|Late season collapse poses questions about direction of baseball program|
|by David Hood - Senior Writer - Tuesday, June 4, 2013 8:21 AM||
Baseball season has come to an early and inauspicious end for the Clemson Tigers, leaving many Clemson fans to wonder about the future and the direction of the program.
Nothing I write here will sway fans one way or the other on whether head coach Jack LeggettJack Leggett
Baseball Head Coach
View Full Profile should go or stay, and frankly, that is way above my pay grade. All we can do as writers and as fans is take a look at the direction of the program and hope that next year shows the kind of improvement that happened in 2013.
The Tigers won five more games this season than they did in 2012, despite a vastly inexperienced roster, and the pitching improved. At the beginning of the year, I thought this team had the talent to win 38 games, and they surpassed that total by two. The team also put together a 9-game winning streak and an 11-game winning streak, and seemed to be poised to make a nice end-of-season run until the last two games at Florida St.
Considering all of the youth and inexperience and perhaps lowered expectations at the beginning of the season, reaching a regional and winning 40 games should be considered a success. So why does it feel so hollow?
Because the team went from an almost sure-fire regional host to losing its final two games at FSU and then all three in the ACC Tournament, including a heartbreaking loss to UNC after leading 7-2 in the ninth. A lackluster showing against Miami was followed by the news that the team would have to travel to Columbia – again – for the regional.
What followed was painful to watch as the Tigers lost twice to Liberty by a combined 11-4, the two losses sandwiching a win over St. Louis. I’ve covered baseball for a long time, and while I like some of the pieces that Liberty has, they should never be 11-4 and two games better than Clemson. This is the same Liberty team that finished 13-11 in the Big South and finished fourth in its own division.
It was obvious that the loss to North Carolina was crushing and had effects for the rest of the season. As one reporter in the press box Sunday put it, it was a “soul stealing loss” for a young group of players, many of whom were getting their first taste of a collegiate postseason.
Leggett was quick to point out Sunday that the future is bright for his young team, and said that he is ready to get on with planning for next season. And while there are good pieces in place and another five-game improvement would be just what the doctor ordered, there are also some concerns.
Here are just a few of the positives and negatives, as I see it.
First off all, the Tigers led the ACC in stolen bases and were 15th nationally thru Saturday’s games. With a lineup that was short on extra-base pop, runs had to be created somehow, and the Tigers did a good job in creating run-scoring opportunities. However, and maybe it was just me, but it seemed like this team was picked off base more than any in recent memory, and bad baserunning decisions hurt on more than one occasion.
The young pitching staff came together, and had a 3.21 ERA. Giving Matthew CrownoverMatthew Crownover
Fr. LH Pitcher
#44 5-11, 205
View Full Profile the extra time to continue to recover from surgery and the added experience of Zach Erwin, Clate SchmidtClate Schmidt
Fr. RH Pitcher
#32 6-1, 190
View Full Profile and Brody KoernerBrody Koerner
Fr. RH Pitcher
#19 6-1, 205
View Full Profile are reasons to be excited about what this staff can look like next season, especially if Daniel GossettDaniel Gossett
So. RH Pitcher
#23 6-0, 180
View Full Profile continues to improve.
Offensively, this team showed flashes of potential, and young players like Tyler KriegerTyler Krieger
#3 6-2, 170
Johns Creek, GA
View Full Profile and Steven DuggarSteven Duggar
#9 6-1, 185
View Full Profile were prime examples of the infusion of talent into the program. However, this team struggled to produce with runners on base, and couldn’t push runs across the plate at times, even with the bases loaded and nobody out.
However, and I might be in the minority on this, I feel like part of the reason for the lack of production was the lack of a feared hitter or two in the lineup, and a couple of hitters that are capable of taking a pitcher out of the ballpark at any time.
If you aren’t hitting home runs or doubles, it takes three singles to score one run unless you are getting stolen bases. To put together a crooked number in an inning – more than one run – you are dependent on some combination of walks and errors and hits in order to get just a few runs. That kind of production – relying on so many different factors – is hard to replicate on a consistent basis. In the postseason, the ability to get two or three runs with one swing of the bat is magnified even more – Clemson hit three homers in Saturday’s win over St. Louis, none in the two losses to Liberty.
Clemson finished the season with 22 home runs, which currently is good for 122nd in the nation. The home run totals for other notable programs across the region are as follows: Georgia Tech hit 57; Virginia Tech hit 54; South Carolina hit 51, as did Furman; North Carolina hit 47; Virginia hit 41; and Vanderbilt hit 40.
Clemson’s slugging percentage was .362, which was 165th in the country. By comparison, teams like Georgia Tech, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia all have slugging percentages over .420. Miami and Boston College were the only two ACC teams that tanked lower than the Tigers in that category. Clemson also finished with a team batting average of .276, which ranks 126th nationally.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, the Tigers have to replace some of those smaller [really small in some respects] players with some big boppers, the bruisers you can stick in the middle of the lineup and can get you two or three runs in one swing.
Leggett said at the beginning of the season that he is trying to get the NCAA to replace the current baseball used in NCAA play. He says the seams are too high and the ball doesn’t carry, and that has certainly been the case for his teams the past two years.
However, being at South Carolina this weekend also showed me the difference between Carolina Stadium and Doug Kingsmore – DKS looks like the Grand Canyon while Carolina Stadium has the feel of your local bandbox. We all know the ball simply doesn’t carry to the gaps or to dead center at The Doug, and maybe that robs a hitters’ aggressiveness.
Leggett mentioned before the season started that moving the fences in – or home plate out – about ten feet out might help with some of the scoring totals, and I’ve heard that might happen. I hope it does, but I also hope that soon we start to see some of those bruisers get back into the lineup.
The future is bright, especially with some of the younger position players and the pitching staff. But as long as the Tigers have to get five or six baserunners on base in an inning just to score a couple of runs, runs will be at a premium.
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