The Mountaineers, 28-26 last season and on the verge of an NCAA berth – some say one more overall victory would have gotten them in – before a severe slide at the end (losses in nine of the final 10 games), must replace major portions of their infield, outfield and pitching rotation. The team experience, offensive production, and defensive assists and put-outs have been waylayed by exhausted eligibility and professional contracts.
Gone are the three main starters for the majority of the season in ace Harrison Musgrave, lefty John Means and power right-hander Sean Carley. Of the eight returning starts (out of 54 games played), offspeed specialist Ross Vance has seven, with reliever Trevor Simms with one. The math, then, is pretty easy; that’s 85.6 percent of the starts, gone. And the truer percentage is actually closer to 87 percent, as Simms’ start was a spot one. There’s not much reason to get into anything else. With those numbers, as well as the departure of relievers Pascal Paul, Ryan Tezak, Corey Walter (also with five starts), Michael Bennett, Joby Lapkowicz and Zach Bargeron (3 starts), WVU must, aside from Vance, essentially rebuild the entire rotation and the bullpen.
With that idea, head coach Randy Mazey has stocked the roster with 15 players listed only as right-handed pitchers, with two others (Jackson Cramer, who will primarily play first base; and redshirt freshman Shay Phillips, also an outfielder) also available. Mazey also has three left-handers, including Vance. Only one of the 15 righties, Chad Donato, has thrown a pitch for the Mountaineers, while the same is true of the lefties aside from Vance. Thus far, there doesn’t appear to be a Carley-like transfer, though there are promising names that we will preview more in-depth as the preseason practices commence. For now, understand that West Virginia must replace 411 of its 478 1/3 innings pitched (86%), an incredible number even at the collegiate level.
The above is the more obvious portion of the losses. Now, here’s a more insightful look into the losses within the offense. Again, West Virginia played 54 games last season. Of the 486 total starts (54 games x 8 fielding positions, plus the DH), the Mountaineers are absent 276 starts and return 197 – the math adding to 473 because of 13 listed “starts” by non-playing pitchers that Mazey promptly pulled for a desired designated hitter match-up once the opposing coach announced his starter. The 276 missing starts account for 56.8 percent of the team’s overall starts, and are severely weighted toward the top half of the most consistent 2014 line-up.
The players with the most starts, and by far the most production, were 1B Ryan McBroom (54), LF Jacob Rice (54), 2B Billy Fleming (53), CF Bobby Boyd (53), SS Taylor Munden (52), C Cam O’Brien (44) and 3B Michael Constantini (33). Those were the only players with at least 30 starts and 40 games played. Of those, only Munden – with a .329 OB% with 21 walks and 39 runs scored (2nd on the team) and the WVU leader in doubles with 16 – and O’Brien (.395 slugging percentage) return. Munden typically hit leadoff, with O’Brien slotted into the seven slot. The pair combined for a .260 average, with 99 hits, 58 runs scored, 28 doubles (which was quite a solid chunk, the duo ranking, or raking, one-two in the category), and 37 RBI.
But those numbers are, you might have guessed, paltry compared with the losses of the other five players, who combined for 320 hits, 154 runs scored and 142 RBI. If you divide that out by five, it amounts to a per-player average of 64 hits, 30.8 runs scored and 28.4 RBI, compared to the 49.4 hits, 29 runs scored and 18.5 RBI. That’s a significant per-player drop off in average hits and RBI, and the balloon effect is especially revealing when one totals the numbers and examines the total losses as a percentage of complete team numbers. So, let’s do that.
Taking the five losses, and adding to that the departures of Cody Semler, Max Nogay and Trevor Sims, and the adding returners Jackson Cramer, Shaun Wood, Justin Fox and Ray Guerrini to O’Brien and Munden covers every player who took an at-bat for WVU last season. Add the departures up, and it reveals that the Mountaineers are sans 153 of a total 248 RBI (61.7%), 343 of a total 540 hits (63.5%) and 176 of a total 271 runs scored (65%). The remainder of those numbers, then, (95 RBI, 197 hits and 95 runs scored) are equivalent to the remaining percentages, meaning West Virginia returns 38.3 percent of its RBI, 37.5 percent of its hits and 35 percent of its runs scored.
Those are damning numbers, and exceptionally difficult to replace in their entirety. If one looks at the defensive side, with put outs and assists, the numbers are a bit better mainly because of the overwhelming stacked percentages of those by O’Brien as a catcher. Otherwise, the percentages are actually slightly worse, though it’s not fair to discount O’Brien’s contribution while counting that of McBroom, as first base is stacked in an even greater manner. Still, checking that departed group, it guts 2/3 of the outfield, and the first, second and third base positions in the infield. Add in the pitcher, who will be new for the vast majority of the time, and that’s six of nine spots that will sport new names.
The early feel from here is that there are some names with experience. From a very rudimentary, haven’t-seen-the-squad perspective – the season begins Feb. 13 with a three-game set at Clemson – and relying on last season’s information, the fielding line-up could look something like this: Jackson Cramer at first; Just Fox at second; Taylor Munden at short; Brad Johnson at third (he could also play first, or move to rightfield, but his abilities are likely too good to try for him to hide there in this line-up); and O’Brien behind the plate. The outfield would seem to be Shaun Wood and then whoever can win the other slots out of a mix of freshmen and junior college transfer KC Huth, a rightfielder who hit .350 with a team-best 32 RBI last year at Fullerton College.
The Mountaineers have some talent; WVU’s class was ranked 48th by website PerfectGame.com, good for fifth in the Big 12. Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were ranked in the Top 25 in recruiting by BaseballAmerica.com. Collegiate Baseball ranked four Big 12 teams in its preseason Top 40: No. 2 TCU, No. 5 OSU, No. 7 Texas and No. 9 Texas Tech. Other ranked West Virginia opponents: Liberty 23rd , Clemson at 28th, Kent State 30th, Ball State 31st, Maryland 37th, and Illinois 40th. Out of the 54-game schedule, that’s 20 against top 40 teams.