In years past, the NESCAC West Division has been lacking in any meaningful regular season drama outside of seeing whether Amherst or Wesleyan would finish first. The East has been the site of all the action with teams jumping in and out of the top two. Those roles were reversed this year with the East playing out their games without much consequence and the West up in the air until the bitter end.
In the end, though, Wesleyan and Amherst sit at the top yet again. However, they do so with identical 7-5 conference records. That’s a far cry from two teams that went a combined 58-14 over the past three years. The two played each other this weekend, and Wesleyan came into the weekend looking like they were the team in danger of missing the playoffs with a 5-4 record. Then, on Friday Wesleyan won over Amherst and beat Williams beat Hamilton. Entering Saturday the West standings looked like this:
A Saturday sweep by Williams of Hamilton combined with either Amherst or Wesleyan sweeping the other doubleheader would have resulted in the Ephs making the playoffs. Heck, even if Williams split they could have snuck in with an Amherst sweep because the Ephs beat the Cardinals twice. A three-way tie scenario still would have favored the eventual playoff teams, but the point is that even though Wesleyan and Amherst made it back to the playoffs, things were close to going very differently.
Of course, they didn’t go differently. And I feel confident that the Cardinals and Amherst really are the two best teams in the West Division, though the gap has shrunk. They have much better overall records and are still more talented. But the divisional race was awesome to watch unfold in such a tight way. The playoffs don’t start for another 10 days, but we still have a lot of regular season baseball to enjoy before then.
Starting Pitcher Peter Rantz ’16 (Wesleyan)
Rantz clinched the Cardinals’ place in the playoffs by going all eight innings in the first game of the Saturday doubleheader. The ace had struggled his past two weekend starts, losing both games and throwing up a 6.35 ERA in them. Things looked bad as he allowed three runs in the bottom of the first. From there, he turned things on and scattered six hits over the next 7.0 innings without too many problem spots. Holding Amherst scoreless for seven innings is some pretty nifty stuff for the senior, and it is the type of resilient performance we have grown to expect from Wesleyan.
It’s a cliché at this point (see my last sentence about Rantz), but the Cardinals really do seem to have some sort of secret sauce or something for making things happen. They won the series opener for the first time this weekend by hitting four home runs. Then they rallied from that three run deficit to win in extra innings in the second game. That was their second extra inning win in a NESCAC game this year, and they have trailed late in a few of their wins. Marco Baratta ’16 has not slowed down from his scorching start, taking home NESCAC POTW honors and having a OBP of .538. Other big performances included that of first baseman Jordan Farber ’16, who hit four homers in conference and shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 who has been great at the plate again this year. The Cardinals ended up winning the West for the fourth straight year. Now that they are in, the two-time defending champions are the team that no one wants to play.
Centerfielder Cody McCallum ’16 (Tufts)
The senior has carried on the strong tradition of Tufts outfielders with a first name starting with C and a last name starting with Mc, which began with Connor McDavitt ’15. Seriously though, McCallum has been huge for the Jumbos this year, and he was great this weekend. He batted .400 in their four NESCAC games (the Jumbos had to makeup a game against Bates). He also had one RBI in each of them. He leads the league in walks with 25, making him the perfect leadoff hitter. That crazy walk rate is why he has a .455 OBP.
I think the stolen base is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, but this year the NESCAC basically has decided that stealing bases is stupid. The numbers for elite base stealers are way down. Trinity’s Nick Pezella ’16 leads the league with 15 stolen bases. Last year four players had more than that. Just four players are in double digits this year compared to 13 in 2015 (there are two guys at nine and a bunch at seven, though, so a few more should reach that plateau). However, it isn’t just the top guys stealing less. This is a league-wide change. Consider that Wesleyan has led the league with 46 steals this year, and yet five teams (half the league!) had more than that last year. Overall teams have stolen 27.8 percent less bases this year to date than a year ago. That is a huge drop, and while there’s still a lot of games to go, it would take Dee Gordon rediscovering his eligibility and playing the next few weeks for the Wesleyan Cardinals in order to get back to last year’s steal numbers (something that I bet Dee would be happy to do right now). I don’t know whether to give better catchers or slower runners the credit, but the evidence is there that managers had good reason to pull in the reins on their players this year. Teams got caught stealing 120 times last year; this season, already 118.
It’s unfortunate for this trio of schools that they are all in the same state, because when things go bad for all of them we almost have to write about it. Bowdoin, Colby and Bates all finished 4-8, far away from the playoffs. Is baseball harder in Maine? I kid, of course. What killed all of them was their inability to hit. The three teams finished last in the NESCAC in both OPB and SLG. We expected that it was going to be tough sledding for all these teams, and they showed a good amount of fight. The problem going forward is that all of them are graduating a lot of talent. Bates is probably the best positioned for next year in terms of making the playoffs, but in the longer term I like the youngsters on Bowdoin to return the Polar Bears to real prominence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Bates—Sunday 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)
It might sound crass to say it so early in the conference season, but Wesleyan, Amherst and Tufts are all going to make the playoffs. I feel very confident saying that, though I hope that somebody proves me wrong. If that is the case, the most intriguing part of the regular season is seeing who gets that second spot out of the East. Bates has grabbed it the past two seasons, but both years they did it with a less than sterling 7-5 record. So who is it going to be in the second spot in the East this year?
This weekend will go a long way towards sorting that out with the four East Division teams besides Tufts meeting in conference series. Trinity (2-1 in conference) travels to Maine to play Colby who has yet to start their conference slate. Bates (0-2) and Bowdoin (1-2) meet in games that could almost eliminate the series loser from the playoff race. Projecting these two series is difficult, but that is what makes it fun.
As always, keep an eye on the weather too. The fields have taken a beating this week, and while the skies look fairly clear for the weekend, play today could be slightly disrupted.
Three to Watch
1. 1B Chad Martin ’16 (Bowdoin): That Polar Bear offense sputtered against Trinity as Bowdoin lost two of three. Martin has to get on track as the star in the middle of the lineup if Bowdoin is going to do well. He has an OBP. below .300 and a slugging percentage less than .400 so things have not gone for the All-NESCAC Second Teamer. The one silver lining is that he has two home runs, and that is a sign that he is still hitting the ball hard at points. My best guess is that he is trying to do too much righ now because he knows how much Bowdoin relies on him. Soooo, maybe not a good idea to put even more pressure on him, especially since I’m a Bowdoin fan. Ehh, whatever. I believe in Martin, and so should you.
2. IF Connor Reenstierma ’16 (Bates): Another offense that sputtered last weekend: that would the Bates Bobcats. What is killing Bates is not that they don’t have one guy doing great. Brendan Fox ’17 is having a fantastic junior season and is batting well above .400. The problem is that every single other guy is hitting well below their capabilities. Reenstierma is a guy that is great at getting on base. Though his batting average is usually much lower, he excels at working the count. Getting on-base alone might not be enough for Bates to get a good offense this weekend, but it would certainly help a lot. Bates is going to have to grind for everything they get all season, and this is the weekend when the grinding has to happen a lot.
3. P Ethan Rode ’17 (Wesleyan): I’m not paying any attention at all to the West, but there is the potential for one of the underdogs in the West to pull a fast one. Wesleyan is HOT right now winning their past seven games. One of the reasons for that is that Rode has gotten back on track. Things went as bad as they could in his first two appearances. Since then, he has delivered three dynamite starts for the Cardinals. In those three starts he has a 1.28 ERA. That should make other NESCAC teams very worried. Wesleyan’s offense has not fallen off from last season, and the possibility of Rode and Peter Rantz ’16 forming a formidable top of the rotation could spell game over.
Colby vs. Trinity Preview
The Bantams series win last weekend has them thinking playoffs, but Trinity won two of three last year against Bowdoin and still finished well outside the playoff race so don’t put too much stock in that. The Mules have struggled mightily so far this season, and there are real questions about the depth of talent on the roster.
You should know that Soren Hanson ’16 is a two-way stud for Colby, and he has been lights out on the mound with a 0.89 ERA in 20.1 IP. The Mules desperately need somebody else to deliver a quality start . I’m also intrigued with how Colby uses Hanson. Do they start him in the nine inning Friday game or save him for Saturday? I prefer pitching him Game 1 on Saturday since it is much more likely that he is able to go all seven than all nine on Friday. Nothing would be worse for the Mules than for Hanson to throw a gem for most of the game Friday, only for the bullpen to blow it late.
Trinity will probably toss Jed Robinson ’16 on Friday and Anthony Egeln ’18 has solidified that second spot. The third starter last week was Chris Speer ’17, and he is likely to start again. The games could easily hinge on an error by either team, and that favors the Bantams. I want to put my faith in the team from Hartford given the track record of that program, but it still isn’t clear if there is a lot of young talent beyond Brendan Pierce ’18. Even so, Colby is very down this year, and I think the Bantams become the frontrunner to get that second spot.
Prediction: Trinity wins two of three
Bowdoin vs. Bates Preview
I’ve already talked a little bit about how both offenses have struggled this season. That means pitching this weekend entails making no mistakes, ala walking a lot of batters or serving up a meatball in the wrong situation.
In this type of situation I give Bates the advantage because of their more experienced pitchers, but Bowdoin is still capable of throwing two seniors in Harry Ridge ’16 and Michael Staes ’16 that have the stuff to shut down a lineup. The weather in Maine is going to be cold and rainy, and that means pitchers have the advantage. Any fly ball is going to die in the air, not to mention the discomfort hitters will experience at the plate.
Both of these programs are solid, but they have not been able to scratch above that upper-middle class status at any point recently. It doesn’t appear that this year is going to be particularly different, and the first weekends games were downright disturbing. At the same time, a lot of talent remains on both of these squads. Sombody young might step up and make the difference, but my money is on old stalwarts like Rob DiFranco ’16 or Sean Mullaney ’17 to be the biggest stars. Bates has more of those players that have been around the block, and I think they keep themselves in the playoff race with a series win this weekend.
Nothing says “baseball” like six inches of snow, right? Believe it or not, it is spring in the NESCAC. Though we may be trudging through snow and having games canceled because of “inclement weather” (i.e. sudden blizzard in April?!?!), we will be able to see the field by this weekend, and there will be games played on them. The weather can only deprive us of NESCAC baseball (and MLB Opening Day games) for so long.
Braving mercurial weather conditions, the teams played their first of many NESCAC Division series Friday and Saturday (The games between Wesleyan and Colby do not count towards their conference record). While most NESCACs were delaying or postponing weekend matchups, Williams and Middlebury continued to soak up the gorgeous Arizona sun in their first NESCAC West series but have returned to NESCAC turf for the remainder of the season.
Guys making—or remaking—history
Williams’ pitcher Luke Rodino ’17 and Hamilton’s 1B Andrew Haser ’17 did more than make a good first impression in their NESCAC openers.
Rodino threw a complete-game eight-hitter without walking a single batter. Alone, the accomplishment is pretty nice, but if you consider that no other Eph pitcher has done that in 37 games (i.e. 369 days ago), it’s amazing. As a result, Williams defeated rival Middlebury 8-2, improving their record to 5-8 overall and 1-0 in the NESCAC West. And here’s a fun fact for you: the last time Williams did not walk any batters was also thanks to Rodino’s arm.
If neither his NESCAC Player of the Week nod nor his clutch walk-off have sufficiently marked him as a threat at the plate, Andrew Haser’s ’17 school-record three home runs for Hamilton on Friday will certainly do the trick. The hotshot hit his home runs in consecutive innings against the team from Central Massachusetts; he’s racked up five so far this season, just two short of the program’s single-season mark, and 10 in his collegiate career (three away from yet another school record). At this rate, the junior will have no problem shattering those records before he graduates, let alone this year. I guess you could say he’s having a pretty good start to the season.
It’s time to stop thinking about Middlebury as the team that comes in last in NESCAC standings each season and to start applauding their achievements as they come. The Panthers beat Williams in the final two games of a three-game NESCAC West series this weekend, first by virtue of a 2-1 crazy walk-off and then by a 11-4 tally in Saturday’s nightcap. The team has demonstrated noticeable improvement across the board. John Luke ’16 is Middlebury’s comeback kid: he seems to be making up for three years of mediocre hitting, as he now leads the team and most players in the NESCAC with his .432/.462/.595 slashline. Meanwhile, Jake Turtel ’18 has developed his skills all around, earning the starting 2B position after not playing much at all last season and racking up a .325/.372/.375 combination at bat. Former 2B Brendan Donohue ’18 has proven himself to be quite a wild card, moving around the diamond to LF and even to pitcher and maintaining his hitting reliability with a .320/.393/.400 slashline. Middlebury only committed two errors in three games (compared to Williams’ seven), and that solid command of the field is no doubt a result of diligent team growth.
Middlebury should really be excited by their arsenal of talented rookies. With speed and a strong arm, Sam Graf ’19 is an asset to the outfield with only one error in 12 games, while Spencer Tonies ’19 is making a big impact at shortstop (.441/.474/.559). Behind the plate, Phil Bernstein ’19 has been a great defensive force in the weekend’s games. Their progress may not mean that much right now, but in the long run, investment in the younger players will result in a more competitive team. No, the Panthers aren’t going to take the NESCAC West anytime soon, but if they keep up the good work, they may break free from their cycle of disappointment. Here’s looking at you, kids.
P Cole Dreyfuss ’16 (HAM)
Taking the mound after Hamilton’s 18-8 defeat against Amherst, Cole Dreyfuss ’16 ruled all seven innings of Saturday’s Game One. His imposing two-hitter force not only surprised Amherst but also made them visibly nervous. The senior captain held Amherst hitless for one stretch of 5.2 innings. With this victory, Dreyfuss earned his team-leading third win of the season, which raises his career record to 12-8 (third place on the team’s career wins list).
Although Amherst came out on top in the weekend’s series, winning two of the three games—albeit that the last one stretched into extra innings—Hamilton definitely showed both the flustered Jeffs and the entire NESCAC that the Continentals won’t be beaten without a hard fight. And most of that tenacity this weekend can be credited to Dreyfuss’s fantastic pitching.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The Polar Bears’ early success was due to either hidden talent or mediocre competition, and right now, it’s looking like the latter. There’s no denying that Ben Osterholtz ’19 (0.66 ERA), Connor Rooney (1.13 ERA), and Harry Ridge (2.18 ERA) are good pitchers; Michael Staes ’16 (3.71 ERA) isn’t throwing poorly either. But as a team Bowdoin has only managed to secure a 4.28 ERA and a concerning 5.16 K/G, and when it comes to the NESCAC, that’s just ok. The power we saw—or thought we saw—during spring training has simmered out: it was all relative to the competition the Polar Bears’ faced rather than the competition they would ultimately see in conference games. Luckily, the team has a solid group of pitchers to continually develop over the season.
No one expects a bottom team to suddenly play a super competitive game against reigning champions, but the Mules had nothing in their favor during their brutal 21-1 loss to Wesleyan on Saturday.
The Mules are hardly poor hitters; with a .312 AVG, they are relatively average in the NESCAC and actually have fewer strikeouts than any other team. At the end of the day, the team just had the misfortune of going up against Peter Rantz ’16 and Nick Miceli ’17, so their failings at the plate are understandable. Determining the efficacy of their defense is more nuanced. In the first game of the DH, Colby had three errors compared to Wesleyan’s zero; in the second, the Mules had six errors compared to the Cardinals’ one. Considering that their .956 FPCT is identical to Amherst’s, it’s hard to say that sloppy defense is the sole culprit for the Mules poor start. Regardless, allowing 21 runs in nine innings—11 in one inning alone—isn’t the work of a stable squad.
Why did Colby give up so many hits? Last weeks’ Pitcher of the Week Soren Hanson ’16 put in a solid 6.1 innings in Game One, holding the Cardinals to just three runs. However, Game Two was basically a pitcher party to which seven different guys showed up. Right now, the team has a collective 9.35 ERA, and when you’re going down the roster for teammates to pitch in your game, you’re not looking at a drastic improvement. Put that ERA up against the most dangerous hitters in the team, and you’ve got Game 2. And that’s just ugly. The Mules can unquestionably improve their work both at the plate and in the field, but their efforts won’t make up for poor pitching. Putting together a more reliable rotation behind Hanson—one that will get your through DH weekends—needs to be Colby’s focus right now.
Amherst’s music selection
You know something’s really bad it the NSN announcer is making fun of it. In this case, he was begging Amherst to turn off the music. Sir, I feel your pain.
My tastes may be limited to 90s rock, but I can say without hesitation that whoever made the playlist for the Amherst-Hamilton series was completely out of their mind. Why would you ever switch back and forth between bubble-gum country and EDM? Or better yet, why would you ever—EVER—play “Let It Go” from Frozen during a baseball game? What happened to good old-fashioned Jock Jams?
Amherst DJ, I have quite an expansive knowledge of said Jock Jams and appropriate pump-up music and would be happy to be of assistance to you. But seriously—what were you thinking?
STOCK WAY DOWN
Amherst-Hamilton’s nightcap was delayed due to torrential rainfall. All of Sunday’s games were postponed due to inclement weather. And the last two days I’ve woken up to snowfall.
Get your act together, Nature. Spring is for baseball, not building snow forts.
The NESCAC regular season finally starts next Friday after several weeks of spring training. Being that the majority of teams have yet to face a NESCAC opponent, the only taste we’ve had of the competition this season has been through non-conference face-offs. With opening weekend looming, it’s time for us to publish our current power rankings. Our opinions for each time are determined by statistics from last season and this year’s spring break. Check back early next week to see our predictions for how the teams will perform in the NESCAC standings this season.
Amherst (8-1, 0-0)
Amherst continues to dominate both the diamond and the NESCAC standings. The mound has already received accolades for its strong start, with pitcher Jackson Volle ’17 being named the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week, and the team from Central Mass also has Riley Streit ’16 to thank for their success. Together, with ERAs of 0.64 and 1.69, Volle and Streit have carried a defense that has yet to disappoint. In the field, senior catcher/DH Connor Gunn ’16 and 1B/DH Dave Cunningham ’16 are pure dynamite, producing 56 and 51 putouts and FPCTs of 0.969 and 1.00. On the offense, a core force of Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Anthony Spina ’17 and Ariel Kenney ’18 continue to put power behind the bat, helping the team hit a .350 AVG in nine games. For now, Amherst looks like a powerhouse without any loose screws, but how much they can sustain this into the season still needs to be determined.
Amherst hosts Hamilton next weekend in their first NESCAC matchup of the season.
Wesleyan (10-3, 0-0)
Placing in second might come as a shock for the Cardinals, who’ve dominated the NESCAC for two years running. Indeed, the Cardinals are using any doubt as personal motivation. Now, Wesleyan isn’t struggling to deliver, per say, but they certainly need to sharpen up on the mound and in the field if they want to begin to resemble the championship-winning team they have been in the last two seasons. After 13 games, the Cardinals hold a relatively horrific ERA of 6.14, compared to last season’s final of 2.70. This places them near the bottom of current NESCAC standings. While Nick Miceli ’17 has held his own on the bump, boasting a 1.71 ERA with 19 strike outs, Peter Rantz ’16 is showing a bit more inconsistency. In yesterday’s game against the Coast Guard, he allowed 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, and three walks in 4.2 innings. Hopefully Rantz isn’t getting anxious with the added responsibility of being the Cardinals ace. Wesleyan needs to provide their pitchers with confidence and security in the field in order to properly support pitchers’ efforts. Miceli, Matt Jeye ’18 and O’Sullivan are team standouts but cannot raise the entire defense out of its average-ranking playing.
Wesleyan is just a little rough the edges as the team whips pitchers into champion shape, but once they figure that out, they will be even more threatening to the opposition. After all, Wesleyan still stands out as the biggest hitters in the NESCAC. Lead by a dangerous trio of Miceli, Eric Jones ’16, and Guy Davidson ’16, the Cardinals hold a fearsome .373 AVG with 32 doubles, 14 triples, six homeruns, and 109 RBIs.
Bowdoin (8-3, 0-0)
The Polar Bears have definitely surprised us with their success so far—and are obviously playing far more competitively than their opponents in the East Division. Their 14-8 loss to Hamilton revealed that there remains weakness in the pitching rotation. Brandon Lopez ’19 threw the most innings with 2.2, in which he allowed 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, and only struck out two batters. Meanwhile, Ben Osterholtz ’19 and Michael Staes ’16 have stood out early, with a combined 1.29 ERA (helping the team reach 3.71 ERA), but until we see more of their pitching, it’s difficult to determine if Bowdoin’s success as of late is due to true Polar Bear power or just mediocre competition. The Polar Bears travel to Hartford, Conn. next weekend to face Trinity.
Tufts (5-3, 0-0)
The Jumbos had a frustrating start to the season: their initial losses happened not because the team isn’t capable but because they just weren’t producing like we know they can. The team has improved, but they have yet to demonstrate the batting power we saw last season behind stars like Tommy O’Hara ’18. Right now, the team’s fielding and pitching stats are pretty average, consistently placing them right in the middle of NESCAC standings. In eight games, the team has averaged .285 at the plate, mainly due to the tremendous effort of Harry Brown ’17, Matt Moser ’16, and Cody McCallum ’16, who have consistently performed admirably up at bat with averages of .450, .353, and .324. However, the Jumbos future is getting brighter: though O’Hara had a slow start to his sophomore season, he has drastically improved his batting edge in Tufts’ last two games, bringing his batting average up to .303. Clearly, the Jumbos are just taking some time to get back their stride. They have until next Saturday, their first NESCAC competition against Bates, to tighten up their loose ends.
Hamilton (9-5, 0-0)
While Hamilton lost to very beatable squads during its two week stretch in Florida, it’s clear that the Continentals have concrete chemistry, especially amongst the junior class. The team’s 14-8 victory against Bowdoin was a big confidence booster too. The Continentals definitely can brag about their performance at bat: they have a teamwide .370 AVG. Hamilton has produced 28 doubles, five triples, three homeruns, 78 RBIs and a beautiful .457 OBP, largely thanks to juniors Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, Brett Mele ’17, Kenny Collins ’17, and Andrew Haser ’17. The mound is also dominated by underclassmen. Max Jones ’19 (1.59 ERA), Dan DePaoli ’18 (2.60 ERA) and Spencer Vogelbach ’18 (3.00 ERA) comprise a growing force on the mound, amassing to a team ERA of 3.71. The trio, in addition to veteran Cole Dreyfuss ’16 (5.50 ERA), creates a dependable rotation, but anything beyond that remains a mystery that Hamilton needs to solve quickly.
Some early experimentation in position assignments (i.e. Haser and Andrew Watson’19 on the mound) suggests that the team has needed to make up for unanticipated empty holes in the roster, but the problem is only temporary. CF Chris Collins ’17, 3B Dean Rosenberg ’18 and Finlay O’Hara ’17 have missed several games due to minor injuries, but they’ll be fresh and prepared for Hamilton’s games against Amherst next weekend. The return of Collins and Rosenberg will especially add more power to Hamilton’s already impressive batting lineup.
Trinity (5-6, 0-0)
Throughout spring training, Trinity has been a team that hasn’t played consistently in games: essentially the Bantams win and lose back and forth, and typically by a substantial number of runs. Overall, the team is equally average in all areas. What’s most surprising, however, is the rough start of Bantam veteran pitcher Jed Robinson ’16. After two starts, Robinson holds a 5.84 ERA, and the other pitchers with the same number of starts – namely Anthony Elgein, Jr. ’18, McLane Hill ’18 and Nicholas Fusco ’18 – aren’t doing much better with ERAs of 3.97, 5.87 and 10.38. The good news is Fusco and Robinson have the track record to think they will rebound. While rookie Erik Mohl ’19 showed promise against Plattsburgh St., pitching six scoreless innings, he also racked up a 2:4 K:BB ratio over 7.1 IP. The Bantams still haven’t gotten things going in the way they are capable of.
Bates (5-7, 0-0)
With their current 0.417 win percentage, the Bobcats are a shadow of the team that made it to the playoffs last season. You’d be hard pressed to find a real strength in the team at this point, but it is clear that Bates desperately needs to improve at bat. Their hitting is weak with a .258 BA, and when you’re losing most of your games to average competition by three or fewer runs, that is a huge problem. Brendan Fox ’17 (.457 BA) is the strongest at the plate with four doubles, one triple, one homerun, 12 RBIs, and five walks. However, against NESCAC opposition, the Bobcats need others to step up.
Middlebury (1-1, 0-0)
The Panthers are at a disadvantage when it comes to accurately ranking teams, as they’ve only played two games so far. After coming in dead last in the conference last year with a 4-24 record, Middlebury needs improvement in a host of areas. Nevertheless, in their first two outings, they demonstrated stability and potential for growth, even defeating Bates in the second game of their doubleheader. The currently success of the pitching rotation comes from freshmen, which is somewhat concerning in a conference with much more experienced pitchers. Colby Morris ’19 holds a 3.00 ERA from his one start. The bullpen, meanwhile, which includes yet another rookie Conor Himstead ’19, has produced five scoreless innings, showing some promise for future matchups. Middlebury gets a nod in our rankings because of room for correction, but realistically, their rank is more due to the current deficiencies of other teams.
Colby (2-8, 0-0)
Right now, Colby’s greatest success has been their average batting average (.317 BA). Seniors Dan Csaplar ’16 and Tyler Starks ’17 lead the pack with averages of .444 and .375, and while they don’t get much distance for their hits, they have been reliable starters. However, the Mules can’t rely on decent batting to make up for sub-par fielding and pitching if they want to win conference games. On the bump, Colby needs to immediately improve its 10.31 ERA if they want to improve in rankings. Dan Schoenfeld ’18 and Robert Donohue ’17 are the steadiest of pitchers, and their ERAs are 4.76 and 9.00. The Mules have had more with Tommy Forese ’16 and Soren Hanson ’16, but they need more than those two. Colby faces Wesleyan next weekend in a non-conference series, and perhaps a week of intense focus and the home field advantage will amount to some good competition.
Williams (1-5, 0-0)
The Ephs have stumbled out of the gates. In their six games, Williams was only able to finish their first of the season with a victory. At the end of the day, the team has everything working against them. On the mound, the Ephs clearly need a lot of work: the team bears a pretty dreadful 12.63 ERA, despite the 1.50 ERA held by Luke Rodino ’17. Yet, the below-average pitchers are assisted by disappointing fielders with a 0.931 FPCT. Hitting is where the Ephs show the greatest strength right now, with a decent 0.345 AVG. Ironically, Williams possesses of two of the best hitters in the conference right now, Kellen Hatheway ’19 (.520) and Jack Roberts ’17 (.500). While power at the plate is a good start for the Ephs, they’ll be eaten alive by the entire NESCAC unless they pull themselves together defensively. The team has talent, and I don’t think they will stay in the cellar, but they have to find answers on the mound.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 2015 NESCAC baseball season was one for the history books: from a star-studded senior class to a handful of record-breaking underclassmen claiming the spotlight, the players made an impact not only on their own teams but in the entire NESCAC conference. With the season underway, it’s time to review last year’s hits and misses and predict what we can expect from this year’s competition.
But ICYMI, for any reason (like me—they don’t play baseball in London, where I was last spring!), here’s a rundown of the biggest storylines from the 2015 season:
Wesleyan, Wesleyan, Wesleyan: the Continual Rise of the NESCAC Underdog
The Cardinals made history in 2014 when the underdogs grabbed the NESCAC Championship for the first time; they stunned us yet again in 2015 by holding on to the title in a nail-biting match-up against longtime rival Amherst in the final. It was wild. If you missed it (guilty), you really missed out.
Wesleyan just had everything in their arsenal and all the odds in their favor. The Cardinals didn’t graduate a single hitter after the 2014 campaign, and in 2015 the team ultimately produced the program’s record-breaking 31 wins. Offensively, Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15, Andrew Yin ’15, current Cubs’ minor leaguer Donnie Cimino ’15 and Jonathan Dennett ’15 all produced in their final season. In the field Wesleyan was led by a trio of All-NESCAC performers: Cimino (CF), Goodwin-Boyd (1B) and Guy Davidson ’16 (SS), all of whom were eager to build off the momentum they developed during their summer with the Cape Cod League. Together, the trio helped produce the strongest defense in the NESCAC.
But the talent didn’t stop there: on the mound Wesleyan was a serious force to be reckoned with. Returning starters Nick Cooney ’15, a 2014 All-NESCAC selection, and Gavin Pittore ’16 both pitched in the Cape Cod League in preparation for their season. Sam Elias ’15, who competed in the esteemed New England Collegiate Baseball League the summer before last, was honored with the 2015 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year Award after accumulating a 7.78 K/9 ratio and 1.53 ERA over 76.1 IP. Elias turned into an ace, doing double duty as a starter (seven starts) and closer (four saves), and his 1.03 BB/9 rate was among the league’s best as well. Pete Rantz ’16 rounded out the Cardinals’ dominant rotation, and has big shoes to fill after the graduation of two rotation mates and Pittore’s early departure.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend: the Unstoppable Odenwaelder
At 6’5″ and 225 lbs., Mike Odenwaelder ’16 is the type of baseball player you used to look at and wonder why he wasn’t playing Division-I ball, or even pro. After all, in his first two seasons alone, the player was crowned the 2013 NESCAC Rookie of the Year and 2014 NESCAC Player of the Year and selected for the NCAA Division III Gold Glove Team, the D3Baseball.com All-American team and First Team All-New England.
The real question going into the 2015 season was whether or not Odenwaelder could continue to surpass expectations. He returned to the Jeffs last year fresh off his most successful season. In 2014, he hit .400 with six HRs and 31 RBI, posting a jaw-dropping slugging percentage of .607. On the mound he had a 1.74 ERA over 20.2 IP. Though the Amherst star didn’t pitch for the majority of 2015 because of a shoulder injury, he continued to dominate the NESCAC with his powerful hitting. By the end of the 2015 season, Odenwaelder had racked up a total of 118 games, during which he developed a career batting avg. of .372 with 16 homers, 86 RBI, and 39 stolen bases.
Tufts’ Secret Weapon: Tommy O’Hara ’18
O’Hara transitioned from “rookie” to “phenom” the moment he stepped onto the Jumbo diamond. The freshman third baseman was Tufts’ best hitter on their trip to Virginia and North Carolina. He had an incredible .564 OBP in 42 at-bats with six walks. But the question no one wanted to ask remained in the minds of Tufts’ NESCAC opponents: can a first-year really transform a team?
The answer was a thousand times, yes. Tufts’ offense was undoubtedly questionable at the beginning of the season and definitely needed bolstering if it was to make it to the NESCAC playoffs. O’Hara single-handedly delivered. The freshman infielder led the team with a .405 batting average, .518 on-base percentage and .603 slugging percentage. He also hit a team-high 14 doubles while registering four home runs, 42 runs scored and 42 RBIs.
Oh, and did I mention he was First Team All-NESCAC as well as NESCAC Rookie of the Year? I guess you could say he’s kind of a big deal.
Hamilton’s Franchise: Joe Jensen ’15
The former three-season athlete (football, track, and baseball) gave the Continents serious bragging rights last year, breaking records both on the diamond and off.
In March of last year Jensen outplayed the lofty expectations set out for him after a successful junior year in which he hit .398/.495/.430 and a sophomore campaign during which he set school records with 137 at bats, 30 runs scored and 29 stolen bases. He was in the top three in the NESCAC in batting average (.525), on-base percentage (.587), and slugging percentage (.775) at the end of the month. His trip to Florida was probably his shining moment in the 2015 season, as he had multiple hits in all six games. While his numbers dropped off once the Continentals returned home, he remained one of the best hitters and defensive outfielders in the NESCAC.
Jensen received NESCAC All-Conference honors last spring for the second time, earning second-team recognition after leading the league with 24 stolen bases and a gaudy .450 on-base percentage. His .398 batting average ranked third in the NESCAC.
“His ability to affect the game both defensively and offensively with his speed is something that sets him apart from his peers, both on the field and as a professional prospect,” Hamilton coach Tim Byrnes said following Jensen’s senior season. “Joe is a true take-away center fielder with a plus arm for this level. He’s able to use his plus speed to beat out infield singles, stretch singles into doubles and steal bases at will.”
Bowdoin’s Starting Pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 (the NESCAC’s Best Non-Cardinal Pitcher)
Van Zant closed out a fantastic career for the Polar Bears by recording one of the finest seasons in program history; he tied the program’s single-season record for wins by going 7-1, including a 5-0 mark in conference games, with a 1.95 earned run average. That some rainy weather allowed Van Zant to pitch and win five NESCAC games is a miracle. Nobody had started five conference games since two players did so during the 2013 season, and Van Zant’s five wins in conference games is a NESCAC record. His complete game shutout over Wesleyan, which ended in a 1-0 victory for the Polar Bears, made him 6-0 overall against NESCAC teams.
Van Zant’s career amounted to 17 win (tied for third in school history) and 168 career strikeouts (ranking him fifth all-time at Bowdoin). Van Zant was named a second-team selection for the All-NESCAC and D3baseball.com teams.
Though Van Zant ultimately lost the Pitcher of the Year nod to his top rival, his remarkable senior season no doubt gave the conference a difficult decision to make.
So with that in mind, here are some of the biggest questions you should have as the 2016 season unfolds:
The Pitcher Problem: Who will take the mount in place of former starters?
Year after year, graduation and the pros inevitably lead to casualties on teams’ rosters, but the damage inflicted this year, especially on the mound, is shocking. Reigning champs Wesleyan lost three—Elias, Pittore, Cooney—of their four top pitchers, leaving Rantz, who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015, to pick up the pieces. After losing Van Zant, Bowdoin has to redesign its pitching plan, and Trinity loses ace Sean Meekins ’15, (3-1, 2.01 ERA, 10.48 K/9, 44.2 IP). Tufts lost Tom Ryan ’15 and Willie Archibad ’15. Amherst lost John Cook ’15. Even Middlebury lost Eric Truss ’15, who finished 9th in the NESCAC.
The pitching lineups of Hamilton, Williams, Bates and Colby appear unscathed, but time has yet to tell how the returning starters will mesh with the young up-and-comers on the roster.
While the teams’ are grateful for the underclassmen they set as starters last season, they still need to figure out how inexperienced pitchers will contribute to NESCAC competition during spring training. The clock’s ticking.
The Odenwaelder Inheritance: Who will fill the shoes left in centerfield?
As anticipated, Odenwaelder was picked by the Baltimore Orioles in the 16th Round (493 overall) of the 2015 Major League Draft. But anticipation didn’t seem to lead to effective planning: Odenwaelder’s incredible talent overshadowed several, if not most, of the other Jeffs, and has consequently left a gaping hole to be filled.
Thankfully, Amherst returns several promising team members, including Harry Roberson ’18, he finished his breakout freshman year with an OBP of .429. Yet, while Roberson is unquestionably a standout hitter, it’s unknown if he can carry the team like Odenwaelder. Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 and Connor Gunn’16 have promising stats, but it’s unlikely Amherst will be the same offensive dynamite as last spring.
Nevertheless, Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, so all hope is not lost for the Jeffs.
The End of an Era? How will reigning NESCAC champs Wesleyan compete against the competition after losing most of their starters?
Elias, Cooney, Goodwin-Boyd, Dennett and Yin are off the field and into the real world of post-college life. Pittore signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cimino is with the Cubs organization. Guys essential to the Wesleyan machine, and part of the epic 2015 class of athletes at Wesleyan, are no longer a part of its construction, and for the two-time reigning NESCAC champions, that’s pretty frightening.
Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 had a notable 2015 season and is back to up his game, but there are very few sure bets in the Cardinals’ lineup. On the flip side of that, though, the early returns on Wesleyan’s shiny, new lineup are darn right impressive. The Cardinals are hitting .386/.469/.600 as a squad through eight games down in Arizona. Gotta love that thin Tucson air.
Wesleyan has been so successful because it has been a complete, practiced team—the players worked for years to mesh together and become the reigning champions. There are a lot of gaping holes in the lineup now, and it’s unlikely the Cardinals will be able to fill them all this season. We’re looking at a dramatically different team than those we’ve grow accustomed to seeing come out of close games victorious again and again.
So, with Wesleyan in a sort of limbo, who will take up the mantle in the West? Amherst lost its beloved star to MLB, but still packs a ton of talent. Middlebury and Hamilton have promising players, but it’s unlikely that they are ready to step up to the plate. Williams has been in a sort of middle tier limbo for awhile now. I’d wager that Hamilton may have an inside track on a playoff spot; the team lost only one starting player going into this year, guaranteeing a solid lineup.
The Spring of Tufts? Do the Jumbos have what it takes to win the NESCAC East this season?
The Jumbos aren’t without any losses: their lineup will have to make do without big contributors like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. However, Tufts’ fantastic pitchers Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 give them a solid baseline on the field, and in a re-building season for many teams, that is a real boon. And then there’s O’Hara. Tommy O’Hara earned D3baseball.com Preseason All-America accolades following a tremendous freshman campaign last spring.
By putting faith in underclassmen—and phenomenal ones at that—early on, the Jumbos have outsmarted other NESCAC teams struggling to pull together competitive lineups.
Chemistry on the Continentals: Is Hamilton the next NESCAC powerhouse?
Hamilton lost just one starter from the lineup, and the strength of the pitching rotation returns.
Even though the Continentals will play without Alex Pachella ’15 or JJ Lane ’15, co-captain Cole Dreyfuss ’16 stood out as the real pitching MVP for the Continentals last spring. Dreyfuss assembled a 5-2 record in seven starts and struck out 41 batters. He ended up third in the conference with a 1.89 earned run average in 47.2 innings.
Overall, the rotation is promising: hard-throwing right-hander Spencer Vogelbach ’18 was the No. 4 starter in 2015 but should be in the weekend rotation this season. Vogelbach went 4-1 with one save and was sixth in the NESCAC with a 2.25 ERA, averaging 9.90 strikeouts per nine innings and fanning a total of 44 batters in 40 innings, but with the propensity to get wild at times. Last season, Finlay O’Hara ’17 also emerged as a versatile arm, earning a 2-2 record and two saves. F. O’Hara struck out 28 hitters and walked just five in 28.2 innings. Depth in the bullpen is added by Dan DePaoli ’18, who fanned 22 batters in 22.2 innings. Charlie Lynn ’18 and Mike Borek ’18 provide depth in the bullpen.
Offensively, Hamilton has fostered a dangerous core group of juniors in twins Kenny and Chris Collins ’17, designated hitter Andrew Haser ’17 and outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17. Kenny Collins, one of this year’s captains, finished with 32 hits in 102 at-bats for a .314 average and scored 21 runs, while hitting six doubles and three triples. He was fourth in the NESCAC with 16 stolen bases and represented the Wellsville Nitros in the 2015 New York Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game. Chris Collins, meanwhile, hit .309 (30-97), cracked six doubles and stole 14 bases. Haser showed great improvement last season after having an OBP below .300 in 2014. To finish off the group, Wolfsberg developed his skills in the California Collegiate League last summer after finishing in fourth in the NESCAC with a .396 batting average (36-for-91) in 2015, smacking nine doubles, three triples and four homers and driving in 25 runs. The outfielder posted a .692 slugging percentage and a .449 on-base percentage.
Second baseman Zack Becker ’16 also proved to be an incredible offensive player last season, rebounding after a disastrous sophomore campaign. He was eighth in the conference with a .365 batting average (27-for-74) and enjoyed his best season at Hamilton with five doubles and a pair of round-trippers to go with an on-base percentage of .447.
In just two weeks, the season will begin in full force. While you can never really be sure what’s going to happen in baseball, it’s certain that these questions will significantly linger throughout the spring.
Hey kids, do you want to become a professional baseball player? Joining a NESCAC baseball team is the way to go given recent events. Wesleyan pitcher Gavin Pittore ’16 just signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers, making him the fourth NESCAC player to be either drafted or signed by an MLB team this year. Next week we will have an in-depth feature on the progress of those NESCAC players who have already begun playing professional baseball, but for now let’s look at Pittore and how he ended up receiving a $105,500 signing bonus.
If we back up 18 months, the idea of Pittore signing with a major league team was laughable. Entering his sophomore year he was fighting to get a spot in the rotation, but he was blocked by more established starters. Given that he had a 3.21 ERA and had allowed 18 walks in 28 innings as a freshman, he didn’t scream breakout candidate. Through his first four outings in 2014 Pittore had a 8.73 ERA over 11.1 IP, but he still started the conference season in the weekend rotation. From that point on Pittore was an absolute horse for the Cardinals. Over his last 114 innings in a Wesleyan uniform, Pittore had a 1.45 ERA and struck out 119 batters vs. only 31 walks.
Even though he emerged as a stud for the Cardinals, his performance at Wesleyan didn’t necessarily signal a professional future. Pittore never made the All-NESCAC First Team, and he had only one appearance on the All-NESCAC Second Team this year. (Brief tangent. The All-NESCAC teams have a combined five pitchers on them vs. 19 position players. How does that make sense? Give pitchers more spots; they deserve them.)After all, it was fellow Cardinal Sam Elias ’15, and not Pittore, who took home Pitcher of the Year honors in the NESCAC this season. Given the success that Elias and Nick Cooney ’15 also had pitching at Wesleyan in the past two years, it is hard to extricate how much of Pittore’s low ERA came courtesy of the elite defense behind him.
Not until this summer did Pittore really break onto the radar of scouts. Last summer he spent the entire season with the Harwich Mariners but pitched only sparingly. He showed up at the open Cape League tryout this year hoping for the best and got a temporary contract with the Bourne Braves. The rest, as they say, is history. After pitching almost exclusively as a starter at Wesleyan, Pittore became a reliever for the Braves and immediately flourished in the role. In 17 innings, he did not allow a single earned run and had 17 strikeouts in those innings. At the All-Star game in front of a multitude of scouts, Pittore flashed a 92-94 MPH fastball, impressing all in attendance. Do not underestimate the role of that All-Star game in him signing either. As far back as mid-June Pittore started talking to teams about potentially signing and foregoing his final year at Wesleyan, but Pittore says that only in the past week did he begin to talk to the Dodgers specifically.
In order to get him to leave Wesleyan, the Dodgers offered him that big bonus. The bonus is important given the low salaries for minor league players, but Pittore has someone to lean on for advice: former teammate Donnie Cimino ’15 who was drafted in the June draft. The two have talked regularly about Cimino’s experiences in the minor leagues, and Cimino has been able to offer advice. Though he is hardly a veteran since he was drafted in June, seeing Cimino adapt to the minor leagues told Pittore he could also make the jump. Yet in the end Pittore says that Cimino didn’t influence his decision. Pittore is still trying to figure out how exactly he will get his Wesleyan degree, but he is hoping to do it over two fall semesters as soon as possible.
Even though last summer was not a great one for him statistically, Pittore attributes a lot of his success to his time on the Mariners. “Being around such advanced baseball guys like Cape guys is huge for development and I think that’s what did it for me.” He was able to learn a lot about how to be a be a better pitcher from his teammates and coaches instead of just throwing the ball hard . Of course, spending all that time concentrating on baseball also helped his velocity. After sitting at 90 MPH for a long time, Pittore now throws consistently in the low to mid 90s. At 6’3″ and 200 pounds, he has the frame to throw in the mid 90s once he spends some more time on a professional level weight lifting program. He has also reworked his wind-up so that he now turns his body to the side more which hides the ball from the batter longer. That deception may be even more important than the few MPH he has added. While the fastball is his best pitch right now, Pittore will have to work on having one knockout secondary pitch also if he wants to be able to progress through the minors as a reliever.
Just quickly keep in mind also the role of geography in this story. Being from Massachusetts allowed Pittore to attend the league tryouts in 2014 and 2015. He could sign a 10 day contract knowing he would be able to land in another New England summer league if things didn’t work out. If Pittore is from say Oklahoma, it is unlikely he ever pitches in the Cape League. And without that exposure, there is no way that he signs with a major league team. That isn’t to denigrate his accomplishments, but rather is an acknowledgment of all the factors that came together to make it possible
While this obviously is not the central focus at the moment, Pittore leaving is devastating for the back-to-back NESCAC champions Wesleyan. All three of their weekend starters from 2015 (Pittore, Cooney, and Elias) are no longer on the roster, and the only remaining pitcher with significant experience is Peter Rantz ’16. Behind Rantz, no pitcher threw 25 innings last season so the Cardinals will need to rely on someone like Ethan Rode ’17 making a massive jump in 2016. The lineup loses top performers like Cimino and Andrew Yin ’15. A three-peat will require a lot to go right in Middletown.
For Pittore, NESCAC baseball is in the past as he makes the jump to the pros. He is done pitching on the Cape too and will leave Monday to go to Arizona for a physical with the Dodgers. He might try to meet up with Cimino who is playing for the Cubs affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League. Beyond that, Pittore is still unsure of where the Dodgers will place him in the minors. The road to the majors, or even the high minor leagues, is not an easy one. Most don’t make it, but given that Pittore is still improving, it is impossible to write him off. Nobody saw him being in this position a few months ago. Congrats to Gavin and we wish him the best.
What an incredible weekend of NESCAC baseball. From Friday afternoon until Sunday evening, the boys left it all out on the field. Every game offered drama and intrigue right up until the end. In six of the seven games played at last weekend’s NESCAC Championship, the tying run was at-bat or on-base when the final out was made. Stellar pitching performances were the norm, but there was plenty of going yard, too. At some point I lost track of how many diving catches had been made because it seemed like there was at least one every other inning. All in all, nobody left Nashua, NH without some moment where their team was firing on all cylinders.
In the end, the Wesleyan Cardinals were again the last team left standing as they captured their second consecutive NESCAC title. Though it ended just as most expected it to, the tournament was an absolute nail-biter. The final game between Amherst and Wesleyan was one of the wildest baseball games I have watched at any level. Consider that Wesleyan entered the ninth down one run with the bottom of their lineup coming up and Amherst ace John Cook ’15 on the mound. Consider that Ethan Rode ’17, the winning pitcher, had thrown two innings since Wesleyan’s spring break trip before he took the mound in the 11th. Consider that the Cardinals had to escape bases loaded jams in back-to-back innings just to get to the 12th inning.
The Cardinals came into Sunday feeling comfortable in their one game advantage over Amherst, but just as in 2014, Wesleyan lost the first game of the day to set up a deciding final game. Entering the Bottom of the seventh, Wesleyan looked like they were in control up 2-0 with Peter Rantz ’16 allowing only two hits through six innings. Then Mike Odenwaelder ’16 hit a solo homer to lead off the inning. Whatever, Wesleyan still had the lead. They just needed to get out of the inning…
Then suddenly ecstasy for Amherst as the above Sam Ellinwood ’18 homer put the Jeffs up by one. Yet not one person in the Wesleyan dugout thought they were going to lose that game for a moment. According to captain Donnie Cimino ’15, ” There was no doubt in any of our minds. We are such a close team and have been through many victories and losses.” Pitcher Gavin Pittore ’16 echoed that sentiment citing the leadership of the seniors on this team. The Cardinals never stopped believing that they would find a way, any way. And in the ninth, when Amherst gave an inch, the Cardinals jumped. When Cook hit Ellis Schaefer ’17 with one out, Manager Mark Woodworth put on the hit and run for Andrew Yin ’15 and Schaefer. On an outside fastball, Yin just stuck his bat out and floated one down the right field line. Schaefer raced all the way around and the game was tied. Wesleyan would go on to win in 12 innings, and for a second consecutive year they piled out of the dugout for a victory dogpile.
If there is one characteristic to describe these Cardinals from the past two years, it is grittiness. After the Cards grabbed the 2014 NESCAC Championship, we wrote, “Wesleyan won games by never backing down in big spots.” The same is true for 2015, of course. The final game on Sunday was the perfect representation of a team that consistently finds a way to win close games. That it came against Amherst, their longtime rival and formerly a team that would regularly beat down on Wesleyan makes it all the sweeter for them. This team loves to show their confidence and celebrates with a swagger. At this point, they know they are special and want more. Pittore says a repeat NESCAC championship was just the beginning. In the 150th year of Wesleyan baseball, the Cards are hoping to add some more hardware to the University trophy case. Pittore says, “We’ve made it our mission not to settle. We know we have a special team and anything short of a World Series appearance is a disappointment. Our goal is to make Wesleyan University team 150 a team to remember.”
Now for a quick Stock Report.
Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 (Wesleyan)
This is a Stock Down and then back Up in one weekend for Davidson. Because when you go 2-17 through 99 percent of the weekend in the three hole, you definitely can’t say you had a great weekend overall. However, Davidson made all of that go away with one huge swing to hit the eventual game winning home run in the top of the 12th. With Odenwaelder on the mound for the first time all season for Amherst, Davidson led off the 12th thinking one thing only: fastball. That was what he got and boy did Davidson not miss. The home run was a no doubter as soon as it left the bat. Sitting fastball for the first pitch of the inning was the right move all the way, but it is also easy in a situation like that to get too excited when you get your pitch and swing out of your shoes. Davidson stayed calm and delivered a NESCAC title with it.
Though the majority of this article is concentrating on Wesleyan and their victory, don’t forget how close Amherst came to the win. On Sunday they were eager to avenge their regular season sweep and loss in the second round of the tournament to the Cardinals. The knock on Amherst the last two years is that they haven’t been able to win the close games, but that was not the case this weekend, the final game notwithstanding. They got great pitching performances from guys up and down the roster from Sam Schneider ’18 to Keenan Szulik ’16. Their defense, long a problem, was good all weekend. They came as close as possible as you can to winning a league title, and they didn’t even have players like Odenwaelder and Andrew Vandini ’16 hit all that well. The Jeffs are heading to New York for their regional and should be able to make some noise.
Amherst Base Running
Of all the chances Amherst had to win (of which there were many) that final game, the bottom of the 10th was perhaps their best. Cooney was on the mound, but he was clearly struggling with his control and had barely gotten out of the ninth inning. After Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 singled and Anthony Spina ’17 got reached on a HBP, the Jeffs had runners on first and second with one out. Then Thanopoulos made the mistake of getting picked off second and getting caught in a rundown. Thanopoulos should have been more cautious in that situation, especially with Cooney so clearly struggling with his command. If Thanopoulos could have gotten a good read on a ball in the dirt and reached third with one out, Amherst almost certainly wins that game, but you don’t help out a pitcher who can’t get the ball over the plate consistently. As it was, Cooney walked the next two hitters to load the bases with two outs before getting a fly out to escape the inning. Thanopoulos had an excellent tournament batting .400 and stealing four bases, but that mistake was costly.
Those in Medford are fuming about missing out on making the NCAA tournament. That came after they had a tough weekend dropping two close games. The Bates game, especially, they feel like they gave away since the Bobcats scored eight runs in the first two innings before the Jumbos almost came all the way back and ended up leading them loaded in the eighth inning down one run. We warned a couple of weeks ago about the danger of Tufts or Amherst missing the tournament. Then, Tufts was left out of the Top-10 of the NCAA Regional Rankings before last weekend. They likely needed a win against Amherst and possibly one other win in the tournament to have a shot at the tournament. Their weekend performance left them well short of that goal. In the end, D3Baseball.com and others didn’t even consider the Jumbos on the bubble for the tournament despite their great overall record. They got no help from their NESCAC East counterparts as three of those four teams finished with records below .500. That hurt Tufts’ overall Strength of Schedule. Disappointing ending for a team that looked great entering the year but never was at full strength because of injuries to Kyle Slinger ’15.
Considering the weather NE schools had to face this spring the D3 regional and national committee had short memories #standupforyourregion
When I started to put together the Power Rankings for this week, I realized something important. Not much has really changed. While we still don’t know how things are going to shake out in the East, so far things have played out predictably and we have a good idea on how good each team is. So I decided to switch things up and go back and figure out who the MVP for each team was. Then once I had those settled, I went back in and ranked each player in order of performance so far this year. Just for kicks, I put the team’s Power Ranking from two weeks ago next to it just to give you an idea of how they match up.
10. Catcher Max Araya ’16 (.317/.442/.349): Middlebury (Team Rank: 10): Admit it, you were expecting Dylan Sinnickson ’15 in this spot. However, Sinnickson has come back to earth after that earth-shattering start. He hasn’t hit a home run since Middlebury’s third game of the year and has an OBP of .286 in NESCAC games. Araya, meanwhile, has continued his year-to-year improvement and stepped into full-time catching duties with great success. Offensively, Araya leads the Panthers with 11 bases on balls (and no one else is particularly close) and generally puts the ball in play with authority. The one thing lacking from his offensive game is a bit more pop, as he has just two extra base hits on the year. But Araya really gets the nod here for his work behind the dish, where has has emerged as one of the league’s best defensive backstops.
9. Shortstop Jack Roberts ’17 (.386/.429/.542, 0 HR, 19 RBI): Williams (Team Rank: 7): As a group the Williams’ offense has taken a step back from a year ago, but that has not stopped Roberts from cementing himself as one of the better players in the league. He rarely walks, but that isn’t his role as the three hitter. Roberts fits the mold of the team’s best athlete playing shortstop given his speed has allowed him to steal five bags and propelled him to four triples, tied for the league lead. His production has slipped ever so slightly in conference, but not by an alarming amount.
8. Right Fielder Nate Pajka ’15 (.353/.434/.659, 4 HR, 15 RBI): Bates (Team Rank: 5): The fact that Pajka is ranked eighth in this list is an indication of the quality of players that are to follow. After all, Pajka is fourth in the league in slugging percentage and has 14 doubles, the most in the league. In the Bobcats’ five conference games he is getting on base at a .458 clip. There isn’t really a good knock on his play either. The only reason others are above him is that they are just a smidgeon better in a couple of areas. A hit here and there really is the difference. Pajka can hold his hat on being one of the most improved players on this list; oh and that his team has a good shot at making the playoffs.
7. Starting Pitcher Sean Meekins ’15 (2-1, 1.91 ERA, 10.36 K/9, 33.0 IP): Trinity (Team Rank: 8): Yes, we are proud of our own Nothing but NESCAC contributor, but don’t accuse us of any type of bias. I think the sub-2.00 ERA speaks for itself after all. He is striking out gobs of hitters and still working late into games, a somewhat rare and valuable combination. He had been struggling a little in his previous couple of starts before getting back on track and throwing that gem on Saturday against Bowdoin. A year ago Meekins was an average starter in what amounted to an average rotation, but in 2015 Meekins, and the staff as a whole, has raised their level of play.
6. Starting Pitcher/First Basman Soren Hanson ’16 (.326/.380/.565 and 4-0, 1.78 ERA): Colby (Team Rank: 4): Hanson get serious consideration merely for his work on the bump, and when you add in his hitting contributions it is clear how important he is to Colby. Like another pitcher we will see in a bit, all three of his team’s NESCAC wins have come in Hanson’s starts. He is hitting only .263 in conference, but he is also second in RBI over that stretch so his timely hitting makes up for it somewhat. Why don’t we see more two-way players in the NESCAC? I’m not really sure, but Hanson is the best one going this year.
5. Pitcher Sam Elias ’15 (5-0, 3 Saves, 1.94 ERA, 41.2 IP, 9.94 K/9): Wesleyan (Team Rank: 1): One of several seniors to raise his game in his final season, Elias has been pulling double duty for Wesleyan as both a starter and reliever. A year ago he started only one game but was still a big part of the Cardinals success appearing in 19 games and throwing more than 40 innings. This year he has been the best pitcher on Wesleyan, which is saying something considering Gavin Pittore ’16 and Peter Rantz ’16 have ERA’s right at 2.20. Elias, like all the other Wesleyan pitchers, certainly benefits from Wesleyan having the best defense in the league, but don’t let that diminish his accomplishments. That Elias is only fifth but Wesleyan is clearly the best team in the league to this point is just another representation of the depth the Cardinals possess.
4. Center Fielder Joe Jensen ’15 (.419/.470/.568, 1 HR, 10 RBI): Hamilton (Team Rank: 9): Jensen was the original inspiration for this list because he is the player with the most obvious disparity between his team and his own personal performance. Not that there aren’t others playing very well for Hamilton this season, but as a group the Continentals have not been able to take a step forward. Jensen has not delivered on the power that we thought would come this season after he hit a home run in his first game of the year. But he has continued to run wild on the basepaths with 14 steals which is sort of incredible when you consider that everybody knows he is going to run. Though he has come back down a little recently, Jensen is still having his finest season yet as a senior.
3. Tufts: Catcher Bryan Egan ’15 (.402/.510/.573, 2 HR, 36 RBI: Tufts (Team Rank: 3): When I was putting this list together, this was the one that I had the hardest time slotting in. Ultimately Egan landed higher than I thought he ever would. At first I thought Tommy O’Hara ’18 was a clear choice for MVP for Tufts, but then I looked again at the conference stats for Tufts and noticed that Egan had an incredible .571 AVG. Also, did I mention that Egan is a catcher who wasn’t even a starter a year ago. Even though he has not thrown many runners out, he deserves some credit for shepherding the Tufts’ staff. At the end of the day, Egan has hit his best in the games that matter the most which is why he ended up so high on this list.
2. Starting Pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 (5-1, 1.26 ERA, 37 K, 43.0 IP): Bowdoin (Team Rank: 6): We saw a big year coming for Van Zant, but we didn’t see this type of dominance on the horizon. He leads the league in ERA, and that number gets even better when you isolate for just NESCAC games where he has an 0.82 ERA. All three of Bowdoin’s conference wins have come in games that he has started, and you can chalk up their 1-0 non-conference win over Wesleyan to his complete game shutout, too. Van Zant looks poised to follow in the steps of his older brother, Oliver Van Zant ’13 and win NESCAC Pitcher of the Year honors.
1. Center Fielder Mike Odenwaelder ’16 (.444/.521/.697, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 8 SB): Amherst Team Rank: 2): You probably saw this one coming from the beginning. Nobody else in the NESCAC has the combination of size, power, speed and whatever else it is that makes some baseball players so good. Odenwaelder is both tied for the league lead in homers and leads the league in OBP, pretty decent for a guy who has eight steals to boot. Now consider the fact that I spent 30 seconds considering putting Harry Roberson ’18 in this slot instead of Odenwaelder. Gives you an idea of the type of year that the freshman is having. Odenwaelder is a special player who you don’t see very often come through the NESCAC.