Baseball Preview: UC Davis

Cal State Fullerton is playing well, winning five straight weekend series and 14 of 20 games overall heading into an important Big West series this weekend against first year conference member UC Davis (25-13, 6-3), who is tied in the loss column with the 1st place Titans.

UC Davis swept Pacific at home and won their series at UCSB (who is also 6-3 in the Big West) before losing their series at home last weekend to Cal Poly. The Aggies were on a 19-4 roll before dropping the final two games of the series to the Mustangs.

LINEUP

UC Davis has one of the better hitting teams in the conference, ranking 1st in OBP (.402), 2nd in BA (.326) and R’s (7.5 RPG) and 3rd in SLG % (.452). 3 of their 4 leading hitters are LH so they can be vulnerable to LHP’s. The Aggies have some power with 27 HR’s (a solid number for playing in a park that favors pitchers), are patient at the plate (148 BB’s in 38 games – 2nd in the conf) and make contact (fewest K’s in the conf). They don’t bunt much to try to manufacture runs with only 21 SAC’s and rarely run to try to get runners into scoring position (26-44 SB’s – 10 by one player), ranking last in the Big West in SB’s.

UC Davis has been average defensively, ranking 5th in the Big West in fielding %, and have made 15 E’s in 9 Big West games. Their catching has been very good but they have made 27 E’s at 2B, SS and 3B. The Aggies have allowed 42 unearned runs on the season.

Infield and DH

C Jake Jefferies (LH - .407-3-47-3) is one of the best catchers on the west coast both offensively and defensively. Jefferies hits 3rd and ranks in the top 5 in the Big West in RBI’s (1st), H’s (1st), AVG (2nd), Total Bases (2nd) and OBP (4th). He has been productive in Big West games, hitting .382 with 15 RBI’s. Jefferies has struck out only 4 times, which is an impressive number for somebody in the middle of the lineup. Defensively, Jefferies has been solid against the running game (26-44 SB’s), has picked off four runners and is good at blocking pitches, allowing 25 WP’s/PB’s.

1B/DH Evan Hudson (RH - .307-2-24-4) is the cleanup hitter and in his 2nd year as a starter after hitting .326 last season. Hudson is patient at the plate, ranking 3rd in the Big West with 22 BB’s. Grant Hirneise (LH - .273-1-15-0) has been the other part of the 1B/DH equation against RHP and usually hits 7th.

2B Matt Dempsey (RH - .314-0-21-0) hits 8th and was hitting much better earlier in the season before struggling in Big West games, hitting .125 (4-32). Dempsey hit .363 last season and is good at making contact, striking out only six times. He is below average defensively, making 14 E’s last year and 11 this year (4th most in the Big West).

FR SS Scott Heylman (RH - .225-0-13-0) hits 9th and is the lineup primarily for his defense, although he has struggled with errors (10 - 5th most in the Big West).

LMU transfer 3B Ty Kelly (RH - .415-3-27-2) hits 2nd and leads the Big West in AVG, is 3rd in H’s and OBP and 4th in R’s. Kelly is one of the hitters making the UC Davis lineup one of the best in the conference. He has good range defensively but has made six errors.

Outfield

CF Ryan Royster (LH - .368-7-28-10) is the leadoff hitter, one of the best OF’s offensively and defensively in the conference and easily one of the most improved players in the Big West after hitting .286 with no HR’s last season. Royster leads the team in HR’s and SB’s (he is the only real threat to steal bases) and leads the Big West in R’s. He is also patient at the plate with 21 BB’s (6th in the Big West). Fullerton must keep him off base this weekend to keep the UC Davis offense under control.

LF Ryan Scoma (LH - .394-3-35-2) usually hits 5th, has been a good run producer and is 4th in the Big West in AVG and 8th in RBI’s. Scoma is not a good defensive OF and will also DH sometimes. The other two OF’s who will see playing time are Kevin James (LH - .293-3-28-1) and Kyle Mihaylo (RH - .258-5-22-3). Either will hit 6th or 7th when they are in the lineup and were part-time OF’s last year. Mihaylo has the highest SLG % after the top 4 hitters.

PITCHING

UC Davis has a very experienced pitching staff, returning the top six pitchers from last year in IP, including all four SP’s. The Aggies have a good BB/K ratio (ranking 3rd in the conference in both categories) with a team ERA that is in the middle of the pack in the Big West at 4.66. In conference games, their ERA has improved to 3.18 but that has been aided by allowing 15 unearned runs. The first two SP’s for UC Davis have been solid and they have been getting good work out of their bullpen but the #3 and midweek SP’s have struggled.

Starters

Fri SP – Eddie Gamboa (RHP – 6-1, 2.22 ERA, 8 starts, 57 IP, 53 H, 7 BB, 38 K) has overcome missing the 2006 season due to an arm injury and worked his way back into a regular role last season (4-1, 3.25 ERA, 18 apps, 44 IP) and has become the ace of the staff. He is 3rd in the Big West in ERA, with his only poor start at UCSB when he pitched poorly and his defense sabotaged him (5 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 3 ER). Gamboa was outstanding last week against Cal Poly, pitching a CG 3 hitter and allowing 2 unearned runs in a 3-2 win. He has very good control and is a ground ball pitcher, only allowing batters to hit .251 against him (8th in the Big West). Gamboa will throw to first quite a bit to control the running game because he has picked off 7 runners but has also committed 5 balks. He allowed 2 R’s in 3 2/3 IP against Fullerton last season.

Sat SP – Brad McAtee (RHP – 5-3, 3.60 ERA, 9 starts, 60 IP, 73 H, 9 BB, 38 K) is in his second season as a weekend SP and led the team in ERA last season (4-4, 3.76 ERA, 15 starts, 93 IP, 99 H, 43 BB, 57 K) and has improved his control. He pitched well against UCSB two weeks ago (8 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER) but was terrible against Cal Poly last week (6 2/3 IP, 15 H, 8 R). McAtee is also a ground ball pitcher and because he is often around the plate, he is allowing batters to hit .305 against him. He holds runners closely, only allowing 3 SB’s in 5 attempts. McAtee allowed 4 R’s in 5 1/3 IP against Fullerton last year.

Sun SP – Listed as TBA by UC Davis. Bryan Evans (RHP – 3-2, 4.66 ERA, 13 apps, 6 starts, 46 IP, 62 H, 11 BB, 48 K) has started the past two Sundays with mediocre results against UCSB (5 R’s, 10 H’s in 5 1/3 IP) and Cal Poly (4 R’s, 11 H’s in 5 IP). Evans is the hardest thrower of the SP’s and is 8th in the Big West in K’s but is allowing batters to hit .321 against him. He is very good at holding runners, allowing only 1 SB in 8 attempts. Last year, Evans was 5-5, 5.28 ERA, 15 apps, 11 starts, 77 IP, 81 H, 32 BB, 57 K.

If Evans doesn’t start, the SP would be Trevor Fox (LHP – 1-1. 5.89 ERA, 9 apps, 8 starts, 44 IP, 51 H, 20 BB, 44 K), who was the Sun SP before Evans pitched his way into that role. Fox allowed 2 R’s in 6 2/3 IP to Pacific in his only Big West start. In his two most recent starts, he allowed 4 R’s in 4 1/3 IP at Washington State and 4 R’s in 4 2/3 IP to Sac State. Last year, Fox was 3-7, 5.51 ERA, 16 apps, 14 starts, 83 IP, 101 H, 28 BB, 50 K and allowed 7 R’s in 5 IP against Fullerton.

Relievers

Closer Justin Fitzgerald (3-1, 2.59 ERA, 6 SV’s, 14 apps, 24 IP, 29 H, 4 BB, 28 K) has done a good job this season and got the win in the Sunday game at UCSB (3 1/3 IP, 2 R, 1 ER). Fitzgerald is one of the hardest throwers on the staff and was 1-4, 4.96 ERA in 20 apps (33 IP) last season.

The LHP’s are Andy Suiter (1-0, 4.35 ERA, 2 SV’s, 21 IP, 19 H, 16 BB, 25 K) and Colin McCusker (0-1, 6.59 ERA, 10 apps, 14 IP, 16 H, 6 BB, 6 K). The other RHP’s are Marco Grifantini (0-0, 2.61 ERA, 9 apps, 11 IP, 16 H, 3 BB, 11 K), Jeremy McChesney (1-1, 5.54 ERA, 9 apps, 13 IP, 16 H, 4 BB, 10 K), Tom Briner (1-1, 7.04 ERA, 8 apps, 8 IP, 14 H, 2 BB, 7 K) and Jeff Reekers (3-2, 9.44 ERA, 9 apps, 7 starts, 34 IP, 59 H, 12 BB, 22 K).

OUTLOOK

UC Davis showed they are going to be a team to be reckoned with in the Big West two weeks ago when they won their series at UCSB. But, they followed up that series win by struggling at home last weekend with Cal Poly. The Aggies have an explosive offense but they have scored 4 R’s or less in 6 of their 9 conference games and this weekend they will be facing one of the better pitching staffs that they have faced. UC Davis is a much improved team this year but they have been pretty easily handled by Fullerton during the transition to D1, going 1-8 against the Titans. There is quite a bit of pressure on UC Davis this weekend and it is likely with the way that Fullerton is playing, especially at home, that the Titans will win the series by winning 2 of 3 games.