Vanderbilt Baseball – Third Week Behind, Week Ahead
In this, the third Week Behind, Week Ahead, we’re going to temporarily sneak away from celebrating another victorious week for the Dores and simply delve into that great debate which rattles VandySports.com and the Twitter-sphere each time Vandy plays: why on earth do the Dores bunt so darn much? That will lead off before we get into a true review of the weekend, on which Vanderbilt went 4-0, taking Western Kentucky on Tuesday and sweeping three from Brown over the weekend, including a double-header on Sunday.
The Immediate Progression: Bunting
While there are plenty of highlights to talk about in starting a season 11-1 — not the least of which is a pitching staff that has been downright overpowering — the one area of real concern is the continued slumber of a good number of Commodore bats. This has been exacerbated by the 90 foot by 90 foot reality of a ground ball hitting team and the BBCOR era of bats.
Click through to keep on reading.
While last year it seemed like Coach Tim Corbin might have been pressured into bunting more often than he had in the past due to a ridiculously inordinate number of double plays being grounded into (with Andrew Giobbi taking honors as top culprit). At the start of this year, it seems that BBCOR bats and the reduced size of the sweet spot on the bat, along with a slow start by most of the batters not named Westlake or Yastrzemski, may have influenced an increased push toward dropping down sacrifices.
It’s not that I dislike bunting entirely. It almost certainly has a place and I almost always feel good when I see a talented bunter like Riley Reynolds or a speedster like Tony Kemp drop one down, because they put pressure on the defense. Reynolds bunts so well that he puts down sacrifices with an intent to beat them out and Kemp is so fast he’s a single threat every time as well. In the past and present, Vanderbilt has not limited it to that. For example, on Tuesday we saw Curt Casali drop down a sacrifice bunt with no outs and runners on first and second. Granted, Casali has struggled with the bat a bit in the early going of 2011, but he has historically been the most consistent masher on the Commodores and has ranked at or near the top of the team Runs Created list in each of his three years on campus. Top flight batters like Jason Esposito and Aaron Westlake have also been asked to bunt in the past.
The thing is that the trade-off for these types of moves just isn’t worth it. In doing so, you’re handing away a free out, often with one of your best hitters. BoydsWorld produced expected run tables based on Division 1 games from 2005 to 2008 that go a long way toward proving it. When going from runners on first and second with no out, you have a expected runs output of 1.83 runs and an expectation that you’ll score at least one run at 72 percent. By bunting them over to second and third, you actually reduce that expectation to 1.59 runs with a marginal increase of 75 percent likelihood of scoring at least a run.
The big part here is that you’re killing big innings by giving up the big bats. What’s more, you are asking someone who is unfamiliar with bunting to lay one down. On Tuesday, Casali bunted right back to the pitcher and only an error on the catch by the third baseman prevented a disastrous fielder’s choice that would have taken Esposito’s speed off the base paths to be replaced by Casali and one fewer out to work with.
While it is true that Vandy actually used the bunt to great effect on Sunday, but that was largely due to the aggressive bunting style of Anthony Gomez, Connor Harrell, Bryan Johns and Riley Reynolds. All in all, bunting is far more popular among the experts on Vanderbilt’s staff than the Monday morning quarterbacks like me. But all I ask as a fan and spectator is that the bunt be used with more contextual discretion. Esposito, Westlake and Casali should not be bunting. Their scholarships are there to drive in runs, rather than move them over. I’m well aware my expertise is at a keyboard and my viewpoint through All Access. Tim Corbin and Josh Holiday know far better than I how to manage a baseball squad, but on this point I firmly believe their strategy is wrong.
The Week Behind
This week was about as ugly as you can get while still managing to somewhat comfortably sweep the opposition. None of the opponents were terribly ferocious. Yes, Western Kentucky has some nice players and Brown’s Friday starter (Montgomery Bell Academy product Matt Kimball) was impressive, but the Dores were somewhat sloppy in getting to the ultimate 4-0 resolution on the week.
At 7-1, Vanderbilt entered the week ranked second behind Florida (7-0) by Baseball America, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers and Perfect Game. They ranked third behind Florida and Oklahoma (9-0) in the Collegiate Baseball Poll. In Warren Nolan’s small-sample metrics, Vanderbilt was at third in the Nolan Power Index and seventh in his RPI replicator.
Tuesday: Vanderbilt 6, Western Kentucky 5
In the Tuesday game, Corey Williams cruised through the first three innings, building a 4-0 lead behind several key doubles and a big another clutch hit by Anthony Gomez. After permitting just a harmless single in the first and a walk in the third, Williams suddenly lost it in what was his longest outing (75 pitches, 3.1 innings) since having he kneecap shattered by an Austin Maddox line drive a year ago. Western hammered him for four singles and a walk (with a strikeout mixed in) before Keenan Kolinsky came in to relieve. The Hilltoppers seemed content to sit on Kolinsky’s change up, leading to two more quick singles and another fast hook. With four runs in and runners on second and third with just one out, freshman Kevin Ziomek came in to stem the tide. He did just that, getting a full-count strikeout and easy bouncer to third en route to 3.1 dominant innings with just 2 hits and 1 walk against 6 strikeouts. His holding steady of the opposition, followed nicely by 1.2 strong innings by Mark Lamm and another dominant outing by Navery Moore (who struck out two of the three batters he faced), gave the Dores the opportunity to come back.
Though Vanderbilt struggled to convert base runners into runs, they finally it going in the ninth; though, even then, they needed some assistance. In particular, with the bases loaded and 2 outs, pesky Tony Kemp and his mite sized strike zone worked a full count and took a pitch on the periphery of the strike zone, up and away. The two people with the best view of the pitch disagreed, with the plate umpire calling it a game tying ball four and Hilltopper catcher Matt Rice throwing down his mask in disgust, believing his team to have just been robbed of a winning strike three. I will note that All-Access provides a limited view from above, but the pitch seemed to have the corner of the plate, though it could have been high. With Rice’s reaction appropriately earning a rejection, replacement catcher JP Jackson allowed a passed ball. Pinch runner Sonny Gray sprinted home for the winning run from third and the teams lined up for a handshake with the Commodores sneaking out of the Hawk with a 6-5 victory.
The Commodores pounded out 14 hits and took 8 walks on the evening. Mike Yastrzemski led the way with 3 hits, while Kemp, Gomez, Jason Esposito and Aaron Westlake all pitched in 2 more. Navery Moore received the win, moving to 1-0 on the year, while Rye Davis (1-1) took the loss for WKU.
Friday: Vanderbilt 3, Brown 1
On Friday, the looming weekend weather held out to permit the Commodores to host the Brown Bears, who were making their season debut. And, as they say, it is always Sonny at the Hawk. Gray was, for lack of a better term, Sonny Gray against the Bears. Much as he did against an over-matched squad in Team USA competition over the summer, Gray was businesslike and extraordinarily efficient in mowing down the opposition. He threw a complete game, permitted only 3 hits and 1 run with no walks. Of the 31 batters he faced, he struck out 15 using a solid two seam fastball, dominating power curve and a resplendent change up. Most amazingly, he did so using only 106 pitches, for an average of 3.41 per batter.
Also deserving of high praise was Curt Casali who was a stalwart behind the plate in blocking numerous curves in the dirt, including many for strike three. Gray did throw 2 wild pitches, but Casali prevented about 3 or 4 more possible ones by effectively squaring the ball with his chest protector. One of the wild pitches was on a third strike in the 5th inning. To that point, Gray had faced the minimum (with his third pick-off of the year erasing a runner who had reached on a Westlake error), but the Bears followed up the wild pitch with two consecutive singles and, after another wild pitch, had runners at second and third with no outs and a game-tying run in. Gray proceeded to strike out the next three batters to retain a 1-1 tie with the Bears. Gray threw 25 pitches in the inning, fully a quarter of his total for the game, but he cruised from thereon out permitting only one more base runner before closing things out.
Vanderbilt’s offense was stymied by Kimball, who yielded only 6 hits and 2 walks in 7 innings of 1 run ball. That run was manufactured with a Gomez single, Conrad Gregor walk, Connor Harrell sacrifice and Riley Reynolds RBI groundout in the 2nd. The bats remained rather impotent (despite a Harrell triple in the fourth) until the eighth inning with the score still knotted at 1-1. Esposito led it off with a double off the very top of the green monster in left field. After Westlake was intentionally walked, Curt Casali laid down a bunt that pitcher Heath Mayo easily wheeled and fired to third on, with plenty of time to get Esposito. Mayo’s throw was low and juggled by the third baseman, loading the bases with no outs (as a note, Casali was credited with a sacrifice, but it should have been scored a fielder’s choice with an error). Anthony Gomez came through again with a clutch single up the middle to plate Esposito and Westlake, which was huge as Gregor, Harrell and Reynolds all failed to bring Casali in from third with an insurance run.
On the night, Vanderbilt managed just 8 hits, with Gomez, Esposito and Westlake each garnering 2 of them. More uncharacteristically, Vanderbilt had just 3 walks, as Kimball remained in command of his arsenal. With the win, Gray moved to 3-0 on the young season and lowered his ERA to 2.33 and his opponent’s batting average against to a team leading .149. Gray also leads the team with 27 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. Reliever Andrew Bakowski took the loss for Brown in his first appearance of the year.
Sunday Game One
With the skies opening up and flood warnings on high alert, baseball was not to be played on Saturday; however, Hawkins field’s outstanding grounds crew (which is a combination of the team, coaches and some really great professional groundskeepers) had the field in pretty good shape for Sunday’s double header tilt. That said, the weather was not terribly cooperative, with the mercury rising only to about 37 degrees and some moisture still in the damp air, leading to a quiet crowd and some sloppy play in the field.
Grayson Garvin took to the field and was not really terribly sharp – then again, even when not with his best stuff, Garvin is better than most. Particularly in the fourth, Garvin appeared to be laboring and struggled with his command. In that inning, Brown struck for their only run off the southpaw. After permitting just one hit batsman in the first three innings, Garvin allowed a one out bunt single on a play where Casali and Garvin failed to communicate who would field the ball. Following that, Garvin walked the next batter and permitted a single on a 2-0 pitch to load the bases. Garvin rebounded to strike out the next better on three pitches, but Wes Van Bloom (who was having a difficult time fielding flies all night in left) singled to left fielder Tony Kemp. The base knock brought one run home, but the Event Horizon threw a strike to Curt Casali and cut down the runner trying to score from second to end the threat. Garvin had a solid fifth, allowing one base runner on an error by Esposito on a slow roller. That would be Garvin’s last inning, having thrown 77 pitches – he had thrown 103 and 88 pitches in his first two starts – and allowed 3 hits, the walk and hit batsman and while striking out 4 against one earned run.
Vandy brought out three of the four big guns in the pen, starting with Will Clinard. Clinard utilized his cut fastball well, throwing a solid sixth and seventh inning before stumbling along with the defense in the eighth. Holding a seemingly comfortable 5-1 lead, the Dores imploded on defense. A lead-off batsman grounded back to Clinard, knocking his glove off for a single that was a difficult, but make-able play. Brown right fielder Josh Feit then hit a slow roller to deep short that Esposito made a brilliant play to field, but he could not quite get the fleet-of-foot Feit at first. Then the wheels really came off as a picture perfect double play ball went right through Gomez’ wickets at second, scoring a run. Clinard came back to strike out the next batter before being replaced by Kevin Ziomek, but Bryan Johns let Matt DiBiase’s grounder to third to go right through him for a run. A sac fly and fielder’s choice closed out the inning. All three runs were unearned.
After having dominated the game throughout, the Vandy offense really needed to come alive to overcome their defensive struggles. The Dores had previously taken advantage of some Browns miscues, as in the second when a catchable Mike Yastrzemski bloop double to left scored Esposito, who had reached on an error. In the next inning, the team parlayed Connor Harrell reaching on a lead-off error into a pair of runs, sparked by two singles and a walk. In the fourth, they utilized the safety squeeze by Harrell to plate Yastrzemski, again exposing Brown’s defense. Vandy scored their 5th run in the sixth on a 2 out rally sparked by a Gregor single, Harrell walk and an RBI grounder to right by Kemp. In need of some insurance, Vanderbilt again exposed the infield defense of the Bears after a lead-off walk of Gregor by dropping three bunts: a sacrifice-turned-single by Harrell, a failed sacrifice by Kemp and a pure single by Johns. Aaron Westlake capped the inning by squeaking a ground-ball single off the second baseman’s glove for an all important 6th run.
Coach Corbin and Coach Derek Johnson turned over the ninth to their own sandman in Moore. Although Moore struggled a bit with his control, walking two batters, he generally dominated. As Moore has a history of control issues, this was important to note, as he has been stunningly sharp all season long; however, the two walks seemed more of an anomaly, as Moore was throwing a good, heavy fastball that led to a strikeout and a series of soft grounders. With an error by Johns (his second of the day) at third and a slow single through the right side, Brown pushed across another unearned run before Moore closed the door for the 6-5 Vanderbilt win.
The Commodores moved to 10-1 with Garvin (2-1) picking up the win and Moore (1-0, 4s) the save. Vanderbilt had 13 hits and 4 walks, led by 2 hits each from Kemp, Johns, Westlake, Gregor and Esposito. More troubleing were 4 errors on the infield that led to 4 unearned runs tagged on the bullpen.
Sunday Game Two
Taylor Hill took the hill in the early afternoon, coming off a poor outing against Stanford a week ago. Hill was pretty good, but was again victimized by a suspect Vanderbilt infield defense. In the game, Coach Corbin moved away from his Esposito Gambit at shortstop, conforming to the infield defense I suggested in my pre-season preview, with Westlake at first, Riley Reynolds at second, Gomez at short and Esposito at third. In the second, Brown was ready to strike, loading the bases with no outs on a pair of singles and a walk. A routine grounder to Esposito led to an error on a play at the plate for the third baseman, his second of the doubleheader. Hill bounced back to get out of the inning, but not before balking in a second unearned run. Hill had relatively easy innings in the third and fourth and retired the first two batters of the fifth, but back to back singles led to a timely hook and the entry of shutdown setup man Mark Lamm. Lamm surrendered a first pitch single to score the runner from second, but proceeded to retire the next four batters, holding Brown at three runs.
The offense had little going in the first three innings, registering only a Westlake double and a hit by pitch of Drew Fann (Hill’s semi-regular catcher). In the fourth, Westlake struck with a very, very long home run to right – particularly when considering that Westlake hit a similar ball off the BBCOR bat in the opener that died at the track in right center. Vanderbilt plated two more off a wild pitch and infield single for Gregor to tie the game at three. In the eighth, the Dores put together a string of hits highlighted by a Gomez RBI bunt single, a Joe Loftus bases loaded, pinch hit walk and a wild pitch that scored a third run.
With a three run lead and both Moore and Williams warming, Coaches Corbin and Johnson turned the ball over to the red shirt lefty, who overcame a lead-off single for a relatively easy ninth inning. Lamm (3-0) took the win and Williams (0-0, 1s) earned the save as the Dores moved to 11-1, capping off a perfect 4-0 week.
Apologies, Corrections and Indignation
One of the most favorite Commodores in recent history is Mr. Everything Richie Goodenow. Due to the red-shirt junior’s graduation, a lack of scholarship funds and Goodenow’s need to find a way to foot the bill, the big lefty specialist transferred to Lipscomb with the promise of a more affordable graduate level education and the opportunity to start as a two-way player.
The Chuck Norris-like lefty was known to be a huge loss, but I offer my apologies for doubting his batting presence. I figured Goodenow would produce on the hill, but he’s locking in on a run at national two-way player honors. Through three weeks, Goodenow is batting .395 with 4 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI and a 1.136 OPS. He’s also firmly entrenched in the starting rotation and, despite an 0-2 record, he has a 2.45 ERA, has twirled a complete game and has 24 strikeouts in 22 innings against only 4 walks.
So while Goodenow never produced at the plate for the Dores (1-15 in 2009), he’s proven himself already with the BBCOR bats. For those facts, I apologize and correct the record.
My indignation, however, lands with the NCAA. The ridiculous lack of full scholarships or even a greater allotment of partial scholarships squeezes the financial means of many families across the baseball roster ledgers. It is possible Goodenow might have left for a starting job last year in any respect, but I understand it had everything to do with scholarship money and finding the right academic fit. At least in no small part is it the fault of scholarship limits that Goodenow suits up across town, instead of as the primary setup man for the Commodores.
For more Vandy Weekly honors, check out AnchorOfGold’s weekly Commodore awards.
Best Offensive Player:
Aaron Westlake was a beast in the third week of the year, racking up four multi-hit games. In all, Westlake was 9-15 with 2 BB, 5 R and 3 RBI. He laced 3 doubles and added a home run on Sunday. He even nabbed a base en route to upping his season average to .429 with 10 runs, 8 RBI and a 1.196 OPS.
On the other side, Western Kentucky center fielder Kes Carter (2-4, 2B, BB, R) impressed, but Brown cleanup hitter Matt DiBiase wins out with a great name and a nice week overall. DiBiase went 4-10 with a run and a walk. In a week of underwhelming performances by the opponent batters, DiBiase looked most comfortable at the plate.
Pitchers of the Week:
This one was pretty simple this week. Sonny Gray was simply dominant. His performance was perhaps most impressive in its economy. After struggling with control in his first two starts (each of which involved him settling down after a rough early inning), Gray walked none against his 15 strikeouts and was outstanding at getting strike one. While it may be a bit boring for the best player on the field to get the award each week, I don’t think any Commodore fans would complain about a repeat of this.
Gray’s Friday night opponent is our visiting pitcher of the week. MBA product Matt Kimball was consistently in the zone and hitting his spots with very good (though not quite great stuff). Kimball should thrive in Ivy League play and compete for all-league honors.
The Week Ahead
The Commodores figure to remain static in the polls after the somewhat sloppy, but unbeaten week. Florida swept struggling NCBWA #26 Miami, FL over the weekend after dropping their first game of the year NCBWA #5 Florida State in the midweek. Oklahoma should hold their rankings as well after sweeping through five games on the weekend (including wins against San Diego and the Cal Bears) to move to 14-0.
Thus begins the only five-game week of the year as the Commodores host Wofford (6-4) and Kennessaw State (7-2) midweek before being paid a visit by the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames (3-7) over the weekend.
Tuesday opponent Wofford has somewhat suspect pitching with an unsettled starting rotation. The leader on the hill so far has been Cash Collins (3-0, 2.01 ERA), but he has a bizarrely low total of 7 strikouts and 5 walks in 22.1 innings. The only other pitcher to see more than 10 innings pitched so far is Tom Dolinak (1-1, 6.62), who has struggled, but has 22 strikeouts in 17.2 innings. The offense is another matter, as they feature a .330 team batting average led by South Carolina born Greek countryman Konstantine Diamaduros (.477 BA, 9 RBI), James Foster (.378, 6 2B) and Clark Wise (.367). Wofford is also 17-22 in stolen bases through 11 games. It is not clear who will start for Wofford.
Kennesaw State will show some more solid arms on Wednesday, featuring three pitchers with sub-3.00 ERAs and more than 10 innings pitched. They are led by starters Josh Carr (1-1, 1.62, 15 K in 16.2 IP) and Bryan Blough (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 13 K in 15 IP). Closer J.B. Johnson (1-0, 3s, 2.70) is a strikeout machine with 11 Ks in just 6.2 IP. On the offensive side, the Owls are led by Ronnie Freeman (.400, 9 R, 9 BB) and Andy Chriscaden (.395, 11 R, 12 RBI). As a team, they have a .293 batting average and 4.27 ERA. It is not clear who will start for Kennesaw.
UIC is a team that has struggled early, with a .272 team average, 6.43 ERA and .944 fielding percentage that has yeilded 22 unearned runs in just 10 games. At the plate, they’re led by Steve McGuiggan (.324, 1 RBI) and Jason Ganek (.289, 2 HR, 11 RBI). They’re not much better on the bases (10-20 in stolen bases) and have compounded a weak offense with poor defense and pitching. Their weekend rotation to date has been Matt Salemi (0-1, 3.27), Joey Begel (1-1, 7.79) and Charlie Weinberg (0-3, 8.74), though it’s not clear who they will roll out.
Vandy figures to start TJ Pecoraro on Tuesday against Wofford. If healthy, Jack Armstrong could see a Wednesday start, but I don’t believe he will be ready for one more week. If Kevin Ziomek cannot turn around quickly enough off the Sunday appearance to start against Kennesaw, expect Sam Selman to get a turn on the hill. Vanderbilt figures to continue the weekend rotation of Gray, Garvin and Hill.
Outfield tickets are just $1 on Tuesday and Wednesday so get out there and support the team.
Baseball America - Top 25 Tracker Page (updates when posted by BA)
VandySports.com - Baseball Page (multiple stories and previews)
College Baseball Daily – Vanderbilt Tag
Let me know what you think or where you stand on the bunting issues. You can comment below, share this article on Twitter or Facebook. And remember to follow me on Twitter (my personal or this website’s feeds).