The End Is Nigh: Power Rankings 4/27

Before we start these rankings, I just need to call everyone’s attention to Rory’s profile on the Tufts website.

“Listen to music” is a very original tradition! Rory is quirky like that

Pretty bold claim to call yourself the “lead writer” of a blog when you haven’t written anything since basketball season, but hey, that’s just, like, my opinion man. Anyway, there are several crucial series for playoff standing in this final weekend, so let’s see where each team stands.

Tufts

Don’t worry Jumbos fans, you’re not in danger of losing your number one spot. But it is time for us to talk about Tufts’ inability to sweep a series. Despite being pretty undisputedly the best team in the league for this entire season, in each of their league series they have dropped a game, including to weaker teams like Bowdoin and Colby. I know that seems like a champagne problem (plenty of teams in the league would kill to take two out of three in every series,) but Tufts is simply too good to be dropping games to Bowdoin. Let’s delve deeper into Tufts’ losses. Obviously, none of them have come in games started by ace starter Speros Varinos ‘17, who is 7-0. RJ Hall has two of those losses Tim Superko ‘17 has one. Both of those starters have ERA above 3.4, with Superko sitting at a pedestrian 4.23. Tufts seems to have some problems in terms of depth in the starting rotation. This will not be a problem in the regular season, but in the playoffs it might manifest itself in an ugly way.

Bates

Bates’ Cinderella carriage hit a classic New England pothole last weekend against Trinity, as the Bobcats dropped two out three games. One of the reasons that Bates’ 7 game league winning streak was remarkable is that they were doing it in spite of a relatively impotent offense. Bates only hits .246 for the season, and in league play that number drops to .234. Obviously, Bates’s pitching has been making up for lack of offense so far this year. Bates’ ERA in league play is 2.25, which is nearly a full run better than Tufts (a distant second at 3.21.) Connor Speed ‘18 is the ace of the staff, with a 2.52 ERA in 35 innings. But his 1-3 record reveals the problem that Bates saw exposed against Trinity. If the pitching falters for even a moment, the offense cannot back them up. They have a three game series against Tufts coming up this weekend– that’s a must watch, by the way– and then a four game series against WIlliams. These are two of the best offenses in the league, and if they can get to the Bates staff, Bates could close the league  season in the opposite way from how they started.

Middlebury

At the three and four spots we have two teams who have been steadily climbing in the standings over the last couple weeks in the Panthers and the (newly minted) Mammoths. Middlebury gets the edge because they took two of three from Amherst earlier this season. This has been a magical season for the Panthers, a program that was in desperate need of some energy. In fact Middlebury (who has clinched a playoff berth and is one Amherst loss this weekend away from the number one overall seed in the West) is the hottest team in either conference as they are riding a seven game winning streak in league play. Offensively, Middlebury relies heaviily on the senior duo of Ryan Rizzo ‘17 and Jason Lock ‘17. With a .375 OBP and 14 steals, Rizzo is a classic leadoff hitter, and Lock is adept at knocking him in (27 RBI on the year.) Sophomore Sam Graf ‘19 and Justin Han ‘20 have also put up terrific offensive seasons and keep the future bright for the Panthers.

Amherst

Harry Roberson ’18 is an anchor in the infield for the Mammoths (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Amherst might be the next hottest team in the league. They have won four in a row overall and 5 of their last six in league play. Like Middlebury, Amherst is a potent offense. They have six players with on base percentages over .400, and with league RBI leader Yanni Thanopoulos ‘17 in the middle of the order, that is a dangerous proposition for opponents. But Amherst’s hot streak has been primarily due to the improvement of their pitching. They have a bonafide ace in Jackson Volle ‘17 (5-0, 1.71 ERA) but their team ERA has improved from 5.21 overall to 3.63 in league play. Amherst’s offense was always good, but now that their pitching is catching up, they are extremely dangerous.

Wesleyan

I would imagine that at the beginning of the year, Wesleyan envisioned being a little higher in these rankings than fifth. But they simply have not hit well enough to win the close games that NESCAC play often brings about. In their sweep at the hands of Middlebury last weekend, they only scored nine runs in the whole series, despite several good scoring chances. Outside of Matt Jeye ‘18, the Cardinals don’t have much in the way of power (their slugging percentage in league play is an abysmal .290.) This means that each run they give up feels like a disaster, as they will have to scratch and claw to get it back. Wesleyan has a chance this weekend to get back in the mix with a three game set against Amherst, but they’ll need a couple big hits to do so.

Williams

Williams is another team who should be somewhat disappointed to be down here at this point in the season. The Ephs have a trio of stud freshman pitchers in John Lamont ‘20, Sean Hager ‘20 and Kyle Dean ‘20 who have combined for an 8-3 record with a 2.33 ERA. They also have a possible POY in Kellen Hatheway ‘19 (.392 AVG, 1.079 OPS) and have two other excellent hitters in Jack Cloud ‘17 and Jack Roberts ‘18. And yet, here they are at 4-5 in NESCAC play, and that’s including taking three out of four from Colby last weekend. It has been their pitching that has faltered in conference play (their .303 batting average against is second worst in the league.) However, they have a three game set against Hamilton coming up. Williams should be thinking sweep there, and if they get it done, they would be at the mercy of Wesleyan sweeping Amherst to make the tournament.

Bowdoin

The Polar Bears had a pretty impressive performance against a far superior Tufts teams, grabbing a win and coming within a run of taking another. And they have a three game set against a weaker Colby team. They should be smelling sweep against the Mules, and they have the starting pitchers to do it. There may not be a player in the league who can impact a game like Brandon Lopez ‘19. Lopez is Bowdoin’s best starter at 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA, and he is also their best hitter, stroking the ball at a .342 clip with a .962 OPS. Lopez can change a game, and series on both sides of the ball. Bowdoin has two other solid starters in Max Vogel-Freedman ‘18 (2.90 ERA) and Colby Lewis ‘20 (3-2, 3.55 ERA.) If Bowdoin can somehow manage to sneak into the playoffs, this trio of starters could make them very dangerous. But they have to sweep Colby first.

Trinity

The Bantams recovered from a rough start in league play by taking two of three against East-leading Bates last weekend. They did it with pitching, holding the Bobcats (who aren’t exactly a dynamic offense, but still) to just two runs over the final two games. They have a top heavy lineup led by Alex Rodriguez ‘20 (.362 BA) and Brendan Pierce ‘18 (4 HR.) Senior Nick Dibenedetto rounds out the threats in the lineup with a .348 AVG and 24 RBI. However Trinity doesn’t get a lot of offense from the rest of their lineup, meaning that any wins they get where that trio doesn’t carry them have to be well pitched games. Against Bates, they had two of those. We will see if they get the chance in the postseason to have more.

Colby

Colby honestly just does not have the talent to win NESCAC games, but they have shown the heart to compete. Their offense lacks punch (only three home runs on the year) and their pitching has been generally horrific with a 6.23 overall ERA. However, they have grabbed two wins against superior teams (Wesleyan and Trinity,) and all three of their losses to Williams were by one run. Colby has been playing for little other than pride for some time now, and their heart as a team has shown through the losses.

Hamilton

The Continentals may be the team who has underachieved most in league play. Despite being near the top in overall offensive stats, in NESCAC games every one of their team numbers is near the bottom They have a solid pitching duo in Finlay O’Hara ‘17 and Dan DePaoli ‘18, and on paper have an excellent lineup. But they seem to have jacked up their stats a bit against a weak non-conference schedule and have been unprepared for the jump to better competition. They have a series against Williams that matters for nothing but pride. It is a good chance to honor their seniors and leave a good aftertaste in an otherwise disappointing year.

Heating Up: Power Rankings 4/10

Second baseman Tom Petry ’17 has been a rock both offensively and defensively so far for the Jumbos (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

Spring has officially sprung in the NESCAC. Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and first years are fruitlessly flirting during pickup ultimate frisbee games. Alongside all these markers of spring is our favorite one; NESCAC baseball league play. With a couple league weekends under out belts, we can see certain patterns emerging. Tufts has only furthered their status as the cream of the crop, but there is an interesting battle going on for the second slot between Williams, Wesleyan, and the upstart Bates Bobcats. Get the lowdown on these storylines and more in the first baseball Power Rankings of the year.

 

1: Tufts (16-2, 2-1):

The Jumbos have done little to remove themselves from their preseason number one spot. They are one of the most volatile offenses in recent NESCAC memory, averaging an absoultely ridiculous 11.1 runs per game. They are led on offense by junior infielder Nick Falkson ‘17, who is leading the league in hits with 27 and strokes the ball at a .443 clip. He also is second in the league in RBI with 19 already. The Jumbos have also received great contributions from versatile  sophomore Casey Santos-Ocampo ‘19, who has driven in 18 runs and reaches base at a .500 clip. Tufts has standout pitchers as well. Speros Varinos ‘17 has been the best pitcher in the league this year, with a 1.36 ERA and a 5-0 record, and the shockingly handsome Rory Ziomek ‘17 has been the heart and soul of the bullpen. And as if that wasn’t enough, they have also only made 21 errors in 18 games, second best in the league. Tufts dropped a sloppy game two weekends ago to Trinity, but they are still the class of the league.

 

2: Wesleyan (13-7, 4-1)

Casual baseball fans may not know this, but it is very difficult for an offense to score if they don’t hit the ball. And above all else, Wesleyan excels at preventing opponents from hitting the ball. Their pitching staff is second in the conference (to Tufts) in strikeouts per nine innings at 7.58. This helps them overcome a mediocre team ERA (4.26,), and suggests that the staff has the potential to tighten up once league play heats up. They are also second in the league in fielding percentage, again to Tufts. The Cardinals this past weekend swept Williams in a double header, taking advantage of some very shoddy work on the mound and in the field by the Ephs to come from behind in both games. There was certainly some luck involved in Wesleyan’s victories over Williams, but they are still impressive.

 

3: Bates (10-5, 6-0)

A six game winning streak in league play is nothing to ignore, even though the Bobcats haven’t played any of the other top five teams. The Bobcats have been achieving this success largely on the mound. Although Tufts’ staff has been more dominant in terms of strikeouts (leading the league at 142,) Bates has excelled in not giving up runs (another crucial aspect of baseball, I’m told.) The Bobcats lead the league in total ERA at 3.06, and in league play that number drops to a miniscule 2.47. They are led on the mound by the terrifically named Connor Speed ‘18, who boasts a 2.20 ERA, and several other members of their staff are under 3.00. Bates’ great pitching has allowed them to overcome a mediocre offense (.253 on the year and eight in the league in runs.) Of course, they also have swept the two worst offenses in the league in Colby and Bowdoin (ninth and tenth in the league in runs.) Bates still needs to prove that their pitching can hold up against better competition, but as of right now, consider the rest of the league on notice.

 

4: Williams (10-4, 4-2)

Kellen Hathaway ’19 tags out a would be base stealer (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

After sweeping Middlebury in Arizona and rolling off an impressive eight-game winning streak, Williams’ flaws reared their ugly head in a double header against Wesleyan. In both games of the double header, Williams blew leads in the later innings due to a lack of control from pitchers in the bullpen. The Eph’s offense has been firing on all cylinders in their six league games, due mostly to their shellacking of Middlebury earlier this year. They have averaged nearly 10 runs per game, and sophomore infielder Kellen Hatheway ‘19 would right now be the leadoff hitter on the All-League Team (.463 batting average and a 1.175 OPS.) And Williams got a huge pitching performance in the third game of the Wesleyan series from freshman star John Lamont ‘20. Lamont threw a complete game, giving up just one run and striking out 15 Cardinals to give Williams a crucial win. Lamont and Hatheway are young stars for the Ephs, but they need to find some consistency at the back end of their bullpen if they want to compete for a championship this year.

 

5: Trinity (12-9, 3-3)

The Bantams are one of the most well rounded offenses in the league, averaging over 8 runs per game. They have several standout hitters, including our own Nick Dibenedetto, who strokes the ball at a .396 clip and sits at fifth in the league in OBP. However, the Bantams lack of power has hurt them at times. Their slugging percentage as a team is only .404, and they only have five home runs. As a result, their offense can be held in check more easily than other elite offenses that have more power, like Tufts or Williams. And unlike the teams higher on this list, Trinity simply does not have the pitching to make up for any offensive struggles. They have given up the most runs in the league (181) and surrendered 8 home runs, also the most in the league. There are a lot of things to like about Trinity’s squad, but one of their deficiencies will have to improve if they want to climb out of the middle of the pack.

 

6: Middlebury (2-4, 6-9)

In the interest of full disclosure, it feels very good to be writing about Middlebury this high in the rankings. In the first year of coach Mike Leonard’s tenure, the Panthers have shown marked improvement over the teams of the past few seasons. This improvement has been primarily on the offensive end. The team has struck out the second fewest times of any team in the league, pointing to improved discipline and focus. Senior Captain Jason Lock ‘17 is one of the front runners for POY (.443/.493/.656 splits,) and along with Ryan Rizzo ‘17 has provided valuable senior leadership for an otherwise very young team. A large focus of the Panthers season so far has been giving talented freshman like OF Justin Han ‘20 and IF Andrew Hennings ‘20 (1.143 OPS!) chances to play, and the team has taken some lumps as a result. Defense has been a major struggle for the Panthers. They have made 34 errors in just 16 games, many of those the product of shifting different players into new positions to see where they best fit. Middlebury may not be a playoff threat this year, but for the first time in a few years they’re on the right track.

 

7: Amherst (6-10, 1-2)

Amherst and Middlebury share a lot of similarities. They both have very good offenses, but have been dragged down by subpar pitching and defense. Amherst is led on offense by the best keystone combo in the league in second baseman Max Steinhorn ‘18 (.381/.444/.412) and shortstop (and ANOTHER NbN staff writer) Harry Roberson ‘18 (.377/.414/.656.) Amherst hits a .342 overall on the year, but in their first league series against Middlebury they struggled. They only scored nine runs in three games, and Middlebury’s pitching staff isn’t exactly the 1998 Atlanta Braves (6.19 ERA.) Indeed, the only team in the league with a lower ERA than Middlebury is, you guessed it, Amherst at 6.63. Amherst’s ERA is that low despite boasting the individual third best ERA in the league (Jackson Volle ‘18 at 1.53) If Amherst’s offense is going to falter as league play progresses, their pitching and defense could lead them down a very dark path this season.

 

8: Hamilton (10-9, 0-2)

In a departure from the normal lower tier NESCAC team recipe, Hamilton has pretty good pitching but often struggles to score runs. Senior pitcher Finley O’Hara ‘17 is the league leader in ERA at 1.13, and his versatility allows him to plug holes deeper down in the rotation. Following O’Hara is junior starter Dan DePaoli ‘18, who boasts a 1.66 ERA and has struck out 23 batters in 21 innings. However, Hamilton as a team has only scored 98 runs in 19 games, and only four runs in two games against Wesleyan in their opening league series.

 

9: Colby (5-14, 1-5)

Ironically, the Mules could use a little more kick, particularly on offense. Colby hits .264 as a team, not stellar but not embarrassing either. But they only slug .321, and have the same number of home runs as I do. It’s hard to win games when you have to scrape together every run, and that’s the way Colby plays. Ther pitching and defense are middle of the pack, and therefore not good enough to make up for their low scoring style. Colby will play in a lot of close games this year, but seem to lack the ability to break one open with a big hit.

 

10: Bowdoin (7-12, 0-3)

As much as Hamilton struggles on offense, Bowdoin makes them look like a team full of Pablo Sanchezes. The Polar Bears only bat .246 as a team, and were shut out twice by Hamilton and lost three in a row to Bates, scoring just eight runs in those three games. They don’t pitch particularly well either, with a 4.67 team ERA, but it’s hard for pitchers to relax when they have such little offensive support. Junior starter Max Vogel-Freedman is a bonafide ace with a 2.29 ERA and just four walks in 19 innings, but aside from him, Bowdoin has very little firepower offensively or pitching-wise. On a more positive note, they are very good defensively, with only 19 errors in 23 games. This discipline means that if they can get in even a little groove offensively, they could grab some wins against teams that aren’t as polished in the field, such as Middlebury and Amherst.

 

Random Thoughts for Kicks and Weekend Preview 4/31

Sam Berry '15 has emerged as a stud for Bates down the stretch. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Sam Berry ’15 has emerged as a stud for Bates down the stretch. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Before diving into a somewhat amended weekend preview, I wanted to get a couple of thoughts out there that have nothing in common with each other. Also a note on the relative down tick in articles this spring: things come up (schoolwork mostly, nothing serious) and so I have written less. Apologies, and we want to thank everybody for sticking with us this spring.

1. Tufts loves to get hit by pitches: One of the few statistics I don’t keep track of really is HBP, but it really is a skill for hitters. The Jumbos excel at it with five of the top-six most-struck players hailing from Medford. As a unit, Tufts has been hit by a pitch 82 times; Bates is the next highest at 49. What we have heard is that this fits into a more general strategy for Tufts where they tend to crowd the plate and hit the ball the other way a lot. Considering that this year will be the seventh consecutive when they lead the NESCAC in that category, it certainly makes a lot of sense.

2. Mike Odenwaelder has a shot at 100 Total Bases: Getting to the century mark is something that no NESCAC player has done since 2010 when three players broke the mark. They must have been juicing the balls or something because Trinity’s James Wood hit 13 homers but didn’t even lead the league in that category because Noah Lynd hit 15 for Bates. These were, of course, the BESR days as well. Ah, the good old days… It’s actually worth it to take a trip down the rabbit hole and look at the NESCAC Statistics Page from that year. Anyway, Odenwaelder leads the league with 78 right now through 29 games (2.69 per game). Amherst has five games left in the regular season, and then there is the NESCAC tournament and potentially the NCAA tournament as well. At his current pace he needs 8.2 games to reach 100. It could be tight.

3. Two Freshmen on Bowdoin are named Max Vogel:  Alright, so one is named Max Vogel and the other is Max Vogel-Freedman, but still pretty crazy right? We haven’t been able to figure out the exact story behind it, but you should know that both are capable ballplayers deserving of their spots on the team. One can imagine that it can be difficult for the coaching staff to talk to them. Also, one is a catcher and the other is a pitcher. I for one am rooting whole-heartedly for a Max Vogel-only battery someday.

4. Amherst gets caught stealing a lot: The generally accepted breakeven success rate for stealing bases is about 75 percent according to Fangraphs.com. Most teams are well above that success rate. Middlebury has the best success rate (7-8), but they hardly ever steal so they’re not a great example. But the Jeffs are an outlier. They are third in the league with 48 stolen bases, but where they blow everyone away is in the caught stealing department. They have been caught stealing 23 times. No other team has been caught more than nine times! A good amount of those caught stealings come from early in the season which is probably the Jeffs just testing if different guys can steal, but that still doesn’t account for the whole difference.

Huge start this weekend for Sean Meekins '15 as he tries to get Trinity back to the playoffs. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Huge start this weekend for Sean Meekins ’15 as he tries to get Trinity back to the playoffs. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Weekend Preview

Only one series matters this weekend: Trinity at Bates to decide the second playoff spot in the East. The rest of the games are basically white noise that could tell us which players are doing well and which are struggling, but they don’t matter much in the big picture of things. Just to lay it out for you: Bowdoin is 6-6, both Trinity and Bates are 4-5. Trinity gets into the playoffs if they win two or all three games, Bates gets in if they take all three, and Bowdoin gets in if Bates takes two of three. Bad news for Bowdoin is that no matter the outcome of the first two games, either Bates or Trinity will enter the final game already eliminated.

Trinity X-Factor: Starting Pitcher Jed Robinson ’16

The Bantams have leaned on their starting pitching to get into this position, but Robinson does not have a win in conference play. He owns a 4.74 ERA in conference play but has a 2.41 ERA over the course of the year. Now is the perfect time for Robinson to come up big and go deep into a game for Trinity. He has never pitched against Bates which gives him a major advantage early in the game as they try to figure out his stuff. Robinson should also eschew from chasing strikeouts and focus on pounding the zone. Six of his nine walks on the season have come in his conference starts, and he has also had more strikeouts in those starts. Better for him to keep things simple and rely on his defense.

Bates X-Factor: Third Baseman Sam Berry ’15

The senior Berry has been far and away Bates’ best hitter in conference play. He is hitting .447 and has an astronomic .816 slugging percentage. He has hit safely in his last 14 games, and half of those games have been multiple hit performances. Just last weekend against Tuft he went off and had three home runs. He and Nate Pajka ’15 supply the vast majority of the power in the middle of the lineup. The guys in front of him need to get on base and force Trinity to pitch to Berry, who is one of the hottest hitters in the league right now.

Projected Starters:

Friday 3:00 PM: Jed Robinson ’16 (Trinity) vs. Connor Colombo ’16 (Bates).
Saturday 12:00 PM: Sean Meekins ’15 (Trinity) vs. Connor Speed ’18 (Bates).
Saturday 2:30 PM: Nick Fusco ’18 (Trinity) vs. Will Levangie ’15 (Bates)

Expect a playoff atmosphere at Bates with a larger than normal crowd because Bates students are on their ‘short term’ and have minimal class commitments at the moment. That should make it a fun one to watch.

The pitching matchups in this one carry a good amount of uncertainty. Both teams will start one freshman in a big spot. Both managers will also be ready to pull one of the starters early at the first sign of trouble. In this respect Trinity might have a slight advantage because Bates was forced to pitch some of their relievers in their loss to Bowdoin on Tuesday. The advantage is pretty minimal, mind you. We have talked before of how important Sean Meekins ’15 has been for Trinity, and Connor Colombo ’16 has been of similar importance for Bates.

The Trinity offense is certainly not what one would call dynamic, but they have come through with a lot of big hits. Having Brendan Pierce ’18 back in the lineup after he had to miss five games for a suspension is big for them. He is really the only player who can say they have hit particularly well as the team has only a .244 average in conference games.

The outcome of this series will probably rest on the shoulders of the Bates offense. Even though the Bates pitching might be shaky, Trinity is not going to blow anybody out. They have not scored double digits in a game all season. Bates needs to be able to get at the starter quickly and force the Bantams into their bullpen early. The Bobcats are a patient team overall but they can’t simply wear down the Trinity starters. Rockwell Jackson ’15 at the top of the lineup has to get on early and often. Winning all three games is not going to be easy for the Bobcats.

Somewhat hard to believe that the Bantams simply need to win this series in order to make the playoffs. They were 2-5 after dropping their opening game to Bowdoin, but the morass in the East has made it possible. I don’t think this will be the prettiest series to watch, but the end result is that one team will be celebrating a playoff berth.

Prediction: Trinity wins two of three and makes the playoffs.