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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