It can be tough to categorize Randy Mazey in terms of style. He can't be pigenholed as a small-ball disciple, or a devotee of power-packed lineups. Pitching is important to him, as it is to every baseball coach, but he doesn't focus on that to the detriment of other aspects of the game. His teams are ultra-aggressive on the basepaths. If there's one way to categorize him, it might be “flexible”. He's always looking for ways to tweak productivity, improve what is average and make better what is good. And he's not afraid to try things that might not occur to some coaches, or to flout conventional wisdom.
Take, for example, his approach to bunting. He uses it not solely as a means to advance baserunners, but as an offensive weapon. In WVU's win over Pitt on Tuesday, his team had Pitt's fielders chasing bunts like Carl Spackler after The Gopher, and with about as much success. The Mountaineers built a lead, then put the game away, on the back of a series of hits that traveled between 10 and 40 feet.
Also highlighted this season was his move to freshmen, including the starting of a lineup composed almost entirely of newcomers. He also put his entire bench into play as pinchhitters with his team trailing William & Mary 7-0 – and was rewarded with a comeback win that kept the squad's flickering NCAA at-large hopes alive. While every move isn't so successful, the thought behind each one stands up to analysis, making Mazey one of the top coaches in the West Virginia athletic department.
His latest switch, for this weekend's series against Texas Tech, is also a bit surprising. While he has kept Chad Donato in his normal Friday starting spot (the second game in the weekend series), he has bumped Michael Grove in to the Thursday evening game, while keeping recent weekend starter Conner Dotson (himself a recent replacement in the rotation) for the finale on Saturday.
This move is hoped to pay dividends in this regular season-ending series, but it's also constructed with an eye toward the Big 12 Championship next week. In that tournament, where a fourth starter and great relief pitching are keys to advancement, WVU will now have two former weekend starters – Ross Vance and B.J. Myers – available for either relief duty, or perhaps for a Friday or Saturday start if necessary. Both pitched in relief against Pitt, and figure to be available for similar roles in the three-game set against the Red Raiders.
This isn't the first time Mazey has shuffled his staff in this manner. He moved starter Sean Carley from a starting spot to a closer role in 2014, and while that didn't propel the Mountaineers to a postseason berth, it showed his willingness to move out of a comfort zone to try to get the best results possible for his team.
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WVU's chances of earning a post-season bid are still on the very fringes of the bubble. With current RPI of 84, WVU will likely need to move up some 30 spots to earn consideration. The worst RPI rating for a team earning an NCAA at large bid in recent years was 52, and while that's not the only factor that comes into play in selecting at-large bids, it is an important one. With four or five more wins, West Virginia will have enough victories (it currently holds 32) to be solidly within at-large consideration, so RPI improvement is the key at this point. The Mountaineers will likely need to win the series against the Red Raiders (RPI 10) and get to the finals of the Big 12 Championship to sniff a shot at further postseason play, and even that impressive run would probably only put WVU more close to the center of the bubble.