Baseball Preview: Long Beach State

It's time for another year of Titan Baseball with the potential for a visit to Omaha in June for the debut of TD Ameritrade Park. Fullerton is ranked in the top fifteen in every major poll or ranking on the strength of a pitching staff that could be one of the deepest in the history of the program with four experienced starting pitchers and several experienced effective relievers.

The pitching staff will have to help carry the team early in the season as the offense gels and works to overcome the losses of five regulars from last season, including first round picks Big West MVP Gary Brown and Big West HR leader Christian Colon, as well as adjusting to hitting with deadened BBCOR bats.  The Titans open the season with a non-conference series against their long-time rivals from Long Beach and will also play a game against North Carolina, who is coming out west to play in USC's tournament.  The games on Friday and Sunday will be at Long Beach's Blair Field while Saturday's day game with the Tar Heels and evening game with the Dirtbags will be at Goodwin Field.

Long Beach State Dirtbags

  • Overall Record – 23-32
  • Conference Record – 7-17 (last)
  • Post-Season – none
  • RPI/ISR – 92/73
  • Predicted conf finish – 5th by the Big West coaches and Baseball America

2010 Summary and 2011 Preview

The wheels have fallen off of the tracks at Long Beach and the Dirtbags missed the post-season the last two years after playing in regionals in fourteen of the previous sixteen seasons and the result was a coaching change with pitching coach Troy Buckley taking over for Mike Weathers.  Long Beach went 23-32 overall and 7-17 in Big West games, finishing in last place after being swept in their final three series by Fullerton, Northridge and Irvine and ending the season by losing fourteen of their final seventeen games.  The Dirtbags expected to contend for a spot in a regional with an experienced team that had seven starting position players and two weekend starting pitchers returning but they got off to a slow start, played well for a month when they won four straight series (including Pacific's only series loss in the first ten weeks of the season) before they collapsed down the stretch.

Long Beach is pretty much starting over with their roster with seventeen FR and five JC transfers coming into the program.  They do have four position players back who were starters in 2010 along with two of their weekend starting pitchers and some of their relievers.  Buckley returned to the program last season after a two year absence and the pitching was improved with the ERA coming down half a run to 4.67 and opponents hit 20 points less at .283 but the bullpen was inconsistent and the Dirtbags only had three saves the entire season and went 4-9 in one run games.  Long Beach didn't have much margin for error most of the time because the offense wasn't as productive as it should have been with so many returning starters and the Dirtbags were one of the least productive teams at the place in the Big West.

Offense

  • Park Factor according to Boyd's World – 75 (decreases offense by 25%).
  • Batting Average – .301 (8th in the Big West, 164th in the NCAA)
  • Runs Per Game – 5.8 (8/246)
  • Home Runs – 26 (8/270)
  • Stolen Bases – 57 (5/179)
  • Slugging Percentage – .423 (7/217)
  • Walks – 161 (8/268)
  • HBP's – 52 (8/185)
  • Sac Bunts – 56 (3/23)


Lineup

C – SR #3 Kellen Hoime (RH – .234/.305/.297, 1-14-7; '09 stats – .252/.338/.291, 0-19-5) split time in 2009 before starting 16 of the last 18 games and was the regular C last season.  He is in the lineup for his defense, usually hit 9th and had 7 SAC's.  Hoime struck out about 30% of the time.  He went 1-8 last year against Fullerton and is 1-13 in his career against the Titans.

1B - FR #27 Jeff Yamaguchi (RH) is projected to be one of the better newcomers in the Big West and provide some much needed power to the lineup after being the Moore League MVP and 1st team all CIF in D1.

2B - Soph #10 Matt Duffy (RH - .244/.261/.291; 0-7-2 in 86 AB's in 2010) was a part-time player most of his FR season before starting ten straight games down the stretch.  He is a good bunter and had six SAC's.  Duffy went 3-13 against Fullerton last season.

SS - JR #2 Kirk Singer (RH – .315/.395/.493, 5-21-5; '09 stats – .317 in 41 AB's) didn't play much in 2009 and was in a utility role early last season until his hot bat forced Long Beach to make a switch and Singer was inserted into the lineup at 2B and later at SS when the starter there was injured late in the year.  He ended up 2nd on the team in HR's and SLG and will hit in the middle of the lineup.  Singer is projected to be drafted in the first ten rounds of the draft and should be the latest in a long line of Long Beach SS's to be drafted pretty high.  He went 2-10 against Fullerton last season.

3B - JC transfer #8 Mike Marjama (RH) is a big guy from a good JC program (Sac City) who will be looking to provide some power at the plate.

CF - JR #12 Brennan Metzger (RH – .308/.409/.453, 2-22-9; '09 stats – .258/.389/.337, 1-9-11) has good speed and will be the leadoff hitter after being in the same role last season.  He is a scrappy player who Will Do whatever he can to get on base (led the Big West with 20 HBP's) and will run when he gets on base.  He went 1-9 last year against Fullerton.

LF/RF/DH - Long Beach will be going with either new and/or inexperienced players in each of these positions.  It looks like FR #40 Mike McNeil (LH) will be starting in LF and brings some much needed speed and one of the few LH bats to the lineup.  Soph #9 Juan Avila (RH) hit .231 in 52 AB's with 0 HR and 3 RBI as a FR.  FR #4 Ino Patron (LH) has a good swing and projects to be the DH.

Defense

Fielding % - .965 (7/104) – 74 errors.  Experienced in the four positions up the middle.  Duffy and Singer were too inconsistent with 24 errors in 57 combined starts and both have the potential to be better.  Singer has one of the best infield arms in the Big West.  Metzger has good range in CF.  Inexperienced players in the corner OF positions and in the corner IF positions, which will be a key area to watch with Fullerton's pressure game and wet conditions expected.

Stolen Base Attempts – 44-68.  Runners were 32-46 against Hoime last season and 30-47 in 2009.

WP's/PB's Allowed – 48.  Hoime does a solid job of blocking pitches.

Pitching

  • ERA – 4.67 (3/45)
  • BA – .283 (3/xx)
  • HR – 34 (2/xx)
  • H's/9 IP – 9.9 (xx/61)
  • BB's/9 IP – 2.9 (4/18)
  • K's/9 IP – 5.9 (5/235)


Starting Pitchers

Long Beach returns their two of their SP's from last year, losing inconsistent 2nd round draft pick Jake Thompson, and has hopes that a JC transfer can hold down the third spot in the weekend rotation.

Fri SP – Soph #24 Andrew Gagnon (RHP – 5-7, 3.28 ERA, 15 starts, 93 IP, 87 H, 27 BB, 65 K, .238 BA, 6 HR, 12 HBP, 5 WP, 12-17 SB) was drafted in the 10th round out of HS and didn't pitch up to that level as a FR ('09 stats – 3-7, 6.32 ERA, 13 starts, 73 IP, 96 H, 23 BB, 44 K, .327 BA, 5 HR, 11 HBP, 9 WP, 8-12 SB).  He had a great deal of improvement last season and was 5th in the conf in ERA, 4th in AVG and was 2nd team all Big West.  Gagnon is projected to be 1st team all conf this season and picked in the first few rounds of the draft.  He has a low 90's fastball and good control but he will pitch inside.  Gagnon did a much better job of missing bats last season, lowering the opponents AVG by 85 points.  He had a 2.43 ERA in his first five Big West starts before tiring down the stretch and ending up with a 3.40 ERA in conf games.  Gagnon has allowed 11 R (7 ER) on 8 H and 6 BB in 4 2/3 IP in his two starts against Fullerton in his career.

Sat SP – JC transfer #22 Branden Pinder (RHP – 4-7, 4.85 ERA, 17 apps, 15 starts, 85 IP, 106 H, 22 BB, 45 K, .320 BA, 9 HR, 18 HBP, 2 WP, 8-13 SB) went into the last three weeks of the season with a 4.15 ERA before tiring down the stretch.  His fastball sits in the mid 80's and he relies on good control and spotting his fastball to get hitters out.  Pinder pitches inside and he was second in the Big West with 18 HBP's.  He had a very good stretch in the middle of the season where he had five straight starts when he allowed 2 R or less but wore down and allowed 5+ R in six of his last seven starts.  He allowed 11 R (10 ER) on 21 H and 5 BB in 13 IP in his two starts against Fullerton last season.

Sun SP – JC transfer #36 Shawn Stuart (RHP) was drafted in the 44th round after being 1st team all conference at Merced.  He has a solid arm and had a 2.79 ERA with 79 K in 96 IP.  The midweek SP is expected to be JC transfer #16 Matt Johnson (RHP).

Relief Pitchers

Long Beach's bullpen was a liability last season and the two pitchers who were used most at the end of games have moved on, leaving several returning middle relievers and newcomers to get outs late in games.

The four returning pitchers in the bullpen are Soph #20 Nate Underwood (RHP – 2-1, 4.11 ERA, 13 apps, 4 midweek starts, 35 IP, 31 H, 7 BB, 7 K, .254 BA, 2 HR, 3 HBP, 4 WP), Soph #33 Eddie Magallon (RHP – 1-2, 4.79 ERA, 1 save, 14 apps, 5 starts, 47 IP, 54 H, 9 BB, 29 K, .293 BA, 7 HR, 7 HBP, 1 WP), SR #30 Troy Watson (RHP – 0-2, 8.83 ERA, 12 apps, 17 IP) and situational LHP #49 FR Ryan Donohue (0-1, 5.40 ERA, 12 apps, 5 IP).  The newcomers expected to have the biggest impact in the bullpen are potential closer FR RHP #29 Austin Boyle and FR LHP #15 Ryan Strufing.

Outlook

Fullerton has had some issues getting off to good starts in Dave Serrano's first three seasons as the head coach.  The Titans started out the season 9-8 in 2008, they lost the opening series at home to TCU in 2009 and they started out 4-7 last season and lost each of the first three series, which ended up costing them a national seed.  It would be an understatement to say that the Fullerton coaching staff is making it a point of emphasis to get off to a good start against a challenging schedule, with the non-conference portion rated the second most difficult in the country according to Boyd's World.  The Titans should receive a strong challenge from a North Carolina team that is looking to bounce back from a disappointing season by their standards.  Fullerton has beaten Long Beach like a drum the past two seasons, winning all seven games by a cumulative score of 60-14 with only two of the games decided by less than six runs.  The new Long Beach coaching staff will be very motivated to turn this series into a rivalry again.  It will be a disappointment if Fullerton splits the four games this weekend and the Titans should be able to win three games if they play up to their capabilities.