Baseball Preview: Cal State LB

Cal State Fullerton resumed Big West play last weekend with a trip to one of their least favorite ballparks to play in at UC Riverside but the Titans had most of their walking wounded return to the lineup and, perhaps most importantly, to the Friday night starter spot.

The end result of having almost everybody back was Cal State Fullerton winning all three games against the Highlanders to build on their lead in the Big West standings and extending their winning streak at UC Riverside to five games and their overall winning streak against the Highlanders to eight games.

Fullerton opened the series at Riverside by welcoming Noe Ramirez back to the rotation after he had missed starts against Cal Poly and Pacific.  Ramirez was on his game and held the Highlanders to one unearned run and one hit in six innings to lead the Titans to a 4-1 win.  Dylan Floro pitched one scoreless inning and Nick Ramirez finished things off with two perfect innings to pick up the save.  Fullerton had 21 batters get on base, including 16 hits, and had the Riverside pitchers in trouble all night but ended up leaving 16 runners on base.  Carlos Lopez drove in two runs with a two out RBI single in the first inning to get the Titans off to a fast start, Anthony Trajano had four hits and scored twice, Nick Ramirez had three hits and an RBI and Ivory Thomas, Jared Deacon and Keegan Dale each had two hits.

Fullerton wrapped up the series win on Saturday with a come from behind 5-3 win.  Tyler Pill threw seven solid innings and allowed three runs on ten hits to keep the Titans in the game, Chris Devenski threw a scoreless inning to pick up the win and Ramirez picked up another save with a scoreless ninth inning.  The Titans were behind 2-0 before tying the game in the seventh inning on a two run RBI single by pinch-hitter Greg Velasquez.  After Riverside went ahead in the bottom of the inning, Ramirez tied the game up again with his Big West leading eighth HR.  Fullerton continued to put pressure on the Highlanders in the ninth inning and took the lead when they scored two runs on a wild pitch that resulted in the benches clearing when Richy Pedroza and the Riverside pitcher bumped into each other as Pedroza scored the second run.  The Titans had fifteen hits in the game with Michael Lorenzen getting three hits in his second game back in the lineup and Pill, Pedroza, Lopez and Deacon each had two hits.  

Fullerton finished off the sweep in another close game with a 3-2 win.  The Titans continued to scatter hits all over the ballpark and ended up with thirteen hits from nine different players.  Pill broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning with an RBI single through a drawn in infield and Dale added to the lead with an RBI bunt single in the eighth inning.  Floro allowed only one run in five innings while scattering ten hits, Colin O'Connell threw three perfect innings to pick up the win and Ramirez picked up his third save of the series and his Big West leading 12th save to finish things off despite allowing his first run in over two months.

Fullerton had their four game winning streak snapped on Tuesday in a 7-0 loss at Pepperdine.  The Titans are looking to bounce back from that game and keep building their lead in the Big West title race as they welcome their long-time rivals from Long Beach to Goodwin Field this weekend.

 

Long Beach State Dirtbags

  • Overall Record – 24-22 in 2011; 23-32 in 2010
  • Conference Record – 8-7 in 2011 (4th); 7-17 in 2010 (9th).   
  • 2010 Post-Season – None
  • 2011 RPI/ISR – 66/45.  2010 RPI/ISR – 92/73
  • Current ranking – None
  • Predicted conference finish – 5th by the Big West coaches and Baseball America

 

2010 Summary and 2011 Preview

The wheels fell off of the tracks at Long Beach the past two seasons and the Dirtbags missed the post-season both times 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 finished in last place after being swept in their final three series by Fullerton, Northridge and Irvine and ended 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 returned seven starting position players and two starting pitchers 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 during the first ten weeks of the season) before they collapsed down the stretch.

Long Beach pretty much started over this year with seventeen freshmen and five JC transfers coming into the program andthought they might get off to a slow start playing one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country.  The Dirtbags lost series against Fullerton and Arizona to open the season, won a series against Oregon and took two out of three games at a tournament hosted by Cal before losing series to Oregon State and at Stanford prior to Big West play starting.  It hasn't been surprising that a team as young as Long Beach has been inconsistent during the conference season and they have won series at home against Cal Poly and Riverside but also lost series at UCSB and at home to UC Davis.  The Dirtbags were swept last weekend at ASU and it was the first time they didn't get at least one win in a weekend series.  Long Beach has been able to keep their RPI in the at-large conversation and their record over .500 due to their pitching depth that has allowed them to go 8-2 in midweek games, including a 4-2 win on Tuesday against UCLA.

With the change of coaches, Long Beach hasn't changed their offensive approach, which is to try to get runners on, try to get them over and try to get them in.  The Dirtbags have struggled with the getting runners on and getting runners in part of the equation and are near the bottom of the Big West in R, AVG, BB and OBP.  Long Beach doesn't steal much (averaging under a SB per game) or effectively with a success rate that is barely over 60%.  The Dirtbags will use the hit and run to get runners moving and will bunt early and often with five players having at least seven SAC's.  Long Beach doesn't have much power, which isn't a surprise playing their games at Blair Field, and they are last in the Big West in HR and SLG.  The Dirtbags have scored three runs or less in over half of their games and two runs or less nineteen times.  Long Beach has hit .288 in Big West games but much of that damage occurred in a 20 run bludgeoning of Pacific'S Friday "staff day" pitching and they have hit .266 in their fourteen other Big West games.

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.  Things have improved across the board with two starting pitchers returning, one of the few other returning pitchers doing a good job as the closer and several newcomers stepping up in starting and relieving roles.  Long Beach's ERA has come down by a run to 3.62, teams are hitting only .259 against them and they are among the Big West leaders in strikeouts.  The Dirtbags have also done an outstanding job of finishing things off in close games and they are 16-5 in games decided by one or two runs due to a deep bullpen.

 

Offense

  • Park Factor according to Boyd's World – 75 (decreases offense by 25%). 
  • Batting Average – .265 (6th in the Big West).  .301 in 2010 (8th in the Big West)
  • Runs Per Game – 3.9 (8th).  5.8 in 2010 (8th).
  • Home Runs – 8 (9th).  26 in 2010 (8th). 
  • Slugging Percentage – .332 (9th).  .423 in 2010 (7th).
  • Walks – 111 (9th), 2.5 per game.  161 in 2010 (8th), 2.9 per game.
  • HBP's – 50 (3rd).  52 in 2010 (8th).
  • Strikeouts – 325 (1st), 7.2 per game.  323 in 2010 (4th), 5.9 per game.
  • Stolen Bases – 38-61 (4th).  57-95 in 2010 (5th). 
  • Sac Bunts – 64 (2nd).  56 in 2010 (3rd).

 

Lineup

Infield

Long Beach returned experienced players up the middle at 2B and SS and they have gone with newcomers behind the plate and on the corners.

C/3B - JC transfer #8 Mike Marjama (RH – .305/.349/.362, 0-19-6) splits time behind the plate and 3B and has been a productive hitter as one of two hitters on the team batting over .300 and has hit .333 in Big West games.  He has been hitting in the middle of the lineup most of the season and has settled into the 3 hole recently.  Marjama is a good bunter and has 7 SAC's although he hasn't been asked to bunt much lately.  He will hack away and has a below average BB/K ratio (11/30).  Marjama injured his left hand on Tuesday against UCLA so his status for this weekend is questionable.  He had a good series against Fullerton earlier in the year when he went 5-12 with 3 RBI.

C – FR #42 Royce Murai (RH – .239/.292/.269, 0-1-0) has split time pretty evenly with Marjama.  He has struggled at the plate with 23 K's in 67 AB's and will usually hit 9th.  Murai will bunt often with runners on and has 7 SAC's.

1B - FR #4 Ino Patron (LH – .321/.398/.436, 3-21-3) has been their best hitter and leads the team in AVG, OBP, SLG, HR and TB.  He does a good job of squaring up pitches and has one of the better BB/K ratios on the team (14/21).  Patron has hit .352 in Big West games and all three of his HR's have come during the conference season.  He has been hitting in the middle of the lineup most of the season and has recently been hitting cleanup.  Patron went 2-7 against Fullerton earlier this season.

2B - Soph #10 Matt Duffy (RH – .276/.311/.300, 0-27-6; '10 – .244/.261/.291; 0-7-2 in 86 AB's) was a part-time player most of his FR season before starting ten straight games down the stretch.  He got off to a slow start but has been hitting better recently and has hit .322 in Big West games and leads the team in RBI.  Duffy is currently on an eight game hitting streak.  He is a free swinger and has only walked nine times.  Duffy had a good series against Fullerton earlier this season when he went 5-13 and is 8-26 in his career against the Titans.

SS - JR #2 Kirk Singer (RH – .228/.316/.294, 1-10-2; '10 – .315/.395/.493, 5-21-5; '09 stats – .317 in 41 AB's) played all over the infield his first two seasons but has settled in at SS this year. He was second on the team in HR's and SLG in 2010 but has had a very poor season and has been moved down in the lineup and usually hits 8th or 9th.  He has decent patience at the plate with 18 BB (second on the team) but has a big swing and is second in the Big West with 42 K's.  Singer was projected to possibly be drafted in the first ten rounds but hasn't played close to that level.  He went 2-10 against Fullerton earlier this season and is 4-20 in his career against the Titans.

3B – FR #23 Michael Hill (LH – .235/.276/.296, 0-7-2) was injured and missed most of the first part of the season but has been playing more lately when Marjama is behind the plate as one of the few LH bats on the roster.  He has been in the lineup twelve times in the last six weekend series, usually hitting near the bottom of the order although he did hit 2nd in two of the games last weekend.  Hill has a poor 3/24 BB/K ratio.


Outfield

Long Beach returned their CF from 2010 and has been using newcomers and players who were seldom used in the corner OF spots and DH.

LF – FR #40 Jeff McNeil (LH – .258/.319/.290, 0-12-2) has settled into the LF spot and has recently started hitting in the top two spots in the lineup as one of the team's hotter hitters in Big West action with a .340 AVG.  He is a very good bunter and is second in the conf with 12 SAC's.  McNeil does a good job of making contact and has only 15 K's.  He is a versatile player who has also played some 2B this season.  McNeil went 2-7 against Fullerton earlier this season.

CF – JR #12 Brennan Metzger (RH – .279/.385/.390, 1-13-8; '10 – .308/.409/.453, 2-22-9; '09 – .258/.389/.337, 1-9-11) has good speed and was the leadoff hitter in 2010 and most of this season.  He was moved down in the lineup to 6th or 7th the last few weeks after struggling at the plate and has hit only .235 in Big West games.  Metzger is a scrappy player who will do whatever he can to get on base and leads the team with 10 HBP (he led the Big West with 20 HBP in 2010) and has a very good BB/K ratio (19/22) and leads the team in walks.  He is a good bunter and has 7 SAC's.  Metzger went 4-8 earlier in the season against Fullerton and is 5-17 in his career against the Titans.

RF/DH – Soph #9 Juan Avila (RH – .210/.304/.358, 2-6-0; '10 – .231 in 52 AB's) has started twelve times over the last six weekends and has hit .306 in Big West games with two HR in the series at Pacific.  He went 1-7 against Fullerton earlier this season.

RF/DH – SR #1 Matt Hibbert (RH – .297/.390/.374, 0-9-6) has come out of nowhere after barely playing last season to get regular playing time and will usually hit in one of the first two spots in the lineup.  He has a bad 5/27 BB/K ratio in 91 AB's but crowds the plate and is 5th in the Big West with 9 HBP.  Hibbert is second on the team with 8 SAC's. 

DH – FR #35 Johnny Bekakis (RH – .273/.333/.318, 0-6-0) has only recently started getting regular playing time and has been in the lineup the last three games with four RBI in the last two games.

1B/DH – FR #27 Jeff Yamaguchi (RH – .221/.282/.263, 0-8-2) was in the lineup on a more regular basis earlier in the season, splitting time with Patron at 1B/DH, but he has had trouble making contact (34 K's in 95 AB's) and has seen his playing time dwindle recently.

 

Defense

Fielding % – .964 (9th) with 63 errors.  .965 (7th) with 74 errors in 2010.

Patron is solid at 1B.  Singer and Duffy have been below average up the middle with 22 errors, often making good plays but booting routine plays.  Hill is poor at 3B with 11 errors and the defense is stronger with Marjama playing there.  Metzger is very good in CF, Hibbert and McNeil are solid in the corners and Avila is below average.  The leaky defense has resulted in Long Beach allowing 55 unearned runs.

Stolen Base Attempts – 49-69 (7th).  44-68 (3rd) in 2010

Marjama (23-32) and Murai (27-36) have been decent against the running game.  Fullerton went 4-7 on SB attempts in the series earlier this season.

WP's/PB's Allowed – 41 (5th).  2010 – 48 (6th). 

Marjama and Murai are average at blocking pitches.

 

Pitching

  • ERA – 3.62 (4th in the Big West).  4.67 in 2010 (3rd in the Big West).
  • BA – .258 (4th).  .283 in 2010 (3rd).
  • Walks – 139 (6th), 3.1 BB/9 IP.  158 (4th), 2.9 BB/9 IP in 2010.
  • Strikeouts – 335 (3rd), 7.4 K/9 IP.  322 (5th), 5.9 K/9 IP in 2010.
  • Extra Base Hits – 107 (7th), 2.4 per game.  149 (1st), 2.7 per game in 2010.
  • HR – 12 (5th).  34 HR in 2010 (2nd).

 

Starters

Long Beach returned to of their two of their starters from last year and have been using newcomers in the other weekend spot and have had mixed results after their Friday SP.

FRI – JR #24 Andrew Gagnon (RHP – 4-7, 2.73 ERA, 12 GS, 79 IP, 59 H, 30 BB, 74 K, .211 BA, 3 HR, 8 HBP, 6 WP, 12-20 SB; '10 – 5-7, 3.28 ERA, 15 GS, 93 IP, 87 H, 27 BB, 65 K, .238 BA, 6 HR, 12 HBP, 5 WP, 12-17 SB) has been a hard luck pitcher with Long Beach scoring two runs or less in nine of his starts and he is among the Big West leaders in ERA, K, AVG and IP.  He was 2nd team All-Big West in 2010 when he was 5th in the conf in ERA and 4th in AVG.  Gagnon is projected to be picked in the first few rounds of the draft in June and has a low 90's fastball with a solid changeup and slider and good control and he will pitch inside to move hitters off of the plate.  He allowed only one hit in eight innings in his start against Riverside and in his first six innings at UCSB but allowed four unearned runs in the 7th in his loss to the Gauchos and has not pitched well in his last two starts against Cal Poly (6 2/3 IP, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K) and at ASU (7 IP, 5 R, 7 H, 3 BB, 9 K).  Gagnon allowed 11 R (7 ER) on 8 H and 6 BB in 4 2/3 IP in two starts against the Titans in his first two seasons but threw very well at Fullerton earlier this season when he shut out the Titans through six innings before allowing two runs in the seventh in a 2-1 loss.

SAT – JR #22 Branden Pinder (RHP – 3-5, 5.53 ERA, 13 apps, 11 GS, 57 IP, 60 H, 13 BB, 51 K, .271 BA, 0 HR, 10 HBP, 2 WP, 8-10 SB; '10 – 4-7, 4.85 ERA, 17 apps, 15 GS, 85 IP, 106 H, 22 BB, 45 K, .320 BA, 9 HR, 18 HBP, 2 WP, 8-13 SB) had a very good start against Fullerton earlier this season (6 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 4 K) but struggled in six of his next eight starts and ended up having his start skipped against Riverside before throwing well against UCSB (6 1/3 IP, 2 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 6 K) and Cal Poly (7 IP, 3 R, 6 H, 1 BB, 3 K) but got knocked out early at ASU (3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K).  His fastball sits in the upper 80's and he relies on good control and spotting his fastball to get hitters out. Pinder pitches inside and he has been among the Big West leaders in HBP each of the last two seasons.  He allowed 11 R (10 ER) on 21 H and 5 BB in 13 IP in his two starts against Fullerton last season before throwing well against the Titans earlier this year.

SUN – FR #15 Ryan Strufing (LHP – 3-2, 3.92 ERA, 14 apps, 6 GS, 39 IP, 36 H, 17 BB, 27 K, .254 BA, 3 HR, 4 HBP, 4 WP, 4-4 SB) was a middle reliever and midweek starter most of the season before moving into the weekend rotation the last couple of weeks.  He threw well in relief at UCSB (4 scoreless innings) and against Cal Poly (5 1/3 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) but struggled at ASU (4 IP, 8 R, 5 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 3 K).  Strufing has a live arm with a good fastball and a solid changeup and breaking pitches but has had trouble with command of his off-speed pitches.  He allowed 2 R in 2 1/3 IP and took the loss in his relief appearance against Fullerton earlier this season.

JC transfer #36 Shawn Stuart (RHP – 3-3, 3.72 ERA, 2 saves, 15 apps, 10 GS, 56 IP, 58 H, 25 BB, 49 K, .275 BA, 0 HR, 5 HBP, 3 WP, 4-7 SB) pitched out of the bullpen the first two weeks of the season but was moved into rotation and allowed two runs or less in four of his six starts.  He missed his start against Riverside with shoulder soreness and was only able to pitch one inning at UCSB and missed starts against Cal Poly and ASU.  Stuart threw very well against UCLA on Tuesday (5 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 K) and could end up starting on Sunday, depending on how his arm bounces back.  He has one of the better arms on the staff with a low 90's fastball.  Stuart picked up the save in their only win against Fullerton earlier this season with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.

 

Relievers

Long Beach's bullpen was a liability last season but a couple of returning pitchers and several newcomers have stepped up and given the Dirtbags a deep group of relievers.

Closer – Soph #33 Eddie Magallon (RHP – 2-1, 2.86 ERA, 9 saves, 19 apps, 28 IP, 24 H, 6 BB, 18 K, .220 BA, 0 HR, 5 HBP, 1 WP, 1-1 SB; '10 – 1-2, 4.79 ERA, 1 save, 14 apps, 5 GS, 47 IP, 54 H, 9 BB, 29 K, .293 BA, 7 HR, 7 HBP, 1 WP, 6-9 SB) doesn't throw hard but is a strike thrower with very good control who does a good job of mixing his pitches.  He has usually been reliable to finish things off with his only blown save coming at Pacific when he allowed 3 runs in the bottom of the 9th.

JC transfer #16 Matt Johnson (RHP – 3-1, 4.42 ERA, 14 apps, 2 GS, 39 IP, 50 H, 6 BB, 38 K, .327 BA, 2 HR, 7 HBP, 3 WP, 3-7 SB) has seen the most innings out of the bullpen and would be the most likely pitcher to be called on to come into a game in the early to middle innings.  He has good control but doesn't have much movement on his pitches, which has resulted in one of the higher averages on the staff.  Johnson started one of the games against Fullerton and was knocked out early (2 2/3 IP, 4 R, 1 ER, 7 H, 0 BB, 2 K).

Other relievers who would be likely to come into the game in situational spots, with only one LHP likely to see any action:

Soph #20 Nate Underwood (RHP – 2-0, 2.16 ERA, 1 save, 15 apps, 17 IP, 12 H, 9 BB, 7 K, .197 BA, 0 HR, 1 HBP, 2 WP, 2-2 SB; '10 – 2-1, 4.11 ERA, 13 apps, 4 GS, 35 IP, 31 H, 7 BB, 7 K, .254 BA)

FR #46 Jon Maciel (RHP – 0-0, 1.59 ERA, 1 save, 14 apps, 17 IP, 14 H, 4 BB, 18 K, .233 BA, 1 HR, 0 HBP, 2 WP, 2-2 SB)

FR #19 Josh Frye (RHP – 0-0, 1.93 ERA, 1 save, 14 apps, 14 IP, 17 H, 5 BB, 10 K, .288 BA, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 1 WP, 3-3 SB)

FR #37 Kyle Friedrichs (RHP – 3-2, 4.58 ERA, 1 save, 17 apps, 39 IP, 42 H, 7 BB, 29 K, .273 BA, 2 HR, 7 HBP, 1 WP, 4-5 SB)

FR #32 Jake Stassi (LHP – 0-1, 3.50 ERA, 10 apps, 3 GS, 18 IP, 16 H, 10 BB, 10 K, .246 BA, 1 HR, 2 HBP, 0 WP, 2-3 SB)

 

Outlook           

Fullerton is starting to get healthy at the right time, although they lost another key player at Riverside when Anthony Trajano injured his hamstring and will not play this weekend.  The Titans played at a high level against the Highlanders and needed to do so in order to pull off three close wins.  Long Beach has continued to hang tough with a young team but they have started to show a few cracks and have gone 1-6 in their last seven weekend road games.

One of the keys to this series will be who plays better on defense.  For two programs that have similar philosophies of being built on pitching and defense, it is surprising that these are the two worst defensive teams in the Big West.  Fullerton has fielded at a decent level most of the time but has had their hiccups along the way due to injuries and guys playing out of position while Long Beach has played errorless ball in only eleven games and allowed an average of about an unearned run per game. 

Fullerton has had their share of struggles on offense during the season but has been hitting well lately and gotten to double digits in hits in seven of the last nine and 14 of the last 21 games and hit .396 at Riverside.  Long Beach has had issues scoring all season and will have trouble coming from behind if the Titans are able to jump on them early and build a lead.  The Dirtbags have the pitching depth to keep them in games and the best way that they are going to have a chance to pull off the upset in this series is to keep things tight and low scoring and let their bullpen depth keep them in games.

Fullerton has won nine of the last ten games against Long Beach and outscored them 71-26 during that stretch.   The Dirtbags did tighten things up earlier this season and won one game while losing two close games in the first series.  The Titans are the better team and played much better last weekend than they did over the previous two weeks.  If Fullerton continues to put things together in all areas like they did last weekend they should win this series.