Birdball Storylines: Virginia

Jim Pierce

BC might've been swept by Virginia, but it's not as bad as it sounds. Why the team's performance deserves respect and thensome, plus a look at what they need to improve upon.

Scheduling for the Boston College baseball team took a turn for the weird this week when the athletic department either moved or postponed four games due to Shea Field's status as "unplayable due to conditions caused by cold weather." I talked about that at length yesterday, though, so I'll try to avoid making snippy remarks about it when discussing last week's games.

Last weekend's three-game series ended up crammed into two days thanks to impending bad weather in Virginia. The top-ranked Cavaliers hosted BC for three games in the second ACC series for both clubs. It was one of those weekends where you knew Birdball probably wouldn't win games, but that was fine as long as they looked the part of a better team. Like the week before, I said I'd identify series where they absolutely had to win games in order to show improvement. Virginia wasn't one of them.

True to the prediction, BC lost all three games, but the way the Hoos swept them in the doubleheader was encouraging, if nothing else. BC lost both games, yes, but they led 2-1 in the first game into the eighth, losing in 12 innings. They also dropped the nightcap, but the game was tied 1-1 into the ninth and both games required a walk-off. If we're looking for storylines, we have it, simply because BC isn't that bad of a team. Now if only they could play on their own field!

Without further ado, let's get into it, shall we?

Hey, no batter, no batter, no batter.

BC's pitching staff was absolutely stellar on Saturday, stranding a combined 28 Virginia base runners. Does that mean they were in substantial jams and probably could've been slaughtered? Absolutely. But it also means they were great in getting out of trouble. All season long, the Eagles received the strandings; they've left more men stranded than an episode of Lost. But Virginia's struggles with men on overshadowed another tough day of BC leaving 15 men combined.

One of the season long storylines I chose to focus on involved the Boston College pitching staff. Opposing hitters creamed BC pitching last year, and any given game held the possibility of turning into a slaughterhouse. Any doubt of the pitching staff's struggles quickly evaporates when you think of who they faced this weekend. Brandon Downes, one of the best hitters in the nation, stranded nine men on Saturday combined. That's nine men stranded by the cleanup hitter in one of the nation's best lineups. I'll take that ANY DAY.

Moving forward, I looked forward to watching BC pitchers feast on Holy Cross hitters; the schools postponed the game from earlier in the week. Even though they won't be playing at home, I'm still excited to see BC face a Wake Forest team that's 13-9 with losses to Davidson, Cincinnati, and Radford.

Whoops!

If there's one major thing surrounding the Boston College team besides its struggles with men on base, it's defense. BC committed five errors in the second game on Saturday. Four of those errors occurred in the eighth and ninth innings. Even if fatigue settled in at that point, there's now a direct link to poor fundamentals and losing games for them to work on.

I'm not saying anyone could struggle in the field - a gork groundball, a base hit with eyes, a bleeder, a rushed throw can all result in an error in the scorebook - but having four errors in the eighth and ninth inning when the opponent is giving out men left on base like candy is the major reason why BC couldn't knock off Virginia. They played well enough to win, except for one thing. Knowing they could've taken two of three and swept a doubleheader from a top five team in the nation is great. Knowing they could've done it if they didn't committ seven errors in two games? That hurts.

I'd like to believe the fungo bats went ballistic this week hitting grounders and fly ball during fielding practice. I'd like to believe there was some film study to teach guys to take more time and relax. And I'd like to believe this is a one-off. That can't happen again. Simple and period.

The Nerdery Report

I took some heat last week when I talked about the Pythagorean W-L for the Eagles. I took some heat under the premise, "Success needs to only be measured in wins and losses, not the amount of games they 'should've won.'" And I took some heat for using statistics to show the team hadn't played badly simply because they lost six in a row.

I understand where people are coming from, that they hate losing. But I'm on board with the theory that Rome isn't built in a day when it comes to this baseball program. I have substantial experience watching programs get built and watching programs grow from within. In 2009, I watched a hockey team win 19 games, then drop off to multiple 20-loss seasons almost immediately. Five years later, they were a 19 win hockey program again.

Applying that logic, you absolutely have to understand that a coach needs to look beyond this year. Boston College baseball is not going to win games against Virginia and Florida State - if they do, then there's cause to be excited. That BC should've won games this weekend is positively awesome. I thought they'd get killed, especially after Friday. That they didn't win games is disappointing. That they competed is an absolute step in the right direction.

So let's look at the three stats I'm focusing in on to judge and gauge what BC should be doing and where they can identify holes. Their Pythagorean W-L this year is 41.2%. That translates to a record of 8-10 to this point. They're 6-12, meaning their actual record is two games behind how well they've played. That means bad luck, bad defense, one bad pitching outing - it counts for something.

Let's pit that against the other two stats - total hits and total bases. BC is averaging 8.72 hits per game and 11.17 bases per game. That extrapolates to 488 hits and 625 bases. My prediction for 20 wins at the beginning of the year was 477 hits and 634 bases.

The good news is that they're getting more productive with hits after they were on pace for the same amount of bases despite being on pace for almost 20 more hits. The even better news is that their performance so far should be good enough to win 41 percent of their games. Over a 56 game season, this would be good enough to win 23 games. Since they're only two games behind their Pythagorean W-L, if they stay where they are, they'd win 21 games this year.

This is a major cause for optimism. BC heads to play Wake Forest this weekend. I have reason to believe wins will start this weekend. So while the news of the baseball field's playability give people reason to complain about the program, the performance on the field is belying all that other crap, and the signs of growth are there.

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