College Baseball Week 4 Chat With Aaron Fitt

Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, let’s dive right in — we’ll keep this tight today.

Jeff (D.C.): Aaron- Help me out here. If "#7" Vanderbilt and "#6" UL-Lafayette were to play a 3 game series this weekend at a neutral field, you would pick UL-Lafayette to win that series? I'll point out Vandy is 12-0 in weekend games and they allow 1 run per weekend game (never more than 2 in a game). Vandy swept at Long Beach who has wins over Arizona State, USC, Wichita, and Arizona. Vandy also swept Stanford who has wins over Rice and Texas. UL-Lafayette lost a Friday night game to 3-12 Eastern Illinois and another weekend game to Alabama. They do have a nice road series sweep at Southern Miss (who can't beat anyone). UL-Lafayette has given up 5+ runs in 5 weekend games. What do you see in UL-Lafayette that isn't obvious in the results? Are you guys trying to boost waning magazine sales in the all-important Lafayette, LA market?
Aaron Fitt: Well first of all, that’s an overly simplistic view of the rankings. The rankings have to function in multiple roles — they start out in the preseason as our view of how good teams will be, and they gradually shift as teams win and lose, because they have to reflect the results on the field. But this is baseball—good teams lose, bad teams win, it’s a long season. This week, we moved Virginia out of the No. 1 spot—but ultimately, I still believe Virginia will be the best team in the country. I don’t revise my opinions about which teams would beat which other teams on a week-by-week basis to match up with fluctuations in the rankings. That said… I think a series between the Cajuns and Commodores would be very compelling. Louisiana-Lafayette is extremely offensive—probably more offensive than any other team in the rankings—and it has a dynamite one-two punch in Robichaux and Baranik, and it is a very experienced, athletic team that also has good defenders all over the field. I really believe in that team, and I think its resume is impressive—going on the road and sweeping Southern Miss, winning a series against Alabama and a midweek game at LSU. Vanderbilt can really, really pitch—obviously. But I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that Vandy would beat ULL on a neutral field in a three-game series. I think it could go either way.

Glenn (Baton Rouge): Yes or no, Aaron Nola is the best pitcher in college baseball? Yes.
Aaron Fitt: Right now, I think he is, yes. He has the best track record over the last three seasons of any pitcher in college baseball, and he is a blue-chip talent with impeccable command. Ask me again in May or June, and I might go with Carlos Rodon, because he tends to heat up along with the weather. Tyler Beede belongs right there in this conversation too. But right now, I will go with Nola.

Windywave (Chicago): Aaron, Any major takeaways from the San Francisco tourney over the weekend? Should I be disappointed in Tulane's showing or was it as expected? Completely unrelated: Is it ever okay to cheer for the Russians in Olympic hockey?
Aaron Fitt: That was a strong tournament field, and at least Tulane won a game out there, against a pretty decent Cal team. But the Green Wave only got 6 hits over the final two games out there, and no runs. The offense is a significant concern for me. I’ll get a better feel for Tulane after seeing it this weekend at ECU.

Drew (Mississippi): Aaron, most preseason polls had Ole Miss finishing 6th in SEC West. With conference series starting this weekend do you think the Rebels are on track to do much better than their preseason ranks? Is it possible SEC west could have 3 host teams this year?
Aaron Fitt: That division is going to be a dog fight. I still like LSU or Mississippi State (I still think the Bulldogs are going to be very good even though they have been very up and down early on) are the teams to beat, but I’d put Alabama, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Arkansas on a pretty even playing field right now—impossible to predict how that’s going to shake out. Auburn really showed me something too by sweeping a veteran Mercer team this weekend. The Tigers have very interesting young talent, but I still have them as the last team in that loaded division.

Mike Garbus (Smithvile, Missouri): Aaron, do you see Texas Tech staying strong in the B12 and making a regional? Thank you.
Aaron Fitt: Texas Tech is one of those teams that has exceeded my expectations over the first four weeks, but I’m still not quite ready to fully buy in. I mean, they’re 14-3 against a pretty good schedule, and they’re very well coached and scrappy, but I’m still not in love with the talent level. I think they will play hard all year, but I’ll need another couple of weeks to crystallize my opinion about just how far they can go. I do think there are some good power arms on that staff—it’s a much deeper staff than they’ve had in recent years. That just might be a winning recipe in Lubbock.

Mike (Tallahassee): Big series this weekend between #5 NCSU and #2 FSU. Weaver/Rodon should be a great pitcher's duel. Are you making it down? Also who's your pick for the Series win?
Aaron Fitt: I don’t usually make those trips to big ACC showdowns in the Sunshine State because I’ll see those teams later in the year when they come up to North Carolina—I try to plan my travel to see as many unique teams as I can over the course of the spring. So as tantalizing as that matchup is, I will not be there. That should be a fantastic series between two legit Omaha-caliber teams. Really like how NC State’s pitching has come together behind Rodon; Jernigan-Leibrandt and Stone-Compton matchups should be very good in addition to the Friday showdown. Series could go either way, but if I have to pick one I’ll take the home team.

Greg (Orange, CA): Are the Bruins in trouble? They had a rough weekend after a great showing in NC.
Aaron Fitt: I wouldn’t say they’re in trouble, in that I still think they’ll have a decent year and make a regional. But I don’t think they are great—I would be surprised to see them make it back to Omaha. Of course, I also picked against them in regionals and super regionals last year. Baseball is a tough game to predict, and there’s a lot to be said for teams with great coaching, good pitching and a bunch of proven champions on the roster.

Vince (California): Thanks for your time, do you see Fullerton's freshman Bickford taking over the no. 3 starting pitching spot soon?
Aaron Fitt: Why? Grahamm Wiest has been outstanding this year (and he wasn’t bad in Waco either, but he gave up a few unearned runs). I see no reason for Fullerton to mess with that weekend rotation, which already rates among the nation’s very best. I see Bickford being an invaluable weapon as a weekend bullpen guy and/or midweek starter against very good midweek competition in SoCal.

Dee (Sacramento): Where do you see Pepperdine ranking right now? They just beat UCLA, USC, and Houston this weekend. Seems as if they should be breaking into the top 25 soon?
Aaron Fitt: Yeah, they are knocking on the door—the Waves have definitely caught our attention. You can certainly make a strong case that they should be ranked ahead of UCLA, considering they just beat the Bruins head-to-head and had a great weekend. Think of it this way: Pepperdine has jumped from outside my preseason top 50 into the 25-30 range, while UCLA has fallen to the back of the Top 25. I want to see Pepperdine sustain this level of play a little bit longer; there are a number of freshmen in the lineup, and I’m not quite 100 percent sold yet. But I am certainly intrigued, and paying attention. Pepperdine’s in the same class as Texas Tech for me—firmly on the radar, but I can’t shake a few lingering doubts. I actually like Houston better than either team long term, but the Waves beat Houston head-to-head this weekend, which makes it harder to rank the Cougars but not the Waves.

Andrew (Greenville, SC): Biggest weakness for the Gamecocks? Beginning of the season I thought it was Sunday starter and bull pen. Crowe, Mincey, and Seddon have all been very good. So now what or who do you think is the biggest weakness for the Gamecocks? Depth? Especially with Schrock and now Pankake a little beat up?
Aaron Fitt: I’m with you—heading into the year, I wanted to see how the Sunday starter job and the bullpen would shake out, and the Gamecocks have absolutely addressed those questions for me. Really like Crowe, Mincey and Seddon, and the bullpen has plenty of depth too. And frankly, they have more lineup depth than most teams too, but certainly there is a bit of a dropoff after the top 10 or so guys, like most teams have. I don’t see any real significant weakness, though. Very complete team.

Matt (South Carolina): Hey Aaron. I'm curious as to why SC moved to #1 this week. Not questioning the ranking or the timing or anything. I just know it's hard to jump teams that win conference series. So I'm curious about what factors the staff considered when it decided to make that jump. Thanks.
Aaron Fitt: In this case, it was a cumulative thing—South Carolina has sustained a very high level of play for four weeks, while Virginia has not really hit like we expect it to. South Carolina’s nonconference schedule aside from the Clemson series has been extremely soft, but if if you’re going to play that schedule, dominate it—and the Gamecocks have. It isn’t easy to win 15 straight baseball games against anybody, so being undefeated after 4 weeks also was a factor. We very very seldom drop teams after they win conference road series, but until Virginia really gets its bats going, it is not the team we thought it was. But six weeks from now, I feel very confident that Virginia will be the best offensive team in the country—I still really believe in the talent. In the meantime, we thought it was time to acknowledge that they have not played at as high a level.

Trace Jansen (Corvallis): Is your preseason favorite for player of the year, Micheal Conforto, still leading the way, or have other players astounded you more, and have stolen the lead from him?
Aaron Fitt: I think I actually wound up going with Schwarber for that, although Conforto was very much in the conversation for me. Conforto is off to a solid start—taking his walks, staying patient, and the power will come. Schwarber is also off to a pretty good start, and I’ll stick with him for hitter of the year—too early to revise that prediction after four weeks.

Christian (Miami): What do you think of FIU so far?
Aaron Fitt: I like that club—got some real physicality in the middle of the lineup with Aramis Garcia, Josh Anderson, Edwin Rios, J.C. Escarra and Zach Sweety. I saw those guys for a game a couple of weeks ago, and they physicality really stood out. I think they are going to score a lot of runs, and the pitching sounds pretty solid—it has been very good through four weeks. FIU is another team that has moved up from outside my preseason top 50 to the 26-32 range, very much on the Top 25 radar. Feels like a regional team to me.

Jeffrey (Mississippi): Mississippi State is off to a less than stellar start with a 12-7 record in the non-conference season. How do you expect them to fare against SEC foes? Has the tough schedule help prepare them for the postseason?
Aaron Fitt: I think the Bulldogs will gel around midseason and be very dangerous down the stretch, as they were last year. I liked them more last year, when they had Adam Frazier and Hunter Renfroe around, but the pitching depth is still very very good. It has taken some time for roles to stabilize because they are relying on a good number of newcomers, but the talent level is strong, they are well coached, and I think they still have Omaha upside. I’m not going to say “take it to the bank, they’ll be in Omaha” as I did last year around this time—I’m just saying, they have that kind of upside if everything comes together.

Patrick (Lake Forest, CA): After a slow start, my UCI Anteaters have been on a roll winning 9 in a row. While I will admit they're not the most talented team in the country, what do they need to do to crack the top 25?
Aaron Fitt: They’ve got some decent wins too—sweeping Gonzaga this weekend, midweek wins against USC and LMU, other single wins against Arizona State and Long Beach. None of those opponents are world-beaters, but they are all decent clubs, making for a solid resume for UCI. Big week coming up for the Anteaters, with a midweek road game at UCLA and a series at Nebraska. If they go 3-1 this week, they’ll really have my attention—but the crowd waiting outside the Top 25 door right now is pretty thick (Houston, Pepperdine, FIU, Texas Tech, USD, San Diego State, not to mention previous Top 25 teams that are hanging around like Fresno State, Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M).

Brett (Jax, Fl): Aaron...every week you guys probably do the most thorough breakdown of college baseball from top to bottom to come up with a Top 25. And every week you get homers that go nuts because their team was slighted and either ranked too low or not at all. Hopefully, the Gamecock fans will shut up this week since you saw fit to jump them over the Noles. How frustrating is it to have to re-explain how BA ranks teams every week? Do people just not get the fact that it doesn't even matter since they have this new fangled thing called a "tournament" to settle things at the end of the season? I'll take your answer off the air...
Aaron Fitt: Thanks Brett. It can be frustrating that people don’t seem to grasp our methodology after 30-plus years, especially considering how transparent we are—we chat about our rankings every week, we talk about them in a podcast, we answer questions on Twitter. It does surprise me how worked up people can get sometimes about the rankings, because you’re right—ultimately the rankings don’t have any bearing on the postseason. They are fodder for discussion, so at least in that respect they do their job—they get people talking about college baseball.

Andrew (NJ): Any chance that Robert Tyler moves into the weekend rotation for Georgia following his excellent midweek start against the Yellow Bees?
Aaron Fitt: I would have to imagine that’s coming before too long. Tyler is the real deal—I’ve heard he’s run his fastball up to 95, and he’s proven more polished than some scouts expected as a freshman.

Homeswithart (Saratoga): I agree with the top 25. Virginia does not look like a team that can consistently hit. Do you feel like the lack of offense is hurting the college game?
Aaron Fitt: Oh, make no mistake—the Cavaliers will hit, a lot. 14 games is still an awfully small sample size. There is too much talent and experience there, and too much track record—they’re going to hit a ton, it’s only a matter of time.

TITANation (So. Cal.): It is still early, but does the Big West look like a 4-Bid conference, yet? If so, would it be UCI, the Dirtbags or someone else? Big West or Pac 12: Which haa the strongest 5 Top teams, so far?
Aaron Fitt: I’m still sticking with three bids—Fullerton, Poly and Santa Barbara. Irvine has my attention, Long Beach has some experience and has earned a few nice wins, but I don’t love the talent on either roster. Ultimately, the Pac-12 will have the stronger top five, but I’m not sure yet who those teams will be after Oregon State and Oregon (and probably UCLA)… teams like Stanford and Washington State have more talent than UCI and LBSU, but they just haven’t really gotten going yet. The West is fascinating this year, I think.

Austin McDonald (Atlanta): Is Nola vs. Beede this weekend the best pitching matchup of the regular season? Who has the upperhand?
Aaron Fitt: It’s funny, the two best pitching matchups of the season will happen on the same day, with Nola/Beede and Rodon/Weaver. They might be four of the first five college pitchers drafted this spring. Take your pick on which matchup you think is better; I suppose I’ll go with Nola/Beede because both guys are pitching at peak level, whereas Rodon has not yet gotten to midseason form.

Aaron Fitt: OK folks, that’s all I’ve got time for today. Thanks for stopping by, as always!