VETTEL: Baseball Season Slide Stunning

Coming into the 2006 campaign the Florida Gators were a consensus top ten team, and with good reason. The Gators returned seven position players from the national runner-up plus a two of the top four starting pitchers and one of two studs form the bullpen.

Early on the Gators suffered a key loss when lefty Stephen Locke was determined to need surgery ending his season before it started. Still, things seemed to be in good shape in mid-March with the Gators sitting on a 17-and-7 record and taking their SEC opening series from Arkansas two games to one.

However the last six weeks have been a complete disaster. Florida has managed just seven wins in 23 outings, and their SEC mark (4-and-14) is even worse. The reasons for the drop off are many, but you might be surprised by some of the details.

It's Not Really the Pitching

Most people who comment on the baseball team's struggles point at the pitching staff as the primary cause, but it's not. The Gators' team ERA of 4.14 is not that much worse than last year's 3.91 mark after 47 games. That's just seven more earned runs. Seven!

The real difference is at the plate, where the Gators team batting average of .264 is 39 points lower than last year at this stage. They have also drawn 52 fewer walks, dropping their on-base percentage from .402 to .357.

The Gators excelled last year with power and speed and the productivity there is significantly down as well. The Gators have hit 13 fewer homer runs and stunningly stopped running altogether. Last year this stage Florida had stolen 58 bases, compared with just 24 this year. In the 21 SEC games, it's been station-to-station baseball with just eight steals in conference play.

As a result, Florida's scored just 278 runs, which are 89 less than a year ago to this point. When your run production is down almost two runs a game (1.89 to be exact) it's difficult to maintain the same pace. Thus the Gators, 32-and-15 in '05 are now 24-and-23.

Returning Veterans Struggling Individually

Last year's baseball team was led by senior Jeff Corseletti and a "Fab Four" of sophomores in Matt LaPorta, Brian Jeroloman, Adam Davis and Brian LeClerc. Through 47 games last season the quartet had 40 homers, 173 runs batted in and 28 stolen bases. This year, instead of improving with experience the group has 25 homers, 124 RBI and just eight steals.

Only one returning player has really improved from last year and that's Gavin Dickey. While Dickey's batting average is down 26 points, he has eight more homers and 22 runs batted in through 47 games this year.

Two others returning veterans, Stephen Barton and Brandon McArthur have seen their batting averages drop dramatically; Barton (.311 to .220) by almost a hundred points and McArthur (.295 to .240) by more than fifty.

Post-Season Seriously in Doubt

Pat McMahon has led the Gators into the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons, a feat unmatched by any of his predecessors. However, Florida making it five in a row is going to require a fast finish. The Gators don't have to make it into the SEC Tournament to get consideration, but they have to come close.

The three remaining SEC must be won, and if one of them can be swept, so much the better. A 7-and-2 finish would create at least a semi-respectable 13-and-17 conference mark and give the NCAA selection committee reason to give the Gators the benefit of the doubt. Anything less and it would take an incredible string of good fortune to get the Gators into the post-season.

Who woulda thunk that six weeks ago?

As always I welcome your direct question and comments. Vettel@gatorcountry.com


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