Friday, May 9, 2014

An Embarrassing Lack of Leadership at CSF

By Samuel Chi

As a Cal State Fullerton alumnus, booster and (former) donor, I cannot begin to tell you how embarrassed I am by the administration that's currently running the university. That begins with president Mildred Garcia and includes VP Johnson Eanes, VP Lori Gentles and AD Jim Donovan.

Their handling of the Rick Vanderhook situation was a spectacular display of incompetence. The entire ordeal lasted four weeks, with Vanderhook reinstated after missing four series and 16 games. The school issued two not-widely-distributed press releases to bookend the entire ordeal, all the while the program floundered.

Let's be clear that I'm no fan of coach Vanderhook. I do not believe that he's the man who can continue the program's tradition of excellence. But the way the university administration treated the situation made him a victim, and his job only gets harder from here on out.

He will be back to coach a team that will become the first Titans squad to miss the postseason since 1991. There will be a significant number of transfers from the current roster. There will be recruits who decommit from the program because of the saga, as other schools gleefully expose what an amateur operation Cal State Fullerton truly is, from the top on down.

If the administration did not have enough goods to fire Vanderhook for cause, then he should've been reinstated quickly. If it did, then he should've been fired with cause and let the lawyers handle the aftermath. But the entire situation was treated as if he's a chemistry professor and that his taking four weeks off is no big deal.

But Vanderhook is not a chemistry professor, but the most high-profile employee at Cal State Fullerton, the face of the university's most visible and valuable commodity. Those in charge clearly did not understand this and proceeded like the second-rate bureaucrats that they are.

No one ever called a press conference. Nobody took charge. Not Garcia, not Donovan, no one. No one gave account of what exactly happened and what was done other than a terse press release with one Donovan quote. There is no leadership, no accountability.

Make no mistake, this will be a watershed moment for the program. The Titans last season for the first time failed to make a trip to Omaha in four consecutive seasons, this will make it five. They will have made the Super Regional just once in the last four years after appearing in the Supers in eight straight seasons from 2003-2010.

Vanderhook, made to apologize to the players, will find himself in a toxic situation where he will trust neither his superiors nor those in his charge. This is a recipe for disaster. After Donovan gave him a four-year extension that won't run out until the 2018 season, he'll be determined to toe the company line just to make sure that he sees the end of his contract.

So this program will go nowhere in the next four seasons, and probably beyond. The golden age of Cal State Fullerton baseball is over. It took 40 years to build it and just four weeks to leave it in ruins.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Titans Baseball Needs a Regime Change

By Samuel Chi

I realize by writing this post I'll offend a strong contingent of coach Rick Vanderhook's supporters. But my loyalty is to the Fullerton baseball program, far and above any individual, so here goes:

Hook was never the right guy to lead this program and that's compounded by AD Jim Donovan's ill-advised decision to extend him last year. But now, Donovan has a chance to take a corrective course of action to save the program.

When Dave Serrano left for Tennessee, it was a pivotal time for the Titans. Under siege from big-budget schools putting more emphasis on baseball, we were faced with a landscape increasingly dominated by BCS powers. We needed an infusion of new blood and new ideas to take us boldly into a more challenging terrain.

Instead, bowing to pressure from alums and some fans, then-AD Brian Quinn hired Hook. Not only that, he did not even bother to conduct a meaningful national search to find the right guy for the job.

Now, Hook's loyalty to Cal State Fullerton isn't to be questioned, but that should not be the first, second or third qualification for the job. This is an elite program that needs elite leadership, and Hook doesn't fit the bill.

Hook's a career assistant for a reason, with a temperament ill suited to be the leader of an elite program. He also betrays a certain amount of small-mindedness, with his decision to meddle with the Titan Central message board and then try to shut down live streaming being glaring examples.

In short, Hook's stuck in the past, on and off the field. He does not have the vision that's desperately needed to lead this program.

While I don't personally approve the secret recording of a tirade (IF THAT'S INDEED WHAT HAPPENED), the allegations must be serious enough for Donovan and the administration to mount an investigation. And make no mistake, this wasn't an isolated incident.

Viewed in totality, you can make a case for abusive treatment of players. Please spare me the Junction Boys tales, these are different times whether you like it or not. And the best coaches find ways to adapt. Coach K does not go about his business the same way he did in the 1980s.

The sunflower seed incident, the post-game rant at USD, the 7 a.m. scrimmage after a late-night game, the pregame tirade before the UCSB game - just using a few examples already mentioned on the message board - prove to be very illuminating.

It shows that Hook has but one play in his playbook. A few commenters mentioned that Augie went on epic tirades, too - yes, I know, I've seen them personally. But that's not the only thing he does. Augie was - and still is - a master motivator. He has many more devices from that coaching tool box.

Hook, on the other hand, is a one-trick pony - which we all knew. And he's not going to reverse this season's epic meltdown because he's already out of ideas. The constant ranting and raving - and badmouthing the players to the press - is already old and the players have tuned him out.

Now we must not allow this disastrous season go beyond 2014, and the only thing to do is cut Hook loose.

We thank him for all he's done as a player and assistant and these last 2 1/2 years that included a 51-win season (but no trips to Omaha). We go out and conduct an honest and serious national search, trying to locate the best candidate for the job, whether he's ever set foot at Goodwin before or not.

We should never fear whomever we hire would move on to greener pastures. If they do, we wish them well and we move on. We're Cal State Fullerton, there are plenty of top coaches who want to leave their mark here. What we can't do is let the program slip into irrelevance like Titans softball.

That's the danger facing us now. We have failed to recruit top position players after Serrano's departure. We have not been to Omaha since 2009. We have been eliminated by a lower-ranked team in each of the past three seasons. We'll likely miss the postseason for the first time since 1991.

Was it all Hook's fault? Maybe not. But at the same time, Hook isn't going to get us out of this very mess - arguably the program's only major crisis in its 40-year history (I was around in 1989 and this easily tops that) - that in no small part was his creation.

Donovan gets a second chance to make the right move. He needs to find a coach to take Cal State Fullerton back to Omaha and sustain our record of excellence.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Don't Blame Players for Titans' Mess

By Samuel Chi

Where does the buck stop?

When Hook says to a reporter that this team "lacks leadership and accountability" that is the most damning indictment ... of himself.

When the preseason No. 1 USC football team went down in flames in 2012 with a Heisman-worthy QB, did you blame the Trojans players?

But when the preseason No. 1 Titans - with STILL the nation's best pitching staff - about to become the first team since 1991 not to make the postseason, it's all the fault of the players?

When Serrano's teams unraveled in the postseason, did you blame the coach or the players?

You can't have it both ways.

You want to call the players soft and call them a bunch of names, to me that's despicable. Other than the completely understandable loss on Thursday, they have fought hard all season, they just kept coming up short.

So I ask you, other than pitching, which is handled superbly for the most part by Jason Dietrich, who's in charge of everything else? Who recruited these players here? Who's responsible for coaching hitting and fielding? Who's supposed to motivate these players?

That we have a huge talent problem with respect to position players, whose fault is that? Our two best position players are both Serrano recruits. Last year's team that won 51 games had a lineup that was nearly exclusively Serrano recruits.

When things started going south this season, did Hook make any adjustments to right the ship besides ranting and raving at the team AND to the press? How many times has he thrown all the players under the bus, and how many times has he pointed the finger at himself?

Of the 15 losses this season, 10 were one-run games or in extra innings and another two were by two runs. This isn't a team that's not trying hard. This is a team that lacks some talent and the coaching needed to get it over the hump.

I, for one, will salute the players for putting forth the effort and try hard every game. And for enduring the endless tongue-lashing, punishing post-game workouts and early morning scrimmages after coming up just short many times.

These players aren't soft. They needed guidance, leadership and support. They aren't getting it from their head coach. And sadly it seems like they're not getting it from the fans, either.

Shame on you, Titans fans, for throwing these kids under the bus, too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

CSF Places Coach Vanderhook on Leave

Cal State Fullerton has placed its head baseball coach on leave, the university announced Thursday.

"Effective today, Cal State Fullerton's head coach Rick Vanderhook has been placed on paid administrative leave. The university has received allegations that it is obligated to review," a school release said.

"Assistant coaches Mike Kirby and Jason Dietrich will serve as acting co-head coaches when the Titans take on Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Thursday afternoon to start a three-game series through Saturday."

Fullerton is 18-13 after losing two of three games last weekend at UC Santa Barbara.

Vanderhook took over the Titans program in 2012, when four-year head coach Dave Serrano left for Tennessee. Vanderhook was 36-21 in his first season and followed up with a 51-10 record in 2013, which tied the mark for the fourth-most wins in program history. Fullerton won 66 games in 1984, 60 in '79, 57 in '95 and 51 in '82, all under Augie Garrido.

Fullerton won its postseason regional last year before losing to eventual national champion UCLA in the super regional.

The Titans won the College World Series in 1979, '84, '95 -- with Garrido at the helm -- and 2004 under George Horton. Fullerton has 12 other CWS appearnces.

Friday, February 14, 2014

CSFBaseball.com Shutdown Announcement

Dear fellow Titans fans:

I'm saddened to announce that I will be shutting down the CSFBaseball.com web site, which has been operating since the 2009 season. The decision will stand for the 2014 season, and perhaps for good.

The reason for the shutdown is that I belatedly realized that the site is doing much harm to the success of our beloved baseball team. FBF's previews and Don's recaps are so accurate and insightful that their continued publication would provide coaches of future opponents too much valuable information.

This falls in line with the school's recent decision to discontinue video streaming of Titans home games. In fact, I would urge the administration to cancel all telecasts planned for ESPN3 and ESPNU and hack the streaming service of our road opponents so that no one will see or read about even one pitch of our games. These measures should greatly enhance our chances of winning a fifth national championship, hopefully in an empty stadium in Omaha.

I'd like to thank you for your support and suggestions over the years. Our Twitter feed @CSFBaseball will still be active, but only to disseminate non-proprietary information such as what will be on the latest rerun of "Breaking Bad" episodes.

See you at the ballpark, but remember: Do not discuss the game or our team with anyone - you just never know if Mike Gillespie's great grandson might be in attendance masquerading as a fan. Loose lips sink ships!

- Proprietor, CSFBaseball (Class of '91)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fullerton Super Regional: UCLA Preview

UCLA at Titans (Fullerton Super Regional)
Friday 4 p.m.; Saturday 7 p.m.; Sunday (if necessary) 7 p.m. (All Games on ESPN2)


By FullertonBaseballFan


UCLA Bruins
  • Overall Record – 42-17
  • Conference Record – 21-9 (3rd place)
  • How they qualified for a regional – At-large.  Won Los Angeles regional – Wins against San Diego State 5-3, Cal Poly 6-4 and San Diego 6-0.
  • Last post-season appearance – 2012.  3-0 at Los Angeles regional – wins vs. Creighton twice and New Mexico.  2-0 vs. TCU in Los Angeles super regional.  1-2 in College World Series – win vs. Stony Brook, losses to Arizona and Florida State.
  • RPI/ISR – 14/10 (Fullerton opponent ISR comparison – Oregon 7, Cal Poly 17)
  • SOS – 28 (RPI)/6 (ISR). 
  • Record vs. Fullerton – 0-2.  Lost 6-9 at home on 4/2, lost 2-5 at Fullerton on 5/14
  • Record vs. common opponents – UCLA 18-6, Fullerton 25-6.
  • Record vs. tournament field –  9-8. 
  • Record vs. top 50/top 100 RPI – 7-8/23-13

Season Summary

UCLA was traditionally one of the most underachieving programs in the country prior to the arrival of John Savage nine years ago.  Since Savage took over, the Bruins have finished in the top three in the Pac 11 the last eight seasons, have gone to seven regionals, four super regionals and played in two College World Series, finishing as the runner-up in 2010.  UCLA had a reputation of not being able to win the big game before Rick Vanderhook became an assistant coach in 2009 and took control of coaching the position players and the Bruins had one of the biggest moments in the history of the program when they defeated Fullerton in the 2010 super regional.  The Bruins have always recruited well, even under former coach Gary Adams with many alums ending up playing in the majors, but Savage has taken the program to another level and led UCLA back to Omaha in 2012 for the second time in three seasons.

UCLA expected to be playing lots of low scoring games this season after losing their five most productive hitters from 2012 while returning all four of their starting pitchers and their best reliever and that has been the case most of the time.  The Bruins got off to a 12-3 start heading into conference play after winning series against Minnesota, Baylor and Wright State (the only sweep of the three series) and winning two out of three games in a tournament with Oklahoma, Notre Dame and USC.

UCLA continued their winning ways in going 5-1 against Washington and Cal to start Pac 11 play before the schedule toughened up and the Bruins lost series at Arizona State and at home to Oregon State.  The Bruins rebounded to win their next six series against Loyola Marymount, at Oregon and Washington State, at home against Utah and Arizona and at USC before dropping the final series of the regular season at Stanford.  UCLA’s offense stagnated for three weeks against OSU, LMU and Oregon when they only scored sixteen runs in nine games but their pitching carried them in the Oregon series with two 1-0 shutout wins and UCLA averaged six runs a game in the next four series.  The Bruins were productive last weekend as they hit .308 and scored seventeen runs in their three regional games, taking advantage of a ball getting lost in the lights that turned a fly out into a three run triple in the winners bracket game against Cal Poly, and they rode the momentum of getting that break into a win over the Mustangs and finished things off against San Diego the next day.


Offense

·       Park Factor according to Boyd’s World – 118 (increases offense by 18%).  The outfield dimensions are on the small side for a western ballpark – 330 down the lines, 370 to the power alleys, 395 to center.
·       Batting Average – .252 (NCAA ranking – 251, conference ranking 11th); .251 in conf. games (11th).  2012 – .304.
·       Scoring – 285 (199, 7), 4.8 runs per game; 144 (5th), 4.8 runs per game in conf. games.  2012 – 394, 6.2 runs per game.
·       Home Runs – 19 (154, 7); 13 in conf. games (5th).  2012 – 23.
·       Slugging Percentage – .337 (234, 10); .336 in conf. games (10th).  2012 – .393.
·       On Base Percentage – .360 (125, 5); .349 in conf. games (6th).  2012 – .391.
·       Walks – 261 (26, 1), 4.4 per game; 125 (1st), 4.2 per game in conf. games.  2012 – 228, 3.6 per game.
·       HBP’s – 76 (42, 2); 29 in conf. games (6th).  2012 – 96.
·       Stolen Bases – 65-106 (106, 4); 29-51 in conf. games (4th). 2012 – 62-98.
·       Sac Bunts – 60 (40, 4); 33 in conf. games (7th).  2012 – 64.
·       Strikeouts – 384 (DNR, 2), 6.5 per game; 192 (5th), 6.4 per game in conf. games.  2012 – 341, 5.3 per game.

Unlike last week when Fullerton played against ASU, the team with the best offense in the Pac 11, UCLA has been below average offensively after losing their five best hitters from 2012, including all three outfielders and their catcher.  The Bruins are last in the conference in AVG and next to last in SLG % but have done their best to overcome that by being extremely patient at the plate and led the Pac 11 in walks and were second in HBP’s and while they see lots of pitches they let lots of them go by or swing and miss them because they have had the second most strikeouts in the conference.  UCLA doesn’t have much power with 19 HR’s and only two players have more than two HR’s.  The Bruins have been good at manufacturing runs and have averaged about a SAC bunt per game with five players having at least six SAC bunts.  UCLA will put runners into motion often to avoid double plays, hitting into the second fewest DP’s in the Pac 11, and they are fourth in the conference in SB’s with four players stealing at least eight bases.  The Bruins averaged 4.8 runs per game in both non-conference and conference games and have been held to four runs or less thirty times.

Batting Order

CF – JR #24 Brian Caroll (RH – .259/.369/.286, 0-20-29) only hit .235 as a Soph in 17 AB’s but has been a sparkplug at the top of the lineup as a regular for the first time and is second in the Pac 11 in SB’s, led the team in runs and was honorable mention all-conference.  He has very little power with only four extra base hits and will slap the ball and try to run his way onto base.  Carroll is patient at the plate with a 25/33 BB/K ratio and will crowd the plate because he had 14 HBP’s, which was fourth in the conference.  He is also an excellent bunter who will try to bunt for hits and has 11 SAC’s, which is among the Pac 11 leaders.  Carroll hit pretty well in non-conference games but only hit .231 in conference games and was 2-11 last weekend.

3B – Soph #7 Kevin Kramer (LH – .285/.395/.394, 3-40-9) was honorable mention all-conference and one of the best hitters on the team, leading the Bruins in AVG and OBP and is second on the team in SLG %, R and RBI.  He only walked seven times as a FR but has been much more patient this season and is among the conference leaders in HBP’s with 14 and in walks but also strikes out quite a bit and has a 28/43 BB/K ratio.  Kramer is also an excellent bunter and has nine SAC bunts.  He has good speed and was second on the team in SB’s.  Kramer was 2-11 with 2 RBI last weekend.

RF – Soph #4 Eric Filia (LH – .266/.382/.349, 1-24-8) only hit .245 in a reserve role as a FR and is a line drive hitter who led the team in doubles but hit in some tough luck this season and only hit .236 in conference games.  Filia was second on the team and was fifth in the Pac 11 in walks and had an excellent 31/21 BB/K ratio.  He is also a good bunter and has eight SAC bunts.  Filia was one of the leaders on offense last weekend and went 6-12 and scored four runs.

SS – JR #10 Pat Valaika (RH – .260/.361/.413, 5-42-8) was the only position player to receive All-Pac 11 honors for his all-around contributions on offense and defense, for which he also received the Pac 11 Defensive Player of the Year award.  He doesn’t hit for much of an average but he has solid power and led the team in HR’s, SLG % and RBI.  Valaika is very patient at the plate and led the team in walks but strikes out at a decent rate and has a 32/37 BB/K ratio.  He was only 2-9 last weekend but had three RBI.  Valaika is expected to be the highest drafted position player on the team in this week’s MLB draft and is projected to be picked in the 10th-12th round range.

DH – JR #5 Kevin Williams (LH – .238/.333/.314, 1-11-2) was the only returning starter who hit over .300 in 2012 but missed the first five weeks of the season and has only been able to play DH until recently after starting at 2B last year.  He hasn’t hit well after getting off to a late start and only hit .206 in conference games.  Williams isn’t a patient hitter with only 21 walks in the last two seasons and has struck out almost thirty percent of the time.  He had the hit that turned the regional around last weekend against Cal Poly when his fly ball to RF got lost in the poor lighting at UCLA and turned into a bases clearing triple.

C – Soph #14 Shane Zeile (RH – .239/.344/.318, 2-19-2) hit .371 in a part-time role as a FR but has seen his offense stagnate with the responsibilities that come with being the starting catcher.  He got off to a bad start before hitting much better in conference games, where he was second on the team with a .286 AVG and 14 RBI.  Zeile is a good bunter and has six SAC bunts.  He was 2-10 last weekend.

2B – SR #18 Cody Regis (LH – .240/.350/.293, 0-18-1) provides veteran leadership as the only player still on the roster from the 2010 team that beat Fullerton in the super regional.  He is a versatile player who has played all over the infield during his career and settled in at 2B this season.  Regis hit much better in his first two seasons with a .300 AVG and 15 HR’s but has only been hitting in the 230’s over the last two years with one HR, although he did lead the team with a .291 AVG in conference games.  His power has mostly disappeared with only eight extra base hits (all doubles) but he does a good job of working counts with a 25/32 BB/K ratio.  Regis went 3-10 last weekend.

1B – JR #27 Pat Gallagher (LH – .272/.381/.340, 1-17-0) has been part of a platoon getting most of the playing time vs. RHP’s.  He doesn’t have much power for a 1B but is one of many patient hitters on the team and is second in OBP but he also strikes out about 1/4 of the time.  Gallagher is a good bunter with six SAC bunts.  He was the MVP of the regional last weekend after going 5-9 with four RBI.

LF – JR #23 Brenton Allen (LH – .255/.349/.362, 2-12-1) was one of several players getting playing time in LF earlier in the season but has been the starter most of the time over the last month.  He has the most potential among the regulars as a big guy who was a 9th round pick out of HS but most of that potential has been unfulfilled.  A major part of Allen’s problem is a poor approach at the plate and he has struck out about 1/3 of the time.  He was 2-7 last weekend.

Reserves

1B – Soph #25 Chris Keck (LH – .188/.301/.304, 1-10-0 in 69 AB’s)
2B – FR #8 Trent Chatterton (RH – .260/.361/.298, 0-10-2 in 104 AB’s)
OF – FR #29 Ty Moore (LH – .208/.293/.292, 0-10-0 in 72 AB’s)
OF – FR #3 Christoph Bono (LH – .231/.363/.354, 2-10-2 in 65 AB’s)


Defense

·       Fielding – .980 (5, 2) – 47 errors, 25 unearned runs.  UCLA has been one of the best defensive teams in the country this season.  Gallagher and Regis are solid on the right side of the infield.  Valaika and Kramer are excellent as one of the best left sides of the infield in the country.  Allen is average in LF, Carroll has excellent range in CF and Filia has good range in RF.
·       Stolen Base Attempts – 41-61 (DNR, 5).  Zeile didn’t catch before this season but has done a solid job of being converted to playing behind the plate.  Runners are 34-47 against him.
·       WP’s/PB’s Allowed – 61 (DNR, 8).  Zeile had a very tough time blocking pitches earlier in the season but allowed only fourteen WP’s in conference games.


Pitching

UCLA returned all four starting pitchers and six of their seven leaders in innings from 2012, losing only closer Scott Griggs, so it was expected that the Bruins would have a strong pitching staff as they almost always have under Savage, who is also the pitching coach.  UCLA is in the top twenty nationally in ERA, AVG, fewest walks allowed, WHIP and K/BB ratio and they have allowed four runs or less forty-three times, going 38-5 in those games.  The Bruins pitchers are tough to hit and don’t hand out too many free bases other than the occasional HBP by pitching inside so they don’t make it easy on their opponents and have also been helped by having an excellent defense playing behind them.
  • ERA – 2.75 (13/3); 2.93 in conference (2nd). 
  • AVG – .224 (11/2); .246 in conference (3rd). 
  • HR – 19 (DNR/6); 9 in conference (3rd). 
  • SLG – .299 (DNR/3); .326 in conference (3rd).  
  • Walks – 150 (11/1), 2.5 BB’s/9 IP; 64 (1st) in conference, 2.1 BB’s/9 IP. 
  • HBP – 54 (DNR/6); 31 in conference (6th). 
  • OBP – .255 (DNR/2); .308 in conference (2nd). 
  • Strikeouts – 420 (87/2), 7.0 K/9 IP; 217 in conference (1st), 7.2 K/9 IP. 
Starters

JR #9 Adam Plutko (RHP – 8-3, 2.51 ERA, 16 GS, 1 CG, 104 IP, 78 H, 26 BB, 75 K, .210 AVG, 5 HR, 7 HBP, 1 WP, 11-16 SB) has been part of the backbone of UCLA’s team as a three year starter, a three time All-Pac 11 selection, an All-American and has 27-10 with a 2.35 ERA during his career.  He struggled at times with his control in 2012 with six starts in which he had at least four walks but those issues haven’t popped up this season and the most walks that he has had in a start is three, which he has done four times.  Plutko isn’t a hard thrower with a fastball that sits around 90 but has an excellent changeup and a solid slider and he attacks the strike zone, using his fastball to get batters to hit pop ups and fly outs and he has struck out five hitters or less in four of his last five starts.  He has been throwing very well down the stretch and has allowed two runs or less in seven of his last eight starts.  Plutko has been tough to hit and is fifth in the Pac 11 with a .210 AVG and has allowed six hits or less in eleven of his starts.   He allowed two runs (1 ER) on six hits and one walk last weekend against San Diego State and has been outstanding in his career in post-season games with a 5-0 record in five starts with a 0.97 ERA.  Plutko was a sixth round pick out of HS and is expected to be drafted around the fifth round this weekend.

JR #21 Nick Vander Tuig (RHP – 11-4, 2.51 ERA, 16 GS, 2 CG, 108 IP, 91 H, 17 BB, 77 K, .233 AVG, 4 HR, 7 HBP, 9 WP, 6-11 SB) didn’t get off to the fast start that Plutko did as a FR, working out of the bullpen as the closer and picking up nine saves while recovering from elbow surgery that prevented him from pitching as a HS SR.  He was inconsistent as a starter in 2012 with a 4.43 ERA and a .318 AVG in Pac 11 games but the light bulb started to go on down the stretch and he had a 3.09 ERA in his last seven starts.  Vander Tuig won six of his last seven decisions and he threw well in picking up wins against New Mexico in their regional and TCU in their super regional.  He has been much more consistent this season and allowed more than three runs in only one start before allowing five runs at Stanford and four runs last weekend against Cal Poly.  Vander Tuig has been a workhorse and is second in the Pac 11 in wins, fourth in IP and sixth in strikeouts and was a first team all-conference selection.  He has excellent control and hadn’t walked more than two batters in a start before walking three batters against Cal Poly.  Vander Tuig’s fastball sits in the low 90’s and he has a very good slider that he buries to get ground balls, which will sometimes lead to wild pitches, and a solid changeup.  He is expected to be drafted around the fourth round this weekend.

Soph #12 Grant Watson (LHP – 8-3, 3.22 ERA, 16 GS, 87 IP, 89 H, 15 BB, 52 K, .271 AVG, 2 HR, 5 HBP, 6 WP, 2-4 SB) was a midweek starter and middle reliever on the weekends as a FR, going 9-2 with a 4.45 ERA in 35 appearances (15 GS) and 89 IP.  He was moved into the weekend rotation this season and has been a solid Sunday starter, allowing more than three runs only three times.  Watson usually won’t work deep into games, letting the excellent UCLA bullpen do most of the heavy lifting, and threw five innings or less in nine straight starts before an excellent start against San Diego in the regional clinching game last weekend when he threw seven scoreless innings and allowed only one hit.  He isn’t a hard throw with a mid-upper 80’s fastball and an excellent slider that he uses as a swing and miss pitch or to get batters to pound the ball into the ground. Watson has excellent control and allowed more than two walks in only one of his starts. He is the only of UCLA’s starters that Fullerton has faced previously, making two midweek starts in 2012 when he went 1-0 and allowed four runs (3 ER) on ten hits and five walks in 10 2/3 IP

Relievers

The bullpen for UCLA has been outstanding all season and has allowed their starters to shorten games and come out after six-seven innings and feel confident that the game is over and the Bruins are 35-0 when leading after seven innings and they are also 7-1 when games are tied after the eighth inning.  UCLA has relied primarily on three relievers who are all in the top ten in appearances in the Pac 11 and they are 8-1 with a 1.45 ERA and 22 saves and have held opponents to a .193 AVG.

Soph #26 David Berg (RHP – 6-0, 0.81 ERA, 20 saves, 44 apps, 67 IP, 45 H, 7 BB, 69 K, .190 AVG, 2 HR, 4 HBP, 2 WP, 1-2 SB) came into the program as an unheralded walk-on but he was lights out as a FR because hitters were unable to pick up the ball coming out of his hand with his sidewinder delivery that is reminiscent of Kent Tekulve and Dan Quisenberry.  He was a FR All-American with a 1.46 ERA, held opponents to a .165 AVG and led the nation with fifty appearances as the set-up man for Scott Griggs.  Berg has been even better this season as the closer, once again leading the nation in saves, and had a 36 inning scoreless streak broken in the last weekend of the season and was the first reliever to ever be honored as the Pac 11 Pitcher of the Year.

FR #11 James Kaprielian (RHP – 0-0, 1.46 ERA, 2 saves, 29 apps, 37 IP, 19 H, 21 BB, 50 K, .152 AVG, 0 HR, 4 HBP, 10 WP, 2-3 SB) was projected to be drafted in the first ten rounds out of HS but he had a strong commitment to going to school and wasn’t picked until the last round of the draft.  He was going to be the closer but didn’t pitch for the first couple of weeks and eventually became a dominant set-up man for Berg with a low 90’s fastball, a solid changeup and a power curve that can sometimes end up in the dirt and lead to wild pitches.  Kaprielian can sometimes have control issues, averaging five walks per 9 IP, but has also been blowing hitters away and averaging 12 strikeouts per 9 IP.  He faced Fullerton in both midweek games and allowed five runs (2 ER) on three hits and four walks in 5 2/3 IP with nine strikeouts.

JR #32 Zack Weiss (RHP – 2-1, 2.37 ERA, 40 apps, 38 IP, 33 H, 12 BB, 27 K, .237 AVG, 1 HR, 9 HBP, 6 WP, 3-6 SB) was in the weekend rotation in 2012, going 3-3 with a 4.28 ERA in thirteen starts and had problems with his control, hitting ten batters and averaging over four walks per 9 IP.  He has thrived as a middle reliever this season and is second only to Berg in the Pac 11 in appearances, usually pitching one inning in either the sixth or seventh inning as the bridge between the starters and Kaprielian and Berg at the back end of the bullpen.  Weiss has a low 90’s fastball that can tend to straighten out along with a solid changeup, slider and curveball.  He was drafted in the 10th round out of HS and will be drafted around the 10th round again this weekend.

FR #34 Cody Poteet (RHP – 4-6, 4.84 ERA, 29 apps, 11 GS, 71 IP, 57 H, 31 BB, 56 K, .227 AVG, 3 HR, 9 HBP, 7 WP, 13-16 SB) was the midweek starter and a middle reliever on the weekends who would come into games if one of the starters came out early.  He is a hard thrower with a fastball that sits in the 92-94 range and a decent breaking pitch. Poteet started both midweek games against Fullerton and lost both of them, allowing eight runs on nine hits in seven innings.

JR #40 Ryan Deeter (RHP – 2-0, 4.24 ERA, 21 apps, 17 IP, 12 H, 12 BB, 10 K, .194 AVG, 1 HR, 6 HBP, 3 WP, 2-2 SB) served a similar role to Weiss last season when he had a 0.89 ERA over 30 innings in 36 appearances but has been relegated to more of a mop-up role this season.  He can run his fastball into the 92-94 range, which will probably get him drafted in the low teens this weekend, but has had issues with his control and made the coaching staff reluctant to use him in high leverage situations.


Outlook

With the pitching staffs that Fullerton and UCLA have, there don’t figure to be too many runs scored this weekend with both teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in ERA, AVG and walks allowed per nine innings as well as in fielding with both teams possessing strong defenses.

Both offenses led their conferences in walks and relied on getting runners on base on walks and hit batters to scratch out some runs, especially the Bruins due to their low batting average.  Fullerton has had the more dynamic offense when they have been clicking and have much more power than UCLA, which makes them more of a threat to score runs in bunches.

There won’t be too many secrets between the coaching staffs with Vanderhook coaching at UCLA for three seasons before returning to Fullerton in 2012 so he is very familiar with the players on the Bruins roster from either recruiting and/or coaching them.  Goodwin Field has been a house of horrors for Savage, where his teams have gone 4-18 during his career including being eliminated by the Titans in a super regional in 2007 and a regional in 2008. This will also be the first time that UCLA has played on an opponent’s home field in the postseason since that regional in 2008.

These two teams are pretty evenly matched but Fullerton has been even more consistent than UCLA has been this season with the Titans winning every weekend series they have played and has a little more offense than the Bruins do and along with the home field advantage that Fullerton has they should be able to win a hard fought and tightly contested series and advance to the College World Series.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

For Titans, a Seminal Series

By Samuel Chi

This weekend's Super Regional matchup against UCLA is nothing short of a must-win series for the Titans. The program hasn't had one this important since these two teams last met in the Supers in 2010, when a seismic shift in Southern California college baseball landscape began to take shape.

When the Titans emerged as a powerhouse in the late 1970s and early 1980s, their first local nemesis was USC, whose five-year reign was snapped by the first-year Titans in the 1975 regional. Over time, the Titans have developed rivalries with Stanford and Arizona State, with the former largely owning the Titans while the Titans mostly dominating the latter, including this past weekend.

But then UCLA burst onto the scene; and the one person most responsible for the Bruins' sudden emergence as a national power is John Savage.

Before Savage took over, UCLA had been a major-league talent-producing machine under former coach Gary Adams. An affable man who was able to recruit future stars such as Eric Karros, Troy Glaus, Jeff Conine and Chase Utley, among others, Adams was an absolute underachiever when it came to on-field success. In his 30 years at the helm in Westwood, the Bruins made it to Omaha exactly once - in 1997.

Savage came to UCLA from UC Irvine in 2005 and went about changing the culture of the place. While he was able to continue to reel in elite players - something UCLA never had trouble doing - he wanted to instill a focused toughness that had sorely been lacking in Westwood. Winning, instead of padding stats and looking good for pro scouts became more of a priority as UCLA won six Pac-10 titles in his first eight seasons.

A key hire he made in 2009 changed the Bruins' fortunes in the postseason. Rick Vanderhook, a longtime Fullerton assistant who was passed over for the head job when George Horton left for Oregon, brought a measure of scrappiness and nastiness to Westwood. In essence, he instilled the Fullerton Way to toughen up the oft-soft Bruins.

And in 2010, a key moment for UCLA arrived.

The Titans had always had UCLA's number, in postseason or otherwise. There was without a doubt which was the most dominant baseball program in Southern California, going back 35 years. By 2010, UCLA had made it to Omaha just twice in its history, whereas the Titans were in the College World Series six times in the previous nine years, winning their fourth national title in 2004.

And everything looked about more of the same in that 2010 Super Regional showdown in Westwood - the first time the Bruins ever hosted the Supers. After having eliminated UCLA in the 2007 and 2008 postseasons, the Titans were one out away from doing it a third time in four seasons, and with it, another trip to Omaha.

But then the Bruins dug in and, thanks to a lapse in attentiveness on the Titans' part, the fortunes of both programs changed. Tyler Rahmatullah's two-run shot would indelibly alter the dynamics of Southern California baseball for the immediate future.

The Bruins went on to win that Super Regional in three games, despite being outplayed for the first 53 outs, and they would go to Omaha again in 2012. This series will be their third Supers appearance in four years.

Meanwhile, the Titans fell on hard times, by Fullerton standards. They matched their longest Omaha drought in the program's history when the Titans failed to even get to the regional final in 2011 and 2012. Dave Serrano left for Tennessee after the 2011 season and Vanderhook returned to Fullerton after three years at UCLA, this time as the head man.

After a disappointing season in 2012 when the Titans again came up short, Vanderhook has been nothing short of brilliant in his second season as Fullerton's head coach. He hired UC Irvine's Jason Dietrich as the pitching coach, who promptly tutored one of the nation's best pitching staffs, headed by two true freshmen. The Titans won the Big West by six games and at 51-8, have the fewest losses of any team entering Super Regional play.

But none of that would mean squat if the Titans can't vanquish the Bruins on home soil this weekend.

This series is a war between Old Money and New Money; a contest between a program backed by a loyal and vocal fan base vs. one adored by the national media and few others; a bout between two programs that might be mirror images of each other on the field, but two schools that were galaxies apart in everything else.

If the Titans lose this series, that would mean for the first time a senior who played all four years in Fullerton didn't make a trip to Omaha. It would mean a four-year drought made worse by the fact that UCLA were in the CWS three times during that period, including twice at Fullerton's expense. It would  signal the possibility that the baseball program might be going the way of Titans softball.

A Titans victory this weekend would go a long way of restoring order in SoCal baseball. By winning this series, the Titans will finally be able to put the 2010 nightmare to rest and treat it as a mere hiccup in the glorious and improbable history of Fullerton baseball. Getting past UCLA also means the Titans will be back in Omaha for the 17th time (but for the first time since the new ballpark opened) to continue their quest to be the only school to win a national title in every decade since the 1970s.

In short, a victory will allow the Titans to resume business as usual. That's why this series isn't just life and death - only a lot more important than that.