OSU Baseball, Looking Back and Ahead

Oregon St. salvaged a split of their 4 games in San Diego over the weekend with a 13-5 pounding of Kansas St. Sunday.

Final Score - Box Score

OSU 13

KSU 5

The Beavers' bats not only came alive, they came alive with some power, delivering 3 of the teams' 4 home runs so far this season. Jake Rodriguez's solo homer started the scoring in what would become a 4 run second at bat, and Michael Conforto came up with his second homer of the season to put Oregon St. up 6-0.

Kansas St. scratched their way back into it, pulling withing 6-4 in the 4th inning. But the Beavers blew it open with a 6 run 6th inning highlighted by Danny Hayes' grand slam, and the Wildcats were essentially finished, especially with the Beavers' bullpen Bs, Matt Boyd, who threw 4 2/3 innings, and got his second win of the year, Cole Brocker, and Tony Bryant, in force.

The lopsided losses to both the San Diego community's public and private universities pushed Oregon St. out of the top 25 in this week's Baseball America poll (and every other one as well), though a sweep this week in Surprise, AZ, of the 4 games the Beavers will play against 4 different teams would potentially push them back in.

Poll Update

Stanford stayed solidly in second this week, after sweeping Texas, and Arizona edged up from #8 to #7 despite dropping 1 of 3 to visiting Auburn, mostly because LSU dropped down from #7 to #14 after going 2-2.

Arizona St. climbed from #13 to #11 after taking 2 of 3 from UC-Riverside, again mostly due to Texas' 0-4 week.

UCLA took 2 of 3 from #25 Baylor, after downing Cal St. Northridge midweek, and moved up from #22 to #17.

The big mover was Oregon, as the previously unranked Ducks used a road win over Belmont and a sweep at Vanderbilt that jettisoned the Commodores from the top 25 to build upon taking 3 of 4 at Hawaii in their opening weekend, and jump up to #18.

The other newcomer to the top 25 is also from the west, as Fullerton St. bounced back from losing 2 of 3 to then and now top ranked Florida on opening weekend to take 2 of 3 from TCU. As a result, the Horned Frogs fell from #15 to #22, and the Titans took the #20 spot.

Breaking Down The Numbers

Robert's review of the situation this morning is a great overview of a whole lot of individual play, but a look at the stats now that there are 8 games in the books, and enough data to be significant actually exists, is revealing support for some of the high level conclusions.

Much discussion has centered around the Beavers inability in many situations to deliver hits at the right time, which has led to leaving 84 runners on base already in the young season, with the worst being the atrocious 17 Friday night against the Aztecs. There is a huge difference between hitting and hitting the ball when it matters.

There is also a difference between having big hitters and having a lineup full of hitters, and that's emerging as an issue.

Conforto is hitting .500 (!), and has the 2 home runs, and Ryan Barnes is batting .379, with 11 hits, 7 RBIs, and 9 runs scored. John Tommasini is off to a good start defensively, and is hitting well as well, a great thing to see after he not only missed multiple seasons essentially due to injury, but also experienced a potentially life threatening auto accident last year (when a driver crossed the center line, hitting Tommasini head on). Tommasini is .364 with 6 RBIs.

Others off to a good start include Tyler Smith, who is hitting .353, Rodriguez, who overcame an opening weekend slump to bat .323, and Hayes, who is only hitting .292, but has 8 RBIs, 2 doubles, and a triple to go with his homer.

But there is a terrible dropoff, with very little middle ground. Kavin Keyes, who was a key contributor to the offense last year, and needs to be in the lineup defensively, is only hitting .185. Ryan Dunn is down at .167, Dylan Davis is only hitting .222.

These are the struggles coach Pat Casey must find a way to solve soon, as having weak links sprinkled through the lineup is a recipe for the frustrating underperformances Oregon St. has had. Especially in the "small ball" system Casey prefers, where stringing together at bats is required much more than a power hitting team needs.

Overall, the Beavers are batting .269, despite the several who are hitting hot numbers. Meanwhile, opponents are hitting .327. Given that stat, a negative difference of .052, its surprising Oregon St.'s record isn't 3-5 instead of 5-3.

Defense is often harder to get a good handle on from statistics, because of the tremendous difference in circumstances that a defense can be confronted with. Errors aren't good, but Oregon St. has been charged with several because players got to balls they shouldn't have. The defensive stats look worse for holding a batter/runner to one base after knocking down a ball the fielder couldn't make a play with than they would had the ball gone through, and 2 bases were given up.

If fewer balls are hit at them, this defense is going to play well enough to give the Beavers other areas of the game adequate chances to win the game.

That's where pitching comes in. As expected, Boyd and Bryant are as expected, with ERAs of 1.64 and 1.59 respectively, and they have combined for 3 wins and 2 saves. Bryant has a team high 9 strikeouts. Brocker has been pretty good as well, with an ERA of 2.70, and 6 strikeouts against only 15 batters faced.

Taylor Starr, the other feel good injury recovery story on the Oregon St. roster, after multiple shoulder surgeries, looks somewhat promising, with a 3.00 ERA after 3 appearances.

But starting pitching essentially doesn't exist. With last year's rotation turning pro, and injuries to multiple projected starters, that was expected to a degree. Pitching coach Nate Yeski clearly has the biggest task of any ahead of him, as he has to bring along a very inexperienced staff that hasn't got much velocity or control yet, and he has to do it quickly.

The starters are all too often getting the Beavers into holes, and doing it quickly. And by not being able to go very deep into games, its over-taxing the bullpen, which also isn't ready for extensive action at this level once Oregon St. has to go beyond their above mentioned best 4.

The above mentioned discrepancy in batting average correlates closely with opponents' having a 4.50 ERA against Oregon St., while the Beaver staff is all the way up at 5.93 (so it isn't entirely a problem with the defense, and unearned runs). And as Robert noted, Oregon St. can't get strikeouts, trailing 68-41.

Oregon St. only has 2 days at home before leaving for Arizona on Wednesday, necessary given they play at 10 AM PST (11 locally in the desert) Thursday, so there isn't a lot of time to do a whole lot about the areas of concern this week. Fortunately, the sun is out this afternoon in Corvallis, so the expect the Beavers to be hard at work.

The 4 days next week before the home opener against West Virginia on Mar. 9 that also opens the Nike College Showcase series seems like the time when there will be enough time to make the biggest corrections.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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