All right, time to put this puppy to bed.
We first looked at what wasn't behind the failure of the baseball team this past season (the offense), and then looked at what was (the run prevention). Now it's time to look ahead.
Is there hope for recovery in 2012? The answer is yes. (Isn't it always?)
Before we get into specifics, though, there's a very simple reason to believe that the team will get back to its winning ways: There are actually "winning ways" to get back to. Donnie Marbut has built a solid program in Pullman, and one bump in the road does not mean that the program is suddenly heading into an inevitable tailspin of football-like proportions.
This season is only a "failure" in the sense that it didn't live up to expectations -- I mean, when I was in school, we should have been so lucky to have a .500 baseball team. Heck, they weren't even in the Pac-10 when I started. So it's not like it's going to take some sort of major overhaul to bring the postseason back into the conversation.
Let's talk about how this team might get better.
There are some pretty big question marks, but that's common for college baseball -- there won't be a lot of certainty until the signing deadline for players who were selected in the MLB draft passes on Aug. 15. In addition to seniors Matt Argyropoulos, Cody Bartlett, Chad Arnold and James Wise, we know that junior Adam Conley is gone.
But two wild cards are Derek Jones and Taylor Ard. Jones was selected in the 13th round by the Baltimore Orioles, while Ard was selected in the 25th round by the Boston Red Sox. As the guys who would be the team's two best hitters next year, much will depend on whether one or both forgo their remaining eligibility.
Neither has signed a contract yet, but I find it hard to imagine Jones will decide he can significantly improve his draft stock by returning for his senior year. With Ard, on the other hand, it seems as though there's a chance he might come back:
It's up in the air right at the moment. We will see how talks go over the summer hopefully we can come to reasonable terms. I would really like to start my pro career. Not sure, we will have to see how things shake out.
"If the deal is fair, I'd like to start my pro career," said Ard, who says he has three semesters left to graduate. "But if need be, I have no problem going back to school. I wouldn't be mad if I came back here (Washington State) next year."
Translation? He's looking for some guaranteed cash, even though the 25th round isn't exactly bonus baby territory. How much? Back in 2009, he was looking for $100,000. I don't know if that figure has gone up or down, or what round a player has to be drafted in to typically receive that size of bonus, but I feel fairly confident that 25th round picks don't generally get that much.
It all depends on whether the Red Sox see him as someone intriguing with some potential or as organizational filler. Guys picked in the 25th round typically fall into the latter category, but Ard, with just one full season of Division I baseball under his belt, might not. For what it's worth, Jason Churchill of ESPN.com and ProspectInsider.com told me he thinks Ard signs based on just trying to read the tea leaves. But it could easily go the other direction.
Let's work under the assumption that both are leaving -- I imagine Marbut is doing the same.
Before we look closer at some of the players who are going to be expected to step up next year, I humbly offer this full disclaimer: I'm not intimately familiar with WSU's incoming players, so I just can't speak much to what most of them might bring to the table.
That's partly due to the fact that WSU doesn't release who's signed letters of intent until the fall -- something about not wanting to tip off scouts to guys they've identified. That makes it tougher, but it's still possible to figure out some names. But even then, there's really no way to scout the guys; we basically are left to speculate. So understand that I'm writing what I'm writing with the full knowledge that I might be overlooking someone significant, and if you've got information, please, by all means, share it down below.
Back to the matter at hand. It's probably not as simple as finding two guys to replace their offensive contributions -- there's probably not anyone on the roster or joining the roster who are going to produce at their level. But as we discovered in parts 1 and 2, you need more than just offense to be successful, and a lesser offensive player can actually have a greater impact on the team overall with his defensive contribution.
In no particular order, here are some guys on the roster who I think could take a major step forward in 2012 (AVG/OBP/SLG):
- Jason Monda, will be a So., OF (.291/.359/.433, .341 wOBA): The lefty with the sweet swing has star written all over him. He was a better-than-average offensive player this year, and flashed good instincts in center field. One caveat: His average was driven by a .374 BABIP (explanation of BABIP here). One would expect that to regress. However, he only had two homers, but it sure looks like there's more power potential in his bat. If so, that'll make up for any potential regression.
- Collin Slaybaugh, So., C (.308/.393/.394, .349 wOBA): Another lefty who already is a good hitter. He played extensively early while Jay Ponciano was out, but found ABs hard to come by after Ponciano's return, as Marbut elected to go with the senior's defense and game calling ability. No homers in 2011, which explains the low slugging percentage. He's in the same boat as Monda with BABIP (.381), so he'll probably need to add some power to increase his contribution. It also appears he'll need to earn Marbut's trust behind the plate.
- Brett Jacobs, Jr., OF (.244/.324/.319, .289 wOBA): Here's the poster child for the vagaries of BABIP. With a nearly identical number of at bats, Jacobs' average dropped 100 points from last year. Why? Because on the balls he put in play, his average was a paltry .274 as opposed to an absurdly high .393 a year ago. Expect that number to normalize, and expect Jacobs to become a solid contributor once again.
- Patrick Claussen, Sr., OF (.261/.373/.348, .323 wOBA): This one has a caveat. Can he stay healthy? If so, Claussen will be a productive hitter. If not, you'll get the power-sapped version of this year.
- Kyle Johnson, Sr., OF (.177/.301/.194, .241 wOBA): Johnson's a defensive wiz, but his horrendous bat makes him a liability. Will Marbut be serious about bolstering his run prevention and give Johnson a chance to try and at least be a below average bat? If so, Johnson could become integral.
- Ben Roberts, Fr., OF: This is one kid who we know has signed a letter. He also was a seventh round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The smart money is on him signing and never stepping foot in Pullman again, but if he does show up, he would be counted on to make an immediate impact.
Trace Tam Sing, So., SS (.254/.365/.338, .320 wOBA): Tam Sing came in with a rep as a great defender, then was a mess in the field. One has to figure that defensive ability is still in there.
Now let's look at the pitching. All three weekend starters are gone, leaving a gaping hole on the hill. Who might step in to fill that void?
J.D. Leckenby, So., RHP: He throws a hard sinker in the low 90s that induces an insane number of ground balls. His 2.28 ERA out of the bullpen was partly driven by a ridiculously low .181 opponents' BABIP, but still -- at least some of that can be explained by the weak contact he often induces. Here's a fun montage Mark put together of all of his at bats against a pretty decent Gonzaga team back in April:
If he learns how to miss some bats (just five strikeouts in 27.1 innings) and walks a few less hitters, he'll be a bonafide ace.
- Richie Ochoa, Jr., LHP: Ochoa threw the most innings of anyone who didn't start a game, and it figures the big lefty (6-2, 247) will make the natural transition into the rotation. However, CollegeSplits.com shows Ochoa sporting a much higher FIP (explanation of what that is here; go watch it -- you won't regret it) than ERA, likely because of his low strikeout rate. If he regresses, don't be shocked.
- Brett DeRooy, Jr., LHP: I throw DeRooy in here for a couple of reasons. One, he made six starts last year, fourth-most on the team, so it's possible Marbut already sees him as one of his better options. Second, there's reason to believe he might be better than his 5.50 ERA would typically lead you to conclude. He gave up more home runs than anyone on the team -- seven! Wise was next closest with four, and he did it in more than twice as many innings. We talked about the role of luck here; while DeRooy obviously was hit hard at times, one has to believe he simply got a little unlucky to give up that number of homers in this offensive environment. His K/9 was in the same territory as Conley, so there's some reason to think he may turn in a bit better results next year.
There's a lot of unknown here, but that's par for the course for college baseball. As I said, the assumption should be that this was a bump in the road -- I think Marbut has earned that. And if you've got your own ideas about who could be guys to keep an eye on next year, please detail in the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts.