In the 2020 season, Tech baseball faces one of the biggest challenges it has ever encountered. Without a ballpark to truly call home, a daunting schedule, and key pieces lost to graduation, the Diamond Dogs will attempt to live up to the standard that Greg Goff set in 2016: make an NCAA Regional.
Over the course of the week, I’ll be previewing this Bulldog baseball team and season before they take the field for the first time Saturday in a double-header in Lafayette. We’ll see some familiar faces in a Tech uniform, as well as some new additions, but to really understand what Tech looks like this year, we’ll need to start with the pieces from last year’s team that have left.
We’ll start with the position players, and without a doubt, the one that will be missed the most is Mason Mallard.
The righty started every game for the Bulldogs a year ago, platooning between first base and the outfield. But where his absence will truly be felt is in the batter’s box.
Mallard finished the 2019 season with an OPS of 1.015, the 6th highest in C-USA. OPS is a combination of On-Base Percentage (how often Mallard could walk or hit to get on base) and Slugging (how often Mallard could hit home runs or extra base hits), and is often seen as one of the best tools to describe the abilities of a hitter.
But even when Mallard got on base, he wasn’t finished. Only three players in the conference ended the season with more steals than Mallard’s 20.
Add in Mallard’s extremely low strikeout percentage, and you have yourself a complete hitter.
Only nine players in C-USA struck out less often Mallard, and Chris Clayton was one of them. Even if only barely. While Mallard struck out 10.5% of the time he stepped up to the plate, Clayton struck out 10.4% of the time. But when Mallard led the team in nearly every offensive category, Clayton will probably take those wins where he can get them.
Clayton was Tech’s everyday catcher in 2019, but he was also valuable with a bat in his hands. While not the best hitter on the team, Clayton led the team with nine sacrifice bunts. That ranked him third in the conference and 56th nationally
Mason Robinson, an outfielder for the Bulldogs a year ago, put up less than stellar stats over a season of work. But when he got hot, he got hot.
Back in 2018, Robinson hit for the cycle against Louisiana-Lafayette. And then in 2019, Robinson walked off the Cajuns at the Love Shack.
So I’m sure there are quite a few people in Lafayette that are still having rage-induced nightmares about him.
As we move over to pitchers, let’s point one thing out: Tech has practically lost their entire starting rotation going in to 2020.
And the pitcher that might be missed the most is the one that started the most games for the Bulldogs a year ago: Matt Miller. Tech’s ace compiled a 6-1 record and a 3.40 ERA over his 15 starts, while allowing the fewest extra base hits by any of Tech’s regular starters.
Miller’s specialty was striking people out. Miller averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, the 4th highest among C-USA starting pitchers. Opposing batters struck out 27% of the time they stepped into the box to face him.
Logan Robbins, on the other hand, had a different specialty: keeping the ball inside the park. For every nine innings pitched, Robbins only gave up 0.7 home runs, the 5th fewest in the conference.
Continuing on the trend of starting pitchers with a specialty, Logan Bailey excelled at avoiding walks. Bailey only gave up the base on balls to 6.4% of the batter’s he faced in 2019, the 8th fewest in C-USA.
Tech’s ace coming in to the season, David Leal, was shut down until April. After recovering from a foot injury, Leal put up impressive numbers: a 4-2 record with a 3.42 ERA. But two stats jump off his sheet: Walk percentage and WHIP.
Like Bailey, Leal kept walks to a minimum, but at a completely different level. Leal only walked 2.7% of the batter’s he faced, the lowest of any C-USA pitcher to start at least 8 games. Leal also led that same group of conference pitchers in WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched).
With numbers like those, it should be no surprise that Leal was drafted (even if it was by the Oakland A’s).
More is missing from last year’s team too. Tanner Huddleston and Shelton Wallace helped fill out the lineup, while Braxton Smith and Quinton Logan were often called to come out of the bullpen last season.
So while this sounds like a lot of missing pieces, it is. But it’s important to remember that Tech does return a lot too. And that’s what we’ll be talking about tomorrow.