It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle. -Sun Tzu
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. I want the Dawgs to sweep the zeroes, not just win one or two; domination will be administered to the little green & yellow quackers my Dawg Coda loves to chew on (see profile pic). With that in mind, a little Baseball Q & A with ATQ to better understand our regional foe after the jump (that way if you do not care to read about the zeroes, you don't have to.)
Q: Oregon was picked to finish 7th in the preseason Pac-12(11) Coaches' Poll after losing 8 players to the draft, including 1st round selection Tyler Anderson. Even though the Ducks finished 2011 on a tear, going 10-3-1 to end the year, they were unable to punch a postseason ticket in consecutive seasons. Hiring Skipper George Horton away from powerhouse Cal State Fullerton was a great move; what stands out about the Skipper and how has he changed around the culture in Eugene so quickly?
A: Well, its easy to "change the culture" when there was no culture to begin with. Horton was able to mold the culture because there had been no team in nearly thirty years. Its extremely impressive that Horton has built what he has in such a short time in Eugene but, in retrospect, we shouldn't be as surprised as we've been.
This isn't like starting a major league expansion team, where you have to start a farm system and entice free agents who base their decisions on the current roster. Players come and go quickly in the college game, so coaches, not rosters, are what draws kids to places. Oregon went all in when they reinstated baseball--that's how they got Horton here in the first place. They also built the best facilities in the conference. So Horton was able to sell himself as a national championship coach who gets kids drafted, working at a place that is a big brand in college sports and who demonstrated quickly that they were devoting all the resources necessary to win. It was easy to sell recruits on that, and put Oregon on an even playing field with the rest of the conference very quickly.
Q: After riding your brooms over Vanderbilt in surprising fashion to start the 2012 campaign Oregon has been a mainstay in every major poll, No. 27 in the collegesplits.com Power Rankings as of Wed. night. At 12-3 the Ducks are currently 4th in the Pac-12(11) heading into the conference slate, only 1 loss behind top dog Stanford. How?
A: The start has been a big surprise, but the play of the team, and especially the sweep of Vanderbilt, has created a buzz around this team. Last year, the pitching was among the best in the nation, but the offense was abysmal, and the Ducks couldn't put enough runs across the plate. While Oregon lost most of their pitching staff to the draft, the pitching has been a huge surprise. The Ducks boast a 2.64 team ERA, which is actually .30 better than last season. They don't walk a lot of guys, and the relatively pedestrian BABIPs suggest that its pitching level is relatively sustainable. They also lost a ton of leads late last season, but have a dominant closer this year in Jimmy Sherfy.
But the biggest surprise has been the bats. Last years team had an OPS of .692. Many of the regulars were hitting in the low .230s with no power. As you mentioned, many of those guys have moved on. The Ducks have a new hitting coach, and a whole lot more offensive talent. The OPS thus far this season is .791, nearly a hundred points higher than last. That's a lot of extra bases and a lot of extra runs.
So, in short, they are pitching and hitting significantly better than last season. It will be interesting to see what happens to those numbers when they start playing Pac-12 teams, but keep in mind that Oregon has played one of the more difficult schedules in the nation. They haven't had any midweek games or games with non-power teams. They've swept Vanderbilt on the road. Swept Long Beach. Won three of four in Hawaii. And have played Oklahoma, UConn, and Illinois. Its not a resume built up on facing cream puffs. Its legit.
Q: Jimmie Sherfy leads Div-I in strikeouts per nine innings at 15.76, with 31 K's and a ridiculous 1.02 ERA over 17.2 innings. His FIP (if I may saber a little) is 1.76, the next in line for Oregon is Alex Keudell at 3.78; big gap. The So. only made 2 appearances last year, yielding 8 hits and 7 runs, 5 earned in 1.3 IP. Sherfy is second on the team in walks with 12, pointing to some command issues, though. What kind of pitcher is Jimmie, and what has made him so dominant all of the sudden?
A: Jimmy had a great season of summer ball in the WCL for Corvallis, garnering a 2.16 ERA and 18 strikeouts in a little over 16 innings, so Horton knew he was a pretty good player, even if the rest of us didn't. But he's a pure power pitcher. He can struggle with control, but strikes out a ton. he's also had appearances of 5+ innings this season, a real plus out of your closer.
Q: Sherfy is not the only arm on the team. Who else deserves some attention (good or bad)?
A: Alex Keudell is a known quantity at this point, but Saturday starter and true freshman Jake Reed has been really good. He has an ERA well under two thus far, but the most impressive thing is his control, only walking a guy every three innings or so. The other thing that has been big is that the starters go deep into games. They're averaging about 6 2/3 innings a start, so if they leave with a lead, we only have to get through one reliever before its Sherfy and game over.
Q: In the batters box Ryon Healy leads Oregon with an excellent .345 AVG. Who else should we watch out for in the the Ducks lineup?
A: Healy is far and away the best hitter in the lineup (but that won't stop Horton from bunting with him. Sigh). Aaron Jones is probably #2, hitting over .300 with an OPS of about .850. Kyle Garlick is also at .350, and his OPS is hovering near 1.000, which is phenomenal. The offense overall is much better this years, and there is improvement at just about every spot.
Q: Last question: How is Aaron Payne, who has been beaned 10 times, the most hated batter in America?
A: Yep. He's our Craig Biggio.