Posted: 8:58 am Monday, June 9th, 2014

Looking back and ahead at Tech baseball 

By Ken Sugiura

1. The results may be something of a Rorschach test – you see what you want to see. The Jackets, who began the season unranked for the first time in coach Danny Hall’s tenure at Tech, finished 37-27, which tied with the 2013 team for the second-lowest win total in Hall’s 21 years. They did so, though, with a freshman-heavy lineup, without their two best starting pitchers (Cole Pitts and Jonathan King both suffered season-ending arm injuries early in the year.) and having lost two All-Americans in Daniel Palka and Zane Evans and a three-time All-ACC pitcher in Buck Farmer. The Jackets’ 14-16 record in the ACC was their second sub-.500 mark in the past three years, the only two such records since Hall was hired. However, Tech also won the ACC for the second time in three years, this year having to win a play-in game just to get into pool play, no small accomplishment, particularly at a time when the conference has become so balanced.

The team was 12-10 against NCAA tournament teams, including 7-7 against RPI top 25 teams. The Jackets made their 28th NCAA appearance in the past 30 years, and were eliminated in three games. Since reaching the College World Series in 2006 and then missing the tournament the next year, it was the seventh consecutive year that Tech’s season ended at regionals.

Hall’s lengthy summary of the season: “There were times we were starting four or five freshmen, so I think based on that fact, based on the fact of losing Pitts and Jonathan King at the beginning of the year, I felt like we overcame a lot and then with that being said, to win an ACC championship is a tremendous accomplishment, so very proud of that and proud of our guys. Disappointed that we didn’t win the regional.”

Hall went on to say that, in his opinion, getting into the regional is the hard part. He noted that the number of upsets at the regional level – with only seven of 16 No. 1 seeds advancing to super-regionals – demonstrated not only the depth of talented teams, “but it also tells you that if you play well that weekend, you’ve got a chance,” Hall said. “And so it’s interesting to me (last week, at an end-of-season meeting) just how disappointed our guys were that we didn’t win. That’s a good sign to me. That means that they’re not satisfied with where we’re at. That’s the way I look at it. What can we do to improve to where we host a regional and we win a regional? We’ve kind of been stuck on not winning them, so if you’re standing still, people are going to fly by you.”

2. Freshmen took 40 percent of the team’s at bats. Four of them, right fielder Ryan Peurifoy, shortstop Connor Justus, third baseman Brandon Gold and catcher Arden Pabst, started a combined 187 games. Seniors took 15 percent of the team’s at bats.

3. Broadly, in no small part due to the above numbers, the team was not nearly as strong offensively as the 2013 team, when it had Palka and Evans in the lineup. This year’s team averaged 5.0 runs, down from 6.5 last year. The power drain was considerable. This year’s team averaged a home run every 105 at-bats. Last year’s team hit a home every 39 at bats. Palka almost hit as many home runs (17) as the entire Jackets team did this year (21).

“Certainly some of the things we talked about with our younger guys (last week) is that they’ve got to get stronger,” Hall said.

4. On the other hand, the team’s ERA dropped by a full point despite losing Farmer to graduation and then losing the top two starters, Pitts and King, to season-ending arm injuries early in the year. Pitching coach Jason Howell, who completed his second season with the team, did good work.

“I think Jason Howell did a tremendous job of getting guys to understand how to get guys out,” Hall said.

The team also set a school record for fielding percentage (.974) and double plays (an NCAA-best 77). A strong case could be made that this was Tech’s best defensive team ever. In an era where offensive numbers have dropped due to NCAA rules that required bats be less lively, Tech fielded a team whose clear strengths were pitching and defense.

5. Going forward, Hall cited power, left-handed hitting and left-handed pitching as needs. Tech had five left-handed pitchers on the roster – Sam Clay, Ben Parr, Tanner Shelton, Devin Stanton and King. Clay had an outstanding season as a sophomore and almost certainly will sign a pro contract after getting drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the fourth round. Parr and Stanton both had strong seasons and will be back. King, a sophomore, was to be the No. 2 starter but made only four starts before suffering his season-ending arm injury. Shelton made 15 appearances with a 5.74 ERA.

The only problem with the aforementioned assets: “Everybody wants them,” Hall said. “And the pros want them. That’s what they’re looking for.”

6. To that end, Russ Chandler Stadium will receive a $4.5 million renovation. The entire space underneath the stands will be gutted. On the list – new locker room, new team room, new players’ lounge, new coaches’ offices, new equipment room, new strength and conditioning room and new training room.

“I think that’s going to enhance recruiting, and it’s going to enhance the development even further of our players,” Hall said. “I think one of the things we talk about and take a lot of pride in, we do a pretty good job of developing our players, and so I think the stadium improvements are definitely going to help recruiting because that’s an important factor.”

Hall estimated the facilities, last renovated in 2002, were in the middle of the pack in the ACC.

“But I think once we get it done, we’re going to back towards the top of the conference,” he said.

Hall has hardly recruited poorly. The class that just completed its freshman season was ranked No. 9 by Perfect Game. The 2010 class (including Palka, Isaacs, Evans and Mott Hyde) was ranked No. 7 by Baseball America.

7. At this point, Tech will only lose one member of the starting lineup (not counting pitchers) to graduation, Hyde. Spingola was drafted, as were Josh Heddinger, Matthew Grimes, Clay, Isaacs and Hyde. It’s conceivable all three underclassmen – Spingola, Heddinger and Grimes – could leave. Hall will need to develop more starting pitching, although he’ll likely get Pitts and King back at some point during the 2015 season.

As noted above about the team’s results, it could be said that the team, with as many as eight returning starters, four of whom were freshmen, with a solid freshman class coming in, which won the ACC title for the second time in three years, is in great shape, particularly with a major facilities upgrade. It could also be said that the team, which is 41-49 in the ACC in the past three seasons and hasn’t hosted a regional in that time, and could lose two starting pitchers, its top two relievers and two key up-the-middle players, and whose league will receive a team (Louisville) that just qualified for its second College World Series berth in a row, is getting flown by as the number of competitive teams increases.

For better or worse, the most important piece of the last paragraph may be the upgrade.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to getting good players,” Hall said.

 

25 comments
HonestInformed
HonestInformed

Why is it that no one is talking about Blake Jackson??


He is a tremendous 3B player and he has been a GREAT hitter (serious power) for as long as I can remember.......he was critical to the Houston County (Warner Robins) team winning their first 5AAAAA high school baseball championship in the history of the school!!! He has an impressive resume and he is a proven winner.


Blake will press for playing time at GT......mark my words. I realize Brandon Gold is a VERY talented player; I just think it will be hard for GT coaches to keep Blake Jackson and his bat out of the line-up. A very good problem to have I suppose!


Go GT

GTQBdefender
GTQBdefender

Great article Ken.

Some new to the site (evidently) criticized your choice of adjectives last week because you failed to sugarcoat a bad loss in the regionals. In fact one was foolish enough to suggest you were a Dawg fan.

Keep up the good work.

Some can handle the truth.

kman81
kman81

Next year will be a make or break year for Hall.  With more money being put into the facilities, it is time for him to start winning again and host some super regionals to make that money back.  If he can't do it next year with all of the returning talent, it will be time for him to step down.  He is lucky to coach at a school that will love a guy forever for winning big several years ago.  It took a long time for people to turn on Hewitt after most of us realized the guy was a one year wonder.

billbrockman
billbrockman

I just point out that Kyle Wren, like Sam Clay, was drafted after his sophomore season due to age. He came back vastly improved and helped his draft prospects a lot.

Also, in addition to Evans and Palka and Wren, this year was without stalwarts Sam Dove at 3rd and Brandon Thomas in the outfield. Both were drafted as seniors. For a team to start every position player in a new role and win is nothing short of impressive. Danny Hall should be proud.

forexbomb
forexbomb

This baseball team is going to be very good...  When the pitching is patched up, all will be good in the world of GT baseball...

forexbomb
forexbomb

Freshmen baseball players.....  We are talking about baseball, not football... The fact that his pitching was impacted had more to do with the season than any freshmen playing baseball...

hemiperry
hemiperry

"AT THE END OF THE DAY,IT COMES DOWN TO HAVING A COACH." WHICH TECH HAS NOT HAD IN 10 OR BETTER YEARS.  THE DAY OF DANNY HALL' S FIRING IS WELL PAST DUE.

TechTroll13
TechTroll13

Ken you didn't mention losing Cruz during the season, who was doing an excellent job out of the bullpen. 

Jim70
Jim70

Ken, did we lose any recruits to the mlb draft?

BigTimeJacketFan
BigTimeJacketFan

If I were Bobinski, I would tell Hall to host a Super Regional in the next two to three years.

BigCrimson75
BigCrimson75

Danny Hall is loaded with excuses.

"4 or 5 Freshmen starting at one time"?!?! -- You don't get to make this excuse when you're routinely recruiting the elite HS Baseball players in the Country.

You'd never get that from a Nick Saban, that's for sure.

Fact is, GT once again had one the most talented rosters in the country & once again Hall fails to deliver a Nat'l Title, let alone a trip to Rosenblat. :(

GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

Hard to be upset about a season for which a banner will be hung.   My only complaint is Hall's obsession with small ball tactics offensively.   We know they don't work and are only used because that's what had been done for 100 years.


As for the postseason, if you're basing your opinion on two or three game samples, you're beyond help.

wejacket
wejacket

I was really surprised by the pitching this year. In the past that has been our down fall. But this year it has been the batting at times. How many one run games and extra inning games did we lose this yr?

With all the freshman players I wasnt expecting much, but they very much over performed this yr.

I think the team should be greatly improved next yr!!

THWG

POAD2014
POAD2014

Tech had a real good year all things considered.

Now let the Hall Haters start calling for his head again.

BeeProud
BeeProud

Great Job Danny Hall.  Really like the defensive stats..... sign of a good program.

Taking the series from Ugag is always a plus....


billbrockman
billbrockman

Thanks for the scoop on Blake. This year it was really interesting to see different lineups the first dozen games or so as the freshmen and upperclassmen in new positions sorted themselves out. After that there was very little change except for injury fill-ins. It'll be hard to evict Gold from 3rd, but 2nd is wide open, I would think.

GTQBdefender
GTQBdefender

@kman81

Gregory can't even pull that off.

However finishing 2nd to Duke in the ACCCG played in North Carolina by only one point in 2009-2010 season would indicate not just a one year wonder.

OK to boycott Tech while Hewitt was there and insult and trash him endlessly then learning from all my betters, I'll do exactly the same to Johnson and Gregory.

Enjoy paying Hewitt that 1.7 million dollars a year because the AD lacked the sense to consult a good lawyer.

If Hewitt was so dumb, how did he outsmart the AD?

And with a fan base tired of paying off fired coaches, MBob tosses Gregory an undeserved additional year before taking a good look.



POAD2014
POAD2014

@BigCrimson75 Stupid is as Stupid be Bama fans. Thanks for your wrong analysis. I bet that took longer to type than the SECOND it took to lose to AUBURN with all the Bama talent. 

TechTroll13
TechTroll13

It seems to me that Hall has bunted more since the bats were changed and certainly this year because we were ofensively challenged. 

BigCrimson75
BigCrimson75

@POAD2014 @BigCrimson75  Johnny -- You're Welcome. Not sure the actual time for Chris Davis to sludge 109 yards. We certainly didn't have anyone on the field interested in tackling him. Sunseri was missed badly on that particular play, but you wouldn't hear Saban make weak excuses.