[ED: We meant to publish this on Monday and didn't. That's on us. Thile though has been crunching numbers in the mean time and in-between time so give his FanPosts a look.]
Why can't this baseball team figure out how to win on Saturdays?
After this past weekend's series victory over the Tennessee Volunteers - which did include a Saturday loss - the Diamond Rebels are sitting at 18-7 and 3-3 in SEC play after two series matchups against sub-par opponents. This is clearly a good team but, as per the usual over the past few seasons, hardly a great one. There have been a lot of issues surfacing: clutch hitting, hitting at all, and pitchers staying in the game too long. More than anything though, four of our seven losses came on Saturdays. That's right - of the six games the Rebels have played on Saturdays this Spring, they've lost four. In fact, their only two Saturday wins came in a 5-4 extra innings game against Wright State and a 3-0 snoozer against Lipscomb.
So, what accounts for the repeated struggles on Saturdays? There are a few convenient explanations, not the least of which is the tired "that's baseball." But the most logical knee jerk reaction, if there is such a thing, would be to simply point to Saturday starter David Goforth, the only real constant in any of these contests. And sure, that may be satisfying and simple, but the problem runs deeper than that. Whereas Goforth hasn't been an elite pitcher (you'll see though, that he hasn't been particularly bad either), the Rebels are suffering from a total SAturday collapse of sub-par pitching, horrid batting, and baffling coaching decisions.
First, let's look at Saturday pitching.
David Goforth is, believe it or not, a statistically good pitcher for most of his innings. Even though he is winless on the year as the Saturday starter, one cannot really find what it is about him per se that would make him the cause of those losses. Thile did an excellent job looking at pitching stats earlier this week (scroll down, y'all), so we won't go too deep into a comparison involving Goforth and other Ole Miss Rebel pitchers, but we will take a look at his performances this year in a way that deliberately tailors are argument to prove a particular point. Here's what Goforth has done so far this year in his losses:
- Houston - 6.1 IP, 3 ER - During the Houston Game, Goforth pitched a fair five innings, allowing one Cougar run to cross the plate in the first inning. With one out and two men on in the sixth, Goforth was relieved in favor of Trent Rothlin, who immediately walked a batter and hit the next. Four runs scored that sixth inning, and the Rebels would lose 8-2.
- Tulane - 7 IP, 4 ER - Goforth didn't have a great outing against the Tulane Green Wave. He gave up three runs in the third and one in the fifth before being relieved after the seventh for Trent Roghlin. This loss was unequivocally on Goforth.
- Alabama - 5.1 IP, 3 ER - This is a tricky one to look at for Goforth. During the fourth, he earned two quick outs, only to have a batter single before hitting the next. Both then advanced on a passed ball before scoring on a double. One run of those two was unearned due to the passed ball. Another walk and then a strikeout meant two runs scored, one earned, and two left on base for what could have been a three-up three-down type of inning (THAT's baseball). The very next inning, Goforth showed that he was done by giving up a single which was avanced by a sacrificed bunt, a walk, two advanced runners on a wild pitch which then set up a nice sacrifice fly. One run, earned. Then, another inning comes with Goforth struggling on the mound. An early strikeout likely helped to ease the frustration of the Rebel players and coaches, an easement which was immediately demolished by a Crimson Tide triple. Goforth is then relieved by Mayers, who proceeds to give up three runs (with only one being earned by him, the other was by Goforth - duh - and the final run was the result of an error). Once again, Goforth pitched into a difficult situation and his relief couldn't pitch him out of it. Those fourth, fifth, and sixth innings for Goforth were an absolute nightmare, despite having started the game so well. Yet the coaches left him in there despite his now-obvious struggles (everything's obvious on a box score).
- Tennessee - 6.0 IP, 4 ER - This was another tough and unexpected SEC loss for this squad. In the Tennessee third, a single turned into a double with a steal, which then turned into a triple on a wild pitch. Another single means an earned run is scored. A walk leaves men on first and second, the latter of which rounds home on a subsequent single. Goforth was having an awful inning - those happen - and gave up a pair of earned runs a a result. In the fifth inning, Goforth earned no favors from the field, with two errors resulting in an unearned run. But some responsibility does rest with David having thrown two walks. And perhaps that fifth inning was a fluke, a hiccup of sorts, with a three-up three-down sixth inning immediately following. The seventh inning though, as we've seen throughout the years, is where Rebel pitchers really love to collapse. Right out of the gates, Goforth gives up two singles, allows a double steal, then another two RBI single. He's taken out in favor of Eric Callender, who gives up the final run of the inning before getting his much needed third out.
Goforth is simply being left in for far too long. He'll start to show signs of a need of relief - a shaky at bat here, a handful of walks there, a bizarre inning somewhere else - but the coaches will leave him in until it seems like they get desperate enough to call for the bullpen. When his relievers are brought in, they're already in pretty precarious situations, sometimes with a few outs and a runner or two already situated on base. Our middle relief cannot, obviously, handle these scenarios as of this point in the season. So they'll give up a few mor runs and Goforth will get the loss, despite having an ERA which is compararable to that of the other, more winning starters for this squad.
A major criticism of Bianco is that he leaves his starters in far too long, and this seems to be the case oftentimes with David Goforth on the mound.
Since the blame doesn't appear to rest much, if at all, on Goforth's shoulders, the next step is to look at batting. As a team the Rebels are batting .287 on the season. That's not a horrifically low number, as it puts the Rebs tied for 98th nationally out of 291 teams, but it's certainly not anything to excite fans. The Saturday batting number is far worse though. On that day, the Rebs bat .237 which, were it to be our average on the season, would bring us down to a tie for #261 at the time of this writing. On the other hand, the team bats .303 on days not rhyming with Naturday. That batting average, through the season thusfar, would tie them for 42nd place in batting. With the arms we appear to have in Oxford, a batting average ranking 42nd would win a ton of games.
A shift of FORTY batting average percentage points between not-Saturday and Saturday? What in the heck is that all about? How can that even be the case? Is it just a statistical fluke (let's hope so). Regardless, our pitchers aren't getting the support they need out of the sticks on Saturday.
It appears that the bats simply aren't there on the seventh day of the week. Matt Tracy is batting .176, Will Allen .125, Matt Snyder .181, and Miles Hamblin ZERO. Even Tanner Mathis, who is batting .337 on the year, bats just .240 on Saturdays.
I don't have the answer as to why we don't bat well on Saturdays. It's not as cut and dry as our Sunday losses last year (we only had two starting caliber arms). I've heard people guess that the players go out and get hammered on Friday nights after wins. I sincerely hope that's not the case, as it would be a statement to the weakness of our coaches to enforce rules. Whatever it is, it certainly appears to be more of a trend than a fluke. We're six weeks in and not improving on that day, meaning that Saturday has become the new Sunday at Swayze Field.