Monthly Archives: May 2015

What Athlon says about UT

The 2015 season opener is still more than three months away, but the preseason college football magazines have started to hit the shelves. As I find them throughout the summer (which will not be on any regular schedule) I’ll relay some of their thoughts and predictions to you. We start with Athlon’s SEC preview, which I found at a Walgreen’s news stand last night. Their predictions for the Vols follow.

Preseason Rank: No. 22

Predicted SEC finish: Second in the SEC East

Predicted Record: 8-4 overall, 5-3 in the SEC:

Predicted Bowl Destination: Citrus Bowl vs. Wisconsin

Individual National Honors: Derek Barnett, second team All-American defensive end

Individual SEC Honors: First Team: Barnett, defensive end. Second Team: Jalen Hurd, all-purpose. Curt Magitt, linebacker. Cam Sutton, cornerbaack. Third Team: Josh Dobbs, quarterback. Marquez North, wide receiver. Continue reading

On Greg Bergeron, pressure offense, and the difference between leagues

When Dave Serrano arrived at Tennessee in 2011, he was practically attached at the hip to Greg Bergeron. They had been together as long as Serrano had been a head coach.

Serrano’s background was entirely in pitching. He was a junior college All-American pitcher at Cerritos College, and his assistant coaching positions all focused on pitching. Serrano needed an offensive coach to handle the rest of the team, and for 11 years, Bergeron was very successful in that role. Serrano and Bergeron coached in six NCAA tournaments together and made College World Series runs at both UC-Irvine and Cal State Fullerton.

“Greg has been a huge part of any success that I have had as a head coach and I don’t expect that to change,” Serrano is quoted as saying in Tennessee’s media guide. “He is one of the best offensive strategists in college baseball and he has done a fabulous job of developing infielders into first-round picks and gritty, grinding players.”

Four years after Serrano and Bergeron arrived, however, Bergeron is out after having presided over the lowest-scoring offense in the SEC. The Vols scored 229 runs, just 4.6 per game, in a 24-26 season and finished 12th in the conference before losing to Arkansas 2-1 in the first round of the SEC tournament.

Officially, Bergeron resigned. Attempts to discuss the situation further with Serrano and Bergeron were unsuccessful, as Serrano did not return a phone call and Bergeron declined comment when reached. However, Serrano strongly suggested he would be looking to make philosophical changes heading into the final year of his five-year contract, so it’s not that surprising to see a staff move.

So what changed? Why are the Vols looking to make a philosophical change after losing a coach that Serrano considered one of the game’s best offensive minds?

There are a number of explanations, many of them out of Bergeron’s control, including season-ending injuries to outfielders Vincent Jackson, Brodie Leftridge and Derek Lance that kept the Vols from fulfilling the image of Bergeron’s previous offenses. But one significant difference is that when Serrano and Bergeron moved from the West Coast to the SEC, they encountered a much different brand of offensive baseball. In the Big West, they were playing against like-minded teams and were better at executing the predominant style of play in the conference than the rest of the teams in their league. In the SEC, they are foreigners who have attempted to win mostly by going against the grain. They have adapted to the SEC style of play to some degree, but maintained many of their philosophies and found it difficult.

Bergeron called his style of baseball “pressure offense,” which is what many other people call small ball. They put pressure on pitchers and defenses with sacrifice bunts, stolen bases, hit-and-run and other tactics, and were massively successful in that regard.

It helped his cause, though, that everyone in the conference in which he built his reputation was trying to do the same thing.

The West Coast is known as small ball territory and the statistics in the Big West — which arguably, is to baseball what the Atlantic 10 is to basketball — bear that out. Bergeron’s style of baseball wasn’t unique in the Big West, it just so happened that his teams, and Fullerton especially, were better at it than most if not all of their league opponents.

For the sake of comparison, its best to look at the 2011 season as an indicator for what Bergeron was facing at Fullerton compared to what he faced through this season at Tennessee, because that was the first year the NCAA adopted the BBCOR standard, making the bats used in Division I less potent. The Titans won the Big West that season, going 41-17 overall, 19-5 in conference before losing to Illinois and Stanford in an NCAA regional they hosted.

The Titans were clearly one of the most potent offensive teams in the Big West that season, ranking second in the conference in batting average, runs, hits, and slugging percentage. It’s very telling about the league, though, that the Titans were not in the top 100 in any of those four categories.

The Big West of 2011 had just one team ranked in the top 100 in batting average (UC Irvine, No. 71). The Anteaters were also the only team ranked higher than 150 nationally in runs per game at No. 101 and the only team in the top 125 in total runs at No. 68. The conference didn’t place a single team in the top 170 in slugging percentage or the top 180 in home runs or runs per game. Just two teams were in the top 100 in doubles per game, and no one was in the top 100 in total doubles.

The conference was much closer to the top of the landscape, however, in the small ball categories.

Fullerton led the conference in sacrifice bunts with 79 that season, ranking eighth nationally, but the Titans were one of three Big West teams in the top 12. They ranked third in triples, but were one of three teams in the top 100 in that category.

The only category in which the Titans were a positive statistical outlier on offense was stolen bases. The Big West didn’t steal as much as you’d expect a small ball league to do. Fullerton ranked 20th nationally in stolen bases per game, 121 spots better than the next best Big West team.

The SEC, though, plays a much different game.

Heading into this weekend’s NCAA regionals, six of the SEC’s 14 teams rank in the top 100 in batting average. Five are in the top 100 in runs per game and seven are in the top 100 in total runs, including four in the top 25.

Eight SEC teams rank in the top 90 in hits, six rank in the top 100 in doubles, 10 are in the top 100 in triples and 10 are in the top 100 in home runs. Five are in the top 40 in slugging percentage.

And on the flip side, SEC teams use small ball tactics less. They don’t rely entirely on brute strength, and are more of a gap-to-gap league than a home run league, and they use speed, with seven teams in the top 115 in stolen bases. However, they don’t bunt much. Tennessee leads the conference in sacrifice bunts, ranked 31st nationally. No one else ranks higher than No. 95, and the Vols are the only team in the SEC that averaged more than one successful sacrifice bunt per game this season. By contrast, five Big West teams had more sacrifice bunts this season than the Vols.

In Bergeron’s tenure, Tennessee gradually became more like the rest of the SEC. With sluggers Christin Stewart and Andrew Lee in the middle of the order, the Vols hit 35 home runs, the most they’ve had in a season in the BBCOR era, and their slugging percentage was also the highest its been in that time. Their biggest problem was that they lacked depth of power in the lineup, getting little run production outside of Stewart, Lee, junior shortstop A.J. Simcox and sophomore second baseman Nick Senzel until late in the season when Jordan Rodgers and others stepped up. While Stewart and Lee were able to buoy the home run numbers, the Vols finished with just 66 doubles, which ranked 270th among 295 Division I teams.

If the plan was for the Vols to challenge the status quo, zig while everyone else was zagging and win with small ball, they never had a team that had as much talent for that style as the Fullerton teams did. They also never had a pitching staff that was as successful as the ones they had at Fullerton, which is obviously necessary if you don’t score a ton of runs. This year’s squad posted a 4.07 earned run average was ranked 109th nationally. The 2011 Fullerton team posted an ERA of 2.88, which was 12th nationally.

Small ball is by no means an inferior style of baseball. Two seasons ago, UCLA won the national championship despite ranking 261st nationally with just 4.4 runs per game and ranking 22nd in sacrifice bunts. But that UCLA team played against like-minded teams most of the season, it ranked third in the nation in ERA and it took advantage of cavernous TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha once it got to the College World Series.

Trying to win with an approach that contradicts the rest of the league you play in is harder over a longer timeline. It’s easier to win games 2-1 or 3-2 if everyone else in your league is trying to do the same thing and conceding outs for one run than if everyone else is swinging away and playing for big innings. As Serrano considers a change in philosophy going into the last year of his contract, this will certainly be part of his calculation.

 

Dave Serrano: “I’ve been humbled these past four years”

Tennessee baseball coach Dave Serrano met with the media (which in this case meant myself, Steve Megargee of the Associated Press and play-by-play man John WIlkerson of WNML) for an end-of-year discussion on what was a disappointing season. Serrano had a number of interesting things to say that didn’t fit in my story, so I’ve written up a transcript, which follows. The questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What did you say when you met with the team Wednesday night? 

It was more organizational stuff. Starting Monday, I’ll start talking with each and every player in this program. It was more how we handle things from here, how we close the book by turning in gear, the responsibilities of summer baseball and how we represent this university, housing situations and how we close the doors on how we represent this university. Housing situations and how we close the doors on places that we lived all year. Just doing things right in a first-class manner. I thanked each and every player. I thanked the seniors. I think they all brought a different aspect to our program whether it’s been over the last four years like the Eric Martin’s and the Parker Wormsley’s or it’s been the two years like the Johnathan Youngbloods, Bret Marks and Peter Lenstrohm’s. Told the team that this is a life lesson. We can learn from our shortcomings, and hopefully for the guys that will no longer wear this uniform anymore because of draft or playing eligibility that they learn in life that you can’t take anything for granted and you’ve gotta continue to work and grind every day to capture what you want out of what your goals are. Continue reading

Arkansas ends Tennessee’s season on Bernal’s walk-off double

WHAT HAPPENED: Arkansas redshirt junior shortstop Michael Bernal doubled into the left field corner to bring in junior second baseman Rick Nomura in the bottom of the ninth-inning to give the Razorbacks a walk-off 2-1 win over Tennessee on Tuesday in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

The No. 5 seed Razorbacks improve to 34-20 and advance to play No. 4 Florida in the late game tomorrow evening in the double-elimination portion of the tournament. The Vols end their season at 24-26.

Arkansas’ right-hander Trey Killian was spectacular early and Tennessee junior left-hander Andy Cox was wild, but Cox still pitched out of jams for three innings and sophomore right-hander Kyle Serrano stepped in and did the same into the seventh inning.  Continue reading

Chris Hall single caps wild ninth-inning rally, gives Vols 3-2 win and SEC tournament berth

WHAT HAPPENED: Junior center fielder Chris Hall’s walk-off RBI single capped a three-run ninth-inning rally that gave Tennessee a 3-2 win over Mississippi State on Saturday in front of 1,921 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium and gave the Vols a series sweep and a berth in the SEC tournament.

The Vols improved to 24-25 overall, 11-18 in the SEC. They get the No. 12 seed in the SEC tournament and will face No. 5 seed Arkansas on Tuesday at approximately 8 p.m. in Hoover, Ala.

The sweep is Tennessee’s first this season and its first sweep of an SEC team since they swept Alabama March 30-April 1, 2012. Mississippi State ends its season at 24-30, 8-22.

Neither team got on the board in the first seven innings thanks to a pitcher’s duel between Mississippi State’s Austin Sexton and Tennessee’s Bret Marks. Sexton allowed just four hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings and Marks scattered six hits in the first seven. Tennessee had runners on second and third with one out in the seventh, but Hall lined out to third and MSU third baseman Matthew Britton doubled off UT’s Andrew Lee at third.  Continue reading

Mississippi State at Tennessee, Game 3

Bottom 9th: In an utterly ridiculous inning. Tenenssee rallied back with three runs to win 3-2. A.J. Simcox laid down a bunt down the first base line and was called safe when Wes Rea chose noot to tag him, thinking Simcox had stepped out of the baseline when he backpedaled. Andrew Lee drove in two runs with a single and Chris Hall hit a walk off single to give the Vols a 3-2 win. Thanks to Georgia’s loss, they will play in the SEC tournament.

Top 9th: Matthew Britton singled and stole second but was stranded. Mississippi State leads 2-0.

Bottom 8th: Zac Houston retired the Tennessee side in order. The Vols are down to their last three outs down 2-0.

Top 8th: Bret Marks threw one pitch in the eighth inning. It did not stay in the ballpark.

Wes Rea hit Marks’s fastball over the left field wall to break the scoreless tie and end Marks’s day and possibly his college career. Dave Serrano then pulled him for Andrew Lee. Lee gave up a single to John Holland and then a double down the third base line into the left field corner by Cody Brown to bring in Holland. The Bulldogs lead 2-0.

Bottom 7th: Andrew Lee was hit by a pitch, took second on a wild pitch and then went to third  when Jordan Rodgers bounced a single through the left side of the infield. Rodgers took second on the throw and Mississippi State replaced Austin Sexton with Zac Houston. Chris Hall lined out to third, however, and Mississippi State’s Matthew Britton dove back to third to double off Lee to end the inning. Game still scoreless.

Top 7th: Bret Marks allowed a two-out triple to Matthew Britton, the first of his career, but got Luke Reynolds to pop up to shortstop to end the inning. Game still scoreless.

Bottom 6th: Austin Sexton retired the Tennessee side in order, striking Christin Stewart out with a wicked 1-2 slider to end it.

Top 6th: Bret Marks struck out the first batter he faced in the sixth. He gave up a two-out double to Cody Brown, but got Seth Heck to fly to right to end the inning.

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Tennessee defeats Mississippi State 11-6, maintains life heading into regular season finale

WHAT HAPPENED: Junior left fielder Christin Stewart homered twice and drove in five runs to lead Tennessee to an 11-6 win over Mississippi State on Friday night in front of 1,976 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Tennessee improves to 23-25 overall, 10-18 in the SEC and is now in a 12th-place tie with Georgia. The Bulldogs own the tiebreaker on Tennessee thanks to their sweep of the Vols in March, but the Vols will be just a half-game behind Alabama if the Crimson Tide loses to Vanderbilt tonight. (The Commodores lead 7-5 at the time of this posting.) If Vanderbilt’s lead holds, the Vols can reach the SEC Tournament with a win and a loss by either Georgia or Alabama.  Continue reading

Mississippi State at Tennessee Game 2

Bottom 8th: MSU lefty Daniel Brown retired the side after giving up a leadoff walk to Christin Stewart, who has reached base five times tonight. The Vols go into the ninth with an 11-5 lead.

Top 8th: Kyle Serrano retired the side in order. He has retired nine straight and 11 of the 12 hitters he has faced. Vols lead 11-5.

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Vols win first game in series against Mississippi State

WHAT HAPPENED: Tennessee defeated Mississippi State 5-2  on Thursday night in front of 1,635 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium to cling to its hopes of an SEC tournament berth.

The Vols improve to 22-25, 9-18 in the SEC and vault over the Bulldogs (24-28, 8-20) for 13th-place in the SEC. The Vols are still a game behind Georgia (26-26, 10-17) for the 12th and final SEC tournament spot because the Bulldogs defeated Arkansas (they are winning 10-1 at the time of this posting) on Thursday night. Georgia has the tiebreaker against Tennessee, having swept the Vols in March.

Tennessee still has a chance to also catch Alabama, which trails Vanderbilt at the time of this posting 2-1. The Vols would have to sweep Mississippi State and have Vanderbilt sweep Alabama to get in that way.

Mississippi State scored first on Thursday night. Catcher Gavin Collins walked to start the first, went to third on a double by designated hitter Lucas Reynolds and scored on an RBI groundout by first baseman Wes Rea. However, Tennessee left-hander Andy Cox struck out the next better and got a groundout to end the inning without any more damage.  Continue reading

Mississippi State at Tennessee Game 1

Top 9th: Andrew Lee retired the side in order. Tennessee wins 5-2 and improves to 22-25, 9-18 in the SEC. More to come.

Bottom 8th: The Vols went down in order in the eighth. Tennessee leads 5-2 heading into the top of the ninth.

Top 8th: Mississippi State’s Jacob Vickerson doubled to start the eighth and eventually scored on a passed ball to cut the deficit to 5-2. Steven Kane surrendered that double and a walk before coming off for reliever Kyle Serrano, who got a groundout on his only pitcher of the eighth. The Vols lead 5-2.

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Bottom 7th: Christin Stewart reached with a one-out single but was thrown out stealing to end the seventh. The Vols lead 5-1.

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