College Baseball Week 12 Chat With Aaron Fitt

Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody. Busy week here at Baseball America with our first Draft Preview issue going to press, so I’ll have to keep this tight. Let’s dive right in.

Lupton Stadium (Fort Worth): TCU has got to be the most dangerous team in the country. Could we possibly have 2-3 All-Americans on the team (Finnegan, Morrison, B. White)? Thoughts going forward on national seed?
Aaron Fitt: Well, there are a lot of very dangerous teams, but I’ve been saying for the last few weeks that TCU is my “sleeper” national title contender—that team is built to succeed in Omaha, with tons of arms and a strong defense. The bats have really picked up in recent weeks too. I think Finnegan and Morrison have good All-America cases, and White has had a fine year but I’m not sure his numbers are loud enough for All-America status at this point, but he’s got a shot. Riley Ferrell could give TCU another All-American, but there is a lot of competition for those three reliever spots.

@Jaypers413 (IL): One month until the draft! Who will be doing the Mock Drafts going forward, and when does the first edition come out? Thanks, Matt.
Aaron Fitt: The mock drafts will be a team effort, I think, but John Manuel is taking the lead. We’re all gathering as much intel as we can, and the first mock will go to press this week, and should be posted this week or early next.

Jamie (Tampa): Who is this Morales kid from UC Irvine and is he ever going to lose a game?
Aaron Fitt: Funny you should ask, I just had a great conversation about Morales with Mike Gillespie, who loves him, as you might imagine. Morales is undersized, which caused him to get overlooked out of high school, but he’s something like 34-1 in his college career between juco ball and UCI — the guy just wins. And his velocity has actually taken a step forward this year; rather than pitching in the high 80s, he’s sitting at 90-91 and touching 94, to go along with a swing-and-miss slider. He’s a fierce competitor, and a very strong bet to be an All-American. He might sneak his way up draft boards, too. I’ll have more on the Anteaters in tomorrow morning’s Three Strikes.

Nick (Austin): What does TCU need to do in the final two weeks to secure hosting a Super?
Aaron Fitt: If the Frogs win the Big 12 regular-season title, I think they’re in good shape for a national seed. They could conceivably snag a national seed even without a Big 12 title, if they win those last two series (which are winnable, vs. Oklahoma and at Baylor), because their RPI is strong and the committee is gonna love their blistering second half. Momentum matters.

Jonathan (Salem, Oregkn): Beavers srarting pitching has been amazing this year but bullpen has been erratic. Can beavs continue to win in Pac12 and in postseason with their bullpen issues?
Aaron Fitt: I would agree that it’s not a shutdown bullpen, but give Scott Schultz credit — he’s been quite the fireman for them. He’s a very experienced, competitive veteran with a knack for getting big groundball outs when he needs them. And Zach Reser has been a very dependable option from the left side. Still — the bullpen does strike me as OSU’s soft spot; it puts a lot of pressure on Wetzler, Moore and Fry to go deep into games, which they have been able to do most of the time. I thought Engelbrekt would be a lot better this year than he has been, and I expected Chandler Eden to be a big part of that bullpen, and he hasn’t been.

Josh (Little Rock): What is going on in Fayetteville ? If the Hogs don't win the next two series, are we out of the regionals (barring an SEC tourney win) ?
Aaron Fitt: I don’t know that anything is going on with Arkansas—that’s just an average SEC team in a very rugged league. They’re going to win some big series, and they’re going to lose some, like most middle-of-the-pack SEC teams. But with that borderline RPI, the Hogs certainly need a strong finish to bolster their cause. They’re currently 11-13 in the SEC, and if they can get to 15-15, I think they’ll have a decent shot. At 14-16, they’ll need to help themselves further in the SEC tournament. They are good enough to go 5-1 in those last two series (vs. Texas A&M, at Missouri), but the Aggies are playing well right now, so it won’t be easy.

Tim (San Diego): First off, Great Job all year long!! I find it hard to believe that out west we will be lucky to get 7 teams into the tournament and some leagues alone will get this many teams in. We all know the RPI is flawed so why does it seem to be the determining factor besides to favor the bigger conferences? For Fullerton, Santa Barbara and Long Beach to all be on the Bubble and Loyola Maymount is not I don't understand. I know the answer will be RPI based but Loyola has taken 2/3 from Pepperdine 2/3 from San Diego 2/2 from Long Beach 1 from Irvine 1 from San Diego State. It seems like teams out west have to fight for limited spots when in the ACC/SEC they just throw them spots. If your not .500 in league play then you shouldn't get in no matter your overall record. Thanks as always...
Aaron Fitt: I do sympathize with the West’s frustrations about the RPI, but let’s also acknowledge that a lot of West teams just haven’t taken care of business this year. You say teams that don’t finish .500 in their league shouldn’t get in, then you bemoan Fullerton’s place on the bubble — well, the Titans are 7-8 in the Big West. UC Santa Barbara is 7-11. Long Beach State is one game over .500 overall (23-22), but I like the fact that the Dirtbags played a tough nonconference schedule and actually beat some of the best teams they faced (like taking 2 of 3 from Indiana; though the Dirtbags got swept at Vanderbilt). But the Dirtbags also lost a series at UC Davis and are 4-6 in midweek games. It’s not like LBSU is a powerhouse; and yet they’ve got a real shot at an at-large spot despite being one game over .500. And who in the Pac-12 has been impressive this year other than the three Northwest teams at the top of the standings? That is a very top-heavy league; most of the Pac is filled with very mediocre clubs this year that are around .500 or below .500 overall. It’s great to play a strong schedule, like Stanford did; but Stanford played four series against at-large caliber teams from other regions, and they lost three of them. I think that showed pretty clearly that Stanford is not a world-beater. I still think the West can get rewarded when it is good (like in 2010, when the Pac sent 8 teams to regional, or last year, when UCSB and San Francisco got in despite RPIs that would not have earned at-large spots in the SEC or ACC). This year, I think the Pac is extremely top-heavy. The Big West does have some depth, and could still send four teams to regionals.

Tom (San Diego): How does Pepperdine fall out of the Top 25? You allow teams in the power conferences to have hiccups all year long. Pepperdine has one hiccup week and you bump them out. Now they did beat Cal Poly to start the week. It amazes me how the teams out west are getting squeezed in the rankings and also spots for the field of "64" It will come down to RPI which we all know is flawed and favors the biggest conferences. I guess college baseball has now become follow the money trail as well. Sad!
Aaron Fitt: Pepperdine was not in the rankings last week either; they were knocking on the door, but not in the rankings. So we did not bump them out of the top 25. And this was not Pepperdine’s first hiccup; they also lost a home series to Pacific. Other than that, the Waves have been steady, but their nonconference schedule was soft (series vs. St. John’s, Utah Valley, Hawaii), and they’ve played just four games against top 50 teams. They’ve been on the radar all year, but their resume lacks really high-end wins, and they stumbled this past week.

Justin (Mississippi): Hey Aaron, what are your thoughts on Ole Miss' and do you agree that if they win their last two series that they will be a national seed?
Aaron Fitt: I think that’s a very good, balanced club — one of the most dangerous offensive teams out there, and solid enough on the mound to be quite dangerous. Yes, if they win their last two series, they’ll be a national seed.

Fresno Bob (Memphis, TN): Yet another week of interesting SEC developments. Vandy looks poised for the hosting bubble and about ready to get into serious national seed conversation. South Carolina appears to be headed in the other direction and perhaps LSU. Besides the obvious choice of Florida as a national seed, who from the SEC seems most likely to get a 2nd national seed. UM or Vandy? LSU, Bama, or USC-E still have a reasonable/possible path?
Aaron Fitt: I still think a lot remains to be settled over these last three weeks, but I’m leaning toward Ole Miss as a second national seed from the SEC. Vandy, LSU and South Carolina are all still alive in that race, I think, but Alabama is falling back. It’s still a pretty fluid picture; a lot can change depending on how these teams finish.

Joel (KCK): I saw that Sean Newcomb threw a shutout this weekend. How high do you see him getting drafted? Does his weak conference hurt his draft stock?
Aaron Fitt: We see him as a solid first-rounder, probably mid-first. He’s a hard-throwing lefthander with a great body and minimal effort in his delivery; the ceiling is high. Plenty of first-rounders come out of lesser conferences; I don’t think that will hurt his stock at all.

Shelby (Mississippi): Hey Aaron, will you please explain to me and the rest of the world how Indiana moves up six spots by beating a horrible Purdue team?
Aaron Fitt: Gladly. Indiana is red-hot, winners of 19 of its last 21 games — there is a cumulative effect here. I like Indiana’s body of work, and I acknowledge that the Hoosiers do not have the kind of marquee wins that power-conference teams have, but I also think Indiana is one of the most talented teams in the country and is loaded with postseason experience, with a bunch of key players back from an Omaha team. Those are reasons we ranked this team No. 3 in the preseason; now that the Hoosiers have sustained an excellent level of play, we took the opportunity to move them back into the top 10, because we think they are one of the 10 best teams in the country — even if their resume lacks the marquee wins of an SEC team, for instance.

Darnell Calhohn (Tempe, AZ): What are your thoughts on up and down season of Arizona State baseball? Big series this weekend at home vs Oregon though for conference standings.
Aaron Fitt: I think Arizona State is a little like Arkansas or one of those middle-of-the-pack SEC teams: fairly average. They’ve got enough front-line pitching to win series against some very good teams, but overall the team isn’t special. A regional team, but I don’t really envision the Sun Devils making a deep postseason run. And yes, this weekend is huge; ASU suddenly finds itself on the bubble, with an RPI in the 40s, so it can’t really afford another bad weekend.

Michael (Gainesville, FL): Is there a pitching staff in recent memory that has done more with similar rotation uncertainty as the 2014 Gators?
Aaron Fitt: I think you have to go all the way back to the 2013 Mississippi State Bulldogs to find a similar example. MSU also had basically one starting pitcher last year who could be counted on to go deep into ballgames (Kendall Graveman), and the rest was just pieced together, with a lot of mixing and matching with a very deep, strong bullpen. That was a winning formula for Mississippi State, and it has been a winning formula for the Gators.

Andrew Rohrbach (Long Beach Ca.): I out pitched Eshelman on Friday and we took two of three from the Titans. How much does this improve our chances at the field of 64 and what does it do to my draft chances?
Aaron Fitt: Rohrbach has somewhat quietly had a very nice year — 5-1, 2.03, and pitched particularly well down the stretch. He’ll be drafted inside the top 10 rounds, with an 89-91 fastball that has bumped the mid-90s at times this year, and a solid changeup. He doesn’t have a great breaking ball; that’s what depresses his stock a bit. This was a huge weekend for the Dirtbags; I felt like whichever team won it had a real shot, and the team that lost it was in a lot of trouble. I still kinda feel like Long Beach can get in with seven more wins, to get up to the 30-win mark. That should put it in OK RPI shape, and its SOS helps its cause.

patrick (anaheim, ca): If san diego take 2 out of 3 from pepperdine this weekend, will that be enough to secure a regional berth. Or do they have to win the conference chaampionship?
Aaron Fitt: If they win two of three from Pepperdine, and at least one (but two would be better) of their final two midweek games, they’ve got a real shot. A WCC regular-season title would be a huge boost, and an RPI around 50. But getting swept by Santa Clara really hurt, followed by losing a series to Pacific. And USD is one of those teams that took a big RPI hit because of one nonconference series against a team with a bad winning percentage (four games against 13-31 Northern Kentucky). That makes it look like their nonconference schedule wasn’t great, when in reality they won two of three from a good New Mexico team and two of three on the road against Oklahoma State — not bad. Still, if USD misses the tournament, it will have only itself to blame for going 1-5 vs. Santa Clara and Pacific. That’s not an example of a West Coast team getting squeezed; that’s an example of a West Coast team having a golden opportunity in front of it, and failing to take it.

Justin (Fullerton, CA): After yet another series loss this weekend is it time to put a fork in the Titans postseason hopes? Needs report says they would need to go 11-0 to close out the season to get in the top 45. Any chance they would get an at-large bid being outside the top 45?
Aaron Fitt: We saw last year that West teams in the 50-55 range can get in (USF and UCSB), so there’s still hope, I guess… but I think Fullerton is done.

Matt (South Carolina): Afternoon Aaron. My Gamecocks might have played their way out of a national seed this weekend. But I look back to the committee not granting host sites to teams because a player got injured (was it Wacca at A&M a couple years back). So I wonder if they would go the other way - if 3 or 4 of SC's injured players get healthy, might they get some consideration for being healthy? Thanks.
Aaron Fitt: They say they do consider injuries, so maybe that could work in South Carolina’s favor. Ultimately, I think there are just likely to be three or four other SEC teams with better resumes, and I don’t see any injury considerations being enough to overcome that. I’m not completely writing off South Carolina’s national seed hopes, and I think they’re still very much in the hosting picture. But they need a hot finish.

Alex (Fairfax, VA): Thanks for all the great work, Aaron. I know the RPI seems even weirder than usual this year...but what's the natural tendency for the BA rankings to start to converge with the RPI, even if it's just a sanity check, at this point in the season? Trends like the rise of the block of Texas schools and of Indiana seem consistent with RPI rankings. How does the RPI influence staff rankings "summits"? Thanks and keep up the best college baseball coverage in the game.
Aaron Fitt: Nice methodology question to end on. This time of year, when we’re comparing resumes, we will look at things like records against the top 50 (because, as I’ve written, we like to bear down on the top part of a team’s resume and don’t punish teams as much for having one series on the schedule that drags down its RPI). In Indiana’s case, the climb isn’t due to RPI so much as we loved that team in the preseason, and now the team is red-hot. The robust RPI certainly doesn’t hurt. TCU, likewise, has gotten red-hot, which is why it has moved up. Texas Tech made it into the rankings last week for the first time; the Red Raiders have had a strong RPI all season, but we held off on ranking that team until it showed us it could string together a few straight winning weekends. The Red Raiders got swept this weekend, and we ran the out of the rankings, even though the RPI still has them No. 16. We also have been a little lower on Oregon than the RPI, because Oregon has continued to struggle against the best teams on its resume (2-7 against the top 50). Cal Poly is one of the exceptions; the Mustangs are just 0-1 against the top 50, but they vaulted up the rankings early when they were beating teams we thought were going to be decent, but have wound up struggling (Kansas State, UCLA, Cal, Fullerton). But we still really like Cal Poly’s team, we’ve gotten a lot of positive reports about them from scouts and coaches, and we think they are for real. So there are times when a team’s talent, combined with a sterling winning percentage, can still make up for a lack of marquee victories. I know that is not a satisfactory answer to a lot of SEC fans and people like that, but ranking teams is an art, not a science — there are a lot of different factors we have to balance. If playing in a deep conference automatically made teams better than everybody else, we could just rank the SEC teams 1-14 — and the SEC teams would always beat everybody in the postseason. But other teams are good, too, even if they have less opportunity to play opponents with strong RPIs. That is a rambling answer that goes way beyond your question, but attempts to address some other complains people have with the rankings.

Aaron Fitt: OK, that’s all for today. See you next week, everybody.