Vandy Baseball: Fourth and Fifth Week Behind, Week Ahead
I’m getting quite behind in the columns due to just not having quite enough time to keep this up to date. I’d be lying if the 7-14 start to the season didn’t have something to do with that.
Since I last posted, the VandyBoys had a rough go of it in Florida (as expected) and lost a heart breaker to Evansville on Tuesday. With 33 games left on the regular season schedule, qualifying for NCAA post-season play is now looking more and more unlikely.
The Immediate Progression — Where the Season Goes From Here
To be eligible for a Regional, a team must be at least one game over .500 after the conference tournament in Hoover. Sitting at seven games under, Vandy can’t feel comfortable entering Hoover unless they’re already at that point, necessitating something along the lines of a 21-12 finish to the regular season (permitting a 1-2 record at Hoover).
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Quite simply, such a close to the season appears highly unlikely in the highly competitive SEC East. Vanderbilt’s remaining schedule includes series against Georgia (15-6, 18th in the most recent Baseball America poll), South Carolina (17-5, 8th), Mississippi State (15-7, NR), Auburn (13-8, NR), Alabama (8-13, NR), Kentucky (22-0, 16th), Tennessee (12-8, NR), LSU (17-4, 11) and Mississippi (15-6, 17). Unless Vanderbilt can find some way to win four or five games in their upcoming series hosting the ranked Bulldogs and Gamecocks, they may simply be too far behind the eight ball to make up enough ground.
So where do we look beyond that? It’s very true that, in the life of a program, one has to consider progress rather than individual season accomplishments. While missing an NCAA regional for the first time since 2005 and having a losing record for the first time since 2003 seems ominous, it remains true that Vanderbilt is flooded with young talent. Riding a Baseball America #1 recruiting class and with another class coming in that appears poised to challenge for a second consecutive recruiting crown, pending the draft, one can stop obsessing over the won-loss column and focus on progress.
Take, for example, the pitching staff. Tyler Beede has been unnecessarily maligned by some media talking (or rather tweeting) heads for his ugly line scores so far this season. Those that have actually watched the games have seen a highly talented pitcher who has seen increasing sharpness undercut by poor luck and an endemic of poor defense. While Beede continues to get hurt by an inability to consistently spot his fastball in the zone, that’s something to watch him progress with through the rest of the season. In the meantime, he’s developed a highly efficient cut fastball that is earning him quick ground balls. His new curveball grip is well on its way to becoming a plus pitch and his change up is the best we’ve seen at Vanderbilt since Mikie Minor’s sophomore season.
For another example, look to Chris Harvey. The young catcher and first baseman appeared to be a dead red pull hitter in his freshman fall, looking stout against the hard stuff but being fooled badly several times by Fullerton off speed stuff. In the past two weeks, his batting average hasn’t really come north of the Mendoza line, but he’s shown an advanced approach to hitting with several line drives to right center field and a couple atom balls to the right fielder.
Those are two of the more high profile examples, but they are emblematic of things to watch for as the season progresses. Success cannot be confined to a single season or a simple run margin. It can also be measured over a period of recruiting classes time on campus. The things I’ll be watching for as we approach the second half of the season include:
- Can the defense (particularly on the infield) regain their soundness with fundamentals and get back to playing like a Tim Corbin team;
- Will Conrad Gregor’s power develop as the weather continues to warm (he’s been surprisingly stuck on warning track power through the first six weeks);
- Can Vicente Conde develop into an SEC-caliber defensive third baseman;
- Will Connor Castellano’s production start to mirror his offensive potential at the plate;
- Will Tony Kemp start to really get it going and cut down on the strikeouts;
- Can Kevin Ziomek learn to get those one-and two-pitch outs needed to get through the sixth and seventh innings without tiring;
- Can the non-brothers Miller develop into a potent right-lefty setup combo in the pen;
- Will Nevin Wilson and Adam Ravenelle’s impressive power arms give Coach Corbin another Corey Williams – Mark Lamm type combo for late inning relief; and
- Can Sam Selman become sufficiently consistent in his delivery to finally harness his immense potential.
There are obviously plenty more questions with this squad, but those are the key items I look forward to seeing resolved in the coming months. While many are wondering where things went wrong this season, it’s time to shift the focus back to what has to go right for Vandy to be poised for another Omaha run in 2013.
The Week Behind
I’m going to take this one off for this post. Since the last full Week Behind, Week Ahead, Vanderbilt has gone 3-7 in the following games (links are to VUCommodores.com recaps):
Belmont 6 , Vanderbilt 5 – Recap
Vanderbilt 7, San Diego 0 – Recap
San Diego 2, Vanderbilt 1 – Recap
San Diego 9, Vanderbilt 7 – Recap
Vanderbilt 12, Siena 2 – Recap
Vanderbilt 11, Siena 4 (6 Inn) – Recap
Florida 10, Vanderbilt 2 – Recap
Florida 5, Vanderbilt 1 – Recap
Florida 8, Vanderbilt 2 – Recap
Evansville 5, Vanderbilt 3 – Recap
Apologies, Corrections and Indignation
Apologies go out to those who have been hit hardest by the failures on the scoreboard this season: the coaching staff and young men on the team. It seems, at times, that we’ve been snake bit in 2012. While most of Vanderbilt’s problems have been self-imposed (defenders showing a lack of sound fundamentals, pitchers not throwing strikes early in the count and hitters pressing in the batter’s box), we’ve witnessed a snowball effect in which one thing going wrong exacerbates the problems elsewhere. For example, when a defensive miscue or two occur, we’ve seen big innings develop as pitchers try to then be too perfect in order to get out of the inning on their own. Those big innings have led to too many early deficits and batters trying to get too much back too quick. It’s been hard, at times, to watch the guys struggle as they have, but the difficulty on the fans has been completely irrelevant compared to the frustration that must be going through the staff and the roster. These are really, really good kids and the best coaching staff in amateur baseball. As one of their self proclaimed biggest fans, I just really hope we see a turnaround soon.
A correction goes out on my expectations for the year. I really thought we’d be a bottom half of the top 25 type squad for the majority of the season and that we’d gel and mature enough to be a top 10 team by the end of the season. That expectation was shared by most of the major publications, such as Baseball America. Well, I’m somewhat pleased that I didn’t get around to publishing my Season Preview this year because boy would I have been proven wrong. I can’t exactly pinpoint where this season went wrong, but losing 85 percent of your innings pitched to the MLB draft (and Tommy John surgery, in the case of TJ Pecoraro) and two-thirds of your power production (including your core defense at first, third and catcher) and an expectation of reloading rather than rebuilding is just unrealistic. That expectation is a mistake I hope not to make, or to be in a position to make, again.
Indignation goes out to the home plate umpire from Tuesday night’s game against Evansville. The umpire had what might generously be called a bad night. His strike zone was all over the place for both pitching staffs and, in consecutive half innings, he blew two calls badly. First, he called a runner safe at home on a sac fly when an outstanding throw from Mike Yastrzemski and tag put on by Spencer Navin was not seen (and the runner called safe) because the umpire was out of position on the call. The next inning, he compounded things by refusing to award Chris Harvey first base when hit by a 1-2 pitch because, in the opinion of the umpire, Harv did not do enough to avoid being hit in the shoulder. Brian Harris would be turning over in his grave if he weren’t very much so alive (and, I believe, in the stands for the game against the Aces). Well, Coach Corbin tried to get his money’s worth arguing with the umpire who made the interesting decision to toss Corbin just after our fearless leader had his say and started making his way back to the dugout. Yes, I imagine Coach may have said one of the magic words as he turned away, but when you blow two calls you’ve got to do two things: a) learn to make the right calls (and develop a consistent strike zone, for that matter) and b) give a little leeway to the manager whose team you just screwed over. VandySports.com’s Mike Rapp later reported that the umpiring crew asked for a security team to escort them out after the last pitch. You’ve got to be pretty bad to feel that threatened by a college athletics crowd outside of a Mississippi-Mississippi State / Alabama-Auburn matchup or a Kentucky basketball game.
As is the new tradition, the weekly honors are named after the novelty fake Drew Fann account for Position Players and the twitter account for David Price’s dog Astro for Pitcher honors.
@FakeDrewFann Position Player of the Week
Given the degree to which the offense has struggled this year, this isn’t always an easy award to give out. That said, two players continue to stand out in Mike Yastrzemski (.362, 3 HR, 15 RBI) and and Anthony Gomez (.361, 0 HR, 21 RBI). The honor this week goes to Gomez, who has been on an RBI tear of late.
@Astro_DPsDog Pitcher of the Week
It’s been a rough ten game stretch for the pitching staff, with a couple of fine performances (notably, Kevin Ziomek and Drew VerHagen against San Diego) being offset by less stellar outings against Florida. There was one pitcher, however, who absolutely looked fantastic in three appearances during the period. Adam Ravenelle had seen just one outing early in the season, walking the only two batters he faced against Oregon. But in an appearance against Siena and a pair against Florida, the RavShow flashed big league velocity in 3.1 innings, allowing just 2 hits and a walk against six strikeouts. Both he and recently debuted lefty Nevin Wilson have two of the more live arms on this year’s staff.
Notes and Ramblings
One of the most disappointing elements in this year’s squad has been the breakdown in the fundamentals of the game. Rationally, there just is no explanation for it. We’ve seen experienced players who are solid defenders goof balls they normally make with ease. We’ve seen a guy who committed all of 2 errors over an 18 month period pick up three errors in a stretch of six innings. And we’ve seen young position players and pitchers throw the ball all over the infield. I really don’t know that one can explain it. At least part of the equation is that we’ve replaced gold glove caliber fielders at first, third and catcher (though Casali was never a greater thrower, he was a phenomenal receiver). But that doesn’t explain the degree to which the players on the team have underperformed to their defensive capability. I’d expect a heavy dose of fundamentals work in the practice schedule through now and opening day 2013.
A seeming lack of composure has also been a problem for the less than mature Commodores. This is not so much about their personalities, but rather the lack of a calming influence on the bump or in the infield. It manifests itself in the big innings we’ve seen opponents have, both through errors and wildness in the zone. While Spencer Navin has been great behind the plate, the first-year starter does not yet seem to have the calming effect that Casali had behind the dish or that Jason Esposito was able to impart with his impromptu visits to the mound. Vanderbilt needs someone to step up when things are going poorly and return order to the infield.
The one thing Vanderbilt has been blessed with this year is excellent baseball weather. Despite the 7-14 start, crowds seem to have been pretty good for the out of conference slate. Here’s hoping that SEC level crowds continue to show up and support the VandyBoys. The record may not be great, but they’ve earned your cheers and attendance with their effort and heart.
The Week Ahead
Georgia comes in this weekend for a three game set at the Hawk. I’m not going to have time to break them down fully, so I’ll direct folks to Chris Lee’s excellent preview for Rivals.com subscribers at VandySports.com (click here).
Games are all viewable through All-Access at Vandysports.com.
- Friday 6PM CT – LHP Kevin Ziomek (2-2, 4.23) vs. LHP Alex Wood (3-1, 2.27)
- Saturday 2PM CT – RHP Tyler Beede (0-3, 7.71) vs. RHP Michael Palazzone (0-2, 3.68)
- Sunday 1PM CT – TBA vs. RHP Pete Nagel (0-0, 2.91)
The “to be announced” for Vanderbilt on Sunday should not be too big of a surprise. The sense I had following Tuesday was that we’d see Will Clinard shift to the starting rotation sooner, rather than later. As a result, you would expect to see Corbin try to move Drew VerHagen to the closer/flex role that Clinard has manned so far. I suspect the spot remains TBA at this point because Corbin and Coach Johnson will not be shy about using Clinard in relief if wins on Friday and Saturday are possible. In that event, I would expect Sam Selman to get the start on Sunday, though he also is a likely candidate to throw if either Ziomek or Beede see an early exist on Friday or Saturday.
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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