Retention means aggression, attrition means regression

Well, that was ugly.  I’m not shocked Samford won the game, but it wasn’t close.  Kevin Higgins made a somewhat surprising decision to start Cam Turner at quarterback, and it didn’t come close to working out.  Turner was put in the game because Higgins felt the QB position needed a better runner.  Left unsaid, in my opinion, was that Higgins’ decision was more an indictment of the play of the offensive line than Bart Blanchard’s abilities.  The fact that the team doesn’t have an established running back hasn’t helped either.

The Citadel again had a forgettable second quarter, essentially an exact copy of the Furman game, and after the first half trailed in time of possession by almost exactly 10 minutes.  That’s what happens when you get dominated on the line of scrimmage, both offensively and defensively.

It doesn’t look good for the rest of the season.  The Citadel will be favored against UT-Chattanooga but will be underdogs against an erratic Georgia Southern team (which beat Western Carolina yesterday in overtime after trailing 31-3 in the fourth quarter), Wofford (which hammered Elon and may be on the same level with Appalachian State right now) and, of course, Florida.  Considering The Citadel went 7-4 last season, including a winning record in SoCon play, and there were high hopes for at least a similar season this year, it’s hard to argue that the program has regressed a bit.  Particularly disconcerting, from my point of view, are the losses to “young” teams like Elon and (especially) Samford.

I wish Higgins would redshirt every freshman who has yet to see action this season, just to build up depth for the future, but he may elect to play more of them to see what he’s got.  What Higgins definitely needs to do is pay close attention to the lessons of attrition, something I am sure he is, but just to make it clearer, let’s look at some numbers.

This year’s freshman class is Higgins’ third at The Citadel.  The class that preceded his arrival had a brutal attrition rate (there are only six players from it still on the team).  His first two years of recruiting, per Jeff Hartsell’s research, look like this:

2006 — 20 still on the team, 8 gone

2007 — 21 still on the team, 11 gone

I don’t know how many of those players were scholarship recruits, but regardless, that’s not a good percentage either year.  One thing that the two classes have in common is the large number of recruits in general.  I am not a fan of the “bring in 30, maybe half will pan out” approach to recruiting.  Ellis Johnson did this too, and it doesn’t work.  I think it’s better to identify about 12-18 players who you think can help you and can stay in school, and recruit accordingly.  This seems to be something that takes coaches at The Citadel in all sports two or three years to understand.  Some of them never seem to understand…

This year, things look pretty good — so far.  He brought in 26 guys, which again is too many, but so far only one has left school.  I hope that the other 25 hang in there.

Just as a comparison, I looked at Charlie Taaffe’s first recruiting classes.  I don’t have information from his first year, and only partial information from his second class.  The second class must have been excellent, though, not just in terms of quantity but in quality, because there were nine 5th-year seniors on the ’92 SoCon title team, including Jack Douglas, Lester Smith, and Carey Cash.

Taaffe’s third through fifth years of recruiting break down like this:

1989 — 16 recruits; all 16 were on the team at least two years, and 15 of them completed four years of play for The Citadel.  This class was the backbone of the ’92 title team, with 14 of them on the two-deep (one missed the year with an injury).  In addition, 3 walk-ons from that year also made the ’92 two-deep (I looked at the two-deep from the playoff game against North Carolina A&T as a baseline).  When you recruit 16 players and you wind up having 18 players from that class make a contribution, I guess you can say you had a good year recruiting.

1990 — 17 recruits, 13 of whom eventually lettered.  10 of them were on the ’92 team’s two-deep.  That’s not a bad class.  Not great, but okay.

1991 — 18 recruits, only 8 of whom eventually lettered, and it may be worse than that, because I think two of the eight eventual letter-winners were actually walk-ons who weren’t among the original 18 recruits.  That’s a horrendous recruiting class, even if four of the players had significant careers at The Citadel (Travis Jervey, Micah Young, Ahren Self, Jeff Trinh).  The lack of depth created by that class surely contributed to the gradual decline in on-field success.  The win totals, starting in 1990, when that ’89 recruiting class were sophomores, were 7 wins, 7 wins, 11 wins, 5 wins, 6 wins, and 2 wins (the two -win campaign was Taaffe’s last at The Citadel).  That decline in recruiting and wins are obviously not coincidental.

College baseball recruiting

I’m not a recruitnik when it comes to any sport.  I believe that when it comes to recruiting, you should trust your coaches.  Of course, this requires a wait-and-see attitude, and a lot of people don’t like waiting.  This was true before the internet age, by the way.  The veteran South Carolina radio host Phil Kornblut, to give one example, has made a living as a “guru” since the mid-1980s.  I used to regularly listen in the early evening as callers would phone in to ask Kornblut about some hot prospect (the sport in question was almost always football) who was considering South Carolina and/or Clemson.  Phil would rarely fail to put a positive spin on the chances of South Carolina and/or Clemson landing the player.  Kornblut had to be as diplomatic as possible if the choice was actually between the two schools.  (Of course, if the kid was actually good, he usually wound up at someplace like Florida State or Auburn.)

There are people who seem to care more about “winning” in recruiting than having success on the field or court.  It’s a little scary.

Having said that, I still peruse recruiting stories from time to time.  Today I took a look at Baseball America‘s list of college baseball’s Top 25 recruiting classes (accompanying story here; the Top 25 capsules are “premium content”).

I have to say that nothing jumped out at me as being really surprising.  I wasn’t really expecting to see a Top 25 recruiting class featuring, say, The Citadel (although that would have been cool).  Nevertheless, there were some things that interested me.

  • Louisville took advantage of its surprise CWS appearance from two years ago to sign the #20-rated class for this year.  The Cardinals brought in ten players (nine high schoolers and one JC transfer), including an intriguing 6’7″ lefthander from Massachusetts, Keith Landers, who reportedly throws 88-92 mph with a good breaking ball and has “composure” on the hill.  Landers was an 18th-round draft pick of the Orioles.  Also, my brother would want me to mention that Chris Lemonis is Louisville’s recruiting coordinator.

(Special Louisville factoid/cheap excuse for me to mention the ’90 CWS:  Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell was the primary leadoff hitter for The Citadel in 1990, when the Bulldogs reached the College World Series.  McDonnell only hit .206 that year, but managed a .401 OBP thanks to 62 walks (in 60 games).  He was also hit by 7 pitches, stole 38 bases, and recorded 11 sacrifices.  McDonnell also managed to reach base at least three times after striking out on a wild pitch.  In short, he was as good a .206-batting college leadoff hitter as you will ever see.)

  • Duke has the #25-rated class, not bad for a school that hasn’t made an NCAA regional since 1961.  I’ve always thought Duke was an underachiever in college baseball (not UCLA-level of underachievement, of course).  In recent years, Duke has struggled to stay out of the ACC basement.
  • LSU, North Carolina, and South Carolina are not among the 11 SEC or ACC schools in the Top 25.
  • Defending national champ Fresno State brought in 23 players (six JC transfers), and that’s not even counting any potential tranfers from four-year schools.  I wonder how many of them expect to play right away…

One other thing:  North Carolina State (#23-rated class) signed two kids from The Hun School.  The school’s teams are known as the “Raiders”.  I was mildly disappointed when I found that out, as I was hoping for something unique, like “The Scourge”.