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

3 comments:

Chris Fuhrmeister April 22, 2012 at 4:02 PM  

Excellent analysis. Like you said, the players have kept fighting even when games have gotten away from them. Now that they've lost eight of nine in SEC play and fallen to the bottom of the standings, it will be interesting to see if they keep up that fight. If some of players unhappy with Pawlo and the losses keep piling up, one would think it's only a matter of time before he loses the team.

Droid April 24, 2012 at 7:02 AM  

Great Analysis
Part of problem like you stated is turnover. What i see is the coach's are not coaching the younger players, they throw them out there(in the fall) and if they don't produce (with no help from coach's to correct issues) they put them off to the side until next year. What really boggles my mind is if you recruit a kid to swing the bat, and lets just say he can not help you this year but you think he can next or the next, they get no help what-so-ever. If i think a kid may be able to help next year then i at least have him swinging a bat somehow, someway thru the spring. But this is not the case. This really causes a problem when you have the turnover that Auburn is experiencing.
I could go on and on but the coaching staff does a poor job managing the players that they get and if i knew then(during recruiting) what i now know then i would seriously question whether to let my son go to Auburn to play Baseball.

Anonymous April 29, 2012 at 9:56 AM  

Thanks for the analysis. Thorough and even after some of the recent debacles, I agree it's a bit early to pull the plug but I worry when the players call a team meeting to discuss the need to "Get serious".

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