Fixing the Diamond Dawgs


Jun 25, 2013; Omaha, NE, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs looks on from the dugout during the sixth inning in game 2 of the College World Series finals against the UCLA Bruins at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Getting swept stings. In one fell swoop it cancels out all three series wins in SEC play. At 6-6 we’ll have to set the reset button. What can be done to fix the Bulldogs?

Fixing the team is a relative term. It’s not completely broken. At 20-13 on the year it’s not like we’re in dire straights, but for what was thought to be an excellent team coming into the year we’ve found ourselves struggling time and time again. It mostly falls on the offense who has scored one run or less in 4 of the last 8 games.

The main issue is the lack of power. Not just home runs but extra base hits as well. Here’s a chart that shows MSU’s power numbers for the last two years and then what they’re on pace for this year…




Home Runs

Total Bases

Slugging %



















As you can see, doubles and home runs are severely off. Slugging percentage and total bases are more like 2012 – a year when the “bunt” was a cursed word among the Bulldog faithful. Right now only Missouri is worse than MSU in both total bases and slugging in the SEC.

Jun 8, 2013; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs outfielder Hunter Renfroe hits the ball against the Virginia Cavaliers in the fifth inning during the Charlottesville super regional of the 2013 NCAA baseball tournament at Davenport Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The difference can pretty well be spotted: Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier….MSU’s best hitters last year. Not only did they have the two highest batting averages but they combined for 36 doubles and 16 HR. They’ve been replaced by guys (Seth Heck and Demarcus Henderson) who are on pace for 9 doubles and 0 HR.

Wes Rea’s power outage is probably more pronounced than his stats indicate as he hit all 3 of his HR in one day. He’s also on pace to produce 60% of his double output from last year – a season in which he missed nearly 20 games.

State’s offense is a lot more like the 2012 version than the 2013 version. There are no mashers in the middle of the order – or a guy like Frazier at the top who was good for 1.5 hits per game. The offense is much more effective with power in it, but that just hasn’t happened. Look at the productivity of these years in terms of runs:

  • 2012: 287 (4.48 per game)
  • 2013: 414 (5.83 per game)
  • 2014: 298 (4.97 per game) – this number will continue to go down considering the difficulty of SEC pitching

Just before SEC play started John Cohen and Butch Thompson made the decision to focus on going with starters who pitched to contact (Preston Brown, Ross Mitchell) as the swing and miss type guys (Brandon Woodruff and Dakota Hudson) were not performing well. That meant putting an extra emphasis on defense with Matthew Britton at 3B at the expense of offensive production. Britton is currently hitting .125 in 40 ABs. Zach Randolph’s appearance in more games than not leads me to believe Cohen views him as the best defensive catcher whether that’s for blocking balls or calling the game (it certainly isn’t throwing out runners, see: Gavin Collins). He is hitting .260, which isn’t bad, but all his hits are singles.

The question here is this: when making out the everyday lineup, should MSU put more emphasis on offense or defense?

There are guys on the bench with some pop. Daniel Garner is one of the best hitters on the team, Reid Humphreys is a guy we already know can go yard and Gavin Collins has more doubles than singles this year. One common denominator: they are all freshman (Garner is a redshirt frosh).

It’s understandable that Cohen would make the decision to go with an emphasis on defense first. Britton is a junior who has been with him, and some of the glove-work and rifled throws he has displayed have truly saved runs. But unless he walks, he’s basically an out every time up save for one game vs. UGA. Is it time to move to an emphasis on offense?

One of the things that hurts is even when comparing to the 2012 team there is no Chris Stratton. Ross Mitchell is an ace just like Stratton in my opinion, but they are two different kind of pitchers. If your staff is relying on good fielding behind them you can’t afford to not make those plays – saving a hit on defense can be as good as getting a hit on offense. Brandon Woodruff is a guy who we could really use in the weekend rotation. He was excellent in Game 1 vs. LSU and has not allowed a run in 5.1 IP during SEC play. Also moving Jacob Lindgren to the starting rotation could (and should) be an option. He is a swing and miss pitcher who is averaging almost two K’s per inning. Those two were looked at a couple of years ago as guys who would be carrying the load this year but have been absent from the starting rotation.

I think the direction of the team has to go in one of two directions:

  1. Insert Woodruff and/or Lindgren into the starting rotation to create less defensive pressure and replace Britton with a better bat
  2. Keep status quo of playing with pitching and defense and hope we can scratch out enough runs offensively to win games

What do I think about the lineup? Well, thanks for asking. Here’s what I would put out there on Tuesday night vs. Southern Miss:

1. Derrick Armstrong, LF – Jake Vickerson has been struggling and Armstrong has not. Plus Vickerson is the weak link defensively in the outfield so I think it’s an upgrade on both fronts for right now. I don’t like the fact that he strikes out so much (18%) but he’s really fast (9 for 11 SB) and he’s got a good OB% at .381.

2. Gavin Collins, C – I don’t think there’s any question he’s got the best arm among the catchers so he should start behind the dish, and he’s hitting .389 in SEC play so he’s hot. I’ve got him in the 2-hole because of that and he has a really low strike out rate (7%).

3. C.T. Bradford, CF – Hopefully C.T. is well enough to play in the field. He’s a solid player who has done well in and out of conference play this year. He’s hitting at a .319 clip which is tied for best on the team with Armstrong. He leads the team in OPS (.818) and avg – productive outs (.333). As a senior and 4-year starter, this spot in the lineup won’t phase him.

4. Brett Pirtle, 2B – He’s been Mr. Consistency since SEC play started last year. He’s not your prototypical cleanup hitter but he gets the job done and is tops on the team at .448 with RISP.

5. Wes Rea, 1B – The big guy has been struggling pretty bad, but I’d leave him in there. Guys go through slumps and not only has he earned the right to work his way out of it but I think he will work his way out of it. I like moving him down in the order (for now) to ease some of that pressure.

6. Daniel Garner, DH – Here is some of the pop I was talking about. He’s hitting .294 this year but he only has 3 SEC at-bats. The guy can hit so let’s put him in there and see what he can do.

7. Demarcus Henderson, RF – I don’t care if it’s a righty or a lefty I want Demarcus in there. He can come up with a big hit, get a bunt down, steal a base, etc.

8. Seth Heck, SS – Heck has solidified the infield defensively and has done a solid job. His hitting has fallen back a bit but he still doesn’t strike out much (6%) and does the little things well – like five sac bunts this year.

9. Alex Detz, 3B – I like having Detz back here because he’s a good on-base guy. He’s at .388 in SEC play plus he’s hitting .286 which is a lot better than his overall numbers. I think this can offset some of Armstrong’s K’s in the 2nd and 3rd time through the order.

I have no objections to starting Britton, especially when Ross Mitchell or Preston Brown pitch. But I would probably just swap out Detz for Britton and leave Garner at DH. If Garner isn’t hitting I’d try Humphreys….and I wouldn’t be opposed to a Detz/Humphreys platoon at the hot corner. Nor would I be opposed to an Armstrong/Vickerson platoon in LF.

I think at the end of the day you can see just how valuable guys like Hunter Renfoe and Adam Frazier are. Their offense was such a huge part of this ball club it’s been really tough to replace. Even putting the better hitters in the lineup won’t get back to where we were in 2013, that will have to wait for next year if at all possible. There is power on the way, but we’ve got to figure out how to put this team together and make it a winner this year.  It’s a lot more like 2012 than 2013, but that’s okay.