UCLA Preview: Lineup

The offense was one of the main reasons UCLA failed to live up to expectations last season, with several players having major regression from previous performance levels, and head coach John Savage decided it was time to shake things up when he hired long time Fullerton assistant coach Rick Vanderhook.

The offense at UCLA is still a work in progress with the Bruins ranking in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories in the Pac 10 but when looked at in the big picture that isn't too impressive. 

UCLA is hitting .284 (4th in the conf but only 225th nationally), has scored 293 R's (4th in the conf but only 213th nationally), has a .438 SLG % (4th in the conf but only 176th nationally) and has hit 47 HR's (4th in the conf) in a ballpark with short 370 ft power alleys that are similar to ballparks you will find in the south.  A big part of UCLA's problem is making contact because they are next to last in the conf in K's and are averaging about eight per game.  One area that the Bruins have excelled in is being patient at the plate, taking pitches and HBP's.  UCLA is 3rd in the conf with 216 BB's and 2nd in the conf with 65 HBP's (including 17 by one player) and is 4th in the conf with a .386 OBP.  The Bruins will try play some little ball and try to run some and bunt some, ranking 5th in the conf with 34 SAC's and 51 SB's.

All three players that UCLA lost in their infield were very good defensive players so it is not surprising that the Bruins have had some issues defensively.  UCLA has committed 58 errors for a .967 fielding % and has committed 32 errors around the infield along with another 8 by their pitchers.  The Bruins have only turned 27 DP's, which is last in the Pac 10.  UCLA has a solid CF but their corner OF defense has also been an issue.  Despite breaking in new catchers, the Bruins have been the best team in the Pac 10 at stopping the running game (27-53 SB's) but they have struggled with blocking pitches and have allowed 61 WP's/PB's, ranking 8th in the conf.

Infield/DH

C – UCLA has been breaking in new players at C after losing three year starter Ryan Babineau.  FR Steve Rodriguez (LH – .179-1-7-1) and SR Gino Aielli (RH – .350-2-11-5) have been splitting time with Rodriguez catching most of the time vs. RHP's and usually hitting 9th.  Rodriguez is a little better defensively but Aielli is much better offensively.  Rodriguez leads the team with 8 SAC's.  Aielli has the highest AVG on the team and UCLA also has him play some 3B and DH to get his bat in the lineup and he usually hits 6th or 7th.  He is primarily a singles hitter with only one extra base hit in 54 AB's in conf games.  Baserunners are 14-21 on SB's against Rodriguez and 12-19 on SB's against Aielli.

1B – SR Cody Decker (RH – .321-17-41-2) is one of the leading HR hitters on the west coast and in the top 25 nationally in HR's.  Decker leads the Pac 10 in HR's, is 5th in R's and SLG%, 6th total bases and 9th in RBI's.  He has bounced back to have an outstanding season as the cleanup hitter after a subpar 2008 (.218-7-30-2) when he hit much worse than he did in 2007 (.307-14-57-1).  Decker has a big swing and Decker strikes out about 1/3 of the time and is 6th in the Pac 10 with 48 K's.  He is patient at the plate and walks quite a bit (4th in the Pac 10 in BB's) and has been pitched around some due to his ability to change a game with one swing of the bat.  Decker is a big guy without much range and was the DH most of the first half of the season but has been adequate defensively.  He has struggled in his career against Fullerton and is 3-19 with 1 HR.

2B – SR Eddie Murray (RH – .272-2-29-5) was a reserve for three seasons before getting an opportunity to play this year due to the graduation of Alden Carrithers.  Murray has been hitting at the top of the lineup most of the season and has been the leadoff hitter for the past month.  He leads the conf in HBP's (and is in the top 20 nationally), is 6th in OBP and 7th in walks.  Murray has struggled with weekend pitching and is only hitting .217 in conf games and strikes out about 20% of the time (32 K's), which is a high rate for a singles hitter.  He is among the team leaders with 6 SAC's.  He played mostly 3B prior to this season and has struggled with the position change and has made 12 errors.

SS – Soph Niko Gallego (RH – .267-0-22-5) has started every game at SS after backing up Brandon Crawford and Carrithers last season.  He usually hits 8th or 9th and does not have much pop in his bat with a .323 SLG % and strikes out about 20% of the time (28 K's), which is too much for a singles hitter.  He is a scrappy player who will bunt (5 SAC's) and take a HBP (5th in the conf with 11) and has hit .309 in conf games.  Gallego is average defensively and has limited range (last in assists in the conf at SS) and has made 8 errors and would probably be better at 2B, where he was projected to play coming into the season.

3B – This has been a platoon situation with several players manning the hot corner after Jermaine Curtis was drafted after last season.  The players most likely to play 3B this weekend are Casey Haerther, Aielli and FR Tyler Rahmatulla (.224 in 67 AB's).  Rahmatulla played SS in HS and provides better defense at 3B than Aielli but is struggling offensively with the transition to D1 and has only one extra base hit.  FR Chris Amezquita (.263 in 57 AB's) has more power than Rahmatulla and has also played at 3B but has not started there the last three weeks.

DH – JR Casey Haerther (RH – .320-8-35-4) usually hits 3rd and is the best hitter on the team when he is healthy, which he hasn't been after breaking a toe against Stanford a month ago and missing seven games except for a couple of pinch-hit appearances.  Haerther was playing either 3B or 1B prior to the injury but was limited to being the DH the last three weeks before starting at 3B on Tues against Long Beach.  He has been affected by the injury because he is only hitting .238 in conf games.  Haerther is a patient hitter who consistently squares up hard line drives to all fields.  He was the best all-around hitter on the team last year (2008 – .324-12-52-10) and is 8-27 in his career against Fullerton, including 2 HR's in the regional last season.  If Haerther is able to play 3B then Aielli or Chris Giovinazzo (RH – .299-1-12-1) would be the DH.

Outfield

LF – JR Gabe Cohen (RH – .276-5-28-5) has started almost every game in LF but dropped a fly ball in the 9th inning last Friday that ended up being the difference in the game.  Cohen has played better this year than he did last season (2008 – .204-9-28-9) when his game fell off the map after a FR All-American season in 2007 (.345-10-36-4).  He usually bats 6th or 7th and has plus power when he makes contact but that has been a big problem because he strikes out about 30% of the time (37 K's).  Cohen has struggled in his career against Fullerton and is 3-20 against the Titans.  He wasn't in the lineup in the last two games against Cal or against Long Beach and the other options in the OF would be Giovinazzo, Brett Krill (RH – .250 in 20 AB's) or Marc Navarro (LH – .143 in 28 AB's).

CF – JR Blair Dunlap (RH – .290-6-32-13) has gone from a part-time player last season (2008 – .250-2-16-3) who struggled with injuries to being one of the better players on the team.  He is UCLA's fastest runner (9th in the conf in SB's) and was batting leadoff earlier in the year.  Dunlap has started to hit for power with 5 HR's and 22 RBI's in conf games and has been moved into the middle of the lineup to take advantage of his run production.  With the increase in power has also come lots of K's because Dunlap is striking out over 20% of the time (40 K's).  He is a good defensive OF and covers ground well.  Dunlap hit very well against Fullerton last year and went 9-23 with one HR, 5 RBI's and three multi-hit games.

RF – JR Justin Uribe (LH – .323-3-21-3) is the only real LH threat in the lineup and has the 2nd highest AVG on the team.  After breaking into the lineup as a FR as an OF/P, big things were expected for Uribe last season but he only had 53 AB's (.283 BA) and missed most of the season after having surgery when he injured his elbow while pitching.  He doesn't hit for much power but does a good job of spraying the ball around the field.  Uribe is a decent OF and had a plus arm before the injury.  He wore out Fullerton as a FR with four games with two hits each and is 9-16 in his career against the Titans.