***Want to preface this by saying I am not a coach and do not pretend to be an expert, but I’ve got a few years of experience with Baseball Analytics and moneyball techniques. I’ve studied baseball for a while and just wanted to give a few thoughts.***
It’s that glorious time of year again- Baseball is back, Men’s Basketball is closing in on a repeat NCAA tournament appearance and Women’s is trying to return to the tournament as well. Softball is underway, gymnastics is taking names, equestrian is still number 1... so many Auburn sports going on, as my favorite is back. Baseball. I absolutely love this time of year. It is one of my favorite things to do to head over to the ballpark after a long day during the week and decompress while I take in some diamond ball. I, being lucky enough to live in the area, got to attend at least a few innings of each game this weekend.
There was some good and some bad, but ultimately we’ve opened the season with a series win over what will likely be a team to compete for the title in the Sun Belt this season. Let’s start with Friday:
Well played game. The Tigers put GSU out of it pretty early by batting around in the first inning of the season, and putting up a 5 spot. Davis Daniel got off to a bit of a rocky start allowing two runs in the first three innings he threw, but the bullpen pitched a whale of a game completely shutting down the GSU offense, especially Elliot Anderson. The Auburn offense tacked on a few more to end the game and Auburn picked up the win 11-2. The highlight of the night was probably Ryan Bliss’s triple I believe in the fourth. Just watch the guy run, he’s got elite SEC speed and that will be huge for us this season. No long balls in this game, as I expected someone to do it, but it was a cool night and the balls just were not carrying. Overall, great opening day.
Saturday was a little less spectacular. Auburn actually looked pretty sharp at the plate on Friday night, working counts, laying off eye level pitches, and finding ways on base. On Saturday, however, we couldn’t find the bats. Julien had a big three run double I believe in the fourth to put us up 4-0 at the time, but GSU just hung around and wouldn’t go away. They finally tied up the game on the seventh on a fluke play that new catcher Matt Scheffler almost made into a great one. GSU had runners at second and third with one out. Greenhill’s pitch was low and outside, forcing Scheffler to block it. Scheff made a great play as the ball caromed only a few feet to his right, and the runner from third tried to swipe home anyways. Scheff had him dead to rights as he tossed it to Greenhill, but Greenhill couldn’t handle the ball when the GSU player slid into his glove. The ball popped all the way into no-man’s land near the Auburn dugout, and the tying run came all the way from second to score. A fluke play that, it made, may very well have changed the outcome of the game. The bad thing about this game was Auburn really struggled to make any clutch hits. Save for a game tying single by freshman Kason Howell in the ninth, Auburn failed to muster up any run support in extra innings, and eventually lost a game they probably should’ve won.
Sunday was much of the same as Auburn still couldn’t find any clutch hits. The bright spot was Edouard Julien who tied the game at 2 in the sixth with Auburn’s first long ball of the year.... an inside the park home run that bounced off the left fielder and allowed Julien to make the round trip. Auburn would get a clutch hit out of JUCO transfer Rankin Woley who put Auburn in front on a one out bases loaded single to right, Julien followed by striking out, and Conor Davis grounded out. That was not good to see as Auburn had a chance to put it away, and did not capitalize. Through extra innings, Auburn couldn’t catch a break, getting caught stealing, hitting into great fielding plays, and failing to perform with their top hitters. Steven Williams made an incredible diving catch in right center to preserve the tie in the 12th, but Auburn couldn’t score and the game continued. Finally in the 13th inning, Jack Owen sat down the Eagles, and the Tigers found their way to bases loaded, one out for freshman Kason Howell. Howell worked a 3-0 count, then walked on the next pitch to give Auburn the win, and the series victory. A great way to end the weekend.
Obviously, would’ve like to have gotten a sweep to open the season, but glad to win on Sunday and win the series.
Let’s talk about some of the individual performances from the fielders:
Judd Ward- He is much improved. He’s got more swagger about him this year. He gunned a runner out at home on Saturday after normally would be a pretty easy SAC fly. Judd will be an on base guy this year. Butch hit him in the leadoff spot for Games 1 and 3, while lining him up ninth in game 2. He seemed to do pretty well in both spots, but with a guy who I think will be a high OBP guy this season, I think he’s your leadoff man.
Will Holland- Holland looked okay this weekend, but he was not what many expected from the previous-season all anerican. The SS doubled in Auburn’s first run on Sunday, but was fairly ineffective the rest of the time. The weekend consisted of a couple errors in the field for him, but did give us a few glimpses of how good he really can be. He’ll be important this season. We’ll need both him and Williams to play better.
Steven Williams - Steve had a bad weekend. The freshman all American a year ago mustered only one hit that wasn’t even a hit. A huge pop up to the first baseman on Friday got lost in the night and landed harmlessly in the infield. It seems like Williams is swinging for the long ball, as most of his weekend was riddled with pop outs to deep second base, or right field. We will need Steve’s bat in the lineup this season as he will lowly bat third behind award and Holland. He’s certainly started off the season in a slump. Give GSU credit, they noticed Williams was having this issue and they committed to making him prove he could hit the long ball with up and in fastballs. That was not Williams’ best by a long shot, and I’m confident he will be a big piece for Auburn this season with his power bat. He did have a silver lining play when he saved the go ahead run in the 12th inning with a sportscenter diving play in right center. That likely saved the game for Auburn.
Rankin Woley- New kid on the block at first can split. Watched him do it a few times on Sunday and his stretch is impressive at first. Pretty average at picking bad throws in the dirt as Julien’s first throw was short hopped and Woley looked very uncomfortable. He got better as the weekend went on and made a great play when the Tigers rolled up a double play in the 13th inning. Woley also let the 13th inning off with the longest, hardest hit single you’ll ever see, bouncing it off the monster right to the left fielder who got it in quickly. Woley also had another clutch hit earlier in the game in the eighth that out Auburn up by 1 at the time. He’ll be another power piece as you can tell he can get some big wood on the ball. Don’t think we’ve lost what we got from Venter last season at the plate as I believe Woley will fill that role nicely. He also will be a good filler for what we lost in Anthony at first.
Edouard Julien - Big Canada had a pretty nice weekend at the plate save for a coupon strikeouts. He knocked a double and a home run and compiled a few more hard hit singles. He also flew out to the center field warning track on a cold, damp Friday night. Canada is still settling in at third as his first throw of the season was a one hopper that Woley couldn’t handle at first, and he was also charged with a pretty tough error when he got his glove on a line drive but couldn’t quite haul it in. I thought Julien looked okay at third. His throws to first got progressively better as the weekend progressed, which could be a sign of him gaining confidence. He had a slow roller that he probably should’ve tried to barehand on Sunday, but elected to glove it and couldn’t get the throw off in time. He’ll keep learning and i expect him to be a very serviceable replacement to Venter at third. We all know what Edouard can do at the plate, and if it gets to the point where his fielding is affecting his confidence at the plate, I’d say more Woley to third, Conor Davis to first and have Julien focused solely on hitting at the DH. Again, I don’t think it will get there, because Eddy did just fine at third and hit pretty well for the most part. He’s gotta lay off that stuff in his eyes as teams will want to pitch him high to get him to swing through it, or pop it up.
Conor Davis- Still waiting for Conor to break out and be the hitter we thought he’d be. Had a few good at bats, but nothing to be incredibly excited about. Conor has great power, as we saw last year when hit a ball over the scoreboard against Vandy. I think if we get Conor to come on, he’s a guy you swap with Woley at 4th, I think he’s that powerful. He just hasn’t learned how to get his bat around to square up balls very often. I believe he only managed a hit or two on the weekend. Need more out of the junior DH this season. If he does it, he’s got some of the highest potential on the team. Need him to not be just a guy looking to get on base, but a guy who you think might could send this next pitch into orbit. You could see Conor in the outfield this season as well as a first base as that’s where he’s worked most of the offseason. I expect Butch to throw him into the field somewhere Tuesday and/or Wednesday. Hope he can find his stride at the plate.
Ryan Bliss- There’s a line in the Adam Sandler movie “The Longest Yard” in which the guards are talking about the inmates new running back. “He’s so fast, I mean he makes fast people look...not fast!” That line sums up Bliss. Watched this guy hit a triple on Friday that could’ve been a stand up triple but he just chose to slide. The freshman has some serious speed. I also saw him almost beat out a ground ball to second on Saturday I believe. He can pack some power when he squares it up, but he’ll be an on-base speed guy. We may have lost just a little fielding prowess as Bliss wasn’t quite as able to make the spectacular play at second, but that’s to be expected when you lose an all-SEC defensive team second baseman. He fielded his position well and didn’t have an error all weekend. Bliss didn’t have an all-star weekend at the plate, but he did hit the triple, and work a clutch walk in the 13th on Sunday to setup the walk off walk from Howell.
Kason Howell- The freshman had two clutch ABs this weekend, and made a fabulous diving catch on Saturday in the early stages of the game. Butch had been saying Howell was aggressive laying out for balls in practice and coming up short, but he told him to keep diving and laying out and learning his range, and he finally pulled one in. That’s got to be great for his confidence out there. Really excited about this kid. Howell, in addition to the game tying single in the ninth on Saturday and the Sunday walk off walk, had a couple hard hit balls including a double down the line and a no-doubter home run that just squeaked foul. Thought this guy might be just an on base guy, but we may have a little pop in the bottom portion of the lineup. Really good for this guy to already have produced two really clutch results for this team. Great for initial confidence.
Matt Scheffler- The new catcher can obviously play some defense. He had a past ball on Sunday in a clutch time of the game that was concerning, but watching throw out a runner at second on Friday after a ball in the dirt was really impressive. Can’t tell if Scheffler will be very reliable at the plate, as he was only able to scratch across one hit on the weekend. Hopefully we get some production from him down in that nine spot. Catcher could very well be a position that we go with a platoon scenario.
Chase Hall - Hall got the start behind the plate on Sunday but was ineffective at the plate as well. He almost walked the Saturday game off in the ninth with a hard hit line drive to right with the winning run on third base, but unfortunately, he hit it right at the right fielder. Hall looked fine behind the plate. Scheffler’s defensive prowess may be what puts him over the top this year at catcher, but the bats need to come alive not only for the catchers, but for the entire Auburn team.
Davis Daniel, Tanner Burns, and Kyle Gray got the respective starts for Auburn.
Daniel was a bit sloppy in his first start since midway through the season last year. Really hope he will find that magic he brought in from the bullpen when he starts games. He just seems to have trouble hanging his curveball and leaving his fastball up. Really hope we can turn him into a great starter, but if not, we get a great bullpen piece. Eliott Anderson came on in relief of Daniel and was absolutely electric. 4 innings and scoreless baseball with only a few hits. Looks like Anderson has made a bit of a step this season.
Burns had a scary moment Saturday as he got hit in the shoulder on a comebacker up the middle. Burns went down on the hill clutching his shoulder, but was able to stay in the game and immediately struck out the next batter. He pitches with some great energy, and I think we’ve got an all-star Saturday guy. Although Burns didn’t get the win, he was pretty electric the whole time.
Greenhill was a bit disappointing Saturday as he came on in relief and gave up a few hard hit balls. He did have a few strikeouts, but left it up in the eighth to allow for GSU to take the lead. Hopefully he comes on as he only began to throw to batters about two weeks ago. I’m sure he’ll come around. Again, a lot of pitchers just looked tight.
Ryan watson looked really good on Saturday in extras as well. Except for the last inning, he threw hitless baseball. He’s certainly a guy to watch this season. Other guys like Garrett Wade, Peyton Glavine, and Brooks Fuller pitched for AU, but none were particularly impressive. It’s obvious Wade has good stuff, but he’s a bit erratic.
Finally on Sunday, Kyle Gray started the game and went I believe about 3 innings. Was not incredibly impressed but again, the JUCO transfer looked tight, and may have much more to offer than what he showed. Bailey Horn is as advertised. He may move into that Sunday starter if Gray has a few poor outings. We got a few innings from Richard Fitts who looked pretty comfortable, but began to get hit a little. Seemed like when Fitts got 2 outs, that third out got a bit elusive. Finally, one of the stars of the weekend, Jack Owen, came in and pitched 4.2 scoreless innings and got out of a bases loaded one out jam in the eleventh. I’m think Owen transitions from the weekday starter to a highly regarded bullpen piece on the weekend.
Overall, the weekend was about a C+. I’ll say this about Georgia Southern, though, they can play some fundamental baseball and they are aggressive on the base paths. The tying run on Sunday in the ninth came home on a dropped third strike when Scheffler threw to first. The runner timed the throw absolutely perfectly, and stole home before Woley could get it back to the plate.
GSU also played the last 26 innngs of the weekend with only 1 error. They didn’t give us a lot of free bases, and they took advantage of double play balls. They’ve also got a catcher with a heck of a cannon as he threw out two of our fastest guys in extras on Sunday. Ward did not get a great jump but Holland got a pretty good one, and was still out. They did leave a bunch of men on base this weekend, and they’ll need to fix that, but they’ve got some good arms on the mound that hit spots really well, and if they can start getting runners home that they left on base this weekend, they’ll give Coastal Carolina and Georgia State some noise in the Sun Belt. We beat a pretty above average team in a series this weekend. Georgia Southern actually took a game against Georgia on opening weekend in 2018, and Georgia secured a regional host site.
-We looked a bit timid and a bit tight, but two 13 inning games can do nothing but prepare you for the grind, adversity, and tight games you’ll get in the SEC.
- We need more from our returning guys. Williams and Holland combined for only a three hits on the weekend, I believe, and they’ve got to be better than that. We need those guys producing at the top of the order, especially considering they are All Americans.
-The performance of the new position players was varied, but we had a few clutch moments from Howell and Woley, and Ryan Bliss will certainly be a big piece for us this season.
- New pitchers looked a little tight. I expect that to change.
- Returning pitchers look good. Burns, Watson, Anderson, Owen all pitched really well. We’ll need Greenhill and Daniel to be better, but I’m expecting both of them to come around.
I had a little time last night, and just decided to go through the weekend and dissect it. Hope this provides some insight for anyone who couldn’t watch the games this weekend. We’re a good team and we played a pretty good team, but we’ve got to have more from our returning guys as well as from new pitchers.