I trust it goes without saying that I take a back seat to no denizen of Bulldog Nation in the pessimism of my outlook. (Oh, all right, I take a back seat to no denizen of Bulldog Nation under the age of 85; Larry Munson is a worrier in a class by himself, eclipsing even Wally Butts and Vince Dooley.)
Accordingly, I am not one to give credence to excuses when faith in the cruelty of fate and in the certitude that all forces in the known universe are arrayed against the Red and Black at every turn will suffice. It is, therefore, with extreme skepticism that I ask whether the Diamond Dogs’ disappointing 8-8 ledger really is as awful as it seems.
For one thing, David Perno’s club has struggled with injuries. Aside from the tragic injury to Chance Veazey that helped to put a mere game into its proper perspective, the Classic City Canines have yet to field their expected starting infield of Chase Davidson at first, Levi Hyams at second, Kyle Farmer at short, and Colby May at third. Instead, three of those four projected starters have missed at least nine games, with injuries sidelining Davidson (elbow, ankle), Farmer (wrist), and Hyams (back). This has caused much reshuffling, as May, Christian Glisson, Todd Hankins, Kevin Ruiz, and Robert Shipman have been substituted and shifted accordingly.
On paper, this has cost Georgia in terms of experience. Last Sunday’s batting lineup consisted of freshmen Hankins, Shipman, Brett DeLoach, and Cooper Moseley and sophomores Glisson, May, Zach Cone, Johnathan Taylor, and Peter Verdin. Tonight’s projected starter on the hill, southpaw Blake Dieterich, is a freshman. That’s a lot of youth for one ball club.
How harmed have the Bulldogs been by those personnel losses and roster switches, though? Has losing Kyle Farmer on the one hand and replacing Chase Davidson with Robert Shipman on the other hand really hampered the Red and Black? See for yourself:
With all due respect to Farmer, it’s hard to call that trading down.
Only one upperclassman, junior infielder Robbie O’Bryan, has seen action anywhere other than the mound this season, and he has managed all of one start, four game appearances, seven at-bats, no hits, and no walks. Among the three weekend starters on the pitching staff, sophomore Michael Palazzone has worked the most innings, thrown the fewest wild pitches, and posted the only winning record. The oldest of the starting hurlers, senior Jeff Walters, has the highest ERA, the most hits surrendered, the most earned runs allowed, the highest batting average permitted, and the fewest victories.
Consequently, I have a tough time using youth as excuse. Youth is starting over experience where youth gives the Diamond Dogs the best chance to win, and the key injuries to Davidson, Farmer, Hyams, and Veazey deprived the team of a pair of freshmen and a couple of sophomores. It isn’t as though the squad lost loads of senior leadership when players were hurt. This was always going to be a young team.
All of that, I suppose, is to say that you win some, you lose some, and some are rained out, although a few minutiae leap out from the stat sheet, for whatever they might be worth; viz.:
The Red and Black have been outscored in each of the first three innings, by a cumulative tally of 50-32.
Georgia has struggled against southpaws, going 7-4 against right-handed starters yet 1-4 in games in which the initial hurler was a lefty.
This is a team that can hold on to win, but it is not yet a team that can come back to win. The Classic City Canines are 8-2 when leading or tied after six stanzas yet 0-6 when trailing after that many. Those numbers change to 8-1 when leading or tied after seven and 0-7 when trailing with two innings remaining, and those same numbers hold true at the end of eight frames, as well. The "1" in those "leading after . . ." numbers, by the way, came this past Sunday, when the Red and Black lost a one-run game for the first time this year. The series finale against Siena also represents the only outing of 2010 in which the Bulldogs scored more than five runs in defeat.
Georgia is as likely to win a blowout as to lose a blowout, as the Athenians are 5-5 in games decided by five or more runs. That may indicate that the Diamond Dogs’ patsy opponents are really, really bad and their quality competition is really, really good.
Leaping out to an early lead matters; the Red and Black are 5-1 when scoring first yet 3-7 when the other team notches the initial run. Getting hits matters even more; the Classic City Canines have not lost a game in which they out-hit the opposition. Miscues matter only marginally, though; the Bulldogs are 0-3 when playing errorless baseball yet 7-1 when charged with one mistake. I don’t know if that means someone should boot a routine grounder on purpose in the top of the ninth if we’re ahead at home---call it an "insurance error"---but I do know that the errors attributed to the injury-riddled and inexperienced infield, like the penalty flags thrown in football games, tend, on average, to be less harmful than we presume them to be.