Vanderbilt Baseball: Eighth Week Behind, Week Ahead
It was another stellar week in the top spot for the Dores as they swept away the competition, including their first sweep of Alabama since 1986, their second highest weekend series attendance ever and their first ever 8 game regular season conference game winning streak. It will certainly be enough to hold onto the top spot in the Baseball America, NCBWA Poll, USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and Perfect Game rankings. With UVA winning 2 of 3 at #14 Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt may not unify the #1 ranking crown by picking up Collegiate Baseball’s top spot, but it’s a successful week, nonetheless.
The Immediate Progression: Leadership
Message boards are often a funny thing. People get worked up over minor criticism of coaches, particularly when it comes to current Commodore Coaches Kevin Stallings and Tim Corbin. While this author happens to be a huge fan and supporter of both, many think that support should be dogmatic. I’m reminded of my old grammar school basketball coach who once echoed loudly when pointing out a poor decision he had made, saying “I’m not infallible; I’m not the freaking pope.” Catholicism aside, he had a point and one which makes a truly great coach: leadership starts with adapting to faults.
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Nearly a decade ago former Chancellor E.Gordon Gee dismantled the athletic department at Vanderbilt, bringing it under the division of student life under the supervision of Vice Chancellor David Williams. Since that time coaches have enjoyed unprecedented autonomy in developing and maintaining their own programs as they see fit. This can be a dangerous prospect at most schools, but at Vanderbilt we’re graced by true leaders who acknowledge their faults and work hard to correct them. Further, these gentlemen run their programs the right way, which at Vanderbilt is the only way (i.e., classy and by the rules) to retain that autonomy. Nowhere has this success been more apparent than over at the baseball offices and on the field at the Hawk.
After taking over a long-suffering Commodore program in 2003, Coach Corbin has turned Vanderbilt into a national power. The team is well on its way to a 6th consecutive NCAA appearance and its 7th in his 9 years at the helm. In the process, he’s earned a reputation as one of the top program builders and recruiters in the nation. But he’s very much more than that. He’s an individual who builds around an exciting, high-energy environment driven by a disciplined approach that is anything but punitive. Commodore players work hard, do right and have each others’ backs not because of a stern hand, but because of a strong desire to run through walls for the man at the helm and for those around them. In other words, Coach Corbin has been everything Vandy hopes to have found in new Football coach James Franklin.
It starts with identifying needs, strengths and weaknesses and surrounding oneself with excellent people. This is as true with the stellar young men on the roster as it is the coaching staff, which features the nation’s top assistant coach in Derek Johnson. Coach Corbin is a brilliant pitching mind, but he acknowledges what he has with Coach Johnson and has allowed DJ to manage the pitching staff as he sees fit, with consultation with and concurrence from the head man. A few years ago, it was shifted to DJ the duties of removing pitchers and making all mound visits, a move that likely was more symbolic than functional.
More substantive were the decisions to put then-assistant head coach Erik Bakich in the 3rd base box in 2009 and to transfer pitch calling duties to the catchers in 2010. Presumably, putting Bakich at 3rd was to give him more experience and exposure as he prepared to take over the Maryland baseball squad as their head coach later that year (though he did not yet have the job, it was understood that Bakich would be one of the hottest targets in the coaching market that summer). Meanwhile, turning over game calling duties was a vote of confidence in Andrew Giobbi, Curt Casali and Drew Fann, but it was also an important acknowledgment that you can get better by delegating authority and control. The Commodore battery has responded this year with arguably the best pitching performance in the nation.
Coach Corbin has also adjusted his style of coaching with an acute awareness of how his team matches up on the roster card. While pitching has been a hallmark of all Corbin teams, that is largely due to the recruiting of Bakich and current recruiting coordinator Josh Holliday (with hefty input and participation from Corbin and Johnson) and DJ’s outstanding tutelage of pitchers. Similarly, Corbin teams feature defensive excellence that is part recruiting and part teaching, but he’s been willing to adjust his style of play offensively to match talents. This year, we’ve seen perhaps the most dramatic change with a move toward more small ball. While it’s no secret that I think we bunt way too much, I entirely acknowledge that that strategy is a reaction to the BBCOR era of the dead bat. While I still believe we would be more efficient offensively if we bunted far less, one cannot argue with the overall results of being aggressive on the base paths, hitting-and-running and, yes, even bunting in obtaining a 30-3 record and a 10-2 start in league play.
Ultimately, I’m hopeful that Coach Corbin will adopt the input of Sabermetrics in his philosophical game-planning as he continues to develop the Vanderbilt program. Much as players simply rent their position in the Corbin era (evidenced perhaps best by Riley Reynolds adapting to a reserve role in 2010 after earning Freshman all-American honors the year before), I tend to believe that strategies too are rented. While you will run up against what one might call “gut-inertia” in trying to get a Leggett school of baseball guy to eschew small-ball in a dead bat era, a fan can always hope. More importantly, a fan can always have confidence in a team, program and school when you’ve got leaders like Tim Corbin, Derek Johnson, Josh Holliday and Larry Day at the helm.
The Week Behind
Tuesday: Vanderbilt 9, Middle Tennessee 1
One might normally feel sorry for Middle Tennessee when they have to run out against a pitching lineup like TJ Pecoraro, Sam Selman, Jack Armstrong, Kevin Ziomek and Navery Moore, as each of those pitchers features stuff that makes scouts drool. After all, the final four in that rotation have all received scouting grades that ranked them as potential first round draft picks for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 drafts, respectively, at one point or another; add in that TJ Pecoraro is only a few rounds behind that. But let’s not forget that this is the Blue Raider squad, so let’s just appreciate the throat stomping that took place at the Hawk on Tuesday. Middle actually jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to an unearned run, but that would be the last peep from the MTSU offense. Pecoraro (2 IP, H, R, 0 ER, BB, 3 K), Selman (2 IP, H, K), Armstrong (2 IP, H, 2 K), Ziomek (2 IP, 2 K) and Moore (IP, H, K) each dominated the lesser lineup, surrendering just 4 singles on the day. In particular, Armstrong and Ziomek were throwing absolutely filthy stuff all game, while Selman’s final pitch was a 95 mile per hour heater for a strikeout.
On the offensive side, Vanderbilt jumped out early before cruising to the 8 run win. They plated 3 in the first, highlighted by a Curt Casali 2 RBI single. In the 2nd, they flexed some muscle with a majestic 3 run blast by Jason Esposito into the left-center bleachers to cap a 4 run inning. They plated additional runs in the 5th and 6th for the final margin of 9 to 1. Gomez, Aaron Westlake, Joe Loftus and Casali each collected 2 hits, while Esposito led the way with 4 RBI and Casali pitched in another 3. The Commodores were hit by 6 pitches and the team churned out 9 hits and 3 free passes on top of that.
The highlight of the game was the pitching, though. I reckon it is not too hard to guess that no team in America can run out a staff day quite as scary as Vanderbilt. Partially as a result of having three weekend starters who go deep into games, Coaches Corbin and Johnson have put aside true midweek starts in the last several weeks, permitting an array of arms to go an inning or so. But there is no letup in this stable of relievers. They all throw hard, with precision and just downright nasty stuff. Pecoraro picked up his 4th win of the year and lowered his ERA back down to 1.74 on the season with the win.
Friday: Vanderbilt 11, Alabama 3
In a match up of two of the top sub-6’ pitchers in America, Sonny Gray took on the far more diminutive, but almost equally excellent, Nathan Kilcrease. On this day, neither Friday ace had their best stuff, but the Bulldog from Smyrna doesn’t need his best stuff to grit out wins. After a rather uneventful 1st inning and a half, Vanderbilt jumped on Kilcrease for 2 in the bottom of the 2nd. After Riley Reynolds’ 1st error of the year in the top frame of the 3rd and Connor Harrell’s inability to hold onto Taylor Dugas’ double as he slammed viciously into the wall in center field, the Crimson Tide knotted up the game with 2 unearned runs. After Vanderbilt charged back to a 4-2 lead, Gray suffered from some control issues and loaded the bases in the 4th without recording an out. But when the pressure is on, Gray delivers. This was no different with back-to-back strikeouts and an easy bouncer to Reynolds to escape the inning. From there on out, there was no more competition. Gray (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 4 K) gave way to Corey Williams (IP, H) in the 7th and then Armstrong (2 IP, H, R, 0 ER, BB, 3 K) to close it out.
The offense was efficient all night, led by a 3 hit performance from Gomez, who extended his batting streak to 26 games. He, Tony Kemp, Esposito and Mike Yastrzemski each scored 2 runs for the Dores, who struck for 2 in the 2nd, highlighted by a Casali double. Coming back from Alabama’s game tying 3rd inning, Vanderbilt struck back on an RBI single from Westlake for the lead. In the inning, Kilcrease caught a Yastrzemski pop up on a safety squeeze bunt, but wheeled and air mailed the throw to third, allowing the Dores to push the lead to 4-2. Vandy put it out of reach in the 5th with a 3 spot, fueled by a Westlake RBI double and a 2 out Conrad Gregor RBI single. Four more runs came in the next inning on a 2 RBI double from Yastrzemski and a 2 RBI single from Casali, each with 2 outs. Overall, Vanderbilt pounded out 15 hits on the day, while being the beneficiary of a pair of walks and hit by pitches. In addition, the Dores broke out the extra base hits with 5 doubles.
The story of the game was grit, particularly that shown by Gray. There have been several starts in which the Commodore has not had his best stuff this year, but in each of those outings he hung tough and still had enough to earn the win. This was no different and despite the 4 walks, he picked up an easy win to move to 7-1 while reducing his ERA to 1.54 on the season.
Saturday: Vanderbilt 7, Alabama 0
On Saturday, the hitting woes for Alabama continued as they were forced to match up against the latter half of the SEC’s best 1-2 pitching punch. Grayson Garvin was simply stunning all day, holding Alabama to only one real scoring chance. That opportunity arose in the 4th with a lead off double and a walk. Much as Gray bore down in the 4th on Friday, Garvin stepped up with a strikeout before inducing a routine 6-4-3 double play to escape trouble and maintain what was then a 4 run lead. Garvin (7.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K) would exit in the 8th after getting the outstanding Dugas on a routine bouncer to lead off the inning. From there, Coaches Corbin and Johnson turned the rock over to Will Clinard for the last two outs of the 8th and Ziomek for the 9th. Although Ziomek would give up a couple of harmless singles, the pair dominated by recorded all 5 outs via the strikeout.
With the staff securing their 4th shutout of the year, all that was left to question was just how well the Commodore bats would mash. It wasn’t a fully dominant afternoon, as the Dores went meekly in the 4th through 7th innings, with just a hit and a walk in that period. But by that time, the damage was already done. In the 1st, Gomez extended his hitting streak to 27 games with a sharp 1 out single. He would later score on an Esposito infield single. The Dores added another run on a Harrell single in the 2nd and 3 more in the 3rd on a Yastrzemski single, Loftus single and a throwing error. In the 8th, the Dores added 2 more insurance runs on a Gregor single and a Sam Lind sacrifice fly. On the day, the team rapped out 11 hits, with 2 walks and a hit by pitch. Gomez, Westlake and Esposito each had a pair of base knocks on the day.
The story of the game was the starter, though. Garvin was simply masterful once again. On a day when TED visited Nashville to bring some of the sharpest minds together, it was the Vanderbilt southpaw who had the most impressive presentation. As Coach Corbin mentioned in the post game, Garvin was a competitive and deliberate force who never let Alabama get a firm footing. He moved to 6-1 on the year, with the team ERA dropping to 2.14. Garvin’s ERA continues to sit just on the wrong side of 2.00 at 2.04.
Sunday: Vanderbilt 11, Alabama 6
In what was the most exciting game of the week, Alabama and Vanderbilt battled on a Sunday in which neither starter was long for their outing. Vanderbilt starter Taylor Hill cruised through the first 3 innings, facing the minimum. Staked to a 3-0 lead by Alabama wildness in the 3rd inning and some nifty Vanderbilt base running and an Anthony Gomez double in the 1st (extending his batting streak to 28 games), Hill ran into a bit of trouble in the middle innings. It started with Taylor Dugas leading off the inning with a double, followed by a single and sac fly. Hill bore down and shut down the inning with back-to-back K’s, but he would not be so fortunate in the next frame. Alabama managed 3 hits in the first 4 batters to tie it. Williams would enter and slam the door on the Tide for the next 2 innings, setting up a Vanderbilt offensive show.
The Dores took the lead back on a lead off Gregor double, Harrell sac bunt and Kemp sac fly, and the wheels would come off for Alabama in the next inning. After a couple of fine defensive plays at 3rd base in support of a perfect top half of the inning for Mark Lamm, Esposito lasered a double to left. After Alabama muffed Yastrzemski’s sacrifice bunt, Casali hit a tremendous 3 run home run over the scoreboard in left field. As the next batter, Reynolds was hit and set up pinch hitter Bryan Johns. Johns sent a very high home run over the green monster for a 9-3 lead. Harrell would later score on a wild pitch after doubling to push the lead to 7 runs.
But this was not to be a quick, blowout win. Taylor Dugas led off the 8th with a home run off of Lamm. The stalwart righty surrendered singles to 3 of the next 4 batters, loading the bases with just 1 out. Selman came in to face a lefty batter, but walked him on 5 pitches, cutting the margin to 5. Coach Johnson called on Clinard next, resulting in another walk on a controversial pitch that looked to be a strike. After that, the Weatherman bore down with a 4 run lead and got a strikeout of the next batter for the second out. On the most fateful play of the day (captured in the below video replay), Hunter Gregory laced a fly ball down the left field line. Kemp got a great jump off the bat, accelerated and leaped, somehow coming down with the catch on a would-be double that would have cut the lead to 1 run. The Hawk erupted and the Twittersphere was a mess. “Man of Steal” would have been trending, but Tony Kemp is just too darn cool to be encapsulated in 140 characters.
Vanderbilt added another run in the bottom half of the inning on a Casali double and Navery Moore closed out the 9th in a non-save situation. Williams (1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 K) picked up the win in relief to go to 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA on the year. Hill’s ERA inflated back over the 3.00 number to 3.19 in the year, though he pitched better than his final line (4.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 4 K) indicates. Meanwhile, Lamm (1.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 K) saw his ERA balloon from a low of 0.49 all the way out to 1.93 due to his rough 8th inning. This game was not, however, destined to have an 8th inning collapse as happened against Mississippi State; Tony Kemp made sure of that.
Apologies, Corrections and Indignation
Apologies this week go out to the All-Access team. I was terribly upset at the thought of Vanderbilt’s contract with ISP leading to All-Access becoming a pay service. In no way did I believe that VUCommodores.com would make the broadcasts and content worthy of a $9/month fee. Boy was I wrong. In the last two weeks, the website has debuted a stunning advance in broadcast technology, starting with a 6-camera layout and switching board, giving viewers controlled cameras in center field and in the press box, as well as 3 set cameras on the 3rd base line, a set camera on the 1st base line and set camera trained on the scoreboard.
In just two weeks, they’ve proven more than capable of producing a superior broadcast that is light years better than the single-camera setup with which we were accustomed. This week, they surprised us even more with the introduction of replays that are smooth in transition and well chosen and timed. You can even tell from Joe Fisher’s broadcasts that the folks who are pulling this off are impressed with their early successes. So VUCommodores.com and Vanderbilt Marketing, I’ve gotten on your case in the past, but I send to you my kudos. This is some great stuff.
My correction this week again goes back to Georgia. This isn’t the first time they’ve ended up in this section of the column, but this time it’s not about them winning yet another SEC series. Yes, they took yet another SEC series (this time over Ole Miss), but what I’m actually going to correct is my misperception that their rough start hammered their RPI. In fact, Georgia has a stout RPI (measured 16th by Warren Nolan and 17th by Boyd’s World) against Warren Nolan’s and Boyd’s 2nd best strength of schedule. In fact, Boyd’s RPI Needs Report projects that if Georgia plays just over .500 ball the rest of the way, they should end up with a top 16 RPI and the opportunity to at least bid on hosting a regional. Granted, it will be hard for them to earn a host spot out of the same division as Vanderbilt, Florida and South Carolina, but the Dawgs are not only for real on the field, they’re for real on paper as well.
Looking at the RPI Needs Report, you get an idea of just how strong Vanderbilt and Florida are in their respective positions for hosting. With the top RPI in the nation, Florida could finish the year with just 6 more wins and still be projected to have a top 16 RPI. In fact, they could finish the season 0-23 and they’d still likely have a top 45 RPI, meaning that someone would be in the NCAA tournament without a better metric resume (because, let’s be honest, no one is making it into the tournament on a 23 game losing streak). As for Vanderbilt, Boyd’s projects that Vanderbilt needs 14 more wins to be a top 8 RPI team and just 10 more wins to be top 16 and in the hunt to host. Just 4 more wins are needed to finish with a top 32 RPI and a comfortable NCAA bid, and a 2-19 finish should give Vandy a top 45 RPI spot.
As for my indignation, it goes out to Tony Kemp. You, young man, are far too humble for someone with that much capacity to back up the swag. This is, of course, feigned indignation, because if there is one quality that this team exudes, it’s a team first and humble approach. In recent weeks, post game interviews of guys like Grayson Garvin, Mike Yastrzemski, Anthony Gomez, Will Clinard, Sonny Gray, Curt Casali and Kemp, among others, has bore out one key characteristic. This team is always looking at the bigger picture and beyond themselves. They echo the de facto national motto of E pluribus unum, out of many one. Right now that one symbolizes both their unity and their national ranking. A continued selfless attitude will keep it that way.
For more weekly honors check out AnchorOfGold’s Rookie of the Year-themed awards.
Best Offensive Player
Numerous Dores enjoyed nice weeks this week, but this came down to a battle of three bats. Anthony Gomez was 9-17 (.529) on the week, scored 7 runs and extended his batting streak to 28 games, but that would not prove to be enough. Also just short was Jason Esposito at 6-14 (.429) with 5 runs, 5 runs batted in, 2 doubles, a home run and 3 hit by pitches.
The winner is Curt Casali. The senior catcher from New Canaan was added to terrorist watch lists for the highly explosive 3 run bomb he unleashed in the 7th inning on Sunday. An RBI double in the next inning took his weekly totals to 6-14 (.429) with 3 runs scored, a whopping 10 runners driven in and 2 walks, a hit by pitch and 3 doubles. The honor is well deserved.
For the opposing side, the best player was clearly Taylor Dugas, who went 5-14 on the weekend with 3 runs, an RBI, two doubles and a home run. The all-American candidate has been a spark plug all year and that Vandy can feel good about keeping him somewhat in check with those numbers is a testament to his talent.
Sonny Gray of the Week
This one was not nearly as hard to gauge. Grayson Garvin was simply dominant, collecting his second honor since Sonny Gray received naming rights (and was deemed ineligible) for this award. His 7.1 innings went by like a breeze and it seemed like Garvin did not break any more of a sweat than Kemp does when going 1st to 3rd on a single.
For the opposition, well, there wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about. All four starters were knocked around a bit, and only two relievers had moderately good appearances. The honor will go to Justin Guidry of MTSU (2 IP, 3 K, 2 HBP) over Charley Sullivan (2 G, 1.2 IP, 2 H, K) of Alabama. The irony is that Guidry has a brutal stat line on the year, with an ERA of 12.08 in 12.2 innings. Here’s to Guidry keeping the turnaround going, just not on Tuesday.
Around the League
SEC Weekend Scoreboard
#3 South Carolina at Tennessee (USC sweeps)
Thursday: USC 4, UT 0
Friday: USC 2, UT 0
Saturday: USC 2, UT 1
#4 Florida at Mississippi State (Florida 2-1)
Friday: MSU 7, UF 5
Saturday: UF 18, MSU 0
Sunday: UF 3, MSU 1
#15 LSU at #18 Arkansas (Arkansas sweeps)
Friday: UA 2, LSU 0
Saturday: UA 4, LSU 3
Sunday: UA 5, LSU 4
Georgia at Ole Miss (Georgia 2-1)
Friday: UGA 9, OM 8
Saturday: UGA 8, OM 3
Sunday: OM 12, UGA 7
Auburn at Kentucky (Auburn sweeps)
Friday: AU 12, UK 9
Saturday: AU 15, UK 8
Sunday: AU 8, UK 2
Top 10 Roundup:
#1 Vanderbilt had a 4-0 week to move to 30-3 (10-2 SEC) with a win over MTSU and a sweep of #24 Alabama.
#2 Virginia had a 3-1 week to move to 31-3 (13-2 ACC) with a win over Radford and a series win at #14 Georgia Tech.
#3 South Carolina had a 4-0 week to move to 26-5 (10-2 SEC) with a win over South Carolina-Upstate and a sweep of Tennessee.
#4 Florida had a 2-2 week to move to 26-7 (9-3 SEC) with a loss to Central Florida and a series win over Mississippi State.
#5 Arizona State had a 1-3 week to move to 22-9 (5-4 P12) with a win over #21 Arizona and a sweep loss to Oregon State.
#6 Texas A&M had a 2-2 week to move to 24-8 (9-3 B12) with a loss to Houston and a series win over Texas Tech.
#7 Oklahoma had a 2-2 week to move to 24-8 (6-5 B12) with a win over Oklahoma State and a series loss at Kansas State.
#8 Texas had a 3-1 week to move to 24-8 (9-3 V12) with a win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi and a series win over Baylor.
#9 Florida State had a 2-2 week to move to 23-9 (9-6 ACC) with a win over Valdosta State and a series loss to #10 North Carolina.
#10 North Carolina had a 3-1 week to move to 29-5 (12-3 ACC) with a win over Winthrop and a series win at #9 Florida State.
Rankings and Metrics
Baseball America: 1st (LW: 1st)
ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll: 1st (LW: 1st)
NCBWA: Not yet released (LW: 1st)
Collegiate Baseball: 2nd – Virginia 1st (LW: 2nd – Virginia 1st)
Perfect Game: 1st (LW: 1st)
Warren Nolan Metrics
Simulated RPI: 6th
Nolan Power Index: 2nd
Strength of Schedule: 67th
Boyd’s World Metrics
Simulated RPI: 7th
Iterative Strength Rating: 4th
Strength of Schedule: 88th
The Week Ahead
Vanderbilt will spend their week on the road, starting with a return trip to the Boro to visit last week’s midweek guest, Middle Tennessee. Given that I wasn’t paying attention to who was on the upcoming schedule when I wrote the Tuesday recap, I can be thankful that this probably isn’t read enough to constitute bulletin board fodder.
The Blue Raiders had a rough week with the 1-9 Tuesday loss to Vanderbilt, a 4-11 loss to Austin Peay on Wednesday and a series loss to Arkansas Little Rock (4-5, 2-3, 8-4). In doing so, their record dropped to 9-22 (3-9 Sun Belt) on the season. Their Warren Nolan RPI now stands at a bloated 237 and they have a runs scored to allowed ratio of 5.0 to 6.9 per game.
MTSU is still led by Will Skinner (.352, 8 HR, 24 RBI), Justin Guidry (.338, 2, 18) and Tyler Acker (.306, 0, 14) at the plate, though their team batting average fell to .282 with the rough week. On the hill, the leaders are still hard to find, with a team ERA of 6.47 and only one pitcher with a sub-5.00 ERA and more than 6 innings pitched. That pitcher, Paul Mittura (1-3, 4.76 ERA) also serves as their closer, so while he’s had one spot start on the year, I’m not sure I expect him to fulfill that role on Tuesday. To be honest, it’s difficult to guess who the Raiders will throw at Vanderbilt, as the Joey McClung (1-1, 6.35) experiment did not go well last week (2 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, HBP, K). Though he threw 2.1 innings on Sunday, reliever Hunter Dawson (3-1, 5.16) could get the nod, if McClung isn’t given a second shot or Jud Stoltz (0-1, 7.31) isn’t tapped.
Vanderbilt should counter with its standard staff day. While each of Pecoraro, Selman, Armstrong and Ziomek should log innings, Lamm, Clinard, Williams and Moore all saw limited time over the weekend and could be due for an inning, as well.
Tuesday is a tuneup for what might be the season’s biggest weekend with the Commodores taking on #3 South Carolina. With the Gamecocks perfect week, they should retain the #3 ranking in most major polls (voters might, but should not leap them over Virginia for the #2 spot). At 26-5 (10-2 SEC), Ray Tanner’s squad has been nothing short of stellar against the 15th toughest schedule in Warren Nolan’s database. According to Nolan, they have the #4 RPI and the 5th best NPI. In the Boyd’s database, they have the #4 RPI and #5 ISR against the 37th most difficult schedule. On the year, they’ve mashed opponents with a solid scoring margin of 6.6 runs per game for, against 3.0 runs against. They are riding matching 9 game winning streaks at home and overall and have series wins over Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. Amazingly, after this weekend, they will be done with the East, leaving Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Alabama on their plate.
At the plate, the Cocks are led by one of the SEC’s top hitters in first baseman Christian Walker (.352, 7 HR, 37 RBI). He’s joined by third baseman Adrian Morales (.333, 3, 21), second baseman Scott Wingo (.320, 3, 13) and pre-season All-American Jackie Bradley Jr. (.296, 6, 24) in rounding out the offensive standouts. South Carolina has averaged just less than 1 home run per game and bats .290 as a team. They are also outstanding with the glove, with a team fielding percentage of .976.
The pitching staff is, as expected, stout with a team ERA of 2.47 and an opponent’s batting average of .213. The weekend rotation should be Michael Roth (7-1, 1.25), Colby Holmes (3-0, 3.00) and true freshman Forrest Koumas (4-0, 1.91), all of whom are outstanding. Each averages around 1 strikeout per inning pitched, with Koumas just recently having made the switch to the starting rotation. Roth is a bit of a change of pace guy, with a Richie Goodenow-like delivery and story (he earned a starting spot by twirling a gem in the Super Regionals in his first start of last year). They lead up to a setup/closer tandem that can match Mark Lamm and Navery Moore. Typically, John Taylor (2-0, 0.68) gets setup duties for Matt Price (3-2, 10 saves, 2.82). While Price is one of the higher profile pro prospects, he and Taylor are not the end-all be-all with several relief arms featuring ERAs below 2.50.
Expect Vanderbilt to keep going with the Gray, Garvin and Hill weekend rotation. All in all, this should be every bit as exciting as the Florida series that closes Vanderbilt’s home slate. Game times (all Eastern) are set for 7PM Friday, 7PM Saturday (TV: CSS) and 1PM Sunday (TV: ESPN2).
Baseball America – Top 25 Tracker Page (updates when posted by BA)
VandySports.com – Baseball Page (multiple stories and previews)
College Baseball Daily – Vanderbilt Tag (including Drew Fann’s weekly blog)
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And a special thanks to Mike Rapp at VandySports.com. He is the best photographer of Vanderbilt sports and an even better person. Without him, this site wouldn’t have most of its sports art.