June 6, 2018 10:15:16 PM
There has been constant shuffling in this lineup in terms of order, but since the regular season series against the Bulldogs, Vanderbilt has started to figure out who belongs in what position.
The consistent pieces in lineup construction have been center fielder Austin Martin, right fielder JJ Bleday and shortstop Connor Kaiser, who have been Nos. 1, 3, and 4 recently. The season numbers make it pretty clear why those three are mainstays:
- Bleday: .367, 500 slugging and .493 on-base. He's only at 36 games, 32 starts, thanks to an injury in conference play, so you can only imagine what his numbers would look like if he had the full 59 games under his belt.
- Martin: .335 with 12 doubles and a home run for a .407 slugging, but here's the real kicker: 32 walks for a .447 on-base. He's also swinging a hot bat right now, going 5-for-13 (.384) in the Clemson Regional with four runs scored. Watch out for this guy on the base paths -- he's 21-for-29 on stolen base attempts.
- Kaiser: .298 with 12 doubles, six home runs and 45 RBI, on top of 12-for-14 in stolen base attempts.
Those guys are Nos. 1, 2 and 4 on the team in batting average, respectively. No. 3? Designated hitter Philip Clarke, entering the Super Regional with a .307 average, 16 doubles and six home runs. Clarke started the season as part of a three-way rotation at catcher, but naturally his hitting made him someone that needed to be in the lineup every day so he took on DH; the Commodores now split between Stephen Scott and Ty Duvall at catcher, although recently it's been much more of Scott: he went 4-for-10 in the Clemson Regional and now has a season slash line of .260/.415/.604, that slugging number elevated by 11 doubles and an impressive 14 home runs.
The lineup has two more home run hitters: left fielder Pat DeMarco and second baseman Ethan Paul, both of them with nine home runs.
Drake Fellows is the ace and he is that for good reason: 7-4 with a 3.52 ERA, 102 strikeouts in 92 innings with 68 hits and 33 walks allowed. That's a WHIP of 1.097 and a batting average allowed of .210. The only drawback to him is he's a tad more wild than one would like, with 10 wild pitches and seven hit by pitches.
He took that ace duty from Patrick Raby, who remains a big part of the pitching staff and starting more times than not. His 3.38 earned run average is slightly better than Fellows', but you start to see why the shift was made when you see 53 strikeouts in 64 innings with 63 hits and 30 walks allowed. Raby has a WHIP of 1.453 compared to Fellows' 1.097.
Raby actually came in from the bullpen in the Clemson Regional as Vandy gave Zach King the start in the second game, but King lasted just four poor innings (five hits, four walks, three runs allowed), but Raby came in and threw 1 2/3 innings of hitless, scoreless relief and got the win.
Mason Hickman has been the third starter, and his last two starts leave something to be desired. His combined numbers from outings against Clemson and Kentucky: 10 2/3 innings, 12 hits, 11 runs (all of them earned), four walks, eight strikeouts. On the whole, though, his season numbers are actually somewhat comparable to Jacob Billingsley's, except Hickman tends to go a little deeper on average.
This bullpen is deep, although not dominant: Vanderbilt has eight guys (not including the three starters listed above) with at least 11 appearances but none of them have more than 20. (For context, MSU also has eight guys with 11 or more appearances, but four of them have more than 20, suggesting those are the true workhorses.) Here are some numbers on the best of that crew:
- Maddux Conger: 2.21 ERA over 11 appearances, 22 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings, 18 hits and 14 walks allowed.
- Chandler Day: 3.22 ERA over 18 appearances (three starts), 45 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings, 26 hits and 16 walks allowed, .202 batting average allowed, four saves.
- Zach King: 3.40 ERA over 19 appearances (three starts), 49 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings, 40 hits and 21 walks allowed. Three saves.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson