Friday, August 10, 2012

The End of AUPPL (sort of, but not really)



This tiny little corner of the interwebs: AUPPL.com will be shutting its doors soon. I've been asked and accepted the opportunity to write full time for SBNation's newest Auburn website: CollegeAndMagnolia.com so from here on all of my webposting will be handled over there.

I've truly enjoyed having my own little personal corner of the internet that some people enjoyed since February of 2009. Having over 100,000 pageviews is something I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams. People (surprisingly to me) enjoyed what I was writing. I enjoyed writing it. That's why I'm still going to write but now it will be in a location where more people can see it and interact with it and ultimately (and hopefully) learn more about Auburn baseball.

Why the change? Well, honestly, blogging for SBNation will allow me better interaction and a broader audience. That broader audience will make more dedicated to blogging on a consistent basis.

So what happens to this domain? Where will AUPPL.com go? I'm not sure. My brother purchased this domain as a Christmas present to me a couple of years ago and ultimately it will be his choice. I suppose I can keep this up and running (as low maintenance as it is) and have it serve as a bit of an archive for my old stuff.

I have a few thank yous to get out of the way. First, thanks to Jerry Hinnen, formerly of the Joe Cribbs Carwash, who actually kickstarted the idea of this blog. He was looking for someone to cover Auburn baseball and I jumped at the chance. I haven't looked back since. Thanks to my friends, the ones who know me as KK or Cheese or just Kevin and who read the blog and have shared their personal enjoyment of it with me. Hearing your personal friends say, "Hey, I really like what you're doing over here." means more than you can imagine.  Finally, thank you for reading. It's hearing feedback from fans, from player's families, and from anyone that made me realize that this was something that was actually worthwhile and needed.

Now what happens? Well it's pretty simple. Just bookmark CollegeAndMagnolia.com and you'll still get everything you would have gotten over here. Change your RSS Feeds as well. I'll have a little tab where you can easily find my stuff. Follow me on Twitter and you can still email me: PlainsmanParkingLot@gmail.com

Once again: Thank You and War Eagle.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Today in Stupid Reaction Theater

You know what two events today are completely unrelated? Penn State Sanctions &; Auburn. Penn State receiving sanctions from the NCAA doesn't have any bearing on Auburn, Cam Newton, or other parties involved from 2011. Don't let Twitter know that. Here's a sampling of what I was originally going to entitle: Today in ButtHurt Theatre:





This is just four. Click below for more of this week's fascinating look into the sport's fan's psyche.


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Sunday, July 22, 2012

An Auburn fan has a Penn State Opinion


 AUPPL Note: First, apologies for 3 months in between posts. Sometimes (as it normally does), the real world just kicks your butt sometimes. Second, I originally thought about posting this over at my new home for most of my content, CollegeAndMagnolia.com but since it was not really Auburn related and is completely my opinion then I felt it best tucked away over here on my little solo corner of the internet. Finally, this is neither Auburn football or baseball related so if you were coming for either of those things, I'll try to have more content of that regard soon. If you'd like to hear one fan's opinion on the Penn State situation? Then by all means proceed.


The punishment of criminals should serve a purpose. When a man is hanged he is useless .         -Voltaire

Twitter was abuzz yesterday and today about Penn State, the NCAA, and sanctions and fines as a result of the school’s role in the Sandusky sex scandal. Is it necessary or even applicable to punish the school now? Who exactly is being punished?

It’s hard for me to grasp.

As the Penn State scandal unfold and watched people ask aloud, “When does the NCAA get involved?”’; most sports writers were in agreement that this was NOT an NCAA issue. Then the Freeh Report was published and the mood began to shift. An image was tarnished (justly or unjustly so is not for me to decide, nor is it my place), a school has been irreparably changed forever, and the common drum beat has changed to a steady march to the gallows for a University athletic program. 

Let’s clear some up some key points. Points I will not disagree with:  Child rape is wrong.  Jerry Sandusky is by all counts a monster and predator. Joe Paterno and others in the PSU administration took a course of action that was both felonious and morally reprehensible. These are all points that have been established, are concrete, and I am in complete agreement with. 

What I can’t agree with is the NCAA’s involvement. 

Is this even an NCAA issue? Not at all. This is a criminal issue. It was tried in a criminal court; it was handled by our legal system; and for all intents and purposes, it is over. Any type of retribution or penalties or judgments will be awarded by courts and not by a toothless governing body headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

The only reason this even involves the NCAA or that people are asking for justice by Mark Emmert and crew is because it involves sports. That’s it. 

Or is it?

This doesn’t really involve sports. This is not a sports issue. It does not affect eligibility. It does not affect the well being of athletes. This involves children and terrible crimes against them. The counterargument is valid: That Jerry Sandusky’s future actions could have been prevented but were not because of, “a series of failures all the way up the university’s chain of command that it concluded were the result of an insular and complacent culture in which football was revered.”


To me, it still holds true to an extent. While I don’t believe that barring Sandusky from the use of Penn State facilities would have prevented future rapes (a rapist will just find another place); I also don’t think that he should have had continued access to facilities. Nor should he have gone unreported for so long. 


However, this still is not an NCAA issue. The NCAA’s core purpose (as outlined by themselves) is: 

to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.


The NCAA governs competition. Sports. Games. It does not govern the schools day to day actions unless those actions directly or indirectly create an unfair and competitive playing field. There are other organizations that can handle applicable punishments. If the Freeh’s report was that the culture of Penn State was too entrenched or tightly wrapped around athletics then they should have lost their accreditation as an institution. Similarly to how Auburn University is accredited by SACS, Penn State is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Another avenue of punishment is through the American Association of Universities


However, to punish the University through either of these avenues reaffirms one of my core issues with the NCAA’s involvement. It punishes people who had no say, no action, no participation in the crimes involved.
A buzzword bandied about is “The Lack of Institutional Control”. Explain to me how that applies to Penn State in this case. Before you do, read over the NCAA’s own definition of LoIC:

In determining whether there has been a lack of institutional control when a violation of NCAA rules has been found it is necessary to ascertain what formal institutional policies and procedures were in place at the time the violation of NCAA rules occurred and whether those policies and procedures, if adequate, were being monitored and enforced. It is important that policies and procedures be established so as to deter violations and not merely to discover their existence after they have taken place. In a case where proper procedures exist and are appropriately enforced, especially when they result in the prompt detection, investigation and reporting of the violations in question, there may be no lack of institutional control although the individual or individuals directly involved may be held responsible.

I’ve yet to see where Sandusky’s crimes and the inaction by administration violated any type in NCAA by-laws. Not to make light or be glib in the matter, but child rape does not exactly foster a competitive advantage for a school. 

Again, the action of Sandusky and Paterno are not NCAA violations. Yes, one could argue (and I’ve heard this before) that if they covered this up, imagine what else they’ve covered up. That may be true. It may be that PSU was able to hide NCAA violations in the past. Before this event, PSU was looked at as one of the cleanest programs in the Association. 

Even when Auburn was hit with the dreaded LoIC, it came as a result of Pat Dye having too much power as both Head Football Coach and Athletic Director. It also came after the NCAA found that Auburn had broken NCAA rules. Auburn was creating a competitive disadvantage. We were punished accordingly.
The NCAA will (and has argued) that Penn State appears in violation of By-Law 19.01.2 or the “Exemplary Conduct” By-Law, which states: 

“Individuals employed by or associated with member institutions for the administration, the conduct or the coaching of intercollegiate athletics are, in the final analysis, teachers of young people. Their responsibility is an affirmative one, and they must do more than avoid improper conduct or questionable acts. Their own moral values must be so certain and positive that those younger and more pliable will be influenced by a fine example. Much more is expected of them than of the less critically placed citizen.”

The NCAA has stated that it used this violation in the past. That is true. In fact, it’s normally tacked on to any NCAA punishment as an additional violation. What I’ve never seen or heard of is violation of the By-Law being used as the strict basis of punishment. 


In their letter to PSU, the NCAA also detailed that the school could have possibly violated by-laws: 10.01.1, 11.1.1, and 11.1.2.1. By-law 10.01 goes into what the NCAA deems “unethical conduct”. However, each of these 10 issues listed as unethical by the NCAA (and their catch-all wording that these are not the end-all-be-all of unethical conduct, just a starting point) all have to deal with the eligibility of athletes. By-laws 11.1.1 and 11.1.2.1 make the same points but apply them to Coaches and other administrative personnel. 


Again, all of these involve the eligibility of student athletes. The Penn State situation has not (to my knowledge) revealed anything that jeopardizes the eligibility of student athletes.
To me, it seems like the NCAA heard everyone asking “Hey, what are you guys going to about Penn State”, looked around confused, re-read their own by-laws and said…”Hey, wait, maybe we can stick them on 19.01.2”


I’m not saying that was happened at Penn State is not terrible and morally bankrupt. I’m simply arguing that it did not violate the core concept of the NCAA Rules. It did not create a competitive advantage and did not affect the eligibility of athletes. Again, that’s what the NCAA should police: College Sports. What it should not and cannot police are criminal activities. We already have systems in place to deliver punishments in those areas. 


When the NCAA has gotten involved it has involved the eligibility of athletes. Even when other criminal issues such as assault, point-shaving, gambling, and even murder have been involved, the NCAA was able to act because there were violations of eligibility. 


Why should the NCAA not get involved or twist its own guidelines to enact punishment? Simply put, because doing so opens up Pandora’s Box and allows the NCAA to overstep their boundaries.
Even the NCAA knows that this is something completely out of their wheelhouse:


"Suffice to say that if there is information that points to an impropriety as it relates to the administration of the athletics program, that's valid [for the NCAA to investigate Penn State]," said association spokesman Bob Williams.

"What people are kind of missing here, this is extraordinary in a bad way," an NCAA source said. "The Division I rulebook could never anticipate this ... Our rulebook is very specific in the way institiuions administer athletic programs … This is something different."


The Association has admitted (and I agree) that this is unprecedented. Obviously, they could never have foreseen this being an issue. However, that doesn’t mean they need to now make an NCAA issue because of the public wanting action

Two former chairmen of the NCAA infractions committee as well as former NCAA investigators said last week that the Penn State case, while egregious in nature and scope, might not qualify as an enforcement issue and that the NCAA's involvement in such a case would be rare, if not unprecedented.

"You might argue that by what Sandusky did do and by what Penn State did not do, that it is a violation of ethical conduct, but I don't think I have ever seen it used in that fashion," former infractions committee chairman David Swank said. "My opinion would be that it is not (an enforcement issue). There are other venues to take care of the problems that occurred at Penn State, and one of those is not the NCAA."


The NCAA being able to dictate and liberally apply nebulously worded by-laws is, to me, the most dangerous precedent to set. You have rules. You have established these rules. These rules govern a certain aspect of life and culture (in this case the eligibility of student-athletes) and no more. I do not ask the City of Auburn’s Housing Authority to tell me what temperature I should store ground beef in a supermarket. No, there are different agencies to handle and determine rules and regulations. 


The NCAA creating their own rules, on the fly, at the behest of the masses would allow them to essentially rule ANYTHING as a violation, even if it didn’t violate specific NCAA rules. For example, say coach was a smoker. Smoking is not illegal. However, one could argue that Coach X, by constantly smoking in his office or by letting his players see him smoke would not set a good example for his players. The NCAA could now simply say, “Well coach, we think that’s wrong that you smoke around players. We now issue a 2 scholarship reduction”. Yes, that example is overkill, but it still gives an example of what the newfound power of the NCAA.


Not every criminal matter is an NCAA issue. If a coach commits adultery (which in some states is a criminal matter) does that really affect the eligibility of his players? No. Is it an NCAA issue? No.
 
Chuck Smrt, who was on the NCAA enforcement staff for more than 17 years, said that the NCAA involvement in the case could open a Pandora's Box for the organization in the future regarding criminal activities on campuses across the nation.

"Then the next time an athletic staff member at another school is involved in criminal activity, are you going to look at whether other staff members were aware and followed up on that?" Smrt said. "When a coach is involved in criminal activity, does every school then need to review who knew what along the way and assess whether there has been unethical conduct? Or does it relate only to the significance of the criminal activity? And then, well, where do you draw that line?"

The biggest issue with the NCAA getting involved is just who, exactly, are they punishing?


All in all, punishment hardens and renders people more insensible; it concentrates; it increases the feeling of estrangement; it strengthens the power of resistance.                   -Nietzche

If the NCAA wants to make this a football issue by issuing scholarship reductions and bowl bans then you are punishing players who, again, had no part in the initial crime. The punishment will come after the actions of administrators but you are punishing players. Players who did not commit to play for Jerry Sandusky and future players who did not commit to play for Joe Paterno. I’ve heard it mentioned that when SMU was hit with the Death Penalty that it punished players who had no role in that scandal. That doesn’t make it any better. It also doesn’t change my feeling that the Death Penalty is absolute overkill by the NCAA and ultimately punishes those not responsible. It punishes those who stayed. Personally, the Death Penalty is using a hand grenade on a house fly.
Penn State seems safe from the Death Penalty. At least, according to most sources. However, they do seem to face staggering fines and penalties of a monetary sort (such as bowl bans). Who does that really hurt? Does that even make a difference? 


One source put the fine in the $60 Million range. That’s all well and good but last year’s Athletic Revenue for PSU was around $116 Million. Some of that $60 Million could undoubtedly be made up through private donations. I’m sure there are more than a few Penn State fans ready to open up their checkbooks to help restore the Blue and White to their once proud status. They will donate to show they still stand by their school. 


What that fine WILL affect is PSU’s other sports. Basketball, Baseball, Tennis, etc. Most of the Olympic sports will probably have to deal with fewer resources, less accommodations, fewer renovations. For a school that is supposedly being penalized for having a football-first culture, any monetary penalty will damage the football program the least. Football will still be king and it will still be the quickest to recover. 


No, the same athletes the NCAA is trying to protect will now be punished for doing nothing else than attending a school. Yes, there are always collateral damages in NCAA penalties. People who took no part in violations will be punished (unfairly). That doesn’t make it any better. In fact, that continued allowance of others to be punished for the crimes of few makes it even worse. It develops a sense of disenfranchisement. It reaffirms that position of second class citizen. Yes, you’re an NCAA athlete but you don’t play football. You will still get punished like you were. 


Criminals do not die by the hands of the law. They die by the hands of other men.                   –George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

For all intents and purposes, Penn State is dead. They will never be the same. The public sentiment, the fall of an idol, the constant judgment and more.  Sure, they will return to some sense of normalcy after a few years, but whenever someone hears “Penn State” no matter the context, it will be overshadowed by taunts of “child-rapists” and “cover-ups”. Is that fair? That’s not for me to say. Have the people involved been punished enough? Probably not. Should the people not involved be punished by an organization that has no authority over this case? Absolutely not.


As always, leave your comments below, through email, or on Twitter

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Worst of Times


I really didn’t want to write this post. 3 weekends ago it would have been the furthest thing from my mind. Things have changed. As the British would say, the season went “pear-shaped”. Auburn got off to a hot and surprising start. Winning 3 straight SEC series and starting to get some National Recognition; things were looking pretty sunny on the Plains. Then came Easter Weekend. A sweep by the SEC’s worst team. The next weekend, another loss to the bottom of the League. Now this weekend, another SEC series loss. 3 straight wins to start. 3 straight losses to finish. You already know this. I was not expecting a series win against Carolina. Historically, that’s been near impossible for Auburn. However, I was hoping for at least one win. We really NEEDED one win. Currently, it’s Carolina 6 and Auburn 0 in the bottom of the 4th and the Tigers are staring at the prospect of hitting a dire stretch of losing 8 of their last 9 SEC games. All of that good mojo and karma from the start of SEC play has all but been erased. This post serves as some sort of catharsis for me personally, but also serves to answer some questions that get posed to me on Twitter, from friends, and through emails.

Is John Pawlowski on the Hot Seat?


Theoretically? Maybe. Realistically? No.

Let’s review a couple of facts:

First, John Pawlowski’s Contract runs through 2015. It was an extension that was awarded after the 2010 Season. I don’t have access to the contract and its language, but if Auburn was to terminate the contract after this season, then AU Athletics would still be on the hook for 3 full seasons of pay.

Second, there’s something few people are discussing openly. IF Pawlowski is let go, especially after being given a contract extension in 2010, it would be the first (to my knowledge) Jay Jacobs’s hire that didn’t work out. For a man who is quickly building a legacy of bringing top quality coaches who create champions at Auburn, the CJP “experiment” (again, hypothetically) would serve as a pretty dark mark on that resume. It’s not a pride thing, it’s more of a waiting out the storm.

Third, there is also something I like the call the “Renfroe Rationale”. It still, to this day, boggles my mind that Steve Renfroe was let go after missing the SEC tournament ONCE. Personally, his firing and the uneasy feeling that Auburn baseball still hasn’t fully recovered showed the dangers of not letting a coach see their full tenure and replacing them with quickly. If only there was some basis, some bit of evidence, even anecdotal, that could show that if given time, John Pawlowski can win. Oh yeah, here it is:

Pawlowski at College of Charleston:
  • 2000 - 28-28-1 (14-15-1)
  • 2001 - 24-28 (10-16)
  • 2002 - 36-22 (19-11)
  • 2003 - 31-27 (17-13)
  • 2004 - 47-16 (25-5) SoCon Champions, NCAA Regional
  • 2005 - 48-15 (27-3) SoCon Champions, NCAA Regional
  • 2006 - 46-17 (20-7) SoCon Tournament Champions, Lexington Regional Champions, Atlanta Super Regional
  • 2007 - 39-19 (20-7) SoCon Co-Champions

Look at that 5th year. That started the good times at C of C. I think this also (somewhat mildly) answers the criticism that CJP can only win with someone else’s players. I actually hear that a lot. “He only won with Slater’s players”. Which is thinking that completely ignores the fact that some key players on that team were brought in by Pawlowski. Guys like Justin Fradejas, Slade Smith, and Creede Simpson, and Justin Bryant.

Yes, I can also admit some criticism and that there are flaws with the “Renfroe Rationale”. Namely, that is didn’t give Tom Slater a full and fair shake. I think it does, in a way. We could have seen what would have happened with Slater as well, but Auburn didn’t and we are still in the similar situation that we were in when he replaced Renfroe. You gave one coach 4 years. He had solid success, hit a bad break. You Fired Him. You gave the next coach 4 years. He had very little success. You fired him. Now the next Auburn coach is finishing his 4th year. Do you fire him as well? Do we repeat this pattern of 4 years, Some Highs/ Some Lows, and then clean house? Maybe, just maybe, we ride this one out. I mean, let’s just see what happens when we actually KEEP a baseball coach for more than 4 years, or we could be stuck in this Ouroboros of baseball fandom permanently.

Finally, who exactly would you want to replace CJP? What coach would jump at the situation where the previous 3 coaches have all been let go after 4 years. Are there any hot names out there? Is there a short list? Do I have a short-list? Gun to my head? Here’s my Top 5:

  1. Terry Rooney- Central Florida
  2. Q.V. Lowe- Auburn-Montgomery
  3. Rob Childress- Texas A&M
  4. Scott Berry – Southern Miss
  5. Casey Dunn- Samford
I’m really only including Dunn on the list because I know his name would pop up in discussions if the position came open. The ONLY guy on that list that I think would be an upgrade over CJP would be Rooney at UCF. Great recruiter, great developer, and has ties to an SEC power (LSU). Other than him, this isn’t much of a list that Auburn could legitimately get. I still have to be sold on Dunn, there is this bizarre fascination with him and the most of the time the only response I get when I ask, “Why do you want him?” : He’s an Auburn guy and he owns Pawlowski. Ignoring the flawed logic in that statement, I have a bigger concern that bringing in Dunn has the potential to be the Return of Slater. Fiery Coach, Good Recruiter, from a smaller school that has limited but not great success (comparatively speaking). There’s also the danger that if Dunn did fail that he would be pulled too late and it would divide the fan base squarely because some fans would feel that Auburn is doing an Auburn guy wrong.

Ultimately though, the choice remains with Jay Jacobs. If CJP is let go, then Jacobs will have to work even harder to make certain that whatever choice is made better stick and stay.

Another quick note on Pawlowski. The criticisms against him are growing louder and louder. There is no denying that. They are getting collective. One in particular is very disturbing and that’s the two-fold criticism: His players don’t like him and he runs of guys who excel other places.

For the latter point, it’s actually pretty dead wrong. Here’s a list of guys who have left the program (i.e. didn’t graduate or get drafted) under CJP’s tenure:

Patrick Merkling (Lee University-NAIA)- 2.17 ERA 7-1 Record 44k 1 CGS
Ryan Welke- (College of Charleston) - .138 Batting Average. 18 games started. 8 hits 15ks. .275 OBS
Garrett Bush (Seminole CC)- 31 IP/ 4.65 ERA / 17 k 20 bb
Brooks Beisner (Florida Gulf Coast) - No stats accrued
Stafford Booth (Shelton State) .229 BA / 30 RBI / .320 OBS
Will Irvin (Union University- NAIA) 2.88 ERA 6-2 Record with 2 CGS 
Tyler Dial (Gulf Coast State CC) .336 BA / 43 RBI / 13 HR .444 OBS
Andrew Morris (Auburn-Montgomery) 3.27 ERA 5-4 Record 2 Saves 13 Wild Pitches
Phil Rossi (Gulf Coast State CC) 2011 Stats: 14.54 ERA 0-1 Record 10 k 16 bb
Dexter Price (South Carolina-Beaufort)- Drafted by Diamondbacks in 2012. 2011 Stats: 6-3 with a 2.39 ERA
Brandon Perry (Birmingham Southern)- .181 BA 27 starts 17 hits 9 rbis 12 ks .257 OBS
Adam Purdy (Troy): 21.60 ERA 0-2 Record 1.2 Innings Pitched 
Chezz McCann (Auburn-Montgomery) .257 BA 35 Starts 28 hits .328 OB% 21 Errors
That should be a pretty comprehensive list. I couldn't find any baseball info on:
Brian Hougton (Looks like he is still at Auburn. Jr in PreBusiness)
Miles Morton (Looks like he graduated in 2010 from Auburn)
Matt Lewis (Could still be enrolled at AU. There is a Matt Lewis who is a PreBusiness Senior at AU)
John Mantecon (Still at Auburn. Senior Graduating this year in Economics)
Rus Harper - Graduated in 2011 from Auburn in Finance

There is actually a pretty lengthy discussion thread over on ITAT (where I originally posted the above info) that diverged into this topic (amongst a couple other Anti/Pro CJP threads over there). My opinions on CJP and his players is pretty straightforward:

I know for certain that there are some current players that don’t like playing for him. However, their performance on the field hasn’t reflected those feelings and for that I respect those players even more. The team overall still fights, still competes, just (right now) doesn’t win. I don’t have a child so I can realistically and honestly answer the question of “Would You Let Your Son Play for Him?”. These guys are competing for Auburn. Not for a coach. Maybe this is a shortsighted and narrow viewpoint, but if there are growing numbers of players who are anti CJP then that will ultimately cost him his job. His job future depends on how many Ws he collects, not how many smiles he puts on players faces.



Is the Season Lost?




Not yet, but it is teetering dangerously close to spiraling out of control. Auburn is currently fighting back against Carolina (Gonzo up, Bases Loaded, Bottom 9, Auburn trails 6-11). Again, I was not expecting a series win against Carolina. I was already looking ahead to next weekend against Tennessee, because that (to me) is going to make of break our season.

Here’s how I see it:

Auburn needs 9 wins (or 8 depending on how comfortable/close you want to cut it) to ensure that we would finish the season at least 2 games over .500 overall and (if) we make the SEC Tournament, we would still leave OVER .500. Basically, I think we need to end the year at 30-25. Yes, you could finish at 29-26 but really, 30 wins is better than 29 and it’s going to help the RPI and resume for Auburn.

If we take our 3 (Jax St, Troy, Presby) midweek games. We reduce the number to 6 wins. Those 6 wins have to come in the final 4 SEC series. Let's say by some miracle we beat UT and UGA. Don't sweep but take both series. That puts us at 28-21 going into the final weekends. You'd have to avoid sweeps and that would put the final overall record at 30-25 (13-17). Is that really a good enough record conference-wise to get you in to Hoover? Hard to tell. It definitely hurts that the two teams we would hope to be above (Vandy/Bama) will have the tie breakers on us.

That’s what makes the Tennessee series so crucial. I know we will bandy to term “Must-Win” about, but UT is exactly that. We HAVE to win. A sweep would be perfect. A sweep? It would right the ship pretty quickly. Whatever the case, the ship has to be righted or we’ll sitting at home after May 19th.


What Needs to Change, Now?



Obvious Question is Obvious. It’s Pitching and Errors. Mainly the errors. Our fielding has become absolutely abysmal and it has lead to more chances and more runs for opponents.

(and now the Auburn game is over. Tigers lose 7-11. Get Swept)

Also, it’s time to take a good hard look at the Weekend Rotation. Varnadore has slowly become unraveled and has exactly 1 win to show for the season.

Is the solution to move him? Not now, in my opinion. He’s your Friday guy. Unless you have lost all faith in his ability and skill then there is no sense in moving him. My only recommendation would be a quick hook. Quicker than normal if he shows signs of struggling.

Auburn has to find someone in the bullpen who can answer the bell. Dillon Ortman is one candidate. Slade Smith another. We need a guy who when the game is getting dicey, we can say: Ok, put out the fire. We just don’t have any firemen in the pen right now.

Offensively, and especially after seeing today, I think Kody Ortman needs to be given more consistent shots at DH. I know it’s one game, but he provided a spark and could be a gamechanger. Cooper is developing a little power surge, Creede is struggling. The lineup needs to settle. These random jumps and moving guys up and down the lineup is creating these ridiculous holes and is setting up situations where we are taking the bat OUT of a hot hitters hands by forcing him to bunt.

Whatever the case, Auburn needs to answer and they need to answer on Tuesday against Troy.


What Needs to Change, Then?



I’m going to be perfectly frank here. There is one dark cloud on the Horizon for Auburn and I don’t think anyone has mentioned it. 2013 is going to be another rebuilding year. Even more so than this year. Looking at the Roster, I can honestly see a case where Auburn is replacing:
  • DH
  • 2B
  • 1B
  • SP1
  • SP2
  • C
  • OF1
  • OF2
That means, once again, Auburn will be replacing the majority of their infield and outfield and now the added bonus of 2 weekend starters. It’s hard to have consistency from Year to Year when you have so much turnover. That’s what makes 2013 an even bigger year for Auburn, because the guys in line to replace and fill these roles could potentially also be around for 2014 as well.

There’s really no point in planning for 2013 at this point, but maybe one thing to consider would be to favor D-heavy but O-Challenged players who can consistently and routinely make outs.

There is also talent coming in with the upcoming recruiting class and thankfully, it isn’t as JUCO heavy as year’s past.


Anything Else?


I’m not ready to close the book on 2012, yet. However, it’s gutcheck time. Not only for the team, but also for the future of CJP on the Plains. I’ll still go to games. I’ll support the team. However, losses like the past 3 weekends will have more critical eyes and minds looking at Auburn baseball. People who normally wouldn’t have noticed in the past. It’s all going to depend on how Auburn responds down this final stretch. It starts Tuesday down in Troy. We can either pull up on the yoke or push the nose towards the ground. Up to us. War Eagle

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

STAT of the Union Week 9: Battle of Midway

Halfway through the SEC schedule and Auburn is in the middle of it’s most trying stretch. Going a combined 1-5 vs the statistical and record bottom of the SEC. The stats, however, only reflect minor changes, but they were changes to the negative. Here’s the Spreadsheets:

 

 

 

 

A couple of quick observations:

  • Outside of Ethan Wallen. Every Auburn pitcher who had made a previous appearance, took the mound for this 4 game series. Cameron Blinka and Justin Camp have not made an appearance.
  • Garrett Cooper (.083) and Zach Alvord (.077) struggled mightily in Nashville. Alvord at least was given a night off tonight, but at some point, Cooper will need a full day spell with either Ortman, Bryant, or Savage taking duties over one day.
  • Speaking of Bryant, according to the radio broadcast, if Coop was unable to go Saturday or Sunday after taking a bad tweak in the field Friday, Bryant was to play First, Alvord at 3rd, and Bobby Andrews at DH.
  • We actually did steal some bases. Hopefully this is a good trend.
  • Tella continues to be our best and most consistent hitter, though he has hit some dry spells in the midweek games.
  • Creede Simpson hit .400 during the Vandy series, hopefully this and Gonzo’s .444 clip are a step in the right direction.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

STAT of the Union Week 8: Presented without Comment

Last weekend was a disaster. The numbers don’t show anything other than the hitting didn’t progress and the pitching took a step back. Only a single steal attempt against the most porous battery in the SEC. Struggles from Gonzo/Creede. Tonight’s lineup is a major shakeup from the previous games:

 

  1. Glevenyak (SS)
  2. Tella (CF)
  3. Cooper (1B)
  4. Bryant (DH)
  5. Wacker (LF)
  6. Simpson (2B)
  7. Alvord (3B)
  8. Gonzalez (RF)
  9. Austin (Catch)

 

The season officially hits a rest button vs Samford tonight. Here’s your stats as Auburn embarks on the toughest part of the season and starts ticking off 13 (at least) victories:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

STAT of the Union Week 7: The Hold Steady

 

 

 






Sometimes, change isn’t needed as long as it can get the job done. Sometimes, all you really need to do is Hold Steady. Look at Auburn this past week: the record was even (2-2), the overall ERA and Team BA had minor/negligible changes. Everything sort of plateaud. Is that good? Well, obviously if Auburn had gone 4-0 instead of 2-2 then everything would be coming up roses. Still, going 2-2 kept Auburn in the hunt in the SEC and actually puts Auburn in good position for the next 3 weekends. Before we take a look at those weekends, let’s take a quick peak  



There’s Auburn, swimming towards the top in hitting, towards the middle in pitching, and towards the bottom in fielding. Categorically, Auburn didn’t make strides positively or negatively in either category. We just held serve. Is that good enough?

For now, it is. That’s really all you can ask. I look at the Auburn baseball schedule about 3 times a week and one day keeps looming. April 19th. Once that day has come Auburn will have played 6 opponents. Only one of them currently with a winning record and all six having a combine 66-101 Record (49-90 if you don’t include Samford). Alabama, Vanderbilt, Alabama A&M, Jacksonville State, Troy, Samford. Those are the teams that realistically could make of break Auburn’s season. Not South Carolina or Florida or Arkansas. These 6 teams in this big stretch of games. 




Why? Just like last year it’s all about the overall record. Auburn is already in good position to make the SEC Tournament this year, especially with the 10 team bump. What could keep Auburn out of the postseason is not having above a .500 record. The RPI is there, the schedule is there, all that’s missing could be the win. Auburn has played 28 games. We have 27 more. The Tigers currently sit at 17-11 overall. Mathematically, you need to have to have 30 wins to almost guarantee finishing above .500. Auburn is more than halfway there. That’s why the series against Alabama and Vanderbilt are so critical. You have to at least win these series and completely the midweek sweep. That puts you at 8-2 heading in to the South Carolina series. We’ll give one mulligan maybe and say 7-3. That puts Auburn’s record at 24-14.




That’s still 6 wins away from 30. However, the good news would be they would have 17 games to do it. It might still be cutting it close. We’ll just chalk that up to a later bridge.



For now, it starts with Jacksonville State. If, and this is a big IF, in my opinion, Auburn can go 10-0 during this stretch? Putting Auburn at 27-11? Then I will be able to breath deep, relax, and maybe, just maybe, think about HOSTING a regional instead of just making one. It all starts tonight. Jacksonville State. Auburn has to win. Simple as that. War Eagle 

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

STAT of the Union: Week 6

 

 



It was definitely an interesting week for Auburn baseball. Yes, the Tigers took the series from LSU, but give the Bengals some credit, they shut down a key aspect of the Auburn offense: Steals. LSU had 2 pick offs and Auburn wasn’t able to steal a single base all series. The lack of steals shows me something positive for Auburn. We can still win without stealing. However, these are going to be close games. The LSU series was good for Auburn because statistically, these two teams are identical. The only difference is that LSU has a bit more extra base power and Auburn a little more speed. Batting Average? .002 difference. HRs? Identical. Slugging %? Only .001 difference. Total bases? Only +/- 20. Even in ERA. Only a .006 difference. In fact, when you look at the SEC Stats and Rankings, an interesting thought comes up:

 






Probably on the best things to come from this series? Auburn lowered the team ERA .460 and did that against the 4th best offense in the league. In fact, Auburn pitching has already faced the (currently) Number 2 and Number 4 offenses in the league and came out winners. They avoid Number 1 (Kentucky), Sit at Number 3,

won’t face the Number 5 (Florida) offense until the series finale. Long story short, Auburn has faced some pretty solid bats the first two weeks of the season and has come out surprisingly better. Why? Again, just like the Ole Miss series, it was pitching:






Just Look at all of the Green. All but 2 pitchers who made an appearance over the 4 game homestand lowered their ERAs. TGC (the tough loser on Sunday) still pitched quite well considering he hadn’t hit the hill in almost 3 weeks. The MVP? Probably Jay Wade who cut his ERA almost in half with his appearance on Saturday: 2.1 IP/3h/0er/2k/1bb.

 



As for the bats, we still have some issues. Still leaving men on. The lack of steals versus LSU was upsetting but we’ve got some positives to work with:





Creede looks like he is heating back up. Although he only raised his average a bump (.003) He is trending in the right direction. Ryan Tella may have gotten a lot of the publicity this past weekend (deservedly so) but I really think you have to spotlight Zach Alvord’s performance at the plate. He’s raised his average above .300, hit a smooth .500 over the 4 game set (.455 vs LSU). Plus, having him hit 9 eliminates a gap in the Auburn offense as Jay Gonzalez’s struggles continue to grow. Thankfully, Gonzo is starting to heat back up (.200 vs LSU) and there are some positives to work with.

 



Overall, the numbers look good so far. The Pitching continues to surprise and the hitting has hit a lull but Auburn is still winning. It just means the AU might be pretty scary when we can get all 3 phases clicking at once.

 



War Eagle.   

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Visitor’s Dugout: And the Valley Shook

 

 

You could hear me blab on and on about Auburn baseball and the upcoming series against LSU. Thankfully, PodKATT from And the Valley Shook took the time to answer some of my LSU baseball related Questions. As with most Visitor’s Dugout, you can check out my answers to his questions over there.

 

 

1) I've seen/followed some LSU games where the offense is rolling (The McNeese games come to mind) and some where they've been shut down (Appalachian State). Can you pinpoint a reason? Is it something Auburn should try to do?

 

The difference is quality opposing pitching. Using the teams you mentioned as an example, McNeese in two games could never find anyone who could last more than an inning or two before giving up a couple of ground ball RBIs. Appy St, on the other hand, won their two games largely because of two starters who had monster days, only giving up a combined 5 hits with 14Ks. Another good example is the close Friday win (in 10 innings) against Miss St. where the bulldog Stratton had 17Ks and got SEC pitcher of the week honors in a loss. This lineup isn't afraid to swing against a good strike thrower, the trouble is LSU won't connect on most of it.

 

 

 

2) Is there anyway to slow down Katz or Rhymes? To me, and on paper, they look like guys Auburn might just try to pitch around just to be safe.

 

Rhymes may be the quietest player to lead LSU (and indeed the SEC) in BA that i can remember. He's not a power hitter (6 doubles are his only extra-base hits), he's just very good at getting the ball on the ground when guys are aboard, and as such fills the cleanup spot in the lineup perfectly. Katz's numbers are still a little inflated from when he nearly tied the NCAA consecutive safely reached base record earlier this season (17 times in a row.) At the hight of the streak, all of his batting numbers were over .500 with a SLG of .950. He's a small guy, but he's also the closest thing LSU has to a power hitter. If anyone is going to get one out of the park for LSU this weekend, it's going to be Katz.

 

 

 

3) Offensively, Auburn and LSU look pretty similar. Only .002 difference in AVG. Identical numbers in Triples/HRs. etc. The only thing I've noticed is a lack of the usual power from LSU and Auburn (obviously) stealing whenever they can. Have you noticed any similarities?

 

I wouldn't be an LSU fan if I didn't rant about how these bats are killing college baseball as we knew it. Almost all of LSU's season has been at home in a park designed to make things difficult with the old bats. Nowadays being a power team is damn near impossible. It's frustrating to see this team struggle at times playing the "small ball" game when, as a fan, you want them to be swinging away, even if the numbers say they won't be successful doing that either. To my eyes, Auburn and LSU are both trying the same things at the plate and Auburn might be doing it a little better. The difference in W-L may just be that Auburn has played a tougher schedule. I will say that LSU's base running numbers might be higher if we hadn't gotten so bad at it lately. The last few weeks it seems every game we get a little rally going in the 3rd or 4th, only to have it snuffed out by a base running mistake, and I'm starting to think the coaches are telling them to go at the wrong times.

 

 

 

4) How can Auburn win this series? How can LSU win it? What're your predictions?

 

 

Auburn can win if they can keep the scores close until they face our not quite reliable relief pitching and stay aggressive on base. LSU can win it if they get some timely extra base hits, probably off of Auburn fielding errors, and don't let Auburn's aggressive base running make them throw into errors. I think LSU takes 2 of 3, but would not be surprised if Auburn took it instead. Home field advantage is a real factor in this league and LSU has lost 8 of it's last 9 SEC road series going back to the 2010 season.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

STAT of the Union & Cautious Optimism

 

This past weekend was big for Auburn in many ways. Normally, you can’t list the opening SEC series as a “turning point” but I think, for Auburn, it applies. The Tigers were dominated on Friday night and for 8.2 inning on Sunday. It seemed like the offense hit a bit of a lull. In fact, if you look at the overall SEC stats, the Tigers fell off their pace a little bit.


 

 

Auburn dropped .012 in Batting Average, .019 in Slugging and .012 in On Base Percentage. Normally these would seem like only incremental drops but the number are a bit misleading. Consider that the only thing preventing a bigger drop for Auburn was the outstanding performance of Ryan Tella, who went 7 for 12 (.583) for the series and added production by Cullen Wacker (.300) and Garrett Cooper (.307). Auburn’s 3, 4, and 5 hitters came through and delivered. Especially on Sunday when they accounted for Auburn’s tieing and winning runs/rbis.

 

 

Cooper and Tella were the only regular everyday guys who actually improved their numbers. The distressing bits were the production of Creede Simpson and Jay Gonzalez at the top of the order. Creede hit a cool .077 for the series and Gonzo posted a .083 average. Even more troublesome is that, for Jay, these lack of hits have been replaced by strikeouts. 5 to be specific. With those, Gonzo has taken sole possession of the K lead for Auburn. Why is it important for Gonzo and Creede to hit well? Simply put, they are the spark plug for the offense. Auburn’s normally aggressive style needs it’s two leading base stealers on base in order to “light the fire” of the offense. Auburn only recorded 3 steals on 4 attempts over the weekend (solo bags from Alvord, Bryant, Tella, and an attempt from Wacker). Outside of Tella, these aren’t exactly burners on the basepaths. In order for Auburn to be successful, Creede and Gonzo have to get on. Especially with Tella absolutely raking at the plate right now.

 

 

So how did Auburn take the series from Ole Miss? Surprisingly, it was the pitching that pulled Auburn through.

 

 

 

Even though Varnadore got the loss Friday, he still pitched as well as he did since the season opener and lowered his ERA a tick. The biggest addition were Slade Smith’s continued improvement out of the bullpen (and another 1.58 shaved off his numbers) and Cory Luckie’s return to form. Luckie managed to cut his ERA in half from the previous 9.00 ugliness to a more respectable 4.26. The biggest increase was from Kendall, but that’s understandable considering that this was the first time he was actually hit hard and his 4 ERs were a season high. Still, his 5 innings of work combined with Slade’s 4 in relief and a Zach Alvord Grand Slam were all Auburn needed to dispatch the Rebels.

 

So is there optimism about Auburn? Yes, but for now it is cautious optimism. Once Creede and Gonzo come around and if the pitching holds like it did in Oxford then Auburn can compete against anyone. Seriously.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rain Outs and Resets

Tuesday’s game against South Alabama has been rained out. The impact for the Auburn baseball team is more than just a missed game (and an extra game later in the season); It erases a chance for positive momentum following Sunday’s 9th inning choke against Belmont before heading into SEC Play.



So now Auburn opens SEC Play with a focused goal: Make it to Hoover. It’s an easier task this year with the field expanding to 10 teams in anticipation of Missouri and Texas A&M’s addition next year. It makes getting there a bit easier. I mean, all you have to do is be better than two teams and currently those two teams are Alabama and Vanderbilt, with Tennessee holding a slight edge in the overall record.



What to we know about the 2012 Auburn baseball team? What I know is that Auburn has 4 issues the Tigers have to fix to be successful in SEC Play.



1. AUBURN HAS TO STOP STRANDING RUNNERS



Auburn is a team that will get hits. Mainly singles. Rarely Homeruns. We’ll will put guys on but, for now, the problem is getting them home. The number of LOB is astounding. The numbers is currently at 167. Auburn’s average of 9.8 LOB/game puts Auburn on pace to leave an astounding 550 men stranded. Compare to years past: 501 LOB in 2011 (8.6 avg), 527 LOB (8.2 avg) in 2010, and 405 LOB (7.2) in 2009. That is definitely one area of improvement.



However, you have to applaud Auburn’s approach at the plate. Strikeouts are down, hits are up, steals are setting a record pace. Auburn has adjusted well to their new “small-ball” style. We can get guys on. We just have to get them in.



2. AUBURN HAS BULLPEN DEPTH. WE SHOULD USE IT.



Despite their setbacks and some blown saves, I actually have faith in the Auburn pitching staff. Simply because we already have an established core of 4 starters: Jon Luke Jacobs, Derek Varnadore, Daniel Koger, and Will Kendall. We have a nice base of Middle Relievers/Spot Starters in Slade Smith, Chase Williamson, and Rocky McCord. We have a setup guy (Ortman) and a closer (Bryant). We have guys that are filling roles.



But even with everything that is good with the bullpen, we still have issues.



Auburn, so far, has continually relied on the same guys. Blatt. Bryant. Luckie. We’ve seen great stuff from Chase Williamson and Trey Cochran-Gill. I think we should use them more and develop them. Ethan Wallen has made one forgettable appearance. Cameron Blinka and Caleb Smith have yet to appear and Auburn has some other arms like Jay Wade that I would like to see more of.



3. AUBURN HAS TO FIND A DH. Offensively, that’s the biggest area that Auburn is lacking. Once Bobby Andrews started to struggle, it forced Cullen Wacker to LF and reopened the DH spot in the lineup. So far, it’s been a mix of Kody Ortman or Pat Savage. I think it might be time to see if anyone else could fill that role. Ortman and Savage bring the biggest power threat but that’s not necessarily what Auburn has to have. The Tigers just need a consistent and productive hitter. Justin Bryant was rumored to be getting another shot in the field. Jarred Smith has been replaced by Zach Alvord in the field but that doesn’t mean his bat has to completely leave the lineup. Maybe even giving a normal “first off the bench” guy a shot like Tanner Cimo or Mitchell Self. Just production.



4. AUBURN HAS TO CUT DOWN ON ERRORS: This remains one of the most frustrating parts of Auburn. Stupid mistakes in the field. Costly errors at that. Take Belmont for instance. An error made the Sunday finale a 2 run deficit instead of a 1 run game. Auburn can make some incredible plays in the field. I’ve seen them myself. Alvord is developing better into a 3B. Creede has taken to 2B quite nicely (even though he does lead the team in errors). Glevenyak brings consistent production to keep him in the lineup. I think the infield is starting to gel a bit and hopefully with a little more time and luck we can start to shave off some of those errors and get those fielding percentages up.

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STAT of the Union (Week 4)

Another solid week for the Auburn pitching staff. The blown save on Sunday notwithstanding, Auburn actually pitched effectively and got 4 quality starts in each outing this week. Add in a save (and a blown save) by Justin Bryant, a nice turn by Slade Smith on Saturday, and Daniel Koger’s career best start and you can see Auburn pitching is slowing trending in the right direction.



This week’s spreadsheets are listed below. Team leaders (good) in Green. Team leaders (bad) in red. SEC Top 5 in Yellow.





My only issue is all those grey names. Those are pitchers who went unused. Now, a bit of that is the effect of solid pitching outings but it also shows a bit of overuse on Justin Bryant’s part. I still think that’s the key part missing from the bullpen. We need another bridge guy. If we can get our starter to the 6th inning without trouble then we can easily go Smith, Ortman, Bryant to close out the game and I think we can be incredibly effective. However, we still need 2 more guys to step up to help with the load? My pick would be Trey Cochran-Gill and Chase Williamson. For now, Rocky McCord could also be a guy that helps in mid-relief. With Auburn only playing single midweek games and Jon Luke Jacobs essentially being our midweek warrior (until someone falters), we have to find some innings for these guys.

 



Now, on to hitting:





Not the greatest week for hitting. Especially with 38 hits but only 5 extra base hits. A couple of batting averages leveled out but Yak, Tella, and Alvord are all starting to develop into solid hitters. If they can compliment the already strong core of Gonzo and Creede and Garrett Cooper can continue to develop power then I have little doubt Auburn will be just fine offensively.



As for how the team compares to the SEC? Here’s the final chart:

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

STAT of the Union (Week 3)

 

A Ton of numbers to pour through on the eve of Tonight’s Max Capital (or Capitol. I always mess that up) City Classic. Although the scoreboard didn’t really reflect it, it was actually a nice week for Auburn pitching. The low scoring affairs against Alabama State and Charleston Southern certainly helped matters. Slade Smith’s move to the bullpen (although he did claim the loss Sunday) worked out well. He was able to shave almost 5 runs off of his ERA. Cory Luckie (on the flip side) saw his perfect ERA Balloon after some one and done nights. If Slade can establish himself out of the bullpen it would give Auburn some much needed stability with Justin Bryant, Trey Cochran-Gill, Chase Williamson, and Dillon Ortman all seeming to settle in.

Another big surprise was the emergence of Will Kendall in a spot start. I’m sure we will find out soon enough if this is a permanent thing or merely a transition to move Jon Luke Jacobs to the weekend.

This week’s spreadsheets are listed below. Team leaders (good) in Green. Team leaders (bad) in red. SEC Top 5 in Yellow.



HITTING:




PITCHING


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