Jun 24, 2013; Omaha, NE, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs starting pitcher Trevor Fitts (31) delivers a pitch during the second inning in game 1 of the College World Series finals against the UCLA Bruins at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
It was a strange opening weekend for the Diamond Dawgs. We spent the entire offseason thinking we would be opening the year with a relatively easy opponent in Hofstra, but the terrible winter weather prevented that from happening. Instead, we were paired off with a much higher quality opponent in Western Carolina. Many had hoped for a sweep, but expecting that would be disrespecting the quality team that Western Carolina was fielding this week. The Bulldogs rallied after a disappointing Friday night loss to win the remaining two games, without either of them ever really in doubt. Let’s take a look at the Good Stuff and the Bad Stuff from the weekend.
The Bad Stuff
The Strikeouts: Full disclosure: I’m a sabermetric junkie when it comes to baseball. One thing that people who are into sabermetrics hate is strikeouts. We struck out 33 times in those three games, which puts us right at 11 per game. Putting the ball in play can at least be productive. You can move runners over, or runs can be scored through sacrifices. Strikeouts don’t do any of that. For us to be as successful as many of us are hoping for, we need to get that number closer to 7 per game or less.
The Batting Average: As a team, we hit .207 for the weekend. A lot of that can be contributed to the impressive performance that Jeremy Null put up for the Catamounts on Friday night. But we still struggled the rest of the weekend as well. We had a good performance at the plate on Saturday, putting up 9 base hits. Sunday, despite the fact we scored 7 runs, we only had four base hits. Being a sabermtric nut, this doesn’t concern me as much and I’ll talk about this when I get to the good stuff.
Brandon Woodruff: Woodruff had a tough year in 2013 that many attributed to the injury problems he suffered. Many experts were predicting that a healthy Woodruff could have a breakout season much like Chris Stratton in 2012. It’s just one start, but it isn’t very encouraging to see him get roughed up in his only inning pitched. It took 50 pitches to get three outs, and he wasn’t able to retire any hitters in the second inning. The coaching staff is wanting to rely more heavily on the starters this year, and a big part of that is Brandon Woodruff having a solid 2014 season. He has the stuff to be a top notch pitcher, he just needs to live up to it now.
The Good Stuff
On Base Percentage: I said that the low batting average didn’t concern me as much because of this. Despite not getting many base hits, we were getting on base. We had a .395 on base percentage for the weekend and took advantage of the wildness of the Catamount pitchers, excluding Jeremy Null. If we can have hitters reach base 40% of the time throughout the year, we will definitely score some runs. To a sabermetric geek, OBP is far more important than batting average. We aren’t going to lead the SEC in homeruns, so getting players on base consistently will be paramount. The reason we made it to Omaha wasn’t because we got an abundance of hits, but because we got timely hits. We did that his weekend, especially on Sunday. For example, with the bases loaded, Brett Pirtle stepped to the plate with a chance to break the game open. He did just that by hitting a bases clearing triple. Those are the types of hits that propelled us to the College World Series that we will need more of this year. We don’t have to be a great offensive team to be successful, just good. 15 runs through 3 games, a 5 run per game clip, is about where we need to be.
The Bullpen: Ross Mitchell picked up right where he left off last year. After Woodruff left the game in the second inning with two runners aboard, Mitchell didn’t allow either to score. He only allowed one run the remaining 8 innings and struck out seven in the process. He stopped the bleeding, and allowed the Bulldogs to stay in the game before a ninth inning rally fell short. The rest of the bullpen pitched 8 innings the remaining two games and didn’t allow any runs.
Trevor Fitts and Dakota Hudson: After Woodruff’s less than stellar outing, it’s understandable if people were concerned that the starting pitching might be as lackluster as it was last year. Woodruff and Hudson helped alleviate those concerns. The two combined for 10 innings pitched, 2 earned runs allowed, 13 strikeouts, 11 hits allowed, and only 2 base on balls between the two of them. Another added benefit to their impressive performances was that it will put pressure on Woodruff to get his stuff together if he wants to hold on to the Friday night starter role.
It’s only natural to be disappointed when we didn’t walk away from this weekend undefeated, but I firmly believe this series, despite the loss, will do us far more good than a four game sweep of Hofstra ever would have done us. Look for Western Carolina to make the NCAA tournament regardless of whether or not they win their conference tournament. I would expect them to be a low two or a high three seed once the brackets are announced on Memorial Day. This will help our strength of schedule, and if things break right, will give us another quality opponent to add to our tournament resume’. It gets the Bulldogs off to a solid start for the 2014 season, even if it wasn’t the one many of us expected.