More Good Things
Publication Date: June 19, 2007
This is usually one of my favorite annual columns (and, judging from the
email response, it's apparently one of yours as well), but I'm having
trouble writing it this year. It's not that it's been a bad year, but
I'm struck by how many of these stories have a "Yeah, but" attached to
them. I'll point those out as we go, but I'll try to focus on the things
that we have to celebrate about our game this year.
- The postseason has been one wild ride this year. This one
definitely has a dark side to it -- I would have loved to have seen what
Vanderbilt, San Diego, and Texas could do in Omaha, and too many years
in a row of this would cheapen the tournament the way the men's basketball
tournament became silly for a few years in the late '80's and early '90's --
but it's been an awful lot of fun to watch as one after another of my
assumed contenders went away.
- Matt LaPorta came all the way back. After a stellar sophomore
campaign, LaPorta's stock had fallen heavily after an injury-riddle junior
year. He came back with a monster year, turning in the best adjusted rate
stats of anyone in the nation. If there's a dark side, it's that he may
still be a little fragile to turn in a long career, but he's definitely
going to be a force if he can stay on the field.
- UC Irvine joined the ranks of the big boys in just their sixth
year back on the field. Irvine was under .500 in the Big West from
1983 until 1992 before dropping the sport for a decade. This year, they
came all the way back and surpassed anything they had done before, making
a serious run at both the Big West and NCAA titles before coming up just
short of both. The dark side here concerns Coach Serrano's degree
difficulties; we'll hope for reason and compassion on both sides as this
story plays out.
- The Texas A&M and LSU staffs invented an essentially new strategy
for Kyle Nicholson and Jared Bradford, respectively. The role of
pitcher at large seems to have tremendous potential, as Nicholson in
particular ranged from long relief to closer to, if unused long enough,
starter, being spotted in the most useful spot possible to help the team
win each series. I don't see a downside here.
- Mississippi State pulled in over 26,000 for a two-game
super-regional. Neither attendance nor money is everything, and neither
team involved was great, but an atmosphere like that can't do anything but
be fun. The downside may be that those numbers may delay the move to
neutral-site supers, but that was a few years off anyway, most likely.
- We're going to have an interesting champion. Neither of them
is the best team in the country, but both of them got here fairly -- UNC
earned their national seed and has played a fairly tough postseason slate
for an Eastern team, and Oregon State won on the road and then came
through a bracket with two top-5 ISR teams in Arizona State and Irvine.
North Carolina is favored to become the first ACC champ in over half a
century, ending one of the game's great anomalies, while Oregon State could
become the first repeat champ since LSU in 1996 and 1997 (somebody feel
free to correct ESPN on that).
- Preston Guilmet developed into the nation's most valuable
starter. Guilmet was virtually unhittable for a stretch of about 6
weeks in the heart of Pac-10 play. Only 3 times all season did he
give up more than 3 runs, including 5 shutout appearances. The down side
is that he threw 5 complete games and went deep into every appearance, so
he threw an awful lot of pitches this year.
- Schedules were even better connected than last year's record
pace. This one has a huge downside; next year is almost guaranteed to
be worse as the compressed season length gives teams less time to travel
for inter-regional matchups.
- Perhaps related to the item above, the tournament selections were
the closest to fair that they've gotten so far. There's still a lot
of work to be done on fairness in seeding and there's got to be some
embarassment over the fact that finalist Oregon State was almost omitted,
but there were only two teams where you could make a strong case that they
should have been included, and both of them had enough warts to make their
omission understandable if unfortunate.
- The message seems to be getting through about pitcher overuse.
I don't have full numbers to prove it yet, so I could turn out to be wrong
about this, but the game seems to be dividing itself in this regard into
the haves and have nots. The haves, who have top prospects and are mostly
top programs, seem to be coming up with a much smaller number of abusive
starts these days, while the have nots, with pitchers who generally won't
continue to play post-college, continue to leave them out there. Note the
length of the list below -- while one could quibble that there haven't
really been any great pitching performances this last week, it's true that
there haven't been any over-long outings in Omaha this year, a stark change
from the past.
Pitch Count Watch
Rather than keep returning to the subject of pitch counts and pitcher
usage in general too often for my main theme, I'm just going to run a
standard feature down here where I point out potential problems; feel
free to stop reading above this if the subject doesn't interest you.
This will just be a quick listing of questionable starts that have
caught my eye -- the general threshold for listing is 120 actual pitches
or 130 estimated, although short rest will also get a pitcher listed if
I catch it. Don't blame me; I'm just the messenger.
(*) Pitch count is estimated. As always, I
welcome actual pitch count corrections.
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