Last week we promised a big blowout of the Power Rankings, and today we deliver. We take a look at all the teams that won’t be making the playoffs this season and are done for 2014. We will cover what went right, what went wrong, and make a way too early prediction about how they will do in 2015. Thursday we will rank the four playoff teams.
10. Middlebury (5-24, 2-10)
What Went Right: Not very much. You have to hit bottom before you start going up again, and Middlebury baseball fans better hope that 2014 represents rock bottom. The only thing that really worked was Alex Kelly ’14 in the outfield and at the plate. Other positives for the Panthers to draw on were their improved pitching and defense. A young pitching staff battled all year with reliever Jake Stalcup ’17 having the best overall season. Max Araya ’16 also emerged as an above average offensive catcher who could serve as an anchor going forward, although there is some question about where he will start 2015 defensively. Middlebury struggled down the stretch winning only one of their last 13 games, but they looked better and more competitive than earlier in the year.
What Went Wrong: It might sound blunt, but there just wasn’t enough talent in Middlebury to compete. The statistics say that Middlebury had the worst hitting, fielding, and barely second worst pitching. You can’t help but sympathize for the seniors who have been there all four years and have watched as the program struggles to gain a foothold. Only one regular hit above .300 and no starter finished with an ERA under 4.50. This was simply a case of a season where nothing really went right for Middlebury. They had brief moments of competence and gave some of the top teams scares, but they weren’t good enough to get over the hump.
2015 Outlook: The key will be maintaining commitment during the offseason so that the Panthers return in 2015 ready to play. Players up and down the roster are going to have opportunities to get playing time, and it is simply a matter of who steps up when their number gets called. 2015 should be better for Middlebury, but they have a long way to go.
9. Hamilton (10-16, 2-10)
What Went Right: Hamilton and Middlebury were very similar teams this year. They both lacked depth, had pitching that held tough but couldn’t consistently get batters out, and struggled mightily fielding and hitting while sporting a fantastic leadoff hitter. For Hamilton, that was Joe Jensen ’15. He had a fantastic year with 23 stolen bases, 23 runs, and a .495 OBP. Hamilton’s best quality was their speed as they placed second in the NESCAC with 63 stolen bases. The other notable base stealers were Chris and Kenny Collins ’17. Of the two twins, Kenny finished the season especially strong with two three hit performances against Williams to help up his OBP to .422. Four of Hamilton’s top five batters in terms of plate appearances were freshmen who should see improvement in 2015.
What Went Right: The expected stars for this team were Zack Becker ’16 and Jjay Lane ’15, but both of them struggled to match their 2013 performances. Lane had an up-and-down season on the mound finishing with a 5.35 ERA. He never really found his groove and had trouble getting batters out in large part because he struck out only 3.74 batters per nine innings. Still, Becker had perhaps an even more disappointing year. Some regression was expected from his .434 OBP in 2013, but not many thought he would fall all the way to a .274 mark. By the end of the season he was a part time player because of his struggles. Overall, a very young lineup struck out this season with nobody capable of delivering the big hits that the Continentals needed.
2015 Outlook: Modest improvement should be expected from a Hamilton squad that showed potential early on. Almost everybody will be back besides a few secondary parts. If Lane gets straightened out then Hamilton will win at least four NESCAC games.
8. Trinity (16-17, 4-8)
What Went Right: Trinity showed a lot of resilience in their play down the stretch going on a nice winning streak and splitting against Wesleyan. Brian Wolfe ’15 stepped up to become the team’s best hitter over the course of the season, and his classmate Daniel Pidgeon ’15 enjoyed a successful season as well. Their pitching kept them in a lot of games, but the offense wasn’t powerful enough to take full advantage. Trinity won at least one game in every series, but they were incapable of ever going on a run in conference play to make a real move up the standings.
What Went Wrong: The schedule makers did no favors to this team with their four NESCAC series played on consecutive weekends. At one point, nine of ten games Trinity played had conference ramifications. We are used to watching powerful Trinity offenses, but those players just weren’t on the roster. The fact that they hit only two homers is telling. Trinity had almost every position player on its roster see significant playing time because nobody was playing well enough to make the coaches play them. The pitching staff was solid as mentioned above, but in college baseball you need pitchers who can singlehandedly win games for you. No one on Trinity was able to distinguish themselves as capable of that.
2015 Outlook: The East is all of a sudden very crowded, so expecting Trinity to simply return to the top is foolish. The offense will be better and the pitching potential is there, but anything better than a .500 season in the NESCAC will be a surprise for the Bantams.
7. Bowdoin (18-16-1, 5-7)
What Went Right: Young players who needed to step up did so in a big way. The most obvious of those were Peter Cimini ’16 and Chad Martin ’16. The duo went from non-factors in 2013 to the linchpins of the Bowdoin offense. Elsewhere Michael Staes ’16 emerged as a potential weekend starter for next season with a 2.29 ERA in 35.1 innings, and Jon Fraser ’15 also had a spectacular season in limited duty with a 0.76 ERA. The statistics said that Bowdoin underperformed as a team in conference. This was a team with some of the best pitching in the league, but lacked the ace that other teams had to shut down opponents. Bowdoin seemed to play every team when they were playing their best, but managed to win at least one game in every series.
What Went Wrong: Bowdoin graduated a superb class in 2013, but still had a lot of talented players in the 2014 class who were expected to lead this team. That just didn’t happen whether it was because of injury for Christian Martin ’14 or inconsistent play from John Lefeber ’14 and Duncan Taylor ’14. Lefeber and Taylor ended up with solid statistics, but they just weren’t the stars the team needed. The other big loss was not having Henry Van Zant ’15 available for most of the year. He flashed what he could do posting a 1.95 ERA in 27.2 innings. The team’s true weakness however was in the field where they had the second most errors in the NESCAC. 36.4 percent of the runs Bowdoin allowed this year were unearned.
2015 Outlook: The silver lining of a disappointing 2014 is that most of what went wrong won’t take away from the 2015 team. Van Zant should be healthy and the loss of all the seniors will not sting nearly as much as would have been believed before the season started. A return to the playoffs is definitely possible.
6. Colby (16-15, 5-7)
What Went Right: The final conference record is a disappointment, but Colby has a lot to be proud of from their 2014. We expected them to improve somewhat, but not many thought they would be on top of the East Division until April 18. The key was improvement by players already on the roster. Jason Buco ’15 delivered an MVP-quality season by leading the NESCAC with seven homers, and Kevin Galvin ’14 was a more than capable Robin to give him support. The biggest difference in 2014 though was the pitching. Scott Goldberg ’15 and Greg Ladd ’15 put in the work to become leaders of the staff while Soren Hanson ’16 showed he is also close to being an ace down the stretch. Overall the Mules improved their ERA by 1.90 runs in 2014.
What Went Wrong: Colby didn’t end up making the playoffs because the supporting cast was not strong enough to support the stars on offense. In their final six conference games Colby averaged only 1.17 runs as they went 1-5 against Bates and Tufts. Colby’s pitching was very good, but they would have needed a Herculean effort to win with that type of offense. In many ways Colby’s baseball performance mirrored that of their basketball and football teams. It was filled with promise and strong performances for most of the season (beating Bates for football and upsetting Amherst for basketball), but ended on a sour note (the Hail Mary loss to Bowdoin in football and the first round NESCAC tournament loss for basketball).
2015 Outlook: The trend is definitely in the positive direction. The only loss of real significance is Galvin. Whether other players can make similar leaps to what some did this year will make the difference in 2015. Right now I say Colby makes the playoffs next year.
5. Williams (13-16, 7-5)
What Went Right: Some people will draw issue with a team with a losing record being considered the fifth best team in the NESCAC, but we are weighting conference games heavily. Williams also split a doubleheader against Bowdoin so it’s record against NESCAC teams was 8-6. Again, detractors will point out six of those wins came against cellar dwellers Middlebury and Hamilton, but every NESCAC game is hard-fought. The best thing Williams did was beat the teams they should have in conference play. Their offense was scintillating in the early going with a host of players putting up gaudy numbers. The high point of their season came after they won their first game against Amherst in four years and stood at 4-1 in the NESCAC on April 5.
What Went Wrong: The pitching improved as the season went on, but was never reliable enough. Their teamwide statistics ended up being worse than last year underscoring the possibility they really didn’t improve at all in 2014. 2013 stats: .374 OBP and 5.73 ERA vs 2014 stats: .363 OBP and 6.46 ERA. They really struggled in non-conference play exposing the fact that they don’t have a lot of pitching depth. Williams squandered any chance at making the playoffs when they got swept by Wesleyan. The best pitching was able to make their offense struggle. Overall a very mixed year for a team that was riding high early on before reality set in a little in the middle part of the year.
2015 Outlook: Several key cogs have to be replaced as well as innings leader Steve Marino ’14, but there will still be a lot of firepower in Williamstown. However Williams probably won’t improve their conference record in 2015.