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Home > Baseball, Sport, Vanderbilt > Vanderbilt Baseball 2012: Second and Third Week Behind, Week Ahead

Vanderbilt Baseball 2012: Second and Third Week Behind, Week Ahead

March 6th, 2012

Spencer Navin was the catalyst for a Vanderbilt sweep over the weekend. Photo credit: Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

A brutal week at work kept me from my bed, my social life and my blogging activity. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have time to follow the VandyBoys games, but I wasn’t able to do last week’s Week Behind, Week Ahead. As a result, I’m giving you a double dose today, though I’ll keep the recaps short so as to prevent this from being an entry of whopping proportions.

The last six games were a mix of bad and good. Vanderbilt jumped all over Oakland for the first win of the season midweek. The Dores looked pretty ugly against Oregon, though they weren’t steamrolled as against Stanford. Nevertheless, the poor defense and wildness on the mound led to a similar three game sweep. In the midweek, the Dores looked awful against Louisiana Tech, but righted the ship with a double header and then weekend sweep against URI.

That double header sweep was a big plus for the Dores. Entering the game at six games under .500, the Commodores have to start worrying about eligibility for the NCAA tournament. We saw in 2011 two SEC squads (Auburn and Georgia) have their potential NCAA bids hinge on getting over the .500 mark for their season records. Auburn failed to make it, while Georgia snuck into a bid. Like Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs started off the season rough, before seeing the spinal injury to Johnathan Taylor somehow jumpstart UGA into a change in attitude. While, thankfully, no such incident occurred at the Hawk, one can hope the Dores saw their turnaround in the doubleheader sweep.

The Immediate Progression – Getting Right

Baseball is a funny game. A great team can look great one day and horrible the next. But generally teams build on momentum. After being steamrolled by Stanford, that momentum was all the way on the negative. While an overmatched Oakland squad couldn’t put up much of a fight two Wednesdays ago, the bugaboos reared their ugly head against Oregon. Vandy’s pitchers tried to be too perfect and/or came down with cases of the yips. Walks, hit batsman and 3-1 counts all lead to bad results, and the Commodore staff was allowing far too many leadoff batters to reach. Combine that with an infield defense that has committed 14 errors through 11 games and you have real problems.

Click through to keep on reading

The Commodores’ defensive numbers are just ugly right now, but that means in large part that we’re likely to see a turnaround. That turnaround will probably be sparked by a shakeup of the infield defense, a preview of which we saw this weekend with Andrew Harris making his presence felt at first base. Harris adds an element of stability alongside the one Commodore to provide near impeccable defense. Riley Reynolds earned the nickname “Rily (No Es) Rynolds” over the weekend on Twitter (hat tip to @TheGoche) as he approaches a full calendar year between errors (his last two were on April 8, 2011 against Alabama and May 20, 2010 against Arkansas).

Riley Reynolds remains the one defensive lynchpin in the Vanderbilt infield; can his near perfection rub off on the rest of the infield? Photo credit: Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

With first year first baseman Conrad Gregor committing four errors (.940 Fld%) and Freshman third baseman Vicente Conde matching that total (.778 Fld%), normally solid shortstop Anthony Gomez has struggled in the field (5 errors, .889 Fld%). As a means of shoring up the infield defense, I propose a switcharoo, sticking with the sage Corbin decision to insert Harris at first base and putting Gregor at designated hitter. Thereafter, Reynolds gets moved to third base, where he has the hands, quickness and arm to keep cool on the hot corner. Gomez would then shift over to second base, where he posted an outstanding .974 Fld% as a Freshman in 2010, to open up shortstop for smooth fielding Sophomore Joel McKeithan. Such a shakeup would not be without consequences, as it would mean pulling two of the biggest power potential bats (Conde and Chris Harvey) out of the batting order; however, until the defense stabilizes, the pitching staff will struggle to get any sort of momentum going forward.

This is not to say the pitching staff is entirely devoid of guilt here. In fact, the abysmal .943 team Fld% number is brought down by four pitcher errors, including two by staff ace Kevin Ziomek. The pitching staff is fielding at just an .879 clip, meaning responsibility for at least some of the 19 unearned runs lies with the hurlers. The staff also earns some blame for wildness. Through 11 games, they have issued 46 walks and hit 21 batters, for a rate of 6.28 free base runners per nine innings pitched. Compare that to the 2011 number of 4.00 per nine innings and you have a pretty good idea where some of the earned runs have come from. That said, the arms on the staff have seemed to settle into key roles, with Kevin Ziomek starting to pitch like a staff ace, Steven Rice emerging as a legitimate “key out” lefty and Drew VerHagen and Sam Selman flashing their MLB-quality stuff.

Add in that pulling the right strings appears to be something that Coach Corbin already has done in the batting order. With 2011 Freshman All-Everything Tony Kemp struggling with a very slow start to the season, the decision was made to drop him down a spot in the order and promoting Spencer Navin, the catcher who has been the team MVP early in the season. Navin has shown patience and solid contact throughout the early year, but he really centered the ball in the leadoff spot, producing three doubles and a homerun while tearing apart Rhode Island pitching. Meanwhile, the middle of the order seems to be settling in with Gomez in the three hole, Gregor and Yaz batting cleanup and fifth, and a suddenly slumping Connor Harrell supplying power potential from the six hole. To the extent that Andrew Harris can provide any sort of consistency (even without power or run production) out of the nine hole, we’ll take our chances with a Doug Mientkiewicz-type performance at first.

All in all, the only way to truly get right is to win. While Vanderbilt is facing a very steep uphill battle to get back into comfortable position to make a regional – with the biggest obstacle getting to five games over .500 in out of conference play (a necessary buffer when entering SEC play and the SEC tournament at Hoover) – the Commodores do stand just three games on the wrong side of the ledger to this date, the same record as perennial power Texas. Vanderbilt has two more out of conference weeks before Southeastern Conference play begins and all focus should be on getting a lineup and staff roles set and getting the defensive kinks out of the armor.

Notwithstanding a challenging second week of the season, Vanderbilt's offense got healthy in week three with aggressive, smart play on the basepaths. Photo credit: Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

The Week Behind

I’m going to go a bit quicker than normal with the recaps, as there are eight games to cover. That said, the Youtube postgame interviews remain a staple for each.

Wednesday – Vanderbilt 11, Oakland 4

The Commodores got their first win of the season behind a big day from Mike Yastrzemski (2-2, 2 run, 3 RBI, HBP), who blasted a three run shot to deep right in the third, giving Vanderbilt a 4-1 lead they would not let slip away. Drew VerHagen earned the win, going an allotted three innings while throwing 46 pitches. Brian Miller was an impressive with two perfect relief innings in which he struck out five batters.

VUCommodores.com Recap

Friday – Oregon 4, Vanderbilt 2

A solid start by Kevin Ziomek was wasted when the defense collapsed with three late errors. More upsettingly, the offense was shut down by Oregon’s Alex Keudell and Jimmie Sherfy after posting a two-spot in the third inning.

VUCommodores.com Recap

Saturday – Oregon 7, Vanderbilt 2

Inconsistent pitching was the order of the day. Sam Selman set down the first 11 batters faced, but having to throw from the stretch would be the end of him, as four walks, a single and a Spencer Navin error torpedoed Selman’s brilliant start and sent him to 0-2 on the year. The Commodores offense again was stilted by the Duck pitching staff.

The 4-2 win gave Oregon the win in the weekend series. VUCommodores.com Recap

Sunday – Oregon 7, Vanderbilt 6

A bad weekend culminated in brutal disappointment. Carrying a 5-3 lead into the top of the sixth inning, Mr. Reliable Will Clinard fatigued in his fifth inning of relief work. He allowed four runs that would sink the Commodores, who got within one run before falling quieted in the ninth inning.

VUCommodores.com Recap

Sunday – Louisiana Tech 9, Vanderbilt 3

Although the Commodores didn’t toss the ball around the park on Wednesday, the visit by Louisiana Tech marked the season low-point. While Tech teed off against Brian and Jared Miller (combined 3.0 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K), Freshman lefty Phil Maton stymied the Commodores over seven innings of no walk ball. The seeming impotence at the plate, above all else, frustrated the Dores as they registered their sixth of seven games on the season with single digit hits.

VUCommodores.com Recap

Saturday – Vanderbilt 9, Rhode Island 4; Vanderbilt 8, Rhode Island 0

It was a “get well” day at the Hawk for the pitching staff and the defenses. Vanderbilt registered just two errors in 18 defensive innings and allowed just three earned runs and five walks against 19 strikeouts. Spencer Navin jump started the offense in both games from the leadoff spot, while Tony Kemp seemed more relaxed at the plate after moving to the two-hole. Mike Yastrzemski blasted a majestic homerun to right in the nightcap. Kevin Ziomek (7.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 9 K) and Drew VerHagen (8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 6 K) led the way for Vanderbilt, who picked up their first series win of the season.

VUCommodores.com Game 1 Recap
VUCommodores.com Game 2 Recap

Sunday –Vanderbilt 12, Rhode Island 8

It was Spencer Navin day as the sophomore catcher pounded out a leadoff homerun and a pair of RBI singles and did a solid job behind the plate blocking for Sam Selman. The game was certainly more comfortable than Vanderbilt would have liked, as horrific defense reared itself with five errors and several poor defensive plays (particularly in support of Ty Beede in the four run seventh inning) permitted Rhode Island to take a late lead, before Navin and the Commodore offense put the game away with a pair of insurance runs in the eighth inning.

VUCommodores.com Recap

Apologies, Corrections and Indignation

Apologies go out to those who I showed indignation toward for hitting the panic button last week. Yes, Stanford proceeded to roll all over Texas this past weekend, perhaps establishing that the beating we took in Palo Alto was more about their excellence than our flaw; however, those flows came to bear again this past week. Walks, hit batsmen and errors led to rough innings again this week, even against overmatched Oakland in our sole 11-4 victory. The offense also sputtered, wasting numerous scoring opportunities when batters seemed anxious at the plate, best exemplified by a Sunday scoring threat that went for naught when Anthony Gomez and Connor Harrell (two of the toughest batters to strike out on the Commodores) had poor at bats going down on strikes with runners in scoring position. That’s not to say that panic is too strong a word. The coaching staff clearly has a long way to go with this squad, but the talent is most certainly there. Right now it’s an execution problem and there are still about 45 games on the slate to get right. This past Saturday we saw the positives that the team is capable of. Now it’s just a matter of staying at that level of play.

In the correction column, we go to Spencer Navin. The book on Navin as a recruit and coming into this year was that he was a defensive stalwart for whom the bat was not a prime focus. Half of that has proven true, as Navin has established himself as a highly effective and talented receiver with a good, consistent throwing arm. Though he’s not yet calling his own games, I would expect him to by the end of the year. What wasn’t expected is his consistency at the plate, where he leads the team with a .387 batting average and 1.138 OPS. So my correction, the early season MVP is an all-around tour de force who not only steals bases like Craig Biggio… but he really really hates these cans. Get away from these cans.

Indignation goes out to the national media for jumping off the Vanderbilt bandwagon with a ferocity not seen since the basketball team lost to Cleveland State. This past week, after Vanderbilt swept a decent Rhode Island team, Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game actually dropped the Dores ten spots from 44th to 54th in his top 50 ranking (to be more accurate, dropping them to the four team out of the rankings). Alright, we get that folks vastly overestimated the degree to which Vanderbilt would reload, rather than rebuild. I was among those shocked at just how poorly Vanderbilt would play during the early part of the season; however, this team most certainly is a top 50 squad right now and is being reamed in the blogosphere a bit too much. I think even noted Oregon State Beaver lover (< /sarcasm>) Aaron Fitt noted that Vanderbilt’s lofty pre-season rankings were about where the Commodores were expected to be at the end of the year, not the beginning. So it’s time for Vanderbilt to take advantage of being in a unique position to the last few years. Right now, the Commodores are under ranked and have the chance to catch opponents who aren’t ready for the talent we can bring to bear.

A second dose of indignation goes out to me for starting this segment by apologizing for showing indignation toward those hitting the panic button… and then showing indignation toward the national media who have jumped off the bandwagon. I may live my life through reason and logic, but that doesn’t mean I should be expected to have a consistently train of thought through three graphs now does it?

Weekly Honors

Last year, the Position Player weekly aware went unnamed, but the Pitcher of the Week award was renamed to the Sonny Gray of the Week. Sonny is obviously gone and, though I toyed with the idea of honor former players with naming rights to the awards, novelty twitter accounts work better. So the team-run fake Drew “Old Man” Fann account won honors for Position Player and the twitter account for David Price’s dog Astro earns Pitcher honors.

This being a two week article, I’m going to hand out two awards for each division.

@FakeDrewFann Position Player of the Week

Mike Yastrzemski ran away from the competition in earning the initial Fake Drew Fann award, based on his performance in week 2. His solid play continued for the entire period, though, as the lefty from Massachusetts rang out three home runs during the period. Overall, Yaz batted 11 of 26, scoring and driving in eight runs apiece. In addition to his power display, he showed patience (walking twice) and pain management (being plunked five times). Yaz counted a double among his eleven hits.

Drew VerHagen showed off the potential that rests in his powerful right arm in the nightcap of last weekend's double header. Photo credit: Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

The second recipient was Spencer Navin. Navin was utterly dominant against Rhode Island. He came into the season as a known commodity behind the plate, but we didn’t know if he’d hit at the dish. This week, he proved he would, with 11 hits in 22 plate appearances, including three doubles and his first career homeruns. After shifting to the leadoff spot against Rhode Island, Navin started to flex his muscles, connecting on all four of his extra base hits on the week. Like Yastrzemski, he exhibited patience (five walks, two hit by pitches) and produced runs (seven scored, six driven in).

@Astro_DPsDog Pitcher of the Week

While the incumbent, Steven Rice was impressive against the Ducks two Sundays ago, lackluster midweek performances against Louisiana Tech and Oakland allowed two starters to earn the initial Astros. Drew VerHagen earns notable and well deserved plaudits for his brilliant performance against Rhode Island. He was consistently in the zone, pitching ahead and to contact. He was rewarded with some of the best defense Vanderbilt has played in 2012, which assisted him in throwing eight innings of one hit baseball. He walked four batters and struck out six, but it was the utilitarian use of error free Commodore defense that stood out. Pitching to contact allowed him to throw just 100 pitches (12.5 per inning) in moving to 2-0 on the season. VerHagen was less kindly greeted by Oregon (1.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 1 K) and was just good against Oakland (3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 3 K) in his other appearances of the period.

Kevin Ziomek is the other honoree of the week. The Omega Man was nearly unhittable all week, though he failed to escape the fifth inning in Vanderbilt’s 4-2 Friday loss to Oregon. In that game, he was dominant (4.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, BB, HBP, 6 K), but was let down again by his defense, which allowed unearned runs in the fourth and fifth inning (included one permitted to score by an error on Ziomek, himself). Ziomek was even better against Rhode Island, despite allowing 3 earned runs and another unearned tally. Ziomek was not blemished until the sixth inning, when he began to struggle with control (plunking three batters and walking another). In his 7.1 innings, he permitted just six hits and struck out a season high nine Rams.

Notes and Ramblings

The defense just has to get better if we’re going to make a run at things. We got the weekend sweep we needed, but the defense let the pitchers down again on Sunday (though two errors were by Selman and Clinard, themselves) and URI almost salvaged a win against us. With the struggles as bad as they’re getting, it’s time to start thinking about shifting around the gloves some more. Putting Andrew Harris at first is a good start and Coach Corbin pulled the right string there. Gregor is the team’s best hitter, but his four errors on the year are simply unacceptable defense for a first baseman. But with Gomez struggling at short (five errors) and Conde struggling at third (four errors), I suggest shifting Riley Reynolds (who hasn’t committed an error in almost a year) to third base. You fill in the gaps by moving Gomez to second (where he was a freshman all-American a year ago) and putting the slick fielding Joel McKeithan at shortstop. Instantly you’ll upgrade a defense that has been at best bad and at time horrific. Such a move would pull Conde and Chris Harvey’s potent bats from the lineup, but right now we’re losing more on defense than we gain by having their power potential in the lineup.

Ty Beede has been missing in action for two weeks prior to his Sunday appearance. Although no official reason has been given, word is that Beede was bit by the flu bug 2 weeks ago after his Stanford start. For a kid who’s struggled to keep weight on, that was bad news. That said, he didn’t lose that time on the bench, as he worked on and unleashed on Sunday a very effective cut fastball. While Will Clinard’s cutter is one that earns swings and misses, Beede’s partners with his two-seam fastball to induce grounders. It was solid in his 1.2 innings against Rhode Island, but the infield defense couldn’t make plays, leading to an ugly line score for Beede. It remains to be seen what his role will be going forward. I was expecting him to reenter the starting rotation next week, but VerHagen’s fine performance on Saturday means that will probably be as a mid-week starter. With only one day off before Belmont, I’m not sure he’ll get the start on Tuesday, but he could see a couple of innings.

As a final note, former Vanderbilt Assistant Erik Bakich has been enjoying great success with the Maryland Terps in his third full year at the helm of that program. Despite rough won-loss records in his first two campaigns, he continued to do what it is he does best: bringing in great recruits. It’s paying off this year, as the Terps have cracked the Top 25 in three of the five major rankings (they rank 30th in the Collegiate Baseball ranking and 27th in the Coaches poll). Riding a 9-1 record, Coach Bakich has led Maryland into the Baseball America top 25 for the first time in 32 years. Huzzah!

Rankings and Metric

While I believe that the Commodores have the talent to be a top 25 (perhaps even top 10) at the end of the year, it’s clear that they’re nowhere near that right now. That said, I’m not going to remove the rankings and metrics section. We might just see a bunch of RVs and NVs.

Baseball America: NR (LW: NR)
ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll: NR (LW: NR)
NCBWA: RV (LW: NR)
Collegiate Baseball: NR (LW: NR)
Perfect Game: NR (LW: 44th)

Warren Nolan Metrics
Simulated RPI: Too early
Nolan Power Index: Too early
Strength of Schedule: Too early

Boyd’s World Metrics
Simulated RPI: Too early
Iterative Strength Rating: Too early
Strength of Schedule: Too early
Intended Strength of Schedule: 15th

The Week Ahead

Vanderbilt heads to brand new Rose Field just south of Peabody Campus on Tuesday afternoon to take on the Belmont Bruins. The Bruins are not a new face, facing Vanderbilt annually and having appeared in the Nashville Regional. In the Regional, Vanderbilt faced Belmont in the opener and in the Championship with big wins of 10-0 and 6-1. The Dores also won earlier in the season, 6-2. In those games, Will Clinard (2 G, 3 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K), Sam Selman (IP, H, R, BB), Sam Rice (0 IP, R, 4 BB) and Kevin Ziomek (IP) all saw action. Anthony Gomez (2), Riley Reynolds (2), Conrad Gregor (2) and Mike Yastrzemski all posted multi-hit games in the victories.

Kevin Ziomek is finally starting to pitch like the staff ace most thought he would be this year. Photo credit: Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

The Bruins graduated a good bit of talent, but they return staff ace Matt Hamann (9-2, 2.81 ERA in 2011), who’s been known to throw in relief midweek. Last year, Hamann was roughed up in game one of the Regional (5.1 IP, 14 H, 10 R, 2 HBP, 2 K) and also threw a scoreless inning earlier in the season. Expect to see Hamann for an inning if it’s close. The likely midweek starter is Josh Davis (5-1, 6.14 in 2011). Davis threw against the Dores in the Regional Championship, giving up three runs on six hits and two walks in four innings. So far, he’s 1-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 10.1 innings on the year, a solid representation for a staff that’s 6-5 with a 3.55 ERA.

The offense is not exactly clicking for the Bruins at .241 and just 5.3 runs per game; however, that’s not the fault of Zac Mitchell, the infielder who struggled against the Dores in 2011, tallying just two hits in twelve at bats. After hitting .274 with a .707 OPS last year, Mitchell has zoomed out of the gate, going 17 of 34 with 16 runs, 6 RBI and a perfect 5-5 on the base paths. He’s supported by Judah Akers (DH, .314), Greg Brody (3B, .306) and Dylan Craig (CF, .265).

Expect Vandy to start Jared Miller, with several additional arms scheduled to go, including Tyler Beede, who should be good for an inning or two, and the Little Ball of Hate, Philip Pfeifer. You can listen to the game here and follow GameTracker here for the 4:05 central first pitch time on Tuesday.

For the weekend, Vanderbilt earns a return trip from San Diego. Last spring, the Dores led off the season visiting the Toreros and the San Diego State Aztecs out west. Vanderbilt swept that visit as a part of their 29-1 non-conference record in 2010. The Toreros struggles last year were not terribly different from some of the Commodores’ early season woes against Stanford and Oregon. In 2010, San Diego brought in the number 2 overall recruiting class and, with expectation on high, adjustment periods were needed. Although they ended up with a highly disappointing 22-31 record on the year, they actually outhit (.293-.271) and outpitched (4.32 ERA to 4.75) their opponents. Where the Toreros failed was on defense, where 68 errors allowed a whopping 56 unearned runs in just 53 games. That should prove ominous for a Vanderbilt squad whose 24 errors have allowed 19 unearned runs in just 11 games.

This year’s San Diego squad is taking better care of the ball (.976 fielding percentage) and it’s helping on all elements, as the Toreros come in firing on all cylinders. They’ve won eight of nine and are 9-3 on the early season, with victories over Oregon, Riverside and Cal Poly highlighting a slate that saw an opening weekend series loss to Sam Houston State and a two game split with Cal State Northridge. They enter outhitting opponents .346 to .236 and with a stellar 2.95 staff ERA. They will, however, dish out some walks with 59 walks issued in 106.2 innings.

Three righties comprise a Toreros staff headed by Junior Calvin Drummond (3-0, 2.84), a strikeout pitcher with 23 strikeouts in 19 innings. Senior RHP Paul Sewald (1-0, 1.80) is the likely Saturday starter, while Sophomore RHP Dylan Covey (2-1, 2.60) rounds things out on Sunday. Last year, Drummond was brilliant over six innings, leaving with a 1-1 score after yielding four hits and three walks against four strikeouts in Vanderbilt’s eventually 3-1 win. Sewald saw relief action in the Dores 7-3 Sunday victory, allowing just one hit in 1.2 innings. Covey saw no action against Vanderbilt. Among Vanderbilt pitcher, only Will Clinard has thrown to the Toreros, striking out one batter and hitting another in .2 innings of the rain-shortened Friday 4-3 win.

Sophomore third baseman Kris Bryant (.464, HR, 12 RBI), last year’s WCC co-Freshman of the Year (and, apparently, someone Vanderbilt was recruiting), joins Senior utility player Bryan Haar (.400, 9 RBI) in leading the way for the Toreros offensive attack. They’re not going to blast the ball all over the part, with 24 doubles, but only 5 homeruns, but they are getting on base at a .403 clip and have incredible balance throughout the lineup. Of players with at least 28 at bats, only one is batting below .321, early in the season – and that man is highly regarded Freshman shortstop Andrew Daniel (.300, HR, 12 RBI).

Friday 4PM: Ziomek vs Drummond – VideoGametracker
Saturday 2PM: VerHagen vs Sewald – VideoGametracker
Sunday 1PM: Selman vs Covey– VideoGametracker

As part of this week's Reading List, try to figure out the physics of how Brian "Dramamine" Miller's arm does this. Photo credit: Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

Reading List

VandySports.com – Baseball Page (multiple stories and previews, including great Mike Rapp photo sets)
Vandy BlogoSphere – Anchor of Gold and VandySportsLine
Vandy Message Boards – VandySports and VandyMania
College Baseball Daily – Vanderbilt Tag
Baseball America – Top 25 Tracker Page (updates when posted by BA)

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