Midyear evaluations

uconnbaseball

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I did midseason evaluations last year, and spurred by those very special victories over UCF felt compelled to do another write-up this year. I will try to be succinct. I promise.

Offense - B-

So far, we have three players batting over .300 on offense. No one would have been surprised to see Susi raking yet again this year, but Thad Phillips and Troy Stefanski have been major developments in the middle of our order. Both are making good contact and have added some power as well. The top of the lineup is fine with Toppa and Prato (hopefully Toppa can raise his .265 batting average a bit), and Feldstein has provided a ton of power with his 8 home runs. Winkel has cooled off from his scorching start to the season, but has power and walks a lot. If a player breaks out and joins Susi, Phillips and Stefanksi in the .300 club, I suspect it will be him or Prato.

Fedko is a solid starter at this point in his career, and I cannot wait to see what kind of player he will become down the line.

What has hurt this team is the lack of production at the very bottom of our order. Fortunately, as the coaches have settled on an order, this has been less of a problem lately. Woodworth is batting .241 but is starting to rake, so if he continues his hot bat, we will be a better team because of it. Moriarity's bat has been awful -- .123 level bad -- which has made it hard for the coaches to play his excellent glove anymore except late in games. Nucerino hasn't given us much either in terms of hits, but he has a great eye at the plate which has led to a lot of walks.

Our baserunning is very average, which (sadly) is a huge step up from last year. We still make some boneheaded mistakes, but those will happen in college baseball and they are far less frequent this year.

Overall, this is an average college baseball offense and will be graded accordingly. I went with a B- grade over a C+ grade because of the athleticism on this roster; teams have a ~95% fielding percentage against us, which is utterly abysmal. Maybe we're lucky, but our team speed and ability to put the ball in play has a lot to do with that. With that said, that hasn't translated to being a great base stealing team.

Defense - B

Our team fielding percentage is ranked 75th in the country out of approximately 300 teams. That's pretty good, considering this statistic tends to vary wildly (in other words, some elite teams like Stanford have a far worse fielding percentage than we do).

With that said, 75 isn't spectacular either; merely very good. We also haven't thrown out as many players at 2nd as we should given the talent we have at catcher. I feel a "B" is appropriate.

Starting Pitching - A-

...and save for the rough start to the season for all three of our pitchers (damn Northern rust), this would have been an easy "A." Cate and Feole are their usual filthy selves when not walking the #9 hitter on 4 pitches, and no one here is surprised with their success. Interestingly, Feole has a lower ERA (2.98) and Cate (3.70), although their numbers are similar otherwise. Feole has simply done a better job of stranding runners than Cate has. Is that luck? Skill? Who knows? We love them both the same anyway.

The reason this team is in fairly good shape record wise (and great shape RPI wise) is because of the performances of Gardner and Kirsten. Garder, like Cate, struggled a little early on in the year and often has difficulty lasting more than 5-6 innings. This lack of length would be a problem if he were the ace, but as the #3 pitcher??!? He's been awesome, and his pitch to contact method contrasts drastically with Cate and Feole's MLB strikeout stuff. His ERA is 3.02, and that number is trending downward.

Kirsten, meanwhile, is the best mid-week pitcher we have had in a while, and I look forward to him potentially joining the bullpen as a long reliever in postseason play. He's basically Gardner sans a couple MPH on his fastball.

Colby Dunlop's development will be key as we start to play more midweek games. The coaches rave about him and his ERA is low, but we can all agree that he has looked shaky out there more often than not. He's still a freshman and if he can turn into a decent mid-week guy, that would be huge for this team.

Bullpen - D

I avoided giving them an "F" because Wallace had been pitching great until the UCF series and we have had many injuries...Polonia, Rajkowski, and company will obviously help out this area of the team when then return.

If the bullpen had performed up to expectations, we would be challenging to host a regional. Instead, and unfortunately, we are in the "no man's land" position between a low 2 and a high 3 seed, which would mean being sentenced to Gainesville or Palo Alto. If we can get a higher 2 seed, we could play a beatable host like Clemson or Southern Miss, but as it stands, the most recent projections have us going back to Florida. Not sure if the Gators would love that either as we have given them immense problems, but they always seem to hold us off by the skin of their teeth...

Anyway, back to the bullpen (and you'll see why I procrastinated discussing them below):

ERA of UConn relievers:

Wallace, Jacob 3.79
Dandeneau, CJ 4.50
Poulin, P.J. 5.14
Holmes, Trevor 5.62
Rossomando, Ronnie 6.30
Simeone, Joe 8.31

That's brutal. That's awful. That's totally unacceptable. There have been way too many walks, HBP, wild pitches, and hits against these guys, with hits seemingly being the least of their problems. Poulin is particular needs to start pitching better; we brushed off his escape artistry early on in the season as Poulin being Poulin, but now that he has started to blow some games, it's fair to criticize him. It's equally fair to acknowledge he has been overworked to hell, and that he has shown he can be a good reliever in the past. Poulin returning to his 2017 form might mean the difference between a Super Regional and missing out on the postseason entirely. With the # of close games this team is in, I do not think that is an exaggeration.

Not that Poulin has been the only problem...hell, he is still one of our better relievers going by ERA and batting average statistics! The time is now for Rossomando, the dude has the stuff, but needs to locate better. Holmes has not been as bad as his ERA IMO -- he's the anti-Dunlop -- and hopefully he builds on his last outing vs. UCF. Finally, Simeone is being asked to do too much in the wake of all the injuries, which is no one's fault. We have to hope the bullpen gets healthy AND consistent this month, or else it will cost us starting in Wichita.

Also, if someone can photoshop Rivera's head on a milk carton, that is a free like.






I will let other people tackle the managing. I'm not in the mood to talk about whether Penders is a good coach or not, because the Rice board has worn me out with people going at each other's throats about Wayne Graham's competency. Of course, we're all friendly here...;)

Overall: B

We are who we thought we were! (pretty much...) I still think this team has untapped upside, but every fan thinks that of their favorite team. These guys need to go out and continue to win as many series as possible.
 
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I would not give the starters an "A" grade just yet, given that there hasn't been a ton of quality starts from this group yet. However, the starters recently have started to pitch like they are capable of an "A". If they continue to do what they have done recently, they will be in fine shape, and deserving of an "A". As I've said before, this team will go as far as the starting pitching will take us. If UConn gets some luck that could be quite far.

Injuries to Dandeneau, Rajkowski, and Polonia, and the bunch of rainouts during the midweek games have hurt the development of the bullpen. You need to play these games to allow the Dunlop's, Simeone's and others some time to get some innings in outside of the high stress of the AAC weekend grinds.

UConn's biggest problem on offense is that the team in general does not get on base enough. At this point, Toppa, Susi, and Phillips all have on base percentages of over .380. The rest of guys who get playing time are all below .350. Taking Moriarty and his amazingly low production out of the lineup really did help. The team started off pretty poor in collecting walks. I like to see a player or team get at least 10% of walks out of the total of at bats, that is you have at least 10 walks out of 100 at bats (of course, walks aren't counted as an at bat). UConn has improved this walk total in recent weeks to where it is almost at this 10% point.

Outside of a few really bad games, the defense has been pretty good.
 
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To preface this post I want to say I had very high expectations for the Huskies this year and I am grading based off of that.

Offense: C

The offense, to me, has underachieved a bit this season. While the homerun numbers are up significantly, the team batting average and slugging percentage are very similar to last year. What this means is the team is getting hits at the same rate and they are not finding as many gaps compared to last year. I think this stat reflects why the offense tends to stall in games. There are very good pieces in the lineup, as mentioned in previous posts. If they can find a few more gaps or square up a few more balls I’d imagine the runs will follow.

Starting Pitching: B+

Coming into the season this was where my expectations were the highest. With Cate, Feole and Gardner it looked like UConn had the best weekend rotation in the AAC and probably a Top-15 in the country. All three have pitched much better recently which boosted my grade up. Cate hasn’t really been himself outside of his last 2 starts. Feole has struggled with control at times and isn’t going deep into games like he showed last year. Chase had issues going deep into games after getting hit around second time through the order. I’d say Kersten has been the most consistent starter to this point. He’s been the only guy of the four that gives you exactly what you expect from him since the start of the season to now. Some of these struggles are/were of their own doing but some of it can be attributed to the coaching staff, more on that later.

Bullpen: D+

In my opinion the bullpen has not been as bad as the boneyard community thinks. The bullpen has had a fair amount of injuries thrusting inexperienced freshman into the limelight. Due to those injuries the coaching staff has been forced to pitch their 7th or lower pitching option in big spots. To expect these guys to come in with Cate/Feole/Wallace stuff is unreasonable. Trevor has been serviceable almost all season and Colby, Simeone and Ronnie have all shown flashes. I think some of the bullpen’s struggles stem from the coaching staff, which again I’ll mention later. Once CJ, Dan and Polonia come back to a staff armed with PJ and Wallace, the bullpen should be in great shape.

Defense: B+

This has been the biggest surprise so far. After some of the debacles last years it was expected that there would be some improvements made in this category. The improvements have been very noticeable. Having Troy and Winkel playing full time this year are massive upgrades from last year. Woody is a major improvement to the infield as well. Feldstien and Fedko are shaky at times but are more than capable regardless of the offensive production they bring. Outside of 1 or 2 games they haven’t made any game changing blunders. If they can keep this up it will be huge come the conference championship and regionals, assuming they make them.

Coaching: B+

The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for the team they have fielded this year. The JUCO transfers and the freshman they brought in have made an immediate impact. On top of that Penders pretty much nailed the lineup from game one which has eliminated some early season struggles the team has had in the previous 2 years. The base running has improved too, although I believe some of that is luck (i.e. yesterday Penders sent Susi to score on a ball that he had no business sending him on and the catcher missed it). A couple things preventing a higher grade here, I alluded to earlier. One of the things I’ve noticed with the starters is the pitch calling. It seems they love the strikeout too much and stunted what could be with this rotation. It’s most noticeable with Mason. Mason’s strength last year was his ability to induce weak contact with his changeup allowing him to go deeper into games. This year the coaching staff has turned him into a carbon copy of Cate, fastball and curveball only. Mason’s strikeouts have skyrocketed but with that so have his pitch counts. On top of that I heard that Cate had developed a nice changeup during his time with the US team. I haven’t heard Chris mention it during games at all. The bullpen usage leaves much to be desired as well. I understand that there have been injuries to key cogs in the pen but this issue has followed Penders for the few years I’ve followed the team. He gets too stuck on his guys and has poor feel when to pull pitchers. More often than not this leads to mid-inning, high stress appearances from a reliever just entering a game. Hopefully as the bullpen arms become healthy this will sort it self out.

Overall: B

This team has phenomenal potential. If they can put it all together I’d imagine a deep post-season run is obtainable.
 
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I won’t go through everything but I think this team has played below expectations thus far. Maybe I/we set the bar too high but with the starting rotation and the offensive potential, expectations were high. The bullpen has been atrocious and we’ve been terrible with RiSP. However, there has been some good quality wins and hopefully warmer weather will lead to the bats heating up. This team controls their own destiny right now.
 

uconnbaseball

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Yeah, the freshman + JUCO's on the team this year are definitely more talented than the senior class from last year as a whole. We really miss Yahn and Russell, though. Damn draft :(

And yea kris, the record could be a bit better. The losses to Citadel were terrible.
 

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