Diamond Dawg Notes: April 12th Edition


Since we last talked, MSU has won an important series over the Vanderbilt Commodores which featured a come from behind win on Sunday to help the Bulldogs win their first series of the year. What made the series important was the fact that MSU needed it from a morale standpoint- and it’s no coincidence that this win came at the same time that MSU had all of their key components intact- including CT Bradford and Daryl Norris, who ended up hitting the game winning double. After that, MSU had to play the South Alabama Jaguars at Dudy-Noble Field and while the bats didn’t show up- the coaches were trying to rest Bradford and Brent Brownlee among others- Brandon Woodruff most certainly did. He had a no-hitter going for six innings, and was removed only because of his pitch count. On Tuesday, he showed why he was a fifth round pick. And the other really encouraging thing was how the other freshmen pitched- such as Trevor Fitts, who will likely also compete for a starting job next year, Ross Mitchell and Jonathan Holder- who will both be key pitchers in the bullpen. Finally, the last encouraging thing was Wes Rea hitting a titanic walk-off home run to win the game.

Injuries have been a huge theme with MSU baseball this year- and I think that will be the case throughout the rest of the year as well. Hopefully, it will be more about how MSU is managing the injuries- such as Daryl Norris and Brent Brownlee both having their knees drained at the same time- rather than how Demarcus Henderson just broke his finger on a hit by pitch and is out for two weeks- which is unfortunately true. Ben Bracewell will also not pitch against South Carolina this weekend, but is expected to pitch against Mississippi in the Governor’s Cup on Tuesday.

As we talked about at the beginning of the year, MSU was expected to struggle offensively because of it’s youth. The injuries have really taken their toll because it’s caused players who are freshmen to take key at bats, and more often than not, the results haven’t been good. However, when MSU has their regular lineup on the field- Slauter at catcher, Rea at first base, the now emerging Sam Frost at second base, Daryl Norris at third, Adam Frazier at SS, Hunter Renfroe in left field, CT in center field, Brownlee in right field, and Trey Porter at designated hitter- the Bulldogs have normally been able to hit at a respectable rate. In fact, you look at the above lineup, and only one hitter is hitting below .250 on the season- and that is Brownlee. And I think it’s fair to say that while only two of those players are hitting over .300, the injuries and the recovery time have certainly affected the averages. My hope is that as the team continues to heal, that they will continue to rise.

As always, MSU and everyone else in the SEC for that matter, has a difficult task ahead of them traveling to Columbia, South Carolina. Yes, South Carolina is coming off of an upset loss to Francis Marion, a D-II school in South Carolina, but the Gamecocks are still a very good team. They’re led by Micheal Roth, a veteran SEC and College World Series pitcher, who is one of the best in the SEC. The Gamecocks are actually very similar to MSU statistically this year. The Gamecocks are actually better than MSU in pitching- all of their scheduled starters have ERA’s under 3.00, but…and stop the presses when you read this….MSU is actually hitting better than South Carolina this year. That’s not to say that South Carolina isn’t dangerous- Christian Parker is one of the most feared hitters in the SEC and Evan Marzilli is a veteran player who has had a good year as well.

I would actually feel good about MSU winning this series if it was in Starkville. However, it’s in Columbia and life on the road in the SEC is very difficult. That said, I would be OK- not happy, but OK with MSU winning one game. On the other hand if MSU was to win this series, I would feel very good about our team going forward into the second half of the SEC schedule. I also think it would boost our team morale that much more and give us that much more confidence going forward. What we’ve seen from MSU all year is that this team is tough and scrappy. I expect no less from us this weekend, and we’ll see if we can pull off a series win this weekend now that we’re a little more healthy.

The last thing I want to talk about is MSU’s trouble on the basepaths and the perceived “good call” vs. a “bad call” from the dugout. Very basically- you have straight steals vs. a hit and run. On a straight steal, the base runner is looking to steal the base on their own- usually second base and sometimes third. What baserunners are trying to do is they want to ideally steal when a pitcher throws a breaking ball because it’s more difficult in general for a catcher to handle a breaking ball because they have to dig those pitches out of the dirt a lot of times as opposed to a fastball. Basically, a runner is going to take as good of a lead as they can and try to read the pitcher to make sure that they are indeed throwing to the batter. When a baserunner does this, they are taught to go full speed ahead and not look back because it will slow them down, and that’s not what you want when stealing a base. That is a very key principle for what we’re talking about. Finally, there is the slide and the baserunner wants to try to slide away from the tag as much as possible to make it more difficult to be tagged out.

OK- now the hit and run. A manager wants to call this usually when the hitter is ahead in the count- for example, 2-1 is considered by many, including my Dad, to be the ideal hitters count, but 1-0, 1-1 are also good counts to hit and run on. What the manager is trying to achieve when they are calling a hit and run is they are trying to open up some holes on the infield, which makes it more likely for a batter to get a hit- and at the same time get a runner from first to third relatively easily. The batter is taught to do whatever it is necessary to get the bat on the ball and make contact- even if it’s hitting it one foot in front of the plate- the absolute worst thing the batter can do is swing and miss on a hit and run because when they do- the baserunner is basically dead in the water. And that has been MSU’s problem for the most part with “bad baserunning” this year. And a lot of times, it’s a freshman attempting to make the contact.

Why is the baserunner pretty much out on a botched hit and run? Go back to the straight steal and remember that a baserunner wants to run when a breaking ball is thrown. When a pitcher is behind in the count, a lot of times, they’re going to throw a fastball, which is not good to run on. And as a coach, you want to hit and run on a fastball count because it’s easier for a lot of hitters to make contact and hit a fastball than it is a breaking ball. The second main reason is what the baserunner has to do on a hit and run. A baserunner has to peek back in to the hitter- why?- to make sure that the hitter doesn’t pop the ball up on the infield and cause an easy double play- and to try to give the baserunner a chance to get back to first base. When a base runner does this, it slows them down, and it makes it very easy for even a below average catcher to throw a runner out. And that is actually how a fan can tell whether a hit and run was on vs. a straight steal. If you see the runner peek back to the hitter, that is a dead giveaway that it’s a hit and run.

Lastly, I mentioned briefly about a hit and run opening up the infield. What I’m talking about is when a baserunner is stealing, the shortstop and the second baseman are going to immediately go over to second base to receive the throw from the catcher- so basically, you have the middle infielders almost lined up behind second base when the ball is hit- which creates a huge hole for the ball to go through. Now, hitter’s are taught to hit the ball to the right side of the infield on a hit and run. The reason for that is because if a batter hits the ball to the left side and the shortstop of third baseman field the ball, it may prevent the runner from advancing to third, or even get the runner in a run down. So, ideally you want a hitter that handles the bat very well and makes good contact. For example, that would be someone like Dustin Pedroia with the Red Sox or for MSU that would be someone like Adam Frazier.

That’s all for today, and next week, we’ll be talking about Super Bulldog Weekend!

Until then, Hail State!