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 As a bonus, the SS numbers are based on another statistic that is currently out of date!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.

Did the SoCon mismanage its once-successful baseball tournament? Sure looks like it.

In 2004, the SoCon baseball tournament was a happening. A record total of 35,150 fans rumbled through the turnstiles at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park during the event.

It was the fifteenth consecutive year the tournament had been held in Charleston, and the culmination of a six-year stretch (1999-2004) in which the SoCon tourney annually drew more fans than did the ACC Tournament. Yes, you read that right. The Southern Conference tournament had a higher attendance than the ACC’s version for six straight years.

The good times continued in 2005 (attendance of 26,707), 2006 (28,206), and 2007 (31,298). So what did the SoCon’s powers-that-be decide to do in June of 2007?

You guessed it. They announced they were moving the tournament.

This happened, it appears, for two reasons. First, a small minority of school coaches/officials complained about Charleston’s status as the permanent host site, led by Mike Gaski, the longtime UNC-Greensboro coach whose teams had established a pattern of underachieving at the SoCon tournament.

However, it is likely the main impetus for the decision was financial. The league thought it could make even more money than it already was (and yes, it was doing quite well in Charleston) if it shopped the tournament to different communities.

After a mildly disappointing 2009 tournament in Greenville (at least in terms of attendance), SoCon commissioner John Iamarino insisted that the net guarantee to the league from that tournament was “141 percent greater” than the net revenue in the previous year’s event (2008), which suggested that Greenville had ponied up a lot of money to swipe the tournament from Charleston.

You could say the league cashed in that year. It is doubtful, however, that you can say that these days.

The last two years, the tournament has been held in Greenville (2013) and Charleston (2014). Combined total attendance from those two tourneys: 15,471. Combined.

Those are the two lowest years for attendance (regardless of venue) since at least 1997, which was when Riley Park first opened. They are almost certainly the two lowest years for attendance since the tournament was first moved to Charleston in 1990 (attendance figures prior to 1997 are hard to come by, as the league doesn’t list them).

I doubt anyone thinks it’s a good thing that the combined attendance from the last two league tournaments was lower than the attendance from the 1994 event (15,486), which was held at College Park. Twenty years later, and the conference is going backwards in terms of tournament interest.

The sad thing is that it was all too predictable. The league could have looked at the aforementioned ACC tournament, which struggled mightily after being moved from Greenville, where it had enjoyed a lot of success over a nine-year period. Rotating sites did that league no good, and attendance suffered until a multi-year stay in Jacksonville got the event back on track.

In 2009, Mike DeMaine from the Greenville Drive (which co-hosted the event) said that “Maybe if you are in one place a long time, it gets stale for everyone.” I guess he would have favored rotating the Rose Bowl between Pasadena and Fresno.

What a permanent host site does is establish consistency. It makes it easier for fans, coaches, and administrators to plan ahead, knowing from past years what to expect. It helps in developing relationships within the community that lead to increased sponsorships and other promotional opportunities.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Take John Iamarino’s comments, for example:

There are advantages to going back to a city: It helps with sponsors; it helps with awareness of the event.

Of course, he wasn’t talking about Charleston. He was talking about Asheville, which will now host the SoCon men’s and women’s basketball tournaments through 2017.

For some reason, the league is anxious to find a permanent home for its basketball tourneys but would rather rotate the baseball tournament, despite evidence suggesting that leaving it in one place is the way to go.

That place should be Charleston, which previously demonstrated an ability to “grow” the event in a way that Greenville simply has not been able to match.

Don’t count on it happening, though. Next year the tournament will return to Charleston, but in 2016 and 2017 it will probably move back to Greenville (which has an option to host in those years). After that, who knows.

While moving the tournament around has been a problem, the actual format of the event has also drawn attention, and in a very negative way.

The Southern Conference bracket is set up so that two teams will meet in a winner-take-all final, whether or not one of the teams is undefeated (it is conceivable both could be undefeated). Thus, even though most of the tournament is a double-elimination setup, it is possible for a team to lose only one game in the tournament and still not win the championship.

In fact, that has happened the last two seasons. In both cases, the previously undefeated team lost in the title game (and by one run) to a team that had already lost earlier in the tournament.

The SoCon isn’t the only league to have a single-elimination final, but that’s no excuse for using a format that is clearly unfair.

In a conference like the SEC (which has a single-elimination final and semifinals), the automatic berth in the NCAAs that goes to the tourney champion is not as important as it is to a league like the SoCon. That’s because at least half of the teams in the SEC are getting regional bids anyway (this year, 10 of 14 squads in that league are headed to the NCAA tournament).

Meanwhile, most years the SoCon is a one- or two-bid conference, never more than three. Winning the tournament championship is critical. That auto-bid means something. Devaluing it by using a made-for-TV tournament format is borderline unconscionable.

What’s worse, though, is that the final is not on television anyway. It’s on ESPN3. That is not the same thing as ESPN or ESPN2 or ESPNU or ESPN The Ocho or any other ESPN channel you can name. What’s the point of using a bracket designed for a one-shot television window when you aren’t even on TV?

There is no reason not to hold a standard double-elimination tournament. That’s the fair thing to do, the right thing to do, and the sensible thing to do.

Don’t count on that happening, either.

Brief commentary on a record crowd at Riley Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link

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

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

Booster clubs from both schools have scheduled major tailgate events…

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

Link

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

Link

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

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

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

An announced crowd of only 5,851?

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

They were kidding, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riley Report: a brief (and late) preseason preview

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

Anyway, what follows is a curtailed preview.

Links of interest:

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.

2013 Football, Game 12: The Citadel vs. Clemson

The Citadel at Clemson, to be played in Clemson, South Carolina, at Memorial Stadium/Frank Howard Field, with kickoff at noon ET on Saturday, November 23. The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with play-by-play from Jim Barbar, analysis by John Bunting, and reporting from the sidelines by Angela Mallen.

The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Clemson game notes

SoCon weekly release

ACC weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

ACC teleconference (Dabo Swinney is the first coach on the line); here is the transcript

Dabo Swinney press conference — Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Brent Venables talks defense  — Part 1, Part 2

Clemson’s players are not believed to be aliens

Apparently really fast 6’5″, 200 lb. receivers are uncommon

It’s a big game for the Tigers, so despite injury Tajh Boyd will play

Gerald Dixon talks about Dabo Swinney

An in-depth review of Clemson’s game against Georgia Tech, play-by-play

Saturday will be Military Appreciation Day at Clemson, and the school (as usual) is going to put on quite a show. The festivities will feature a halftime performance by the Summerall Guards.

It will also be a “Purple Out”, with fans encouraged to wear purple for the game. From above, the stadium is going to look like a giant bruise.

One note on the “Purple Out”: students will be wearing purple t-shirts (and trying to stay warm). However, the original t-shirt design won’t be used:

All full-time Clemson students attending the game will receive a free Purple Out T-shirt, but it won’t include a Purple Heart symbol as originally planned. That design, chosen from more than 30 student submissions in a campuswide contest, didn’t meet licensing guidelines of the U.S. Army. Proceeds from sales of the redesigned shirt will still benefit campus ROTC units and the Student Veterans Association.

I’m not sure which team Clemson is playing next week, but Dabo Swinney was asked during his on-campus press conference if the Tigers had time to “peek ahead” to that game. Swinney was fairly emphatic:

We don’t have time to peek ahead…regardless of who we play…the objective is the win the football game…I can remember in 1992 I was a senior at Alabama and The Citadel beat Arkansas.

The reason I remember that is because [Alabama] played Arkansas the next week…it was chaos in Arkansas, and we went to Little Rock to play them…I will never forget that.

I didn’t even know who The Citadel was in 1992. Probably, literally the first time I had heard of The Citadel was because they beat Arkansas…

You better be ready each and every week…’cause if you’re not…you get beat. I don’t care who you play, what sport it is, what level it is, how much of a discrepancy it is, you get beat.

Incidentally, Swinney’s memory wasn’t perfect. Alabama actually played Arkansas two weeks after the Razorbacks lost to The Citadel. It was the first time Arkansas had returned to play a game in The Natural State after the dismissal of Jack Crowe, however.

Arkansas actually played at South Carolina the week after losing to the Bulldogs. Joe Kines led the Hogs to a 45-7 shellacking of the Gamecocks. (Dabo and his Crimson Tide beat Arkansas 38-11 the following Saturday.)

The Citadel has defeated Clemson on the gridiron in no fewer than five South Carolina towns. It’s possible no other opponent has lost to the Bulldogs at so many different locations.

The military college has wins over Clemson in Clemson (when the town was called “Calhoun”), Charleston (at the original Johnson Hagood Stadium), Anderson, Orangeburg, and Florence.

This Saturday, look for the Bulldogs to use a similar strategy to that employed in The Citadel’s 1931 victory over the Tigers in Florence:

The Citadel Bulldogs arose here today, whipped out a finely-timed, incisive and unanticipated running attack, to win their annual game with Clemson at the Pee Dee Fair, 6-0. In no previous game this season had the Cadets shown such power, speed, and brilliant elusiveness in advancing the ball…

A good, big bunch of men these Tigers were, too, but they were so much putty in the hands of a Citadel team that had a great day…

Local hero Edwin McIntosh scored the game-winning TD for the Bulldogs that afternoon. Another offensive star was “‘Leaping Larkin’ Jennings, the Columbia Comet”.

The defensive player most responsible for keeping the Tigers out of the end zone was “man-mountain, gargantuan” Delmar Rivers, also known as “Big Boy”.

Other tidbits about that game:

– The Citadel kicked off to start both halves.

– Despite that, Clemson only ran 46 offensive plays during the game, a statistic which would undoubtedly horrify Chad Morris. The lack of offensive snaps was partly due to the Tigers’ tendency to “quick kick” whenever possible. Clemson punted on third down six times, punted on second down three times, and punted on first down (?!) once.

– Clemson only picked up three first downs during the game (well, sure, with all that punting), not getting its initial first down until the fourth quarter.

– At one point during the contest, the Tigers threw incomplete passes on consecutive plays. By rule, that resulted in a five-yard penalty.

The News and Courier reported that both team captains were redheads.

– Attendance: 4000.

***Brief subject change before going back to football***

Clemson last played a football game at The Citadel in 1953, which shouldn’t be a shock to anybody. What may come as a surprise, though, is that the Tiger baseball team has not played The Citadel in Charleston during this century either.

In fact, Clemson and The Citadel have not met on a Low Country diamond since 1990, when the teams were coached by Bill Wilhelm and Chal Port. That game was played at College Park.

Now, you wouldn’t necessarily expect the two schools to play each other every year, as they are basically at opposite ends of the state.  That’s not true for the University of South Carolina, of course, and thus the Gamecocks and Bulldogs naturally meet more often.

However, South Carolina doesn’t just play The Citadel once in a while; the two schools play each other home-and-home every year. Meanwhile, Clemson…doesn’t. The last regular-season meeting of any kind between the Tigers and Bulldogs came back in 2004, at Clemson.

I think this is something that needs to be addressed, particularly because Clemson isn’t averse to playing in Charleston. The Tigers played at College of Charleston in 2008, for example.

It is facing the Bulldogs on The Citadel’s home turf that seems to have become an issue for the Tigers in recent years.

Speaking of that home turf, Clemson has actually played at Riley Park. In 2012, South Carolina and Clemson met in a game that was relentlessly hyped by sports columnist Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier, who apparently believed the matchup was the most important development in the history of western civilization and would be attended by hundreds of thousands of dignitaries from around the globe.

Sapakoff was highly upset at the game’s actual attendance (5,851), and was unable to accept the fact that despite the nonstop promotion (much of it by himself), the game drew about the same number of people who would attend a typical game between The Citadel and South Carolina at Riley Park. Indeed, last year’s game in Charleston between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs, played on a Tuesday night with no hype whatsoever, had an attendance of 5,838.

That said, having a crowd of 5,000+ for a regular-season college baseball game is very impressive, and not surprisingly the folks who run the Charleston Riverdogs wouldn’t mind seeing the Gamecocks and Tigers get together again at Riley Park in the near future. In a newspaper article from two years ago, the year 2015 was suggested.

However, I don’t think that game should be played. Not in 2015, anyway.

That’s because I believe the next game Clemson plays at Riley Park needs to be against the local college team that calls the stadium home. The Tigers should play The Citadel there first.

I am aware of a few reasons why Clemson and The Citadel have not met in recent years. I don’t care. People can put aside their differences, if only for one night.

Imagine how many people might attend a game at Riley Park between Clemson and The Citadel if the local media promoted it as heavily as Clemson-South Carolina 2012. That’s part of what this is about, at least to me.

I want The Citadel to receive that kind of positive attention, instead of being ignored while various entities start panting heavily at the mere sight of schools from other parts of the state.

Bringing this back to football, but in a similar vein, I find it a bit tiresome that a writer for a local newspaper (Aaron Brenner, the Clemson beat writer for The Post and Courier) has written multiple times that a local team is a “tune-up” for an opponent. It is particularly annoying that he first characterized the game as such before the season even started.

Look, I’m a realist here, but it wouldn’t hurt to show a touch more respect for a school located in your paper’s immediate area. When I first broached the subject with Brenner, back in August, I was immediately informed that Clemson had beaten The Citadel 15 straight times, and mostly by significant margins. (Tell me something I don’t know.)

Of course, I’m guessing Clemson fans wouldn’t think the 1931 loss to The Citadel is going to have any impact on Saturday’s game, and they would be correct. However, I would suggest that those 15 losses he mentioned won’t have any impact either. Do you think the 1976 game matters to the players of 2013? What about 1954? Or 1986? No, no, and no.

The real issue, I think, is that he isn’t covering Clemson from the Charleston perspective. Rather, he’s writing about the Tigers for the Charleston newspaper. There is a difference.

That’s not really the fault of Brenner, to be fair. He is doing what his employer wants him to do. You may not think there is any fault to be found at all, and I can understand that point of view.

Generally during one of my previews I start discussing a team’s statistics in relation to a comparison with those of The Citadel, but it’s pointless to do that this week since Clemson is an FBS squad. Instead, I’m just going to mention some of Clemson’s numbers. A few of them are scary.

– Clemson is averaging 41.3 points per game, 11th best nationally. The Tigers actually have a higher scoring average on the road, “only” scoring 39.8 points per game at Memorial Stadium.

– CU is ninth nationally in total offense, passing offense, and turnover margin.

– Clemson isn’t quite as dominant in a few offensive categories, ranking 50th in the nation in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate and 43rd nationally in offensive red zone TD%.

– The Tigers have had seven plays from scrimmage this season of 60+ yards, tied for third-most in FBS.

– Of course, Clemson’s raw offensive numbers are skewed by the hurry-up-no-I-mean-really-hurry-up style of offensive coordinator Chad Morris. The Tigers are averaging 82.9 plays per game on offense, fifth-most nationally. In terms of yards per play, Clemson is 32nd in FBS with a 6.18 average (Baylor leads the nation, averaging a staggering 8.5 yards per play).

– Clemson’s defensive third down conversion rate of 30.25% is 6th-best nationally. This may be the statistic that best demonstrates the influence of second-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables. In his first year at Clemson, the Tigers were 24th in FBS in this category, a substantial improvement over the 2011 season (when they were 72nd).

– Clemson’s defensive numbers are affected by its offensive style, and look better in context than in raw totals. Tiger opponents are averaging 5.25 yards per play, 42nd nationally. Getting off the field by stopping teams on third down has helped Clemson in that department (The Tigers were slightly above 5.6 y/p in both 2012 and 2011).

– On defense, the Tigers are allowing a red zone TD rate of 62.5%, which is only 69th in FBS. Venables is probably disappointed with that particular statistic.

– Clemson’s punting and kick coverage/return statistics are, in general, indifferent.

As for Clemson’s players, it’s simple: the Tigers have playmakers all over the field, particularly on offense.

Tajh Boyd has been a wonderful quarterback for Clemson. He has occasionally been labeled as a “doesn’t play well in big games” type, but anyone who believes that did not see his magnificent bowl-game performance against LSU last year.

Sammy Watkins is ridiculously good. Dabo Swinney said during his press conference this week that he thinks Watkins is the best wide receiver in the country, and you could certainly make that argument. I have no idea how the Bulldogs are going to cover him, but then almost every other team in the country would have the same problem.

It says something about Clemson’s talent level that Watkins may not even be the most difficult matchup for The Citadel on Saturday. Another wideout, Martavis Bryant, could pose even more problems.

The Tigers’ running game is keyed by the excellent Rod McDowell (who overcame a clubfoot as a child). McDowell runs behind a starting offensive line that averages 6’4″, 298 lbs.

Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley has 17 tackles for loss, fourth nationally. Ten of those TFLs are sacks. The other three starters on the Tigers’ d-line weigh more on average than The Citadel’s offensive linemen.

The Tigers have intercepted at least one pass in 13 straight games, the longest such streak in the country. Eight different players have at least one pick.

Linebackers Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey are 1-2 on the team in tackles.

Saturday’s game is officially a sellout, and that crowd will include a fair number of fans wearing blue and white. There will be multiple tailgating events on site for Bulldog fans, who usually know how to have a good time.

I trust the same can be said for the players. The game against Clemson should be fun.

It will be very challenging, to be sure. However, there is no pressure on the Bulldogs, and I think that will be reflected in their play.

One game is left this season. I hope it’s a memorable one for The Citadel, and in a good way.

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 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:

Schedule

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:

   R
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

Hmm…

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:

      R
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

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 CollegeSplits.com, 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…

Conference expansion: should The Citadel join the Big 10?

Nebraska, Missouri, Notre Dame, Texas — it’s hard to take in all that’s (not) going on right now…

With all this expansion talk, there is a chance the Big 10 (motto:  “Just ignore the ’10’ thing”) might wind up with an odd number of teams.  Of course, it has an odd number of teams right now.  However, I’m thinking that when all the dust settles from this latest realignment, Jim Delany and company are going to want to be at 12 or 14 or 16 teams, if only to end speculation the league might expand again (and thus prevent all those late-night telephone calls from the folks at Iowa State begging for admission).

If the Big 10 needs an extra team, The Citadel would be an obvious candidate and would presumably get an invitation.  The question is, should the military college accept the Big 10’s offer and leave the Southern Conference?  What are the positives and negatives of making the move?

Positives

— There would be no controversy over where the conference baseball tournament would be hosted, as the other schools in the Big 10 would have no problem playing in Charleston every May.  Charleston versus Columbus?  No contest.  No more carping from the likes of UNC-Greensboro.  (And do you see UNCG mentioned as a candidate to join the Big 10?  No.  The Spartans should be grateful just to be in the same hemisphere with the Bulldogs, much less the same league.)

The Citadel would be a favorite to win the league in baseball every season.  Also, we could probably demand that all of our conference games would be played at Riley Park.  Fun spring trip for the guys from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and an easy three-game sweep for us.

–All home games in football and basketball would be on TV, along with a lot of televised games for the other sports.  Also, the Big 10 Network has a slightly larger distribution nationally than the SoCon TV package.

It’s important for The Citadel to increase its TV presence, as I have written many times before.  I have previously advocated playing Big 10 teams in non-conference action so as to get on TV.  Now, the opportunity could be there to play Big 10 teams as league games.

–By 2012 or 2013 or whenever we joined the league, there is a chance Indiana still wouldn’t have its act together on the hardwood and we could snag a road victory at Assembly Hall, which would be neat.  Plus, you know Nebraska won’t be any good at hoops, and Northwestern would be a promising opportunity for a road W.  So we could be competitive almost immediately.

–A new recruiting territory would open up, and with the advantage of offering recruits the best weather in the conference (unless Texas joins the league, and even then it’s a push).  The Citadel has already had some good luck recently with players from Big 10 country (Ohio is the home state for basketball’s Austin Dahn and baseball’s Justin Mackert).

If Texas winds up in the conference along with the Bulldogs, that opens up the Lone Star state even more to The Citadel’s predatory hoops recruiters (see:  Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, Mike Groselle).  With that type of opening, regular trips to the Final Four would be inevitable.

–The extra money from being a Big 10 member could go toward expanding Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Big 10 could also flex its collective muscle and break the NCAA’s silly postseason ban in the Palmetto State.  That, combined with the newly expanded JHS, would result in a new bowl game for Charleston, so the community would also benefit.

Negatives

–Well, the road trips would feature a lot of snow and ice (excepting UT-Austin, which would probably be worth a mandatory travel game for the corps of cadets).  There is only so much places like East Lansing and Iowa City have to offer (not to mention Lincoln).

That’s why you can expect a lot of the league meetings to get moved to Charleston. Also, look for a lot of the Big 10 coaches to acquire beachfront property in the Low Country, a la Roy Williams, Ralph Friedgen, Les Robinson, etc.  It’s just a natural thing for them to do.

–Big 10 basketball can often be unwatchable.  Actually, you could say that about a lot of Big 10 sports…

–The Citadel probably would not be able to play schools like Chowan or Webber International in football.  Wait, that’s a positive!

–Women’s sports:  The Citadel has a limited number of women’s teams, and the ones we have would probably struggle in the Big 10.  We don’t have a women’s lacrosse program, though, which may be just as well.

–The other schools in the Big 10 would be much larger than The Citadel, which could lead to their fans trying to take over our home parks/arenas.  If we made sure the corps of cadets was fully armed before games, however, I think we would maintain our home field advantage.

–There is a possibility that a spot in the ACC or SEC could open up.  If that happens, it’s important for The Citadel to explore all its options.

All in all, I’m undecided about a potential berth in the newly constructed Big 10.  One thing I can say for sure, though, is that The Citadel will be okay wherever it lands.  Can Rutgers or Kansas say the same?

The New Big 10

Talkin’ Bulldog baseball

I can’t believe I haven’t filed a post yet about The Citadel’s baseball team, but then, I haven’t been posting much at all as of late.  That will change (I hope) in the ensuing months.  At any rate, let’s talk Bulldog baseball.  The Citadel is in first place in the SoCon right now, so it’s the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon!

The Citadel heads into the upcoming weekend series with Samford at 16-2 in the league (28-15 overall).  I have to say I am pleasantly surprised at the Bulldogs’ success in the conference this season, as I thought it would be hard to replace the players The Citadel lost from last year’s team (including Richard Jones, Chris McGuiness, and Sonny Meade).

The Bulldogs needed to replace a ton of offensive productivity, and I didn’t think the pitching (which I expected would be good) would be able to overcome that.  I guess Kendall Rogers, college baseball writer for Rivals.com, deserves credit for picking The Citadel to win the Southern Conference.  I hope I didn’t just jinx the team by writing that.

What follows is a look at this season’s team and how it is faring in the categories of fielding, pitching, and batting.  Some of this is probably going to come across as overly negative for a team currently leading its league, but it’s important to examine the team’s weaknesses as well as its strengths.

Fielding

Fielding is definitely the Achilles’ heel of this squad, and if the Bulldogs fail to win the league, or do not impress in any post-season play, it is likely to be the key reason why.  The numbers are not good:

  • 73 errors in 43 games (1. 7 errors per game)
  • A fielding percentage of .955 (which would be the worst for a Bulldog team in at least a decade)
  • An average of 38.09 chances per game (which would be the lowest for a Bulldog team since 2003)

The Citadel has committed two or more errors in 22 of its 43 games.  That’s 2+ errors in more than half the games.

The Bulldogs have had defensive issues at third base, second base, and catcher.  There have also been occasional lapses in the outfield, which is surprising, as all three regulars in the outfield are solid fielders with good speed.  All of them are capable of making outstanding plays.

I don’t think it’s particularly surprising that Bryan Altman, playing primarily as a catcher after spending most of his college career at second base, would not be the second coming of Johnny Bench with the glove.  From what I’ve seen, Altman actually does a lot of things well behind the plate.  The one thing he doesn’t do well, as least from anecdotal evidence, is cleanly catch pitches.

The ball seems to pop out of his glove a lot when I watch the games, which would explain his 14 passed balls.  The Citadel hasn’t had that many passed balls in a full season since 2003 (there were 8 all of last year).

At third base, David Greene has committed 18 errors.  Greene committed 14 errors all of last season.  His fielding percentage to date (.860) is substantially lower than it was last season (.903).  This may be a “he was in a slump at the plate, and it affected his fielding” kind of thing.  He’s not in a slump now, though, so maybe his fielding will improve as well.

Then there is second base, where Legare Jones has spent the most time, with Altman and Josh Pless also taking turns at the keystone position.  Jones has 10 errors and a .921 fielding percentage.  Pless, in limited duty, has an .882 fielding percentage.

Last year, the Bulldogs had 39.0 chances per game, almost a full chance more than this season.  That team committed just 1.14 errors per game, more than half an error fewer per game than this year.  This means, essentially, that Bulldog pitchers are having to get 2 and a half more outs per game this season (when you combine the increased errors with the reduced chances).

It’s hard enough to pitch in college baseball as it is, without having to get an extra out every third inning or so.

Pitching

This was supposed to be the Bulldogs’ strength this season, and it has been.  Asher Wojciechowski was supposed to be one of the nation’s outstanding pitchers this season, and he has been.  A critical reason for The Citadel’s success in conference play has been getting consistently excellent performances from Wojciechowski in the Friday night games.

Not only have the Bulldogs claimed victory in those games (save last week’s game against Davidson), Wojciechowski’s ability to pitch deep into games has allowed the bullpen to do most of its work in a two-game stretch, instead of three.  Also, winning the series opener takes the pressure off the team for the remainder of the series.

This is why Matt Talley’s performance last Saturday (a complete-game shutout) may have been the most important individual start of the season.  For the first time all year, the Bulldogs trailed in a league series after losing the Friday night game.  Talley came up big under pressure, saved the bullpen, and set things up for The Citadel to claim the series by winning the second game of the doubleheader.

Wojciechowski’s numbers are uniformly great (.211 BAA, 98/19 K-BB in 73 IP, only 4 HR, 2.47 ERA).  His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is actually a little high (.328), suggesting he has been a tad unlucky in that area (and that also may be a reflection of the defense behind him).  Wojciechowski threw 138 pitches against Elon earlier this year, but has had only one 120+ pitching performance since then.

I suspect Wojciechowski is making himself a lot of money this season.  He certainly should be.

I’m hoping Talley’s performance last Saturday is a harbinger of things to come.  Last season Talley was 8-1 with a 3.42 ERA, but this season’s move into the weekend rotation (and against generally superior competition) has resulted in an ERA jump of over a full run (4.50) despite a better BAA (.251 this season; it was .273 in 2009).

Talley’s strikeout rate and walk rate are both better this season than last, and his BABIP is actually a touch better this year too, so he hasn’t been unlucky in that respect.   Last season, though, he only allowed 14 extra base hits in 71 innings.  This year in 60 innings he’s already allowed 19.

Also, teams have  finally figured out that Talley has a great pickoff move (only 2 pickoffs so far in 2010 after having 10 in ’09).  Eliminating the runners who were subsequently picked off would give him baserunners per inning totals almost exactly the same for ’09 and ’10.

Talley has also been hurt by the team’s defense.  He has allowed a team-high 12 unearned runs.  Talley has actually allowed two more runs than Michael Clevinger in the same amount of innings, despite having an ERA a full run and a third better than that of Clevinger.

Clevinger has done a respectable job as the Sunday starter for The Citadel, about as much as you could ask for a freshman put in that position.  He has kept the team in the game most of the time, which is the primary expectation of a #3 starter.  Clevinger has done an amazing job at preventing unearned runs (just one UER in 59 2/3 IP), a stat that jumps out at you when you read the pitching lines for The Citadel.  Curt Schilling would be proud.

The Citadel has not had a lot of luck with starting pitching beyond the three weekend starters, which partly explains the lack of success in midweek games.  T.J. Clarkson had an ERA of 3.92 last season; this year it’s 6.35, despite having very similar K/BB rates, hits allowed totals, and BAA.  Clarkson, however, has allowed 6 home runs in only 34 innings after allowing just one (in 41 1/3 IP) all last season.

Austin Pritcher is a freshman who has started six games.  He’s had a couple of bad outings which have really hurt his pitching line (6.89 ERA), but he has had his moments in relief, and could be a factor in tournament play (as could Clarkson, who has proven he’s capable of pitching well against quality opposition in the past).

The Bulldogs have had four pitchers get most of the bullpen duty this season.  Matt Reifsnider is the long man out of the ‘pen, and he’s had a fine year.  His numbers are up (in a good way) from last year in practically every category.  What he’s done best is avoid walking people.  Last season he walked 15 batters in 36 1/3 innings; this season, just 4 in 38 IP.  That, combined with a much-improved BAA (.284; in ’09 it was .398) has dramatically improved his WHIP.

The two setup men for the Bulldogs are Raymond Copenhaver and Chris Boyce.  None of Boyce’s numbers stand out as being exceptionally good, but he’s done a solid job just competing on the mound, and has managed to get some big outs along the way.  As a result he’s 5-0.  Only Asher Wojciechowski has more wins for The Citadel.

I believe Copenhaver is the pitcher most affected by the team’s defensive play.  This is perhaps reflected in his BABIP of .361 (his BAA is .286).  Last season Copenhaver’s BABIP was .327 (with a .284 BAA).  What he does best is not allow extra base hits (just 3 in 20 2/3 IP, with only one a homer).  Copenhaver struggled at times last season, but he’s been better this year, with an ERA more than a full run lower.  I have to wonder if he’s actually been a little better than his results, based on that BABIP figure.

Drew Mahaffey had a great year in ’09 as the Bulldogs’ closer.  This year he has really struggled, though, and what was a team strength now has to be considered a weakness, at least until he can put things together.  The numbers do not lie.  His BAA has gone up from .203 to .238, but more ominous are his K/BB totals.  After striking out 71 and walking just 14 in 50 innings last year, this year he has already walked 18 in just 21 1/3 IP (against 22 Ks).

If the Bulldogs have designs on a long post-season run, I think getting Mahaffey back to near where he was last season is mandatory.  I don’t know whether or not that’s possible.  I just hope it’s not an injury situation.

Batting

This is the area where I thought the Bulldogs would struggle the most, but they’ve held their own.  It’s not a deep team, with eight regulars who go to the post practically every day.  DH Brad Felder has started 41 of the 43 games, yet he’s eighth on the team in starts.

There are two players in Fred Jordan’s lineup who weren’t really there last season who have made a big difference.  One of them is Matt Simonelli, who had limited playing time last year because of injury.  He’s back full-time this year and making it count (.952 OPS).

The other player who wasn’t around last year was Kyle Jordan.  Well, at least this version of Kyle Jordan, the one with a respectable bat who can make the routine plays in the field.  Last year’s version, the one with the sub-.500 OPS who led the team in strikeouts?  Gone, and thankfully so.  The younger Jordan does need to walk more and strike out less (8 BB/39 K).

Leadoff hitter Nick Orvin leads the team in OBP and slugging, as he has improved on what was an outstanding freshman season.  He is the runaway leader on the team in walks, with 30.  Orvin should be on the all-conference team.

David Greene appears to have rebounded from an early-season slump and is starting to move his numbers closer to what they were during his excellent freshman campaign.  Greene is also walking more this year, a positive development that I’m hoping may also lead to an increase in power.

Bryan Altman’s power is not in question, as he is tied for the team lead in homers with Felder (nine each).  Like Simonelli, I wish Altman walked a bit more, but also like Simonelli, he’s a contact hitter who doesn’t strike out much.  Altman can also swipe a base (8-10 this year).

William Ladd is also having a solid year at the plate.  He really needs to walk more, though (only four BB all season so far) to take full advantage of his speed on the bases.  Ladd is surely one of the faster left fielders in the country.  Ladd does lead the team in hit-by-pitches (11).

Brad Felder is not a high-average DH, but he has good power (and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his batting average continue to rise).  He also has 10 steals, joining Simonelli and Orvin as double-digit base-stealers.  His respectable .373 OBP has been built up in part by 10 hit-by-pitches.

Justin Mackert’s first season on the field has been a good one.   He now has two home runs and looks to have the potential to hit quite a few more.  He’s also not afraid to take a walk, although not quite at Orvin levels.  He’s another Bulldog who is a threat to steal (9-11 SB).

The ninth position in the lineup has been in a state of flux.  Legare Jones has seen the most time, starting 26 games at second base.  He is only batting .235, however, and as mentioned has had his share of errors in the field.  Jones has actually been better than that .235 figure suggests, though.  He walks enough to have an OBP of .351, and 7 of his 19 hits have gone for extra bases.  In other words, he gets on base at a decent clip and he has some pop in his bat.

Fred Jordan has lately been rotating Jones, Josh Pless, and Altman at second base (with Grant Richards catching when Altman goes to second).  I would imagine this will continue, with Jones and Pless being in a platoon situation and Altman occasionally moving to second base as relief from the stress of catching every day.

Entering weekend play, The Citadel has an RPI of 31, per Boyd Nation.  According to Nation, if The Citadel goes 10-4 in its last fourteen regular season games (12 of those 14 are SoCon games), it will remain in the top 32 of the RPI.  A 7-7 mark would keep it in the top 45.

The Bulldogs’ last four SoCon opponents include the teams currently in second (College of Charleston), third (Samford), and fourth (Georgia Southern) place in the league — and all of those series will be on the road, beginning with this weekend’s trip to Birmingham to play Samford.  The Citadel has a lot of work to do to win the league.

I think a 7-5 finish in league play would be good enough to win the regular season title (8-4 would be a mathematical certainty).  6-6 might be enough, depending on other results.

If The Citadel wins the SoCon regular season crown, I think that would guarantee the Bulldogs a place in the NCAAs, as it would be hard to leave out the regular season champ of a top-10 league.  Possible, but not likely.  The Citadel’s non-conference record isn’t so hot (12-13), but its record against top-50 opponents (6-6, or 6-5, depending on source) is solid.

Of course, if the Bulldogs win the conference tourney at Riley Park next month, they won’t need an at-large berth (for the record, The Citadel has never received an at-large bid to the regionals).

I just hope The Citadel finishes strong and leaves no doubt about its NCAA-worthiness.  I’m ready to go to an NCAA regional again.  It’s been too long since the last one for my liking.