Fight to the Finish: Power Rankings 4/28

It's hard to believe, but with the West still up in the air, Williams, ranked seventh this week, can still make the playoffs with a sweep of the Continentals. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)
It’s hard to believe, but with the West still up in the air (like this fastball), Williams, ranked eighth this week, can still make the playoffs with a sweep of the Continentals. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

It’s been about two weeks since we last released our NESCAC Baseball Power Rankings, and lots of epic wins, losses and upsets have happened since then. As teams make their final push for the playoffs, let’s take another look at how the they stack up against one another.

  1. Tufts (23-5, 8-0), Last Rankings: #3
    The Jumbos have proven that you don’t need to be the best in each area of the game to be a winning team—talent and skill can be two different things. Whereas plenty of teams in the NESCAC have talented players, Tufts has players able to utilize their talent in a way that yields success. Their team batting average isn’t great at .296, but their OBP of .427, the third best number in the league, is promising. Even their .405 slugging percentage is admirable. On the mound, Andrew David ’16 (2.22) and Speros Varinos ’18 (2.29) have tortured batters. The East may not be as competitive as the West this season, but let’s not disregard the significance of Tufts’ 8-0 conference record. No other NESCAC team comes close to that. Of course, we haven’t really seen Tufts face the scrappy West teams yet, so we will have to wait until the playoffs to see how these teams really compare.
  2. Wesleyan (18-9, 5-4), Last Rankings: #1
    I’m sure the Cardinals will be furious when they see this drop in the rankings, but you can’t drop two games to Williams (#8)—by at least three runs—and still hold the number one slot. According to statistics and overall performance, Wesleyan would actually place several spots lower in the rankings were it not for their incredible roster of batters, especially Marco Baratta ’16, Guy Davidson ’16 and Will O’Sullivan ’16. These guys bang it out when up at bat, bringing real firepower every time they’re at the plate, and hitting for power is what a team needs to get ahead in the NESCAC. On the mound, ace Nick Miceli ’17 is a phenomenal and crafty pitcher with a solid 2.63 ERA and 45 strikeouts on his resume, while the team’s most successful pitcher after him, Peter Rantz ’16, has just a slightly above-average 4.59 ERA. Having watched Wesleyan’s series against Hamilton, I can say that the Cardinals won the series because the Continentals made ghastly errors in Game 3, not necessarily because the Wesleyan team is far superior, which speaks to the NESCAC’s parity this year. Wesleyan’s deadliest weapon is unquestionably its offense, and they beat their closest competition in that category, Hamilton, last weekend. Their ability to pick up runs will allow them to get ahead, or stay relevant, in each game and compensate for other facets of the game, where they are still good, just not great. However, despite the #2 ranking here, the Cards are playing for their playoff lives this weekend. A sweep of Amherst gets them in for sure, while a 2-1 mark will have them watching the Williams series to see if the Ephs can pull off a sweep. Good for Wesleyan is that a scenario where the Cards, Ephs and the Middlebury Panthers all end 6-6 will put Wesleyan into the postseason because of overall winning percentage.
  3. Amherst (20-8, 6-3), Last Rankings: #2
    Wesleyan and Amherst are pretty interchangeable right now, but the Cardinals’ production at the plate gives them the boost. That being said, the Jeffs are by no means a team to take lightly, and they have a superior rotation to the Cardinals: their record currently leads the West, and their ace Jackson Volle ’17 (1.10 ERA) earned not one but two conference nods for the Pitcher of the Week position. Dave Cunningham ’16 also received attention this week from the conference for his batting and fielding, boasting a .500 average and an error-free performance in the field. Perhaps Amherst’s one weakness is that the team is good in all areas but not exceptionally great in any one of them. Regardless, Wesleyan and Amherst face each other this weekend, and the series will undoubtedly be neck-and-neck in each game. 
  4. Trinity (14-14, 7-5), Last Rankings: #6
    The Bantams have had killer series since we last looked at the team rankings. They have gotten back-to-back series wins over Bowdoin (#7) and Colby (#9)—which at the end of the day wasn’t a real struggle—and swept Bates (#10) last weekend, ensuring their spot in the playoffs. Trinity was swept by Tufts, but at the rate the Jumbos have picked themselves up this season, that’s not surprising. The pitching rotation also lacks depth, relying mainly on Anthony Egeln, Jr. (2.44 ERA) for high performance on the mound, but right now that hasn’t been a cause for too much concern. Trinity falls dead center in every area of the game, according to NESCAC standings, so I’m happy with Trinity’s ability to shut down every team in the East except Tufts. Right now Trinity is 7-5 in the conference, and Bowdoin and Colby are next at 3-6. That says a lot about the landscape in the East. The Bantams are also back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, displacing Bates, who has gone the last two seasons.
  5. Hamilton (14-12, 3-6), Last Rankings: #4
    The Continentals currently have the worst record in the West, so why are they still stacked relatively high up in the rankings? I swear I’m not being biased in saying that Hamilton possesses extremely talented players with lots of potential, especially when it comes to performance at the plate. Their slash line of .343/.432/.481 put them second in the conference for hitting, and juniors Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, Kenny Collins ’17 and Brett Mele ’17 would be hitting on any team in the league. Yet, dropping two games a piece to Middlebury and Wesleyan proves a fact that cannot be ignored: Hamilton is consistently unreliable in the field, dropping balls and making terrible throws that add up to inexcusable big innings. Accordingly, they have the worst FPCT in the league at .926 with 588 putouts and a whopping 68 errors. Against the Panthers, Hamilton had eight errors in Game 1, three in Game 2, and two in Game 3. Thankfully, the Continentals improved throughout the weekend, but that’s 13 errors in one weekend—Middlebury had only two. Then last weekend against the Cardinals, Hamilton had 10 errors in total, seven of which contributed (or directly led to) their 15-6 loss in Game 3. Wesleyan, in comparison, had three errors.Compounding the problem is a shallow bullpen that doesn’t rack up a lot of strikeouts. Balls in play plus shaky defense equals unearned runs. The Continentals have a ton to offer, but they’ll never be truly great unless they clean up on defense.
  6. Middlebury (9-16, 6-6), Last Rankings: #7
    Week after week, the Panthers are improving rather than shrinking back into the losing team the West has grown accustomed to. They stand right in the middle of all NESCAC team stats when they used to come dead last, or close to it, in previous seasons. We’ve already said that the older players, especially seniors John Luke ’16 and Joe MacDonald ’16, have clearly developed during the off-season and that fresh rookies like Colby Morris ’19 have added more depth to the team, but it’s likely that watching their program progress into a winning program has motivated the players to put in that extra push of effort, producing even more wins. Should Wesleyan fail to win their series against Amherst, the Panthers could potentially knock them out of that second-place slot guaranteeing a run in the NESCAC playoffs. As an eternal lover of the underdog, I’m honestly excited just thinking about it.
  7. Bowdoin (19-10, 3-6), Last Rankings: #8 
    Honestly, Bowdoin has moved up in rankings because other teams needed to go down in them. That’s probably something to be thankful for, based on the number of rookies the Polar Bears have on the roster. Bowdoin has already been eliminated from the playoffs, but their matchup with Tufts this weekend provides an opportunity to make a statement. It sounds cliche to say Bowdoin is a young team right now and coming out low in rankings is just a part of their growing phase, but, to an extent, it’s sort of the only way you can look at the team right now. No Bowdoin player has made it into the top-50 in batting average, and the team’s batting average of .265 is scary. However, I really like Bowdoin’s ERA of 3.80. That shows some potential, or at least a good starting point, for next season. At this point, Bowdoin needs to think about the future rather than salvaging the rest of their now stagnant season. 
  8. Williams (10-17, 4-5), Last Rankings: #9
    The Ephs managed to win two games in their series against Wesleyan, which definitely must be acknowledged in some way. I’m pretty dumbfounded by the stats of the games, but nevertheless, those two pretty wins pushed the Ephs ahead of Hamilton in the West’s standings, making this certainly an odd year for the division. Still, statistically Williams hasn’t stacked up well this year. The Ephs have an ERA of 6.94 and have allowed 120 walks, both league worsts. They have a FPCT of .945, which ranks seventh in the league. They swing it at a solid .299/.391/.376 clip, but overall, the team is not up to the caliber of the rest of the division. But, baseball is a crazy game, and a sweep for the Ephs this weekend puts them in the mix for the playoffs.
  9. Colby (10-18, 2-6), Last Rankings: #10
    At least the Mules are consistent, right? Colby has a handful of extremely talented players like Soren Hanson ’16 and Tommy Forese ’16, but there’s only so much you can expect them to do for a continually struggling team. Bates’ miserable losses to Trinity pushed Colby ahead of the Bobcats in the East, but the Mules have zero chances of getting to the playoffs anytime in the near future. They remain too far down the standings in all categories to show tremendous growth—they are seventh in average and ninth in ERA and FPCT—and with their two most talented players graduating, it’s likely next year will be a struggle for the Mules. Hopefully Colby really invests in the youth in the offseason in order to get a head start on next year’s season, when there will be really, really big shoes to fill.
  10. Bates (10-16, 2-6), Last Rankings: #5
    In just two weeks, the Bobcats have severely dropped in our power rankings. They started off the season quite well: they won their doubleheader against Bowdoin; Connor Speed ’18 was awarded NESCAC Pitcher of the Week. Everything just fall apart afterwards. Trinity dominated their series, winning all three of the weekend’s games. In all fairness, two games had a one run differential, and one game went into extra innings, so Bates wasn’t entirely out of control there. However, those three losses were the straw that broke the camel’s back, or in this case, the Bobcats’ back. Bates is now last in the East after losing six conference games. The team’s pitching is the best thing it has going right now, as Bates has an ERA of 4.42 thanks to guys like Speed. Thankfully, there’s plenty of time for the youth on the team to develop the program, but this year’s essentially over for the team as a whole.

Conference games this weekend will make or break teams’ chances of playing in the NESCAC playoffs this year. Here are this week’s match ups:

Colby vs. Bates—Friday at 3:00 pm; Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm
Tufts vs Bowdoin—Friday at 3:0o pm; Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm
Tufts vs BatesSunday at 1:00 pm
Wesleyan vs Amherst—Friday at 4:00 pm; Saturday at 1:00 pm, 3:30 pm
Hamilton vs Williams—Friday at 4:00 pm; Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm
Trinity vs. Middlebury—Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm (non-divisional)

Things Change, but People Stay the Same: Power Rankings 4/13

Get on your horse, Brandon Lopez! (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Get on your horse, Brandon Lopez! (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

After a little bit of a break from Power Rankings while we waited for things to sort themselves out so we’d look less stupid, the most powerful of NESCAC Power Rankings are back. We haven’t had a rankings since the NESCAC conference season began, so now is a good chance to reorder the teams as the next few weekends are the meat of the NESCAC schedule.

1. Wesleyan (15-4, 2-1), Last Rankings: #2

Kaitlin McCabe ranked Wesleyan second last time, and you might be questioning whether the Cardinals have done enough to make them worthy of moving up. Well, know that it’s close between the top teams. I put Wesleyan tops because I think they have the highest ceiling, even with everything they lost last year. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games, and after dropping their conference opener to Middlebury, they responded with two convincing wins in the doubleheader Saturday. Nick Miceli ’17 got his league-leading fifth win this weekend, and he has a miniscule 1.49 ERA to boot. For a guy that pitched just 13 innings last year, those are some real solid numbers. Wesleyan is not as good as a year ago, but they have done a sensational job to this point and seem to be getting better each week.

2. Amherst (14-4, 4-2), Last Rankings: #1

I drop Amherst a spot because of their inability to sweep Hamilton or Williams in their first two weekend series. They haven’t lost a combined two games to those two teams in a season since 2010. I now am not 100 percent confident that they make the playoffs because Wesleyan still looms on the schedule. If Amherst gets swept in that series, the potential is there for someone (dare we say Middlebury!) to steal that second spot. Offensively Amherst is their typical selves, being among the best in the league at both hitting for power and stealing bases. The defense has been really bad in their conference games though with a fielding percentage of .911. It hasn’t really cost them big yet, but it makes me nervous.

3. Tufts (12-4, 2-0), Last Rankings: #4

The Jumbos haven’t done that much to move a spot, but Bowdoin has fallen off in conference so Tufts is the clear choice here. I don’t want to disparage Tufts; they were on a eight-game winning streak after all until losing to Roger Williams last night. Their team batting average is a really bad .282, but that is all part of their team philosophy. Their OBP is a more robust .418, the third best number in the league. Andrew David ’16 has proven beyond a doubt that he is a top of the line ace, and Speros Varinos ’18 isn’t far behind. The jury is still out on R.J Hall ’19, owner of a 1.09 ERA, and Tim Superko ’17 had his best start of the season last week. The rotation is not as deep as it has been in years past, and that leaves them somewhat vulnerable.

4. Hamilton (11-7, 1-2), Last Rankings: 5

I know I mentioned Middlebury when talking about Amherst’s potential to miss the playoffs, but Hamilton to me is the third-best team in the West right now. The problem for them is that they already lost two of three to Amherst, and the final game of that series was a heartbreaking loss in extra innings. That lineup really is not a joke. Five of their every game starters have an OBP better than .400, and guys like Brett Mele ’17 and Kenny Collins ’17 are still getting on-base at a rate better than 50 percent. The Continentals can get back on track for making an upset run if they sweep the Panthers. Anything less than that and they will need a lot of things to go right for them to have a good chance.

5. Bates (9-12, 2-3), Last Rankings: #7

I put Bates here above Trinity because I have more respect for the Bobcats track record over the past few years. I also have to give credit for them sweeping the doubleheader against Bowdoin on Saturday after the Bobcats came completely unraveled in a 13-1 loss on Friday. Connor Speed ’18 took home NESCAC Pitcher of the Week honors because of his six shutout innings as Bowdoin could not figure out the funky motion of the right-hander. There is no doubt that Bates got lucky in the second game of the doubleheader when Bowdoin had five errors that led to all nine runs being unearned in the 9-5 game. Their series against Trinity next weekend looms large.

6. Trinity (9-11, 4-2), Last Rankings: #6

Trinity, long a NESCAC powerhouse, is back, baby! No, the Bantams, a team that used to strike fear into teams because of their slugging ability, is certainly not anywhere close to the team they were years ago. They have gotten back-to-back series wins over Bowdoin and Colby to put themselves in position to make the playoffs, but they have to prove they can beat Bates or Tufts before I have full faith in them. I loved how Trinity looked in the first game on Saturday as Anthony Egeln ’18 went all seven innings and a Scott Cullinane ’16 hit a three run homer in the first that gave them a commanding lead early. That lineup can still be shut down by really good pitching, though.

7. Middlebury (6-11, 3-3), Last Week: #8

When do we start to believe in the Panthers? Not quite yet, especially because they are in the West and not the East division. That win over Wesleyan which I sort of glossed over when talking about the Cardinals was an impressive one. Middlebury played Wesleyan close in some games last year so it isn’t a total surprise. Wesleyan didn’t play terribly; the Panthers simply came ready to play. They did get some lucky breaks, though. At one point an errant back pick attempt careened off the noggin of 2B Jake Turtel ’18 and went out of play, immediately allowing two runs to score, and Turtel later scored on a bloopy double. Friend of the program Colby Morris ’19 pitched great to get the win, and the offense put up two different crooked numbers against Ethan Rode ’17. The Panthers need to win just one more conference game to match their wins in ALL games a season ago.

8. Bowdoin (12-8, 2-4), Last Week: #3

No team has seen their fortunes fall more than Bowdoin’s in the past two weeks as the Polar Bears have not kept up their strong play. We warned about that possibility given how much youth they have. Ben Osterholtz ’19, who had been sensational in his first few starts, finally got roughed up against Bates. The real problem, though, is the lineup is hitting worse and worse. Nobody on the team ranks in the top-25 for either BA or OBP, and as a group they are hitting below the Mendoza line in conference games. That production is not going to be enough for Bowdoin to make a late push to make the playoffs.

9. Williams (6-13, 2-4), Last Ranking: #10

The Ephs kept their slim playoff hopes alive by taking the last game of their series against Amherst because of two runs in the 9th inning. The Amherst starting pitchers shut down Williams in every game, and when their offense struggles, things are extremely difficult for them. Their run differential is much better than that of a 6-13 team, but those types of things are only so helpful at this point in the year. One does have to keep in mind that this is a relatively young team with the every pitcher of importance slated to return next season. Things are frustrating right now for Ephs fans, considering the strength of so many other programs at Williams, but they should be better soon.

10. Colby (5-13, 1-2), Last Ranking: #9

It is impressive that every team in the NESCAC already has a win in conference even though many teams have only played one series. The Mules actually missed a golden opportunity to win the series against Trinity. Tom Forese ’16 outdueled Jed Robinson ’16 in the first game of the series, but ace Soren Hanson ’16 got knocked around in the first game of the doubleheader in what was their best chance to win. If Forese can pitch that well in other weekends then the Mules have the makings of a very dangerous team. I still don’t think they have enough talent on the roster to make any serious noise, but you certainly can’t sleep on them in any given game.

Lions and Tigers and Polar Bears: Stock Report 3/22

Sean Mullaney '17 and the Polar Bears are the big early season surprise. Bowdoin is 7-0. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Sean Mullaney ’17 and the Polar Bears are the big early season surprise. Bowdoin is 7-0. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

While you’ve been at home crying over your destroyed March Madness brackets, NESCAC baseball teams have swarmed to warmer climates to start their seasons. Players have already been hard at work with practices and games for weeks – and a month, if you’re Bates -, but it’s these crucial games during break in which coaches and teams determine starting lineups for many home openers set for this coming weekend. Teams may just be trying to find the right lineups, but the stats and results can’t hide from the official record.

While the makeup of Wesleyan’s roster may be different than in previous seasons, its potential for success has hardly diminished. Nevertheless, the Cardinals continue to excel thanks to veteran players like OF Jordan Farber ’16, P Peter Rantz ’16, P/C/2B Nick Miceli ’17, and SS Guy Davidson ’16. Davidson’s spring break run has clinched his position as one of the best hitters in the NESCAC: during the two-week period, he hit .444/.500/.685 as he went 24-for-54, driving in 19 runs and scoring 16 times.

Like the Cardinals, Amherst has continued to dominate the diamond, despite also losing the team’s star, current-MLB player Mike Odenwaelder ’16. Yet, Amherst is currently boasting an 8-1 record and shows no signs of slowing down going forward into the season, especially with the starting outfield of Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Anthony Spina ’17 and Ariel Kenney ’18 hitting an outrageous .371 through nine games. Kenney himself has gone 16-for-35 and currently leads the team in batting average (.457), on-base percentage (.500), and slugging percentage (.657). Pitcher Jackson Volle ’17, who on Monday was named the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week, opened the season strong, claiming two wins in his first two starts to help Amherst secure their exceptional 8-1 overall record. Volle wrapped up spring break with a tidy 0.64 ERA.

Perhaps the greatest surprise in the early going has been Bowdoin’s brilliant winning streak. They’ve opened the season 7-0 on the strength of some great pitching to the tune of a 2.68 team ERA through the first five games (yesterday’s stats vs. Greenville were not available at the time of this posting).

Now for the first stock report of the what is going to be a very interesting season.

Stock Up

  1. P/C Nick Miceli ’17 (Wesleyan)

Throughout the Cardinals’ first 12 games, Miceli has proven that on the field, he’s a man for all seasons: already he’s stood out in the conference for stellar pitching, hitting and fielding. He’s the ultimate NESCAC Triple Threat.

The junior, having already thrown in five games, is ranked in second in the conference with a 16.2 IP, 8.54 K/G and ERA of 2.16. Miceli’s strength on the mound was clear in Wesleyan’s second game against Bethany Lutheran College on March 7. Bethany Lutheran scored six runs in the first two innings, thanks in large part to some shoddy defense, giving them a generous 6-2 lead heading into the third. The two teams were almost even in hits, with Bethany Lutheran only outhitting Wesleyan by one. During innings 3-6 Miceli was nearly untouchable, allowing four hits but no runs with no walks and five strikeouts. He then impressed in relief on March 11 against Marian University, allowing one run on three hits with four strikeouts in five innings. But that’s not all: Miceli boasts a .474/.500/.632 line in 38 at bats while seeing time mostly at second but also catcher and DH.

In short, Miceli is good. Really good.

  1. Fresh Pitching Faces

Around the NESCAC plenty of youngsters have shown some great potential on the mound in the early going.

After graduating Elias and Cooney and losing Pittore, Wesleyan hasn’t missed a beat on the mound. Miceli has looked good throwing the ball, and Peter Rantz has picked right back up where he left off, but Mike McCaffrey ’19 has shown some potential, too. His first outing was disastrous, to say the least, but so was everything else for the Cardinals in their season-opening 29-14 rout at the hands of Hamline. McCaffrey improved in his second outing, and then shined in his third appearance, a complete game victory over Carleton when he allowed four hits and one walk while striking out 10.

Hamilton’s Spencer Vogelbach ’18 first made a name for himself as a first-year at the beginning of last season. In the Continental’s spring break game against Alfred State, his 11 strikeouts were the most by a Hamilton baseball pitcher in a single game in five years — an accomplishment that should not and cannot be ignored. Vogelbach pitched in three of Hamilton’s seven wins last week, striking out 11 batters and racking up a 14.0 IP with just one walk. The rookie was sixth in the NESCAC with a 2.25 ERA and a 4-1 record last season. Clearly, his rookie season was just a preview of what is to come for Hamilton’s pitching rotation. Dan DePaoli ’18 has also impressed on the bump; he went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts that covered 11 innings. In Hamilton’s 7-1 win at Bard on March 12, DePaoli only allowed one unearned run on two hits in six innings of work. Then, in Friday’s 17-6 victory against Lawrence, he gave up three runs on four hits, struck out six and didn’t walk a batter in five innings. He also handled four chances in the field without an error.

Two freshmen started on the bump for Middlebury in their season-opening doubleheader against Bates. Colby Morris ’19 spun a complete game gem but was let down by his offense in a 2-1 loss. In the second of the twinbill, Jack Bunting ’19 was dominant through three innings before a pair of mistakes resulted in a three-run inning and one long left center field homer that was aided by a windy day that saw three balls leave the yard. Bunting finished with 4.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 K and 1 BB. In relief three members of the formerly beleaguered Middlebury staff, including newbie Conor Himstead ’19, combined for five scoreless innings.

  1. Walk Off Victories

It’s hard to tell what the Continentals love more: actually winning with a walk off or showing off the swagger of the moment on social media (as a loyal Continental, I’m personally a fan of both, but I confess I’m biased).

On March 14, the walk-off homerun of OF Kenny Collins ’17 won Hamilton’s first game against Minnesota-Morris by a narrow margin, 3-2. You have to love Collins’ elaborate helmet toss, shown towards the end of the video shared on Hamilton Baseball’s Twitter. I’m pretty sure hurling your helmet into the air is frowned upon by NCAA regulations, but in this situation, how could you not?

Andrew Haser ’17, the NESCAC Player of the Week, built off of Collins’ momentum ending Hamilton’s first game against Allegheny. With bases loaded in the seventh inning, Haser laced a homerun that freed the Continentals from a tied score (and this comes just two days after his grand slam contributed to Hamilton’s 17-6 victory against Lawrence). Haser currently leads the Continentals with 10 runs, seven extra-base hits, 13 RBIs, five doubles and a .706 slugging percentage. The junior is hitting .382 (13-for-34) and has only made one error in 54 chances at shortstop.

The Continentals cheered that they couldn’t believe they managed to escape defeat twice this early into the season? Neither could we.

It’s not just Hamilton walking off in style these days, though. In the second game of the doubleheader between Middlebury and Bates on Saturday, both teams threatened to score in extras of the originally seven-inning ball game. It was all ended with one swing though, when rightfielder Sam Graf ’19 notched his first career hit by smacking a long no-doubter to left field. The Panthers did a solid job of celebrating in their own right.

  1. Bowdoin: 7-0

Starting pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 was unquestionably Bowdoin’s pride and glory last season, tying the program’s single-season record for wins by going 7-1, including a 5-0 mark in conference games. The stats don’t lie: he was the primary reason Bowdoin kept swimming throughout the season, even if he alone couldn’t launch the Polar Bears into the playoffs. Without him, Bowdoin has to redesign its entire pitching structure, to find a way to be victorious without their star.

In spite of pre-season doubts, Bowdoin really has come out on top, winning all seven of their games so far. And it’s worth noting that only two wins were by a narrow margin — in five of the Polar Bears’ wins to date, they have defeated their opponents by five or more runs.

Seniors Harry Ridge ’16 and Michael Staes ’16 impressed on the mound in Bowdoin’s sweep of Utica on March 15, pitching 5.2 and 7.0 innings, respectively. Ridge earned Bowdoin’s win on the mound while allowing just six hits and two earned runs. He struck out eight with only one walk. Staes turned in a complete seven inning performance in game two, allowing nine hits and only one run to earn the win. He struck out four Pioneers with no walks. Rookie Brandon Lopez ’19 earned his first collegiate win on the mound on March 17 against Dickinson, going six innings and allowing four hits and as many runs. Lopez struck out six and walked a pair.

Offensively, Chad Martin ’16 is clearly building upon his past success at bat. His .311 AVG last season placed him in the middle of NESCAC ranks, but he shows potential to outperform himself in the games ahead. Peter Cimini ’16 added ferocity to the Polar Bears’ deep offense, batting .400 with a .733 slugging percentage through the first five contests, collecting three extra base hits and six RBIs.

Stock Down

  1. Tufts’ 3B Tommy O’Hara ’18

Last spring training, rookie O’Hara was the wiz kid on the Jumbos, developing a .564 OBP in 42 at-bats with six walks during spring break. Throughout the season, the freshman infielder led the team’s offense with a .405 ABG, .518 OBP and .603 SLG. And let’s not forget that he also hit a team-high 14 doubles while registering four home runs, 42 runs scored and 42 RBIs.

The Jumbos may have seen only five games at this point, but their 2-3 record and poor showing at the plate are cause for concern. In his first 16 at bats, O’Hara has amassed a .188/.435/.188 line. That OBP is nice, and is carried by six walks, but he also has seven strikeouts already. O’Hara struck out 25 times all of last season for a 14.9% K rate. Right now he’s walking back to the dugout 30.4% of the time. It’s very early, still, but let’s hope the sophomore isn’t putting too much pressure on himself.

2. Trinity Pitching 

The Bantams are 4-6 to open the year, but it’s pretty obvious that the biggest hurdle they will have to climb this season is replacing SP Sean Meekins ’15, he of the 2.01 ERA a year ago. The experienced and usually reliable Jed Robinson ’16 has gotten knocked around in two starts to the tune of a 5.84 ERA, and the other pitchers with two starts already – Anthony Elgein, Jr. ’18, McLane Hill ’18 and Nicholas Fusco ’18 – have ERAs of 3.97, 5.87 and a ghastly 10.38. The bright spot for the rotation so far has been newbie Erik Mohl ’19, who shut down Plattsburgh St. in his one start, throwing six scoreless innings, but his 2:4 K:BB ratio over 7.1 IP does not bode well for the future.

Speaking of Plattsburgh St., the 37 runs that Trinity posted on the Cardinals during their doubleheader last week may be bolstering the team’s .314/.410/.433 slash line, but I’d bet more heavily on the Bantams’ offense than pitching staff right now.

 

3. Live Stats

I have many bones to pick with the stability of live stats programs this week. It’s hard enough trying to follow a baseball game using play-by-play stats rather than a video stream. A live stats program that continues that constantly lags or repeatedly—or permanently—freezes is just torture.

Over the years, I have accumulated quite a list of grievances about these streams, and the Hamilton vs. Fredonia stats stream probably embodied them all. In the first game, the program showed the stats of Fredonia’s previous game for the first two innings; when it finally switched to the Hamilton game, it never changed the lineup and eventually froze in the bottom of the third inning. It never adjusted for the second game.

Perhaps this was the most extreme of cases, but so far, none of my experiences with live stats during spring training have been positive. Help a fan out, NESCAC! Get it together. I hope, and expect, that the ability to follow along with NESCAC games will improve once all teams return up north, as is usually the case.

4. Editors

On Thursday, March 17, Trinity lost to Rutgers-Camden 9-4 in Auburndale, FL. According to Trinity’s website, however, the team actually played against Rugers-Camden. Now, as a New Jersey native, I was extremely skeptical that “Rugers-Camden” actually existed—I even looked up “Rugers” just to confirm that it’s not a slang way of referring to Rutgers University that I’ve never heard of. But no, Trinity corrected itself in the line below the flawed headline, accurately spelling out “Rutgers-Camden.”

Yet, Rugers appeared again. And then again. And then the website switched back to Rutgers. Then back to Rugers.

I can’t condemn an occasional typo (we’ve all been there), but having exorbitant inconsistencies regarding a nationally known institution on an official college website is inexcusable. Note that the errors still remain throughout the game recap.

The Bantams may have won the game, but the college itself lost in quality coverage. Shame on you, Trinity!

I thought that was all, but then this little nugget was brought to our attention. As noted above, Middlebury walked off on Bates 4-3 in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, March 21. According to the NESCAC Weekly Release, however, “Bates def. Middlebury, 4-3”. They have the records right in the Team Standings category, but we couldn’t help backing the Panthers on this one.

 

Bobcats Never Say Die: Baseball Stock Report 5/6

Nate Pajka '15 won NESCAC Player of the Week Honors as Bates advanced to the playoffs. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Nate Pajka ’15 (14) won NESCAC Player of the Week Honors as Bates advanced to the playoffs. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Bates knew their task was simple going into last weekend: sweep Trinity and make the playoffs for the second straight year. Actually doing it appeared like a long shot, however. The only team in the NESCAC East that Bates had swept in the last 14 years was Colby who the Bobcats sweep practically every year. But Bates had never swept Trinity, Tufts or Bowdoin over three games.

Of course statistics like that don’t really have any impact on the actual games. The quick recap of each game of the series goes like this: Nate Pajka ’15 did something awesome and Bates won. The second game was the closest the Bobcats came to losing because Trinity starter Sean Meekins ’15 kept them scoreless for five innings. Then he ran into trouble, and after Sam Jordan ’16 came on an error allowed the tying run to score. Bates won the game in extras on a Sam Berry ’15 single. The final game came down to Will Levangie ’15 putting together the start of his career to get Bates over the top.

Once again Bates is going to the playoffs at 7-5. A year ago they ended up finishing third in the tournament with their one win coming over Amherst. They are certainly the least likely team to win the whole thing, but the presence of Pajka and Berry is enough to scare teams. To make the playoffs after losing far and away their best pitcher and top two hitters is a credit to Manager Mike Leonard and the resiliency of his players.

Stock Up

Starting Pitcher Will Levangie ’15 (Bates)

In the biggest start of his career (yes, bigger than his start in the NESCAC tournament last year), Levangie could not have pitched any better. He went all seven innings allowing only three hits and one walk. He never allowed a Trinity batter to advance beyond second or multiple Bantams to be on base at once. On April 25, in the final game against Tufts, Levangie didn’t even make it out of the first inning after allowing four walks and six runs. Just a week later the entire Bates team was mobbing him after a complete game shutout. He had two starts in the NESCAC season where he bombed out quickly, but he also had two complete game shut outs. If Bates is able to win at least one game, he will be called upon in the third game of the tournament. Hopefully, for the Bobcats, the good Levangie shows up.

Hamilton

Alright so they got swept by Wesleyan this weekend. The Continentals certainly weren’t the only team to have that happen to them this year. Two of the losses were by only one run because of great starts from Alex Pachella ’15 and Cole Dreyfuss ’16. Then on Sunday they swept their doubleheader against SUNY Polytechnic to guarantee that they will finish the season above .500 for the first time since 1990. Multiple parents of the program contacted us to inform us of this news, which just goes to show the excitement building around this program. From 1990-2014 the Continentals went 233-480-1, good for a .327 winning percentage, but Hamilton is 16-13 as of today with one game left to play this afternoon. They also had four NESCAC wins, tied for their highest total since 2001. The Continentals are nowhere close to the giants in the West, but they were a fun team to follow this year. They led the league in stolen bases in large part because of the 23 from Joe Jensen ’15. Kenny and Chris Collins ’17 also had 16 and 14 respectively. The lineup returns everyone except for Jensen and should be better overall. The key for them in 2016 will be Dreyfuss and Spencer Vogelbach ’18 reprising their stellar performanances, with the latter likely moving into a weekend starting role.

Stock Down

Trinity

The Bantams didn’t play poorly this weekend. They played right about how you might have expected them to, but were not able to come up with the hits when it mattered. Their lack of offense has been their weakness all year and ultimately why they again missed the playoffs. It hurts knowing that they went into the final day of the regular season at 4-6 but still having a chance to make the playoffs. Instead, they lost both games and ended up alone in last place in the East. Hard to imagine a larger one day swing than that. Going forward, the Bantams will have to replace Meekins as well as the middle of their lineup outside of Brendan Pierce ’18. The freshmen class saw a lot of different players like Nick Fusco ’18 get playing time, and they will be the ones who are likely to lead any resurgence in Hartford. Just don’t expect it to happen next year.

Weather

Where was all of this warm weather for the entire season? Playing baseball in the northeast is never easy, but the beginning of this season was almost wiped out because of all the leftover snow. The NESCAC was able to get through it through a combination of clever scheduling, the ability to play games at the recently opened New England Baseball Complex, and the good luck of not much rain on the weekends in April. Hats off to all of those that were able to find a way to make it all work, grounds crews, administrators, etc. The good news is that Mother Nature’s stock appears like it is about to go up. The weather report for the weekend in Nashua, New Hampshire has temperatures in the 80’s and sunny skies.

Do the Maine Shuffle: Stock Report 4/21

Williams and Bates split their non-conference doubleheader.
Williams and Bates split their non-conference doubleheader. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

As promised, the best drama during the weekend happened in the East where Trinity took two of three from Bowdoin while Colby lost two of three to Tufts. The question however, is did any of that really matter? Trinity, Bowdoin, and Colby all have five losses already while Bates only has two. Colby and Bowdoin are close to eliminated while the Bantams need a lot of things to happen to make the playoffs, but they absolutely must win their series against Bates when they meet.

Amherst and Wesleyan both swept their series, but the games were generally close. The Jeffs relied on their pitching in the first two games before mashing four homers in the final game to complete the sweep of Hamilton. Wesleyan also snuck by Middlebury in the first two games, before also hitting four homers in the final game of the series to win easily.

To put in perspective the type of coincidence it is that both Wesleyan and Amherst hit four home runs on Saturday, consider that amongst every NESCAC team, the only other game where a team had four or more homers was when Tufts hit six in a 28-2 dismantling of Brandeis.

Stock Up

Starting Pitcher Sean Meekins ’15 (Trinity)

The Bantams were on the ropes Saturday after falling to 2-5 following their loss to Bowdoin Friday. That was when Meekins declared an extension to the playoff hopes of Trinity and pitched an absolute gem in the first game of the doubleheader. He went all seven innings allowing only three hits and one walk. Despite the lead-off hitter reaching in three of the first five innings, no Bowdoin player advanced past second base ALL game. In fact, after a single to lead off the fifth, Meekins retired the final nine Bowdoin hitters without the ball leaving the infield. The shutout brought his season ERA to 1.91 to go along with a 10.36 K/9 rate. Along with Jed Robinson ’16, Meekins has kept Trinity on the edge of the playoff race and overcome an offense that struggles to score.

Bates

The idle team in the East must have enjoyed watching their rivals beat up on each other. Seeing Bowdoin and Colby lose two of three must have been especially sweet. The Bobcats are not out of the woods yet of course. They have still only played five NESCAC games and have to face Tufts this upcoming weekend. Going 5-2 over the NESCAC stretch run seems unlikely, but simply taking two of three from Trinity would mean Bates could win only one of their other four games and still make the playoffs by virtues of tiebreakers. Yes, that would put Bates at 6-6, but in a division without any weak links, 6-6 might end up being enough. And they weren’t really idle this weekend either since they played three games. A split of a Sunday doubleheader against Williams makes it a little easier to overlook a 22-8 loss to Endicott where the Bobcats made seven errors.

Tufts Hitting

The Jumbos are known foremost for their pitching, but their lineup has also consistently been a well above average unit. Tufts has won all three of their NESCAC series in similar fashion this year. They lose the first or second game by a little and look vulnerable heading into the final game of the series. Then the offense turns it on and the game ends up being a blowout. The Jumbos are averaging 13.66 runs per game and winning by an average margin of 10.66 runs in the final game of their series.  Not sure why they decide to only score once the stakes are so high in that final game, but they definitely tend to mash against subpar hitting. They have scored at least 15 runs in eight different games this year and have passed 20 runs in three of those games. Those numbers make their league leading 285 runs scored this season a slightly misleading number. Still, this is a very good hitting team right now.

Stock Down

Bowdoin Offense

Heading into Saturday the Polar Bears were 3-3 with the chance to jump into the drivers seat for the two seed with a sweep of Trinity. Instead, the offense went completely cold wasting quality starts from Erik Jacobsen ’15 and Harry Ridge ’16. In the first game Meekins completely shut down the lineup. Then the lack of depth was exposed during the final game. In the bottom of the second they loaded the bases with nobody out and their 7-8-9 hitters coming up. Bowdoin managed to push only one run across on a wild pitch and Trinity escaped only down one. The game ended in a similar situation when there were runners on second and third with no outs and 7-8-9 coming up. Bowdoin had already scored one run that inning to cut the Trinity lead to 6-3, but the next three hitters all got out to seal the win for the Bantams. A golden opportunity slipped through the fingers of the Polar Bears who now face long odds at making the playoffs.

Outfielder Kenny Collins ’17 (Hamilton)

Collins looked like a rising star earlier in the year. After completing his freshmen year hot to raise his season average to .359, he was on a tear as well in 2015 with an average above .400 only a few weeks ago. However, he has gone cold at the plate and has not recorded a hit in Hamilton’s past five games. He ended up not starting the second game on Saturday against Amherst but ended up pinch hitting in the seventh inning. Unfortunately, he struck out with the bases loaded to end the game. Now coming into the game as a pinch hitter is not easy of course, but the moment must have surely been frustrating for Collins. His struggles have come at the same time as the Continentals’ offense has gone cold overall. He should get back on track at some point which will give Hamilton a needed boost.

Rivals Meet in Busy Slate: Weekend Preview 4/11

Connor Speed '18 and Bates are ready for their series against Colby. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Connor Speed ’18 and Bates are ready for their series against Colby. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Week by week we get closer to that bonanza of baseball they call the NESCAC playoffs. We are now officially less than a month from when the tournament will kick off, but oh boy is there a lot of baseball still to be played, baseball which, at least this weekend, has been postponed another day due to weather.

The series between Colby and Bates will be a big piece in the puzzle for figuring out what two teams will emerge from the East. Trinity will try to force their way into the playoff conversation with a win or two against Tufts. Meanwhile out West, the always charged matchup between Amherst and Williams will take place, most likely with a playoff berth on the line. Still a lot of baseball after this weekend, but the winner of the series will have a serious leg up. Middlebury and Hamilton play in our first chance to see the Continentals in conference play.

Keep an eye on the weather too. The rain and snow that has fallen over most of New England is mostly gone at this point, but it has forced every series to change their schedule to a Saturday doubleheader and Sunday matinee game.

Three to Watch

1. Right Fielder Nate Pajka ’16 (Bates)

Pajka caught the entire league’s attention when he hit four home runs on Bates’ spring trip, and he has continued to show his power with a double in four of his last five games. He has not cooled down much and has a season long OBP of .467 to go along with his exceptional .776 slugging percentage, tied for second in the NESCAC. In 2014, Pajka showed he had power with three homers, but he saw a dip in his batting average from his sophomore year. Now he is hitting for power and average. Despite losing their two best hitters from a year ago, the Bobcat offense has been nearly as good in large part because of the improvement from Pajka.

2. Starting Pitcher Spencer Vogelbach ’18 (Hamilton)

The freshmen from Oaks Christian School in Sothern California, also known as Hollywood High, appears to be on the cusp of being a big part of the rotation for Hamilton. The number that jumps out from his three starts is his 19 strikeouts which looks even better when you realize he has walked only three batters. Vogelbach is 6’3″and comes over the top in his windup making him tough to pick up on at times. Vogelbach could get his first NESCAC start this weekend, but even if he doesn’t, he is one to keep an eye on going forward at Hamilton.

3. Starting Pitcher John Cook ’15 (Amherst)

This series against Williams is a big opportunity for Cook to place himself in the running for NESCAC Pitcher of the Year. At this point the field is still wide open because pitchers have still only had a few starts each. The Jeffs want a big series opening game on Friday. Amherst has an ace, something that the Ephs desperately lack. We have not seen too much of Cook so far, but he has an ERA below 3.00. He is also someone capable of racking up a lot of strikeouts quickly. Even if the rest of the Amherst rotation is not great, a fantastic Cook and that loaded lineup should be more than enough for the Jeffs.

Predictions:

We are not going to predict every series this weekend, but these are our quick thoughts on the Middlebury-Hamilton, Tufts-Trinity, and Williams-Amherst series.

For Middlebury, they are really looking to get the monkey off their back and win one game. It will take somebody on the pitching staff stepping up and pitching deep into a game to make it happen. The offense has scored enough runs to win. Hamilton meanwhile needs contributions up and down the lineup. Kenny Collins ’17 has been a more than capable Robin to Joe Jensen’s Batman. Hamilton knows they need a sweep to keep up with the other teams in the West.

Tufts and Trinity could end up having a very low-scoring series. At least the Bantams are hoping that it goes that way given how their offense has struggled. Jed Robinson ’16 and the rest of the rotation will have to pound the zone and make Tufts beat them by hitting the ball hard instead of getting on through walks. The Bantams are going to have to find some way to score, most likely by taking chances on the base paths and playing small ball. The Jumbos want to score early and allow their pitchers to attack the Trinity hitters.

After last week’s missed opportunity against Wesleyan, the Ephs are hoping their last stand doesn’t turn into a Pickett’s Charge where their pitchers are the Confederates and the Amherst batters are the entrenched Union forces tearing apart everything in front of them. Harry Roberson ’18 has more than lived up to the hype with a batting average ABOVE .500. Outside of Cook, every Amherst pitcher has his flaws which the Williams lineup will have to exploit. The Ephs are also hoping that Luke Rodino ’17 can repeat his solid start against Wesleyan. Getting a quality start from one of their other starters is also a must. Amherst has much more talent, but there is enough on the Williams roster to spring a series upset and take two of three.

Series of the Week: Bates (6-8, 1-1) at Colby (11-4, 2-1)

Saturday 12:00: Connor Colombo ’16 (Bates) vs. Scott Goldberg ’15 (Colby). Saturday 3:00 PM: Will Levangie ’16 (Bates) vs. Greg Ladd ’15 (Colby). Sunday Time TBA: Connor Speed ’18 (Bates) vs. Soren Hanson ’16 (Colby).

This series will have the first NESCAC games of the year played in Maine. Or at least we hope so, as the Bates grounds crew works hard to get the field ready. A lot is at stake in this one up north. A year ago Bates taking two of three from Colby ended up being the deciding factor in the Bobcats making the playoffs.

The big difference between Bates and Colby is in the pitching department. The Mules have a very clear top three while the Bobcats rely on a carousel of arms. Not that Bates is that necessarily worse than Colby (Bates has a lower team ERA), but they have a different approaches given their rosters this year. However, in conference play, having a clear top three is a big advantage, especially when that three is as good as Colby’s is. Soren Hanson ’16 has not allowed an earned run yet in his twelve innings. If Bates can knock out a starter early, then the lack of pitching depth could come back to haunt the Mules.

Pajka and Colby’s Tommy Forese ’16 are somewhat mirror images of each other. Both flashed a little power last year (Pajka more than Forese) and are now enjoying big breakout years where they are tied for the league lead with four homers. The supporting cast for Colby has been a little bit better this year, but their statistics are probably a little bit inflated by their early season schedule. Ryder Arsenault ’17 has the potential to swing a game for Colby with his speed on the bases.

In the end we prefer the certainty in pitching that Colby brings to the table more than the Pu Pu platter of pitchers Bates has. And for the record, I love Pu Pu platters from the local Chinese take-out.

Prediction: Colby wins two of three.

Baseball Starting Nine: What You Have Missed Thus Far

Baseball returns to New England this coming weekend. Get ready. (Courtesy of Tufts University)
Baseball returns to New England this coming weekend. Get ready. (Courtesy of Tufts University)

Been too busy watching basketball and avoiding the snow to remember that NESCAC baseball is in full swing at this point? You certainly were not alone. It has been easy to lose sight of everything going on down south, but we kept close tabs for you. With the NESCAC conference season starting Friday, get ready for our season predictions and other analysis coming later this week. In the meantime, here are nine things you need to know about.

1. Wesleyan has experience for days: A quick perusal of the Wesleyan statistics tells us very clearly that freshmen are not going to see much playing time. Through twelve games, the only stats accrued by freshmen are four at-bats. Besides that a returning player has played every pitch and at-bat. That ability to have exclusively upperclassmen separates the Cardinals from every other team that has to rely on some freshmen to fill crucial roles. The returning champions have every reason to be confident.

2. Cardinals have impressed: Sticking with the defending champions for our second point. As we mentioned in our season preview, Wesleyan played a challenging spring trip schedule, and overall they showed they belong with the best. Their 8-4 victory over #7 Cal Lutheran was a high water mark that brought them to 5-0 for the season. Ace Nick Cooney ’15 started and won that game for Wesleyan. Wesleyan stumbled a bit near the end of the trip and is now 8-4, but they still are the most impressive team to this point. Guy Davidson ’16 has a slashline of .395/.477/.684 to lead the offense. Wesleyan probably hasn’t hit their stride yet, and they are already pretty scary looking.

3. Dylan Sinnickson ’15 is bashing baseballs: The return of Sinnickson to the diamond is a big reason why there is a sliver of hope around the Middlebury team, and he wasted no time making an impact. In the Panthers opening doubleheader Saturday, Sinnickson went 5-9 and hit THREE home runs. Then he hit another in the Panthers first game on Sunday to tie for the league lead after only three games. The team’s pitching against him probably had no idea who he was and he likely saw some fat fastballs that he was able to eat up, but still, not many players in the NESCAC can do hit four homers in three games. To take a year off from baseball and come back hitting like that is incredible and shows the type of athlete he is.

4. Bowdoin and Trinity struggled: The two East Division teams both have their sights set on returning to the playoffs, but they need to improve on their play quickly. Bowdoin went 5-8 on their Florida trip while the Bantams went 7-5. The Bowdoin staff saw nobody pitch well and the team had a 5.58 ERA. The front of the rotation guys like Erik Jacobsen ’15 and Harry Ridge ’16 pitched decently while Henry Van Zant ’15 started only one game. Meanwhile Trinity’s problem of hitting for no power carried over to this season. As a team the Bantams slugged .357 in their 12 games and had nobody hit a single home run. The good news is that their top two pitchers Sean Meekins ’15 and Jed Robinson ’16 looked fantastic.

https://twitter.com/TrinityBaseball/status/579722627373240320

5. Tommy O’Hara ’18 big for Tufts: The weakness of Tufts is their lineup, but O’Hara looks like he is going to solve a good deal of that problem single-handedly. The freshman third baseman was Tufts’ best hitter on their trip to Virginia and North Carolina. He had a ridiculous .564 OBP in 42 at-bats. With a 1:1 K:BB ratio, he should be able to carry over that type of hitting to the conference season. Don’t expect him to finish with an OBP above .500, but the Illinois native will be a huge bat in the middle of the Tufts lineup that appeared a bat or two away from being elite before the season started.

6. Amherst pitching is unsettled: The big reason why the Jeffs went only 6-6 on their trip was a pitching staff that saw a lot of players auditioning for a starting role. Six different pitchers started games for the Jeffs, and John Cook ’15 started only one game in part to let others get a chance to show their stuff. Drew Fischer ’18 flashed his massive potential with 15 strikeouts in only 8.2 innings. The problem is that he also walked nine batters. He will have to do a better job of trusting his fielders and not simply trying to strike everybody out. Jackson Volle ’17 had two solid starts and might have won the third rotation start because he appears to be more consistent than the flashy Fischer.

7. Rob DiFranco ’16 emerging for Bates: The transition from reliever to starter is going well for DiFranco so far with two starts and two wins. Granted, the first start he only went two innings. He has allowed only one run in eight innings so far, and he has yet to walk an opposing batter. DiFranco only went five innings in his longest start so far so we have not seen whether he can go deep into games yet, but the early returns are promising. Combined with Will Levangie ’15 thus far, and the Bobcats rotation has been solid.

8. Hamilton sophomores stepping up: Joe Jensen ’15 has been fantastic like you would expect him to be, and the Continentals are hitting better behind as well. Chris Collins ’17, Kenny Collins ’17, Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, and Andrew Haser ’17 are all hitting .333 or better. Haser in particular has been impressive after having an OBP below .300 in 2014. Having this core group of sophomores be consistent threats in the lineup makes Hamilton a much more dangerous team to pitch against. The Continentals will get the chance to see whether it stands up against Wesleyan this weekend.

9. Remember the sample size caveat: Do not get carried away with all the results so far. Statistics tells us that through random probability some players will get hot  A lot of things are going to change as we go forward. When assessing the worth of early season statistics, keep in mind Bayes’ theorem. While the idea is sort of complicated, the idea is lend more weight to events that confirm what we thought already and give pause to events that contradict what we thought. So for example, we can trust that Jensen hitting above .500 is not a fluke because we knew already that he was really freaking good at baseball.

Your Continental Breakfast: Hamilton Baseball Season Preview

Joe Jensen '15 could have a massive senior season. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
Joe Jensen ’15 could have a massive senior season. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

2014 Record: 10-16 (2-10, Fifth in the NESCAC West), missed NESCAC playoffs

Starters Returning: 10 (8 position players, 2 starting pitchers)

Projected Lineup: (Stats are from 2014)

CF Joe Jensen ’15 (.398/.495/.430, 0 HR, 9 RBI)
RF Kenny Collins ’17 (.359/.422/.372, 0 HR, 15 RBI)
LF Ryan Wolfsberg ’17 (.273/.359/.364, 1 HR, 13 RBI)
3B Andrew Haser ’17 (.250/.291/.350, 1 HR, 9 RBI)
SS Chris Collins ’17 (.280/.353/.307, 0 HR, 8 RBI)
C Brett Mele ’17 (.237/.384/.271/0 HR, 7 RBI)
1B David Rose ’16 (.176/.167/.353, 0 HR, 3 RBI)
DH Mike Chiseri ’16 (.242/.395/.273, 0 HR, 5 RBI)
2B Brian Ferrell ’16 (.120/.241/.120, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

LHP Jjay Lane ’15 (1-4, 5.35 ERA, 3.74 K/9, 33.2 IP)
RHP Cole Dreyfuss ’16 (1-3, 6.75 ERA, 5.83 K/9, 29.1 IP)
RHP Finlay O’Hara (1-1, 3.38 ERA, 4.22 K/9, 21.1 IP)

Offensive Overview:

Almost the entire lineup returns from what was a very freshmen-heavy contingent a year ago. The one MAJOR exception to those freshmen was center fielder Joe Jensen ’15. The speedy outfielder enjoyed an incredible junior season and was voted by Baseball America this winter as the best Division-III professional prospect in America. Teams are forced to pitch to him because he is so fast that walking him is almost like a lead-off double because he can steal second base almost at will. He is the most likely player to keep Mike Odenwaelder ’16 from winning NESCAC POY again. Besides Jensen, the Collins twins, Chris and Kenny, will be major cogs in the lineup again as sophomores. Ryan Wolfsberg ’17 is another of those sophomores looking to improve after playing a lot as a freshmen. This lineup was one of the worse ones in the NESCAC because of how many freshmen got serious at-bats, but they should be much improved and at the least the top of the lineup will scare pitchers because of Jensen.

Defensive Overview:

The Continentals struggled in NESCAC play to make the simple play and ended the year with 30 errors in 12 NESCAC games, the most of anyone in the league. Again, Jensen is the best glove where he uses his All-American track speed to catch everything in the outfield. Having two freshmen, Chris Collins ’17 and Andrew Haser ’17, man the left side of the infield a year ago showed as those two combined for 22 errors. Expect a good amount of improvement as the two get more comfortable this season. Brett Mele ’17 is back at catcher where he will provide a steady presence behind the plate.

Pitching Overview:

The pitching staff is the area where Hamilton is probably the weakest. As a sophomore in 2013, Jjay Lane ’15 was one of the best pitchers in the NESCAC with an ERA well below 2.00, but last season he was touched up to the tune of a 5.35 ERA. Never a power pitcher, Lane only struck out 14 batters all season, and his defense let him down a good amount of the time as well. The Continentals are hoping that he will be able to rebound this year. Cole Dreyfuss ’16 really struggled a season ago, but he will get another chance this season, and Finlay O’Hara ’17 will try to build on a freshman year where he showed promise. None of those three is a strikeout heavy pitcher so they will rely a lot on their defense behind them. The hope is that Lane can be an ace and Dreyfuss and O’Hara are able to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible.

Storylines to Watch

1. Does Jensen have another level?

The somewhat amazing thing about Jensen is that he has improved leaps and bounds during his time at Hamilton. His freshman year he hit .170 in 53 at-bats, and his sophomore year showcased his speed more than his bat. Only last season did he emerge as an absolute force at the plate. His sudden ascent to an actual MLB draft prospect took virtually everybody by surprise. Already this season Jensen has hit a home run, something that he never did a year ago. That could hint at him being more than just somebody who is able to get on-base like crazy. It would also make the talk about him being drafted become a lot more realistic. Despite being on one of the worst teams in the league last year, Jensen is unquestionably one of the top five players in the NESCAC, and he could finish the year as the very best one.

2. Where does their opponents’ BABIP end up?

For the uninitiated, BABIP stands for “batting average on balls in play” which basically takes away strikeouts and home runs. In general research has found that pitchers actually have little control over their BABIP, though there are some notable exceptions. So a lot of it is luck, and for a staff like Hamilton that doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters, luck can be very important. The difference between a low opponents’ BABIP (good for Hamilton) and a high one (bad) is significant enough that we could look back at Hamilton’s season differently just based on that. A good defense that limits errors will also help the pitching staff, of course.

3. What is their ceiling?

Jensen is going to be very good, and the lineup around him should be much improved. Unfortunately for Hamilton (Middlebury and Williams too), Amherst and Wesleyan just have way more talent than them. The Continentals went 2-10 in conference last year, and they were fifth in the West because they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to Middlebury. A third place finish in the West is certainly possible given the room for improvement amongst their younger players, but their lack of any dominant pitcher will make beating Amherst or Wesleyan in even one game a tall task.

Biggest Series: April 24-25 home against Williams

A season ago Hamilton ended the NESCAC season on a low note by being swept at Williams. That result was a big reason why they ended up in the cellar, but the series could be very different in New York this year. A series victory could be enough to lift Hamilton into third place.

Power Rankings Part 1

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.

 

Power Rankings May 1

Going to keep the Power Rankings a little bit shorter this week before doing a big blowout one next time. It will be special I promise. In the mean time feast your eyes on these rankings and consider them a bit of a sampler before the main course next week.

1. Tufts (27-4, 8-2)- At first I was going to put Wesleyan here before looking at the team wide stats. Tufts’ pitching has separated themselves just a little bit from the other pitching staffs down the stretch, and its 2.58 ERA is .75 runs better than Bowdoin’s second place mark. Tufts has a great video of the Tufts staff discussing what has made them so successful. The offense is not quite as dominant, but has still scored 21 more runs than anybody else in the NESCAC. The secret to their success has been their patience. They rank as a team only fourth in the NESCAC in batting average, but their .396 OBP is the best in the league. Also, a .396 OBP is absurdly high for a full season.

2. Wesleyan (23-8, 10-2)- Did someone on Wesleyan read the Power Rankings last week? No way they printed it out and circled the fact that I put them third right? There isn’t a lot of stuff out there that could be used as bulletin board material in the NESCAC, so let me just have my moment and imagine that they used my writing as inspiration for their series win over Amherst. Like I said above, I almost put them number one, but think that Tufts’ body of work is too deserving not to put them first. One player we haven’t given enough credit to this season has been second baseman Andrew Yin ’15. He has gotten on-base more than any other player in the NESCAC.

3. Amherst (23-7, 9-3)- Yes, it was a disappointing weekend for Amherst, but my impression of them hasn’t changed very much. Drawing Tufts for the first game of the double elimination tournament is tough, but Bowdoin showed last week that Tufts’ Kyle Slinger ’15 is beatable. They have a bevy of pitchers to throw at teams this weekend. They won the tournament last year as the number two West seed without losing a game so they have been in this situation before.

4. Bates (18-14, 6-4)- Their remaining two games against Tufts are much more important in terms of confidence for the Bobcats than the Jumbos. Bates lost the first game of conference season to Tufts when Slinger threw a gem against them, but they were in the game the whole time. Both managers will have to balance keeping their players in rhythm and not giving away too much in case of a potential rematch in two weekends. While Bates is a distant fourth behind the big three, Brad Reynolds ’14 will give them a great chance to win at least one game, and after that the team has been playing well enough to make a run.

5. Williams (10-15, 6-5)- The overall record is not very good in large part because of the depth of Williams pitching, but this was still the best team not to make the playoffs. They were doomed by going 1-5 against the tandem of Amherst and Wesleyan, and it would have been interesting to see how they would have done in the East given how up for grabs the second spot was. Their hitting didn’t perform quite as well in conference play, but some drop off was to be expected.

6. Colby (15-13, 5-7)- Colby gains this spot by virtue of beating Bowdoin in their head to head matchup. No team took a bigger step forward than Colby this season in big part because they had great improvement by returning players. Back in March they looked to be at best a spoiler with enough talent to steal a game from anybody, but their 4-2 conference start was for real. They return a lot of players next season as well. Their offense will need to get contributions for players up and down the lineup, but they aren’t far away.

7. Bowdoin (17-14-1, 5-7)- This is a disappointing finish for Bowdoin given their preseason expectation, but in the end their weaknesses just couldn’t be overcome. Still a lot of positives to take away with the biggest one being all the players who stepped up in bigger than expected roles. All of those players will be back next season in what is sure to be a team hungry to get back to the playoffs in a crowded East.

8. Trinity (15-16, 4-8)-  2014 was a terrible season by Trinity’s high standards, but their series against Tufts showed that there are still plenty of players in Hartford. It felt like Trinity lost more close games than anyone else. Everyone in the lineup will be back as well. It is way too early to make any predictions about the East next year, but it will be just as unpredictable next season. Don’t be shocked if the Bantams bring in a couple of hard throwing freshman to strengthen the rotation.

9. Hamilton (9-14, 2-9)- To be honest, Hamilton really hasn’t done much to hold onto this spot in recent weeks because their offense has completely collapsed. Their pitching staff has kept them in games, but there just isn’t enough hitting. The improvement of twins Chris and Kenny Collins ’17 does represent a ray of hope that next season the Continentals will be a more complete team capable of cashing in on the early promise they showed on their Florida trip.

10. Middlebury (4-21, 2-10)- The Panthers seemed to building a little momentum a few weeks ago after they beat Hamilton twice and played Amherst very tight for a couple games, but that enthusiasm has disappeared in the middle of a nine game losing streak. Their remaining four games are two doubleheaders against Tufts and Bowdoin so those will be difficult games as well. If they win some of them then they recapture some of those good vibes heading into the summer.