When I started covering Boston College baseball for BCI earlier this year, I wrote about how I didn't understand how Mike Gambino hadn't been fired. After three years of subpar results, there was more than just a simple case study for the case. The #DropBaseball brigade grew louder than ever, pointing to valid points that even the ardent supporter of college baseball had trouble defending.
When I spoke with Coach Gambino in his office prior to the beginning of the year, he pointed out several things to me. He completely recognized the voices calling for the end of the program, and he agreed that the performance of the team the last couple of years wasn't up to snuff. He talked about building, which seemed kind of odd given that Mik Aoki handed him the keys to a program that, at the time, was challenging into the ACC Tournament and beyond.
As I've spoken with several "baseball people," though, they've discussed the challenge of a new coach. New coaches often want to put their stamp on a program, not just continue something that's been put forth before them. For the current coaching staff, the style of play that was here before wasn't what they wanted to implement, so instead of phasing it in over time, they went for the rebuild almost immediately. The players in the system weren't the ones who could play that particular system, though that was no knock at all against their effort or their attitude.
Like I said earlier this year, it felt like the current coaching staff "saved itself" by recruiting solid classes. They're at the point where they have "their guys" in the system, and they feel they can challenge now if the players develop right. They recognize they players will still make rookie mistakes, but the need to challenge was felt far and wide.
In that regard, BC has been successful. While not always a popular decision, it's obvious that the team this year has a completely different makeup and attitude as the one from last year. At 6-4 to start the season, they're hardly competing for national recognition against their ACC brethren, but it's a ray of hope. It's a sign that maybe BC can compete, and it's a sign that the team makeup now is starting to resemble what the current regime sought after. While not always popular in its decisions - and they've taken massive criticism at times for the way they've handled some moves, players, and personnel - the coaching staff is starting to operationalize its plan for BC baseball. Can it be successful? There's no way for us to know that until later in the year and beyond. But 10 games in, the seeds for growth are appearing. We just have to hope now they don't get frozen and killed before the hope becomes reality.
On with the storylines from this weekend:
Pitching Depth Challenged
The BC bullpen was fantastic over its first couple of weekends against Nevada, Santa Clara, and Stetson. This week, it was challenged. The Red Sox game, while a fun exhibition, throws the coaching staff for a loop in the way it handles the pitchers. Trying to balance the players for the real games that count, BC went deep into its staff in the span of two games across three days. While that's common at the professional ranks, a team built around youth and inexperience isn't equipped to properly handle that too early in the season. And the Eagles missed out on a sweep against a poor Western Michigan team simply because they ran out of gas.
If there's a good sign, it's that the team ERA is right where it needs to be. The Eagles are pitching much better on the larger scale than their opponents. In the bullpen, only Nick Poore really put together a rough outing, and that came yesterday against Western. Everyone else, except for Jeff Burke, has an ERA under 5.00. And Burke is pitching yeoman's work in his starter's role, averaging five innings in his first couple of starts. If he can milk a sixth inning out of his next appearance, that'll shorten the bullpen and save someone for later in the week.
The biggest thing for BC is that they find who is the stabilizing presence if the starter needs to be pulled. Andrew Chin can pitch deep into games, but the Eagles have to be careful not to flame him out early in the year. Eric Stevens is pitching better than he has in two years, but he hasn't won a game yet. And John Gorman is developing into the second solid starter Birdball so desperately needed last year, but there will come a time where the pen needs to bail him out, too. Someone will need to step forward and display that they can pitch more than once in a weekend in order to get BC multiple W's.
The depth gets a day off for the Eagles to travel to Florida Atlantic on the east coast of the Sunshine State, but they have to be careful this week. After two games against the Owls, who are a very good program, they'll head south for their ACC opener. While it would be nice to pick up a split or two victories over a national contender like FAU, they can't risk going for broke with Miami on the horizon.
Hitters Gon' Hit
Chris Shaw is a prime example of why summer baseball and a step away from aluminum bat leagues in the NCAA are so important to a player's development. It wasn't necessarily that Shaw was terrible last year; everyone struggled to hit. It's that Shaw didn't know how to hit his way out of a slump. He had his struggled in the NECBL this past summer, but he was able to become one of the league's best hitters by the end of the summer. That's translated to the start of the year in college, where he's on a 10-game hitting streak in the first grouping of games.
The BC lineup needs to start resembling the mashers who played in the past. Shaw is by far the cornerstone, right now, but he's not the only one. Tom Bourdon is resembling his former, pre-injury self from two years ago to provide support, and Logan Hoggarth is hitting .346 to open the year. But the biggest addition is Shaw's doppelganger, Johnny Adams. Like Shaw, Adams played in the Futures League before ever coming to the Heights. He's leading the team in hitting at .360, and he's proving he can get on base with the best of them. If he can get into scoring position for Shaw or Hoggarth or Bourdon, he's coming home.
The biggest issue right now is BC's ability to hit with men on. They're crushing the ball, yes, but they're not hitting with men in scoring position. They're leaving far too many men on base. That's something they've gotten better with, but they need to continue to improve. They're starting to get innings where they're not leaving men on base, but as the competition greatly improves this week, the challenge to continue that improvement is going to increase. With this still behind the eight ball in comparison to the rest of the team, they'll need to find a way to overcompensate.
Where is BC on their season?
Let's answer the big question of where BC is in relation to where I think they should be. Remember what i said about winning 20 games - 477 hits and 634 total bases. BC is averaging 9.7 hits and 12.5 total bases per game. They're on pace for over 500 hits and 662 total bases. Their Pythagorean W-L is 61.7%. That means BC is right on pace for a 20-win season right now, maybe even a little bit ahead of that pace, and their performance and record accurately reflects the play on the field.
Statistically, that doesn't take into consideration the quality of opponent. Yes, BC has played lower level teams and beaten them. I'm interested to see if, statistically, they're able to elevate their game heading into tougher teams on the back end of their road trip to start the season.