With the Boston College baseball season nearly a week in the past, it’s time to take an in depth look at the year that was and discuss the positives, negatives, and the future of BC baseball. I understand there are a multitude of questions surrounding this team, this season, and the program as whole, so I will do my best to answer all of them as impartially as possible, given the information available. So, with that let’s jump right in (I apologize in advance for the length of this post):
Chris Galland – The freshman outfielder burst onto the scene in 2018 by batting .316 for the season and leading the team (and for a while the ACC) in stolen bases with 28. He was the lone Eagle selected to an All-ACC team, as he was a member of the Third Team and All-Freshman squad (Jake Palomaki was snubbed, in my opinion). In Galland, the Eagles have a true leadoff hitter for at least the next two seasons and a legitimate offensive weapon when he gets on base. Though his power numbers were low, they should rise over the next couple of seasons as Galland matures at the plate and adds muscle.
Jake Palomaki – It turns out Palomaki, who started nearly every game of his career, saved his best season for last, as the Eagles co-captain was BC’s best all-around offensive player. He batted .315 for the season, led the team in doubles (13) and triples (2), and was second on the team in home runs (3), RBI (32), and stolen bases (19). As I mentioned above, I think it’s an absolute mistake on the part of the conference’s coaches snubbing Palomaki with the year he had. Beyond his stats, Palomaki was this team’s leader for the last two seasons. He was the type of player that other guys on the team would look toward to set an example, and his presence will definitely be missed next year.
Brian Rapp – Coming into the season, the pitching staff, specifically the weekend rotation, was projected to be the strength of this Boston College club. While early struggles sunk some of those lofty expectations, Rapp turned in a solid year on the mound. He was the only starter with a sub-four ERA and he led the team in strikeouts, with 74 in 70.2 innings pitched. Beyond just this season, Rapp has been one of the most improved players on the BC roster, lowering his ERA and upping his innings in every season on the Heights. He’s turned himself into a solid starter and will likely hear his name called in this year’s draft.
Zach Stromberg – Though not often talked about during the season (and that’s my fault), Stromberg was by and large the best bullpen arm the Eagles had available in 2018. He recorded a team-low 2.96 ERA (technically Fr. Jack Hodgson had a 0.00 ERA, but he appeared in only three games) while appearing in 22 games this season, good for second on the staff. In a year where the bullpen coughed up an unacceptable amount of late-leads, Stromberg remained solid. Next season look for him to be more prominently featured, though he will need to cut down on his walks, as he issued 15 in 27 innings on the mound.
The New Facility – Without a doubt, the biggest positive from the 2018 season was the opening of the new Brighton Stadium. By all accounts, it’s a great venue to go watch a college baseball game and drew a fair number of fans when the weather wasn’t terrible. Obviously, it’s a huge upgrade from Shea Field (though, I am still sentimental about the Birdcage) with amenities, such as the AstroTurf playing surface, that will allow the Eagles the play at home earlier in the season, and practice later into the fall. There are still some improvements that need to be made to the stadium, like an onsite locker room, covered cages and bullpens, etc., which, to my knowledge, are covered in what is known as “Phase 2” of construction, though, admittedly, no start date has been given to that construction.
The Pitching Staff – As mentioned above, the pitching staff, by all accounts, including head coach Mike Gambino’s own assertion, was supposed to be the backbone of this year’s club. And why shouldn’t it have been? The rotation had all three pieces from 2017 returning and the bullpen featured some veteran guys mixed in with some talented newcomers and was supposed to carry the 2018 Eagles. Instead, the staff finished the season with a 5.21 team-ERA, which placed them 12th out of 14 teams in the ACC. Only Virginia Tech (BC’s only series win) and Notre Dame were worse. What’s more, BC issued the third most walks in the conference and had a team-WHIP of 1.56. The issue was simple for Boston College this spring: the pitching staff did not throw strikes on a consist basis. Granted, there were great individual performances by Jacob Stevens, Dan Metzdorf, Brian Rapp, and others, but on the whole, the Eagles’ pitchers put themselves in too many disadvantageous counts and situations which opposing lineups made them paid for. I think this is the number one thing that needs to be addressed next fall and spring if Boston College is going to have success moving forward.
The Lineup – The Boston College offense, while maybe not expected to be among the top five or six teams in the conference, was supposed to be improved from a season ago. After all, returning were guys like Gian Martellini, Jake Alu, Jake Palomaki, and Brian Dempsey, who had all been successful in 2017 and would be counted on in the middle of the BC lineup. While Palomaki and Dempsey enjoyed good years at the plate, the other two, along with a good number of their teammates, saw their numbers dip dramatically from a season ago, and the team finished with the second lowest batting average in the conference. It’s true, Boston College’s lineup featured three everyday players hitting .315 or higher, but beyond that trio, the next highest average on the team was .243. That’s a 72-point disparity. Despite popular belief, the Eagles actually struck out the fifth fewest number of times in the ACC, which makes their struggles all the more perplexing. However the answer can likely be found in their slugging percentage (.316), which was by far the lowest in the conference. They also hit the fewest home runs in the conference by nearly ten. What this tells me is that BC regularly put the ball in play, without much authority, and were unable to move runners efficiently. Now, part of that is simply the type of hitters in the lineup, as you can’t really teach power. But the other part, I think, is approach. There’s been a mentality at BC since I got there in the fall of 2007 that we don’t have the ability to slug it out with other teams in the conference and instead needed to hit “station to station” and utilize the sac bunt to manufacture runs. While at times this strategy is exactly what is needed, I think at other times, it’s overused and actually an impediment to a productive offense. My remedy next fall would be to take a strict inventory of the bats BC has, determine which need to subscribe to the small ball theory and which don’t, and let those with power potential get their swing off. Plainly speaking, it’s not like the offensive output could drop further in conference.
Close Games – The Boston College baseball team played 20 games this season that were decided by 3 or fewer runs. In those games, they went 4-16, often times coughing up a lead late in the contest. This should be an area of grave concern for Boston College, as close games are something that every team deals with year-in and year-out. And the good ones figure out a way to win more of them than not. Also contained in that lowly record is the answer as to why BC is not currently playing in the ACC tournament, as there were six one-run ACC games that the Eagles dropped throughout the course of the season. Winning just half of those would’ve given BC 10 conference wins and a decent shot at getting back into the postseason. Also, Boston College was an astounding 0-6 in extra innings games this season, with four of the six losses coming at home. There is no drill a team can run that will make them better in close ball games. Instead, it’s comes down to attitude and a culture of winning that will either hold onto a narrow lead, or propel a team to victory, late in a close game and it’s something that Boston College must build over time.
Out of Conference Schedule – Admittedly, this has been a hot topic of conversation in the comment section since about the midway point of the season, and for good reason. The Eagles went 10-10 out of conference this year and really torpedoed their NCAA postseason chances early in the season with some bad losses. Now look, losing to teams like Indiana and Minnesota (who ended up being a top-15 team this season) isn’t the end of the world. But losing to teams like Santa Clara, Wofford, Harvard, and Rhode Island is – at least if you’re serious about making the postseason. You’ll notice I didn’t mention the losses to Army, Bryant, Northeastern, and UConn in this section, not because I’m OK with them, but because I’ll cover them below. The hard truth of the matter is, for a team like Boston College, the margin for error in the midweek is razor thin. Generally speaking, there aren’t a bevy of high-RPI teams that reside in the northeast, meaning (again, generally speaking) any midweek loss is a bad midweek loss and will go a long way in derailing your postseason hopes, no matter your conference record. The bulk of BC’s midweek schedule does not change from season to season, as midweek opponents are dictated by limited travel and regional availability, which means that, moving forward, a priority has to be placed on winning a vast majority of those games. I would venture to say for a team like Boston College, the importance of winning out of conference is the same, if not higher, than winning in conference. After all, both times BC has made the NCAA Tournament (’09 & ’16), they had losing records in conference, but were well above .500 out of it.
Lack of Standing in the Northeast – Before I dive too deeply into this topic, it must be said, this was a strange year in the northeast. By that I mean it was strange in the sense that it’s possible four teams from the region, Army (they’re technically Mid-Atlantic but I’m counting them anyway, plus they’ve already punched their ticket), Bryant, Northeastern, and UConn will be in the NCAA tournament this year, with the Huskies likely to host. But, even with the uptick in successful programs in the northeast, I think it’s wholly unacceptable that Boston College finds itself well outside the top-five teams in the region. For goodness sake, the Eagles are a member of one of the best conferences in the nation and they’re (accurately) not included in NEIBA’s top-five, as teams like Hartford and Yale sit above them. That’s not OK. And even the upswing in talented programs shouldn’t be seen as a detriment to BC, as it should view the trend as a positive in the sense that, with so many teams getting better in the northeast, the fact that a team hails from the region won’t be viewed as a stigma in the eyes of the NCAA committee, like it once was. But, as mentioned in the previous section, it all starts in the midweek. Yes, Bryant is good. Yes, Northeastern is good. Yes, UConn is good. But, guess what? If you want to be good, you have to beat them. It’s that simple. Some have suggested that the rise of UConn and Co. signals a shift in recruiting in the region. While there may be some small truth to that, personally, I don’t buy that as the main reason for BC’s lack of standing in the northeast this season, especially not now with the opening of the Brighton Stadium. I just think those teams came after the Eagles hard this year, because they are a “big name” program, and BC couldn’t handle them. One thing that is certain, this dynamic has to be stopped, somehow, and BC needs to regain its footing as the region’s power.
The Draft – While BC doesn’t have anyone in contention to be taken in the first round of the draft, as it has in recent years, it does have its share of players who should hear their names called during the three day process, leading to some interesting decisions. I think the two players who could be taken the earliest are Jacob Stevens and Brian Rapp. Stevens was drafted in the 33rd round last season by the Yankees and could figure to go anywhere from roughly the 15th round-on this year. Rapp, as a senior, has less leverage that his younger teammates, but should still be taken in the same general area as Stevens. The next two to be drafted should be Gian Martellini and Jake Palomaki, who could go anywhere from about round 20 onward. After a strong summer in the CCBL, Martellini was a contender to go in the top-ten rounds, but a down junior year has likely caused the junior to slide down draft boards. Others who could get picked up late in the draft are juniors Thomas Lane, Sean Hughes, and Zach Stromberg. If all seven of these guys get taken, the question would then be, of the juniors, who would stay and who would go? My best guess is, if Stevens goes where he should, he’s gone. He really has nothing left to prove at Boston College and, as a junior, has more leverage now with teams than he would next year. Martellini, I think, is a little bit different, as it is my gut feeling he leaves, regardless of where he’s drafted. While I think he would benefit from a senior season on the Heights, I can’t blame him for chasing his dream. The other three, Lane, Hughes, and Stromberg, should be back even if drafted, as it will likely be in the final few rounds.
The 2019 Team – It’s hard to get a read on next year’s team until after the draft, as BC will either be looking to replace one or two members of the rotation and possibly its starting catcher. Regardless, the Eagles will need to find a new shortstop, likely Dempsey, and an everyday third baseman. The outfield will look similar, with Galland, Dante Baldelli, and either Joe Suozzi or someone else, perhaps an incoming freshman, patrolling left, center, and right, respectively. The bullpen should look similar as well, as the only departure is Carmen Giampetruzzi. All in all, the team should remain largely intact which, in and of itself, is a good thing. Though, they’ll need to preform much better than they did this season to make a jump back into the postseason.
The Coach – Admittedly, I put this section last because I know that it’s one that will cause the most discussion and contention. So with that said, what is Mike Gambino’s future at Boston College? Some in the comment section have questioned whether he’ll be back in 2019, or rather, whether he deserves to be back in 2019. Just to get this out of the way right now, it’s my gut feeling that he will be the head coach of the Boston College baseball team next season. I don’t think Martin Jarmond is going to make a move this year and instead will give Gambino time to recruit with the new stadium now open. The question then becomes, how much time does he give him and what’s the benchmark he has to reach to be given more time? And that’s where I think it gets a little muddy. Let’s play the hypothetical game and say that Jarmond gives him one more year to show the program is making progress, before letting him go. What does Gambino need to do to get another year after that? Personally, I’d say he needs to get the team to, at the very least, .500 overall and win a majority of their midweek games. There are years in the ACC where going 12-18 in conference is respectable (see 2016 when the ACC had 10 teams in the NCAA tourney), but there are never years where going .500 or below in the midweek is OK. So, I think if he can do that in 2019, he’ll earn another year in 2020. However, in 2020, I think he’d need to take the Eagles back to the postseason and that .500 wouldn’t cut it. After all, by that time he would’ve had a few years in the new digs and been able to recruit multiple classes with it as a draw. I think if the team fails to reach either of those benchmarks in 2019, and subsequently 2020, Jarmond will make a change. There is no denying his record in eight seasons on the Heights (177-248 overall, 72-161 in the ACC) has been disappointing, but it also must be pointed out that he took BC to within one game of Omaha in 2016. I know some will claim that run was all due to Jim Foster, who is taking his Army team to the NCAA Tournament this year, and guys like Justin Dunn, which may be true, in part. But it was still Gambino’s team. He recruited Dunn and hired Foster and, regardless of whether or not it’s fair, the head coach gets credit for his team’s success. Mik Aoki was rewarded with the Notre Dame job after getting us to the NCAA’s and ACC Tournament (twice), and he was barely over .500 overall and 21 games below .500 in the conference in four seasons. And that’s not a knock against coach Aoki either, he was a good coach; it’s just a fact. Coaches get credit for postseason runs, and that includes Gambino. I’m sure there will be plenty of folks who think I’m wildly off-base, or flat out wrong, and that’s fine. That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. But, this is what I believe will be the case moving forward for Mike Gambino at Boston College.
Think I’m out of my mind? That I know nothing of baseball or Boston College? Let me know in the comment section. If enough people join in, maybe we’ll do an AMA and I can dive into some “inside baseball” from my time on the Heights. Let’s get crazy.