Commentary : Stanford Baseball 2002

With the regular season one-third complete and the team off for two weeks, what better time to take a closer inspection at where the Stanford baseball team stands. Included is a look at how the hitting, pitching, and defense are looking through the first 19 games. Also, check out JJ's "Super Sixteen" national rankings.

With the regular season approximately 1/3 complete and with the team being off for two weeks, I thought it would be a good time to step back and take a close look at the 2002 Stanford Cardinal through 19 games.  Stanford's record currently sits at 14-5 and they've been ranked #1 for all six weeks of the season.  A big reason why the Cardinal are still ranked #1 is the fact that they haven't lost a series this year and they play one of the toughest schedules in the country.

Hitting :
The #1 strength of this team through the first 1/3 of the regular season.  Stanford is hitting .339 as a team while they're averaging a whopping 8.6 runs per game.  They've scored eight or more runs in 11 of their 19 games and have scored in double figures five times.  If there was a problem with the hitting at this point it could be the reliance on the big inning.  Multiple times this season, Stanford has jumped out early with a big inning and then put it into cruise control for the remainder of the game.  Last Friday against Cal, the Cardinal went scoreless through the first six innings and then erupted for 15 runs in the next two frames en route to a 15-4 win.  Now it's hard to complain with an offense that is averaging 8 1/2 runs per game, but I'm sure the coaching staff would like to see a little more consistency with the bats from innings one through nine.

Individually, multiple players are having great starts to the year.  Jason Cooper is finally showing Cardinal fans what all the hype around him was all about.  The junior DH is hitting a team-leading .455 with four home runs and a team-high 23 RBI.  We've seen a whole new approach at the plate from Cooper as he's taking more pitches to the opposite field and although it didn't result in many home runs at first, Cooper is now showing us some of that power.  This past weekend against Cal was a Barry Bonds-esque performance from Cooper.  Taking outside pitches to the opposite field for line drive singles and then capitalizing on inside pitches and driving them over the fence in right.  The Bears probably threw all of five inside fastballs to Cooper all weekend and he deposited three of them over the fence.  Ryan Garko (.342-5-19) and Carlos Quentin (.375-4-19) are also having great years to this point.  Garko, who hit only seven homers last season, has already hit five and appears cemented into the #3 spot in the lineup.  Don't be fooled by Quentin in the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup.  This is a guy who is certainly good enough to hit third or fourth in the lineup and he's proven it with his numbers this season.  Cooper, Garko, and Quentin could all hit 15 homers this season.

At the top of the lineup, Chris O'Riordan and Sam Fuld have both been solid.  O'Riordan got off to a slow start by his standards as he spent the entire first month of the season hitting below .300.  But the senior second baseman is starting to pick things up as his average is up to .312 and it will no doubt continue to rise.  The power hasn't been there for O'Riordan yet (led the team last year with 12 bombs), but with all the power in the lineup behind him, I'm sure the coaching staff will just settle for him getting on base and setting the table for the big boys.  Sam Fuld in the #2 spot has been a success so far as well.  Fuld is hitting .341 and also does a good job of setting the table.  Scott Dragicevich and the Arik VanZandt/Andy Topham combination at the bottom of the lineup has done a fabulous job to begin the year.  Dragicevich is hitting .356 in the #8 spot while VanZandt and Topham are hitting a combined .341.  The Cardinal at times suffered from a lack of production at the bottom of the lineup last season, but so far this year they've done all anyone could ask and more.

The freshman in the lineup have also impressed.  Donny Lucy took over the starting first baseman's job in week #2 and has shown no signs of giving it up.  Lucy recorded at least one RBI in his first 12 starts in the field and has already blasted three homers.  He's a very special young player who will certainly put up some big numbers in a Cardinal uniform.  In left field and batting sixth has been another freshman, Chris Carter.  Carter has been a bit up-and-down so far this season showcasing some awesome power but also at times having trouble just putting the bat on the ball.  The great thing about this team though is that Carter can be brought along slowly as Coach Marquess can elect to start sophomore Brian Hall (.265-1-11) in the outfield as well.

Pitching :
The starting rotation appears to be set with Jeremy Guthrie, Tim Cunningham, and John Hudgins.  The trio has combined to go 12-1 with a 3.21 ERA.  As expected, Guthrie has been the anchor of the rotation after going 13-4 last season.  The junior righthander is 5-0 with a 3.07 ERA this year and could be a first round draft pick this June.  Junior lefty Tim Cunningham appears to have gotten over the hump and is turning into an outstanding college pitcher.  Cunningham is 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA through seven starts and has cut his walks way down.  Control had always been an issue for Cunningham and it appears now the Tim has harnessed it and he's now enjoying a lot of success.  The #3 spot in the rotation had been up for grabs until a couple of weeks ago.  Mark Jecmen and Ryan McCally both had opportunities but struggled in the third spot and it appears now that it's Hudgins' job to lose.  The sophomore righthander has gotten the last two starts in the Sunday spot in the rotation and has gone 2-0 with a 2.92 ERA.  Like Cunningham, Hudgins' main problem has been is control, but if he continues to pitch like he has the past two weeks, the Cardinal should have one of the top starting rotations in the country.

Out of the bullpen, it's been more of a mixed bag.  At times the bullpen has looked invincible (Cal and Fullerton series') and other times they've been hit hard (Santa Clara and Cal Poly series').  J.D. Willcox, who co-led the team last year with six saves and was downright dominating in the postseason last year, has had a tough time this season.  Opponents are hitting .382 against the senior while he's walked six batters in eight innings of work.  Fortunately there's still plenty of time for Willcox to turn it around because he'll surely be needed in some big spots later on this season.  Other workhorses out of the bullpen include Drew Ehrlich and McCally.  McCally hasn't given up a run in five relief appearances (but was lit up for six runs in 1 1/3 innings in his only start) and Ehrlich has been pretty solid with a 4.32 ERA.  These are the three pitchers that will likely see the most innings out of the bullpen for Stanford this year and I'm sure the coaching staff would like to see a little more consistency from all three of them.

Other relievers to see some action this year include Dan Rich, Darin Naatjes, Jonny Dyer, Mark Jecmen, and David O'Hagan.  Dyer and Naatjes have both been successful in short relief and could get a chance to close some games if they continue to have success (Naatjes already got a shot at closing last Sunday at Cal and was successful in recording the save).  Rich is the lone lefty out of the bullpen and after struggling early on, has come back with two solid outings.  If he continues to pitch well, expect Rich to see a lot of time in relief in some big spots.  Jecmen and O'Hagan are the long-relievers and mop-up pitchers right now.  O'Hagan didn't see any game action last season and has done a decent job in his three appearances this year while Jecmen struggled in his three starts early on in the season and has been moved to the bullpen.  Don't worry though Cardinal fans, Mark Jecmen will eventually be an outstanding pitcher at Stanford.

Defense :
The Cardinal broke the school record and led the country in fielding percentage last season, but have struggled at times this season.  They've committed 27 errors already this year after having only 60 in all of last season.  Part of the reason for the early struggles is having a new first baseman in Donny Lucy (3 errors) as Arik VanZandt committed only two miscues all of last season.  The Stanford pitchers have also committed their fair share of errors already this season as well.  After making only two errors as a staff last season, Stanford pitchers have already committed four errors this year.  Two of those four have been made by the freshman Jecmen, so again with more experience those miscues should start to decline.  Hopefully it's just some an early season aberration, as the Cardinal defenders can certainly put up better numbers than what they have this year.

** In conclusion, this could be a very special Stanford team.  They say pitching and defense wins championships and despite the early struggles with the defense, the Cardinal can match-up with anyone in the country in these categories, in my opinion.  The hitting was supposed to get better this year with everyone returning from a year ago and they certainly have.  #1 through #9 in the order, there is no easy out in the Stanford lineup.  If this team can put it all together, a return trip to Omaha and a chance at a national championship are well within reach.

JJ's Super Sixteen :
(Record, previous ranking)
** Records are through Monday March 11th

1. Stanford (14-5, 1)
    * Cardinal take another series as they win 2-of-3 at California

2. Clemson (10-0, 2)
    * Tigers continue hot play to begin the year with a sweep of Purdue.

3. Florida State (20-4, 3)
    * Seminoles go 3-0 last week with a sweep of visiting Pittsburgh.

4. Rice (15-4, 4)
    * Owls drop mid-week contest to Sam Houston State, but rebound to sweep Hawaii on the road.

5. Wake Forest (14-2, 5)
    * Demon Deacons go 4-1 last week including weekend sweep of New Orleans.

6. Houston (12-4, 9)
    * Cougars continue to move up in poll after a sweep at Louisiana-Lafayette.

7. LSU (13-5, 6)
    * Tigers drop mid-week game to Tulane then sweep visiting Louisiana-Munroe.

8. Baylor (12-6, 15)
    * Bears make biggest jump this week after a 3-1 week including a series win over Nebraska.

9. Nebraska (8-5, 7)
    * Cornhuskers go 2-2 last week after dropping 2-of-3 to Baylor.

10. Tulane (11-6, 12)
    * Green Wave have good week with a mid-week win over LSU and a series win over a tough Rutgers team.

11. Wichita State (8-1, NA)
    * Shockers make first appearance in the poll after taking 2-of-3 from Fullerton.

12. Florida (13-3, 14)
    * Gators go 2-1 last week as they take a series from Austin Peay.

13. South Carolina (14-2, 16)
    * Gamecocks have a great week going 5-0 as they beat up on lesser opponents (UNC-Asheville, William & Mary, Seton Hall).

14. Cal State Fullerton (11-8, 8)
    * Titans take a tumble after dropping series at Wichita State.

15. Texas (16-6, 11)
    * Longhorns fall four spots after going 2-2 and losing series to host Texas Tech.

16. Georgia Tech (13-1, NA)
    * Yellow Jackets in the poll after a 4-0 week including sweep of visiting Winthrop.

Dropped Out : Miami, Notre Dame

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