College World Series: Vanderbilt Offense Preview

Artie Lewicki and the bullpen will be big this week, facing a team full of righties. - Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Game One of the NCAA Baseball Championship Series is tonight, pitting the Hoos against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Here we're taking a look at Vandy's offense. That includes their running game, which is 2nd in the country can steals. What else can they do?

Vanderbilt's offense is similar to the Hoos. The Commodores ranked 73th in the country in batting average, 63th in OBP and 78th in SLG. (Compared to 84th, 40th and 95th for the Hoos.) When you look at the raw numbers, it is even closer. Vanderbilt batted .281 as a team (.279 for the Hoos), got on base at a .369 clip (.376 for the Hoos) and slugged .385 (.379 for the Hoos). All told, the Commodores score 5.7 runs per game. The Hoos score 5.5.

The biggest difference is walks (where the Hoos are 2nd in the nation and the Commodores are 27th) and doubles (2nd for the Commodores vs 58th for the Hoos). Despite being a bit behind in slugging, the Hoos have hit more than 50% more HRs (33 vs 21) than Vanderbilt. One thing possibly preventing Vandy from hitting a lot of HRs is the 35 foot wall in LF at Hawkins Field.

One other advantage Vandy has is on the basepath's where they are 2nd in the country with 111 steals. They have  been caught 45 times, for roughly a 72% success rate. The Hoos do not run as much, with just 64 stolen bases, but they've been caught only 20 times, giving them a 76% success rate. The Hoos are great at shutting down opposition running games. Teams have attempted just 43 steals against them this year, and have been successful 22 times (an amazing 49% success rate for throwing out baserunners). Shutting down the Vandy running game will go a long way towards shutting down their offense.

That offense is led by the top of their lineup, sophomore second baseman Dansby Swanson and freshman LF Bryan Reynolds. Swanson is batting .337 with a .413 OBP and a .485 SLG. He has 4 HRs, 27 doubles, and 34 RBI. He is also in the top 20 in the nation in runs, with 61. Reynolds is a switch-hitter who is batting .341 on the year with 4 HRs and a team-leading 53 RBI. He has a .395 OBP and .489 SLG. Swanson has 20 steals in 25 attempts and Johnson has 13 in 19 attempts. Those are the only two everyday guys on Vanderbilt batting over .300, but it isn't near the end of their offense.

Junior shortstop Vince Conde is batting .294 with a .394 OBP and .408 SLG. He has 4 HRs, 48 RBI, and leads the team with 40 walks. He's also 15-17 in stolen bases. The Commodores' leader in HRs is sophomore first-baseman Zander Wiel, with 5. Wiel bats cleanup, and despite being 6'3" 220 pounds, has stolen 13 out of 17.   Next up is CF John Norwood, who is at .288/.355/.380 on the season, with 1 HR and 16 stolen bases (23 attempts). The final pieces of the everyday lineup is sophomore right fielder Rhett Wiseman .283/.352/.398 with 11 steals (16 attempts). Missing from the lineup is sophomore third baseman Xavier Turner (.284/.355/.384 with 2 HRs and 18 steals in 25 attempts). Turner has been suspended for violation NCAA rules. Taking his place has been Tyler Campbell, who is 3-8 since taking over the spot. He had just 15 ABs on the season prior to that, with just 2 hits.

In a peculiar move, Vanderbilt often puts a pitcher in the lineup as the DH, and then removes him for a pinch hitter as soon as his spot in the lineup is up. This makes no sense to me. Here's the explanation:

OK, that makes sense. Actually no, it doesn't. What it tells me is that they don't have a good option for DH. Do you know how else you can get an extended look at the opposing pitcher? Game film. Anyway, it doesn't really matter. It seems like their DHs are a couple of freshmen, Karl Ellison and Nolan Rogers. Ellison is the righty, so we'll probably see him. Rogers is batting .204 on the season, Ellison is at .203, and neither of them have HR'd.

Of the starters, all are righties except Wiseman and Johnson (switch-hitter). That is a bit of an advantage for Vandy, facing a couple of left handed starters in Nathan Kirby and Brandon Wadell. The Hoos do have some dominant right handed relief pitching, which they can call upon in the later innings should that need arise.

You may have noticed this, but every single batter in Vandy's lineup has double-digit steals. In comparison, the Hoos have just 1 player (Joe McCarthy) in double digits. It will be interesting to see how often Vandy tests the Virginia battery on the basepaths.

The other think you may have noticed is that there are a lot of sophomores and freshmen on this team. Yes, this is a very young baseball team. This may be a factor in the teams' high strikeout totals. As a team, the Commodores strike out in nearly 20% of their ABs. Compare that to the Hoos, who strike out in less than 15% of their ABs. The combination of more walks and less strikeouts could give the Hoos a big advantage.

So far in the CWS, Norwood and Wiseman have been pacing the Commodores. Conde and Wiel, in particular, have struggled.

Keeping the top of the Commodores lineup off the basepaths is important. Especially when you consider how TD Ameritrade Park limits extra base hits, stolen bases could be an important part of this series. Turning a single into a double by stealing second is just like hitting a double. Even if they aren't running, they are forcing the pitcher and the defense to focus on them. If they're back in the dugout, they aren't affecting anything.

Vandy's offense isn't any better than the Hoos'. It also isn't any worse. At least on paper, the lineups are similar, although the Hoos have more lefties and the Commodores have more righties. Like any short series, it'll come down to who can get hot and which team can take advantage of mistakes made by the opposition.

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