — well, you’re just asking for trouble.

Tangent: in researching defensive efficiency, I came across a table stating that the Big 10 had a league DER of only 61.3% in 2011. If that’s the case, maybe it’s another example of why northern/midwestern baseball as a rule isn’t as good as that played by schools in the Sun Belt. 

The Citadel will play a three-game series at Minnesota this year. The Golden Gophers did lead the Big 10 in defensive efficiency (64.6%).

There were some changes made in the coaching staff, as Fred Jordan shook up things a bit after the disappointing 2011 campaign. He might have done so anyway, but going 8-22 in the SoCon one year removed from a title may have provided more incentive for trying a different approach.

Jordan hired a pitching coach, a first for The Citadel during the Port/Jordan era, and a move that was welcomed by a number of longtime observers of the baseball program. Both Chal Port and Jordan acted as their own pitching coaches, but this year the pitching coach for the Bulldogs will be Britt Reames.

Reames is extremely well qualified to be The Citadel’s pitching coach, to say the least. Reames is an alum, a former outstanding pitcher/catcher (under Jordan) who made it all the way to the major leagues and hung around for a while. Being a native of South Carolina (Seneca) won’t hurt him when he is on the recruiting trail, either.

Reames also has experience as a college coach, and in the Southern Conference, as he spent the past three years coaching at Furman. I like to think this makes The Citadel the SoCon’s version of the 1950s New York Yankees, with Furman in the role as the Kansas City Athletics.

I hope Reames helps The Citadel’s pitchers and catchers do a better job controlling the running game this season. Bulldog opponents stole 50 bases in 62 attempts during league play, the second-most stolen bases allowed by a team. The Citadel picked off six baserunners, slightly lower than average (there were 92 pickoffs in conference action).

The Bulldogs themselves stole 46 bases in 59 attempts in the SoCon, a respectable percentage (78%) marred by the nine times the Dogs were picked off (by my count). That was in keeping with what seemed to me a poor year on the basepaths for The Citadel.

It’s one thing to be aggressive. I’m not talking about stealing second on the first pitch with two outs and nobody else on base. I’m talking about things like the trail runner getting caught off second base because he didn’t know where the lead runner was going. I don’t have stats to illustrate that, only anecdotal memories (always questionable), but there is no doubt The Citadel needs to improve its baserunning.

Of course, SoCon teams in general have traditionally had a bit of a kamikaze approach when it comes to players running the bases. I am sure if Carter Blackburn called a league game, he would refer to the conference as the “Go-Go SoCo”.

The 2012 team will feature several players who were key contributors for both the 2010 and 2011 teams. Nick Orvin will be the centerfielder once again. Justin Mackert, per the aforementioned radio interview of Jordan, is moving from first base to left field. Jordan also mentioned that Grant Richards would return at catcher (and I’m guessing, perhaps wrongly, he will occasionally be a DH).

These are guys who have SoCon championship rings, and earned them. Orvin in particular has been a wonderfully consistent player for The Citadel for three seasons; he was first-team all-conference last season, despite the Bulldogs’ struggles as a team in 2011.

Richards and Mackert will perhaps be forever tied together in Bulldogs baseball lore thanks to a hit by Richards that scored Mackert in the ninth inning of the 2010 SoCon tourney against Elon. Of course, what is perhaps most remembered about that moment is how much Elon’s Scott Riddle enjoyed Mackert’s baserunning.

Two freshmen from last season were impressive in their rookie campaigns and will be expected to continue an upward track as sophomores in 2012. Drew DeKerlegand brought a solid bat to third base, and will man the hot corner again this season. Joe Jackson also knows what to do with the stick. He’ll likely split time at catcher/DH with Richards.

All of the above-mentioned players can get better. I would like to see the walk rate for each of them increase. Jackson needs to develop more power; I suspect that will come in time. DeKerlegand has to get better in the field. Richards must rebound from a tough year at the plate in 2011.

Jordan stated that there was competition for spots at right field and first base. There are freshman candidates at both positions, as well as returning players. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some platooning in those spots, at least early in the season.

The middle infield is evidently going to be made up of freshmen; there are apparently three of them who can or will see time. That shortstop-second base combo is going to be critical for The Citadel. Those players need to be able to hit, but more importantly, the middle infield has to stabilize the defense.

Austin Pritcher returns as a weekend starter for The Citadel. Pritcher had generally good peripheral statistics for the Bulldogs last season, although he did allow 107 hits in 84 innings. Again, he’s going to need help from the defense converting some of those hits into outs.

The other two spots in the weekend rotation are open to question, although Jordan seemed to indicate that freshman lefthander Kevin Connell would get one of them. Also in the mix is senior T.J. Clarkson, who pitched exclusively out of the bullpen last year.

In the running for weekday starts and/or key roles in the bullpen: sophomore Bryce Hines (battling shoulder stiffness) and his brother Ryan Hines, along with redshirt freshman Zach Brownlee. Jordan also referred to a “good lefty frosh” when discussing the bullpen. Then there is Logan Cribb, not mentioned by Fred Jordan in that radio spot, probably because Jordan did not want to upset the former Gamecock cheerleader who was conducting the interview.

I am sure that several other pitchers (and position players) will pop up as the season progresses, and surprise us all, faster than you can say “Steve Basch”.

I think one thing the 2011 season demonstrated is that there is a very fine line between success and failure when it comes to sports at The Citadel, and that includes baseball. The military college has very little margin for error on the field of play, and it doesn’t take much of a slip for a championship squad to become a cellar-dweller.

That said, I am hopeful that the program will rebound this season. It may be a bit of a transitional year, but I don’t believe the outlook is nearly as dire as some preseason prognosticators suggest. On the contrary, I think this could be a fun season. There are known quantities already in place, and then there is the chance for some younger players to emerge as regulars.

I am worried about the pitching depth, particularly in the starting rotation, and obviously I think it is critical that the defense dramatically improves. Both of those areas are probably going to need some time to develop into strengths, just one reason why it’s nice to see the Bulldogs begin their schedule with a bunch of home games against non-league opposition.

I will definitely be at some of those home games, cheering on the Bulldogs. I will probably be freezing, but I will be there…

Chal Port and his legacy

Chal Port was the best coach I ever had, and his love of his boys poured out of him the way it always does with the best of the breed.

— Pat Conroy, Prologue, My Losing Season

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

That last line is one of Port’s more famous witticisms, mainly because it is one of the most publicized, as it got a lot of press after the 1990 team reached the College World Series.  It is quintessential Port, to be sure.

Port died Saturday in Charleston after a long illness.  He was 80 years old.  You can read and view stories and tributes to Port in many places, including Jeff Hartsell’s article in The Post and Courier, WCIV-TV, WCSC-TV, and this selection from the 2005 documentary DVD “Who’d a Thunk It?”.

Chal Port won 641 games and seven Southern Conference championships at The Citadel, but the opening paragraph on any story about his career at the military college always prominently includes that 1990 squad, and justifiably so.  At the time, longtime Clemson coach Bill Wilhelm said he didn’t know of “a lower-budget team to go to the College World Series,” and he wasn’t being patronizing in any way.

Port was the only fulltime coach on the staff; his two assistants were a part-timer (Tom Hatley) and a GA (Ken Creehan).  As for how many scholarships Port had available, I have heard different numbers, though all sources agree that he had far from the maximum 11.7 schollies.  He probably had half that amount at his disposal, at best.

Winning 46 games with a team that had such limited resources, including the wins over North Carolina State and East Carolina at the Atlantic Regional, becoming the only team to ever win two games against Miami at Mark Light Stadium in a regional, and then actually winning a game in Omaha…that was some kind of run.  Nothing like it had ever happened before, and it is hard to imagine it ever happening again.

Port guiding his Bulldogs to Omaha was a godsend for both the local and national media in 1990, as he gave scribes and TV commentators all the material they wanted and then some.  Just a sample:

— [From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution] “After his team beat perennial power Miami to reach the CWS, ESPN’s Tim Brando asked Port how it felt to win in the shadow of the building named for Ron Fraser, Miami’s coach.

‘No big deal,’ he said.  ‘I’ve got a building at The Citadel named after me.  It’s the Port-O-Let next to the dugout.'”

(After that comment, the AJC‘s Tom Whitfield wrote that “Chal Port of The Citadel has been named college coach of the year by The Sporting News…when it comes to down-home wisdom and one-liners, he’s the coach for the ages.”)

— Brando interviewed Port at the Atlantic Regional in Miami.  Also at that regional, a young Miami Herald sportswriter named Dan Le Batard documented an exchange with Port that went in part like this:

Le Batard: “…but Chal, your team…is an impressive 41-12 and…”

Port:  “Good scheduling, don’t you think?”

Le Batard:  “But Chal, pal, your team had a 26-game winning streak this year, the nation’s longest, and…”

Port:  “Aw, we don’t win a lot of baseball games but we do pretty good in wars.”

— Port also gave an interview to columnist William Rhoden of The New York Times:

“When we looked at the calendar last fall, our goal for June 1st was to make sure that the kids had turned in all their equipment.” …

… “‘Baseball has never been big at The Citadel,” he said. ”It’s a military school, and as a military school, football is the god, then basketball. When baseball has a good year, we’re third. When we have poor years, we drop down behind golf.”

For all of the success of this year’s team, Port realizes that The Citadel will never become a perennial baseball power.

”Most excellent baseball players are not interested in marching and wearing uniforms,” Port said.

Of course, one team and a bunch of jokes don’t really define the man.  His overall record is extremely impressive, but when put into context, the adjective “amazing” may be a more appropriate term than “impressive”.  This next section is something I wrote a couple of years ago as part of a study of the records of Port and Fred Jordan, with some minor editing.

Chal Port had to make numerous on-field adjustments during his tenure, including the change from wooden to aluminum bats, and the Southern Conference moving to divisional play (and then dropping the divisions), among other things.  Then there were the off-field adjustments, which included integration, and the fact that going to a military school wasn’t exactly the cool thing to do in the early-to-mid-1970s (not that it’s ever been the really cool thing to do).   Consider what the baseball program accomplished, especially when compared to The Citadel’s football and hoops programs of that decade:

From 1971-1979, the football team was coached by Red Parker, Bobby Ross, and Art Baker.  Ross in particular is known as having been an outstanding coach, with major success at multiple levels of the sport.  The football team had four winning seasons overall in those nine years, with no league titles and a conference mark of 26-29 (47.2%).  SoCon finishes:  3rd, 4th, 7th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 3rd, 5th, 3rd.

The basketball team was coached from 1971-79 by Dick Campbell, George Hill, and Les Robinson.  Robinson would later prove his worth as a coach with an outstanding rebuilding job at East Tennessee State, but during this period the hoops program had just two winning seasons, bookends on seven straight losing campaigns, and had an overall conference record of 43-69 (38.4%).  Conference finishes:  4th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 7th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 3rd.

Meanwhile, from 1971-1979 Port went 85-43 (66.4%) in conference play, with three championships, nine winning seasons overall, and eight winning seasons in the league (and the other was a .500 season).  His SoCon finishes during that time:  1st, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st.  He finished in the upper half of the league all nine years.

He wasn’t done yet, either.  He had his best teams up to that time in 1982 and 1983, with the ’82 squad finishing 40-8.  At that point another power arose in the Southern Conference, as Western Carolina hired Jack Leggett to upgrade its already promising program.  The Catamounts would win five straight league titles, a stretch dovetailing almost exactly with a gradual decline in The Citadel’s fortunes on the diamond.

Port outlasted WCU’s run and (even more impressively) Hurricane Hugo, however, and orchestrated a season that won’t soon be forgotten, plus a very nice coda (the ’91 campaign).

The 1990 season was incredible, but don’t forget all those terrific teams he had in the 1970s and 1980s.  A few of those squads were just a break or two away from being DVD-worthy themselves (the 1982 team in particular).

Port is, without much doubt, the best coach The Citadel has ever had, in any sport.  He got it done off the field, too, as almost all of his players graduated.

The State of South Carolina has had more than its fair share of outstanding college baseball coaches over the years, but Chal Port was arguably better than any of them, given his resources.  I say that as someone who has a great deal of respect for the wonderful job Ray Tanner has done at South Carolina (not to mention Wilhelm, Bobby Richardson, etc.).

Port’s influence over the game continues today.  Numerous former players went on to become successful high school coaches in the state, preaching the gospel of Chal.

Some of his disciples moved on to the college ranks, including three current D-1 head coaches:  his successor at The Citadel, Fred Jordan; Tony Skole (ETSU);  and Dan McDonnell (who made a little history for himself by leading Louisville to Omaha a few years ago, joining the exclusive club of individuals to have played for and coached a CWS team).

Port’s influence can even be seen indirectly with players like Baltimore Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters, whose father Richard was an outstanding pitcher-outfielder for Port in the 1970s.

Chal Port’s ability to develop and nurture leaders inside and outside the game is his real legacy, even more so than his renowned storytelling ability and his championship-winning baseball teams.

Condolences to his family and friends.

A few thoughts on Bulldog baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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