Thoughts from Beyond the Bleachers – 4/9/13
Another week down and another series win for the Commodores. Vanderbilt has won all eight of its weekend series (five by sweep) and is off to a program best 11-1 start in SEC play. So what is there to talk about this blog post? How about GameDay Grass?
I’ll get into my thoughts on the GameDay Grass, look at the top performers from last week (including your poll), and have a gander at our opponents this week.
Click on through to keep reading. (Header photo courtesy, Mike Rapp of VandySports.com)
To Slip and Slide or Not to Slip and Slide, There is no Question
During the Florida and Tennessee weekend series, there were only a handful of innings that did not feature either a consistent mist, steady rain or the occasional downpour. As a result, in those six games (and a handful of other early season contests), there was quite a bit of discussion in the stands and on Twitter regarding what we’ll kindly call the “over-slide issue.”
All but the pitcher’s mound at Hawkins Field is now synthetic surface developed and installed by the Astro Turf company. The actual product used is the AstroTurf GameDay Grass 3D (called “GameDay Grass” from hereinout). When the newly installed GameDay Grass is wet, the synthetic fibers become significantly faster to slide on. While we’ve yet to see a player hydro plane across the base paths, one of the unmistakeable side effects of the GameDay Grass receiving rain is that the speed of slides decelerates at a far more slow rate, meaning that runners retain their sliding speed for significantly longer stretches of time.
The greater retention of sliding speed has two primary effects: a) players tend to reach the base with greater speed unless they start their slides significantly earlier and b) players tend to over-slide the bases, meaning that several on both the home and visiting sides have be tagged out after being unable to stop on the bag. The slip and slide effect obviously is impacted by the amount of water that hits the field. A marginal amount that doesn’t fully coat the surface will not greatly impact the sliding effect and it should be noted that the GameDay Grass surface drains incredibly well. But when you have consistent rain as was experienced during the weekends of the Florida and Tennessee series, you have a factor which significantly impacts the running game.
Interestingly enough, the footing on the GameDay Grass is remarkable sound. Unlike most regular dirt fields and the traditional AstroTurf fields of the 1980s and 1990s, defenders seeking to plant on the wet GameDay Grass have not seemed to have any problems doing so even during the heaviest of rain. This factor belies the general injury concern that arose when Florida SS Casey Turgeon and Vanderbilt 1B Conrad Gregor both rolled their ankles sliding into second base during the Friday and Saturday night games, respectively. In each case, Turgeon and Gregor went down temporarily after sliding in fast to second base. While the speed of the slide may have contributed to their tweaks (neither injury was a serious sprain), awkward landing on the bag actually caused the issue. Though I’m sure many consider their concern valid, after viewing the game play both live (for Florida) and on broadcast (for Tennessee), I’ve concluded that the safety benefits of a field that can handle sloppy weather without sacrificing footing likely far exceeds the limited risk of slides decelerating more slowly (i.e., under wet conditions, even without the corrective measure of sliding earlier, the GameDay Grass is objectively safer than a dirt field).
The more puzzling element of the base path sliding speed is that the over-slide issue appears to be one in which Vanderbilt does not have a distinct advantage. We’ve seen several times throughout the year that Vanderbilt base runners have been just as likely to over-slide bases in wet conditions as our opponents have. While some base runners have slowly adapted (e.g., after being thrown out due to over slides about four times early in the year, Tony Kemp experimented with slide lengths of up to 25 feet before finally settling into normalized and successful slides), we continue to see Commodores thrown out on over slides while stealing bases or going into third base on balls in play. I do trust that this will normalize into an advantage by the time we host a Regional, but one possible explanation for the lack of an advantage could be that it is not a consistent issue. When the field is dry, the base paths seem to pretty well replicate the speed of a slightly fast dirt infield. As a result, it will take more conscious effort (and less instinctual action) on the part of the base runners when making their sliding decisions. In the meantime, it leads to some thrilling (and often maddening) uncertainty on the base paths.
The one definitive plus to the installation of turf has been that we’ve not had a single game cancelled as of yet and that the players haven’t had to be involved in tarp pulls (an arduous and disruptive element to a college baseball player’s regular grind). Commodore fan @ScottPGuthrie recently half-joked in estimating the calculation that on days Vanderbilt was scheduled to host a baseball game, weather conditions in Nashville averaged about 15 degrees less and with about a five-fold increase in precipitation chances than those days on which the Commodores played away from the Hawk. While baseball purists might call this the curse of abandoning grass, it’s just been a crummy Spring for weather in Nashville; one which emphasizes the importance of the installation of GameDay Grass on the schedule. I would guess if we had @ScottPGuthrie put together an estimate, approximately a third of our games this year would have been at severe risk of cancellation or postponement due to rain on the old Hawkins Field dirt and grass. While one misses the smell of grass in the air, there’s much greater satisfaction from the pop of the mitt and the muted “thunk” of the BBCOR bat (whoops, guess I just upset purists even more with that last tidbit — but hey, at least it’s not the ping of the Gorilla Ball era bats).
So what improvements can be looked for to the field during this upcoming off season. I do imagine a perfectionist like Coach Corbin will evaluate the performance of the GameDay Grass and see if additional changes need to be made. While some might hope for the installation of dirt on the base paths, this opens up risk related to muddy infields and their playability which we’ve eliminated with the move to full GameDay Grass. Instead, the option may be additional rubber or other forms of filler around the bases. I suspect the AstroTurf company has some solutions to help reduce the speed on the base paths; though I question whether or not it would be possible to add something that reduces speeds under wet conditions without impacting the play of the surface when dry. Perhaps one option would be some form of a Zamboni-like drying machine that could rapidly reduce moisture around the bases through the blowing of dry air — though I’m just brainstorming here and have no idea as to the potential cost or feasibility of either solution.
In any respect and after careful consideration, I still view the installation of GameDay Grass as a home run. Coach Corbin did his diligence and got state of the art product installed. That we still have a ways to go with respect to sliding when wet is an entirely separate matter.
Performances on the Week
Vanderbilt batted .319 over the week, with most of the damage coming on Tuesday and Sunday. They complimented that by reaching base at a .425 clip through the week, aided by a solid 26 walks.
Over the weekend, Navin erased three of the four would be base stealers, while Vanderbilt stole six of seven bases successfully against the deservedly-heralded Stuart Turner.
Ole Miss laid down a whopping five sacrifice bunts on Sunday, but still came up short. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt struggled with its bunting game over the weekend with only one successful true sacrifice (by Harris), though Wiseman singled on a bunt in a sacrifice situation. With several failed sacrifice bunt attempt, Vanderbilt was picked up by three sacrifice flies by Navin and one by Gregor.
IRS stands for Inherited Runners Scoring. The team stranded two of the eight runners it inherited through the week. This actually represents a reduced strand rate to the season-long dominance in this category (as chronicled by Chris Lee of VandySports).
Vanderbilt pitchers held MTSU and Ole Miss to a combined .202 batting average on the week, but 22 walks and 4 hit batters aided the opponents in reaching base at a .321 clip. Both rates are at approximately the same as the season totals (.211 and .320, respectively).
Brian Miller led the Dores with three appearances over the weekend, while Jared Miller, Fulmer and Rice each had two appearances.
Adam Ravenelle continued to show a live arm and is making progress toward joining the regular bullpen. TJ Pecoraro did not make an appearance over the weekend, but should see some action this week as he works his way back, possibly toward the Sunday starter role.
Poll of the Day
Another day, another poll. This one asks who the player of the week was.
The following data is as of and before games played on Tuesday, April 9th:
|STANDINGS||SEC Win||SEC Loss||Gms Back||Ovrll Win||Ovrll Loss||Ovrll %||Last 10||WN SOS||WN RPI||Boyds RPI|
Running out of time before first pitch with UT-Martin, so here are the breakdowns of the weekly opponents and some very remedial thoughts.
||Top50 W-L||51-100 W-L||WN RPI||WN NPI||WN SOS||Boyds RPI||Boyds ISR||Boyds SOS|
UT-Martin is 8-22 overall and just 6-9 in the Ohio Valley Conference. More incredibly, they are a perfect 0-12 away from home while playing a very mediocre schedule.
Meanwhile, Missouri is not adjusting to SEC play well at 10-17 overall (4-8 SEC). They are 3-10 away from home, but have done so against a respectably ranked 42nd toughest schedule.
There is no sugar coating Tuesday. UT-Martin is clearly one of the worst teams in the nation and there is no excuse for us to not win tonight, even in a high variance sport like baseball. There honestly isn’t even a point in analyzing it. Their numbers are farther along the “terrible” side of the scale than any of our numbers are along the “excellent” side of the scale, and we’re the number two or three team in the nation.
Missouri is a different matter. While they’ve struggled, they can pitch and they can avoid putting batters on for free. As easily seen by their .250 BA and .667 OPS, they don’t have much offensive punch and they don’t steal bases. They feature two premium offensive players in Dylan Kelly (.347, 17 RBI, .843 OPS) and Dane Opel (.330, 15 RBI, .926 OPS), but have just five home runs as a team and only 51 extra base hits overall (compared to Vanderbilt’s 88). While they don’t walk much (just 82 walks), they do crowd the plate, resulting in 53 HBP this year.
I’ll talk about the weekend rotation we’ll likely face later on in the week in another blog post. For now, it’s almost game time.