Weekly Coach Ward Interview :: 04/21/09 :: Part Two

Rocky Ward: We're going to end up with the two higher rated power teams coming in. Power rating is just so off base. You take ours right now. According to the NCAA's RPI ours is 136 and according to we're around the 41st or 42nd best team in the country. According to Massey Rating we're about 70 and according to Boyd's World ISR rating we around 71. The concept of these formulas, these formulas were originally designed around fantasy baseball and fantasy leagues and around people who were trying to use statistics to figure out who would win games, Sabermetrics. They found out to a certain extent that through statistical anomalies and through the stats that we keep, we can generally come up with who should win. Because baseball has so much variance and randomness in the outcomes of games there's been more motivation for people to come up with statistical formulas that might guess the outcome. It's interesting to look at it. RPI is the only one the NCAA committee looks at. We've had some discussion about RPI. I think it's very much a flawed system. It has logic and there's nothing wrong with it but it gives strong advantages to those teams in the southeast. It puts too much emphasis on the opponents record and not enough on your own record. The bottom line is that for years in sports the winner gains value but in the RPI system you can win and still lose. I've won three and four game series before and dropped in RPI. That's crazy that that's possible. We've asked from a coaches standpoint that the NCAA look at the RPI formula. There are no advantages for winning a road game.

In the basketball RPI you get a bonus. It's my understanding that in the basketball RPI a road win is worth 1.3 points and a home win is only worth .7 because basketball teams win 70% of their games at home. According to NCAA statistics, baseball teams win 62% of their games at home. There's not as much of a home field advantage in baseball as there is in basketball. But there are no adjustments for this. I know that winning a game at Fresno is worth more than beating Fresno at home by a bunch. It's much more difficult to beat them there than to beat them here but I get the exact same point value. Right now the RPI point total is based 25% on your record, 50% on your opponents record and 25% on your opponent's opponents' record. That means that 50% of a win is valued based on your opponents record, which you don't have any control of except for the one, two, three or four games that you play against them. If we're playing the very first game of the year and we win and we're 1-0, we get a quarter of a point because we win. But our opponent is 0-1 so we get no points for that. If you take away the big picture, we only get a quarter of a point for a win. That doesn't make any sense. With RPI a lot of people really haven't paid enough attention to it. But the bottom line is that you spend a lot of your time throughout the year paying attention to what your opponents are doing, the guys you've already played. How well they do in their series as the year goes along impacts how high your RPI can be. You can only control 25% of your RPI. The rest of it is up to somebody else.

Now RPI does also provide a bonus system if you beat a Top 25 team. If you beat a Top 50 team or a Top 75 team and those are based on road and home. If you beat a Top 25 team on the road you get a bonus, but you don't get as much as if you beat a Top 25 team at home. Here's the problem. You don't know who that team is until the year is finished. Take Fresno for example. If they had been a Top 25 team, right now we'd have a Top 25 win and get bonus points. But let's say if over the next four weeks they lose all their games and their RPI drops to say 82, then all our bonus points are gone. The statistician would say that the end result after all the games would indicate the quality of the team but that's not really true. The quality of the team is variable over the course of the year based on injuries and performances. If you have Fresno as a Top 25 team when you played them and they were at full strength but then a week later they lost two starters off their pitching staff and their starting shortstop and that's what caused them not to be as good, why would my win when they were at full strength be worth nothing now? That's where I think a lot of this isn't very fair and it's what makes it difficult to schedule because you spend so much time trying to figure out what's best because at the same time, you don't get any points if you don't win. You went on the road and posted a 4-4 record and to this point in the conference season are really one of the only teams to have reasonable success on the road. Also you had three one run losses in there and you look at a team for instance, #8 Georgia Tech who during your road trip lost a game at home 23-3 to Georgia Southern. Talk a little bit about being able to maintain that intensity level from game to game. It's something that your team has been able to do and before the Thursday game against Nevada you had not been beat by more than five runs in any game this season.
RW: That's been the fun part about this club. There's only a couple games I remember feeling we were out of in the last couple innings. It was a good run. When you really look at it an compare what other people are doing in the league on the road it may end up looking like a pretty strong performance. We're pleased with it, we're pleased with the fact that this team has been able to play in close games and win the majority of those. The quality of our pitching staff and when we're at full strength the quality of our defense is really really good. I've been pleased with what we've been able to do. Those guys have been able to pitch and we've been able to play good enough defense to keep us in games. Compared to last year, and I know it's awful late in the season to compare us to last year, but for gosh sake last year we had to play all the time around defensive mistakes. The errors we've made this year, very very few of those errors have hurt us. We haven't given up a whole bunch of home runs. There have been a few that have but even some of the unearned runs we've given up haven't been significant. They've been with big leads and it may have come down to a lack of concentration late in the game with big leads. I think it bodes well for the rest of the season. I think it is the real reason why we're a quality baseball team and we'll see. It really might come down to what we do, if this league stays where it is, we're halfway through it we've played eight on the road and four at home, we're 7-5 and very well could have been 9-3 or 10-2. But we're 7-5 and we've got 12 more conference games with eight at home and four on the road, another 7-5 run which we'd be disappointed in might win the conference title. 14-10 with this league, nobody's moved forward. You look at Nevada who's at the top of the league, they've had two home series and one road series and 7-4 and one rainout. You look at Hawai'i who's had two at home and one on the road and they're 7-4 as well. San Jose is the one that I'm unsure about. They've played one road and one home. They lost three of four to Hawai'i and swept La. Tech and 7-3. If you look at where we are a half game out, we've played the toughest road part of the schedule. But really looking at it I kind of think that Hawai'i and San Jose, if you look at San Jose, we knew they were gonna be pretty darn good. When you look at their numbers they have the best pitching staff, they have good solid offensive numbers and they have the best defense if you look at raw stats. Hawai'i is unique in that they have a little bit better offense than they have in the past but they've struggled a little bit on the mound and they've been okay defensively. Knowing that they play on field turf, field turf is the easiest surface by far to play on. You know exactly where the ball is going to be and how fast it's coming.

We're happy with what we've done with the split. That little run we knew would mark our ball club. We knew internally, player to player, coach to player and what we're trying to get done as a team, that eight game run would define us to a certain extent. Because it's a split you don't feel like we're finished with that yet. We did make it through the tough early part of the [conference] season and we've put ourselves in a position where we can compete if we play the way we have been playing, especially at home, we should be in the mix. Going down on the road to La. Tech at the end of the year, how well we play in that series may determine if we finish first or fifth. The league may be in a position, the way this league is going, you get down to the last weekend and you may have 15 different possible scenarios. You might legitimately have four or five guys that still have a mathematical chance to win the league, that's how much parity I think there is in the league. Certainly going 4-4 on the road trip you didn't lose any ground to anyone else.
RW: No we didn't and that was good. We didn't lose any ground and I really think we gained ground. It's kind of hard to say that with a split but looking at what everybody else is doing on the road, Nevada has a three out of four series win on the road and that's what's kept them in pretty good position. But then they split at home against us which took that game back from them. When you look at four game series, when you start looking at a basis, if you can split on the road and win three out of four at home, you're going to be in the mix, you're going to be in the top three in the league. If you're able to sweep a series at home or win a series on the road, that's the difference between the guy that finished 2nd or 3rd and the guy that wins the league. This season this pitching staff is averaging a little over eight strikeouts per nine innings, the last two seasons it's been six or under. What kind of difference does that make for the team on defense?
RW: Well, you know we're kind of a nice mix on the ball club. Sometimes you can end up with certain pitchers that strike out a lot of guys where your defense just doesn't get a lot of work and that can lead to some errors that might not normally be made. When I was playing in the middle infield, I hated playing behind strikeout guys, I was bored. An eight strikeout game is a pretty good. A strikeout an inning, a couple balls have to be put in play, it keeps everybody active and it's a nice mix. I think that when you look at our fly out and ground ball outs, pitching coaches look at that some, but it's been kind of a nice mix. The value is that it's a team that has versatility and can play in different conditions. That's what I like about my ball club. Obviously we're really good at home, that's what you're supposed to be. You'd be dumb as a coach if you didn't tailor your team somewhat to your home facility. But you also have to be able to play in a lot of other types of condition. This year in particular we've got a team that can go pitch and play defense. When you play in Hawai'i there are days when the ball just won't leave the yard. Fly balls are all caught. Not all days, but there are days where the ball just won't get out. The wind is blowing straight in and it's heavy air and it can be pretty tough. The standard game in Hawai'i, you get a guy on through a basehit or walk or hit batsman, you bunt him over to second and now you have the randomness of baseball, you have two guys that all you're asking them to do is hit the ball hard. If one of them hits a ground ball hard that makes it through the infield then you score. If they don't you don't. A strikeout negates one of those guys, it negates one of those opportunities. A strikeout negates the randomness of baseball and there's some significant value in that. This weekend is a big weekend for your team, No. 20 Hawai'i is in town.
RW: We want to as a team, to take advantage of the team coming off the island and the heavy air into the light air. Offensive conditions ought to be pretty good. The scary thing is that Mike [Trappasso] has a pretty darned good offensive team. They've got some power. I think he's got three guys with eight home runs. That's the first time I can remember a Hawai'i team that might have three guys in double figure home runs when the year is done. I think they're a little bit more capable than they have been in the past of playing in our facility. But they may not be quite as strong on the mound as they have been in the past. Mike does a really nice job with his club. They came in here last year and really put it to them for two games and then we kind of made a couple defensive mistakes and kept them in the game and they kind of buried us late and won the last two games to salvage the series and they did that predominantly with offense. My only real concern is that I'm going to have to play them without [Richard] Stout in center. We know he's out for sure for the weekend. We do have Mike Sodders back but I doubt he's playable in the infield. I'm not dissatisfied at all with what my two guys that have platooned there, Schneider and Lucero, they've really done a nice job. But what it does is it takes another offensive guy out of my lineup. I have to DH Mike and so it makes me make a couple other moves. We're in a little bit of a weakened position in terms of my offensive club, we're not the same offensive team. But we weren't the same offensive team the last eight games on the road either. We were missing some guys, Aguirre had tweaked his knee going into the third game against Fresno and he really wasn't available four of the eight games. Sometimes that's good, that you can lose a guy and as I've said all along, when you look at our statistics, this ball club shares the load better than any other team I've ever had. Obviously Stout is way up there in walks, but when you look at the rest of the guys there are a lot of guys who have very good on base percentages. A lot of guys that share the RBI responsibilities. The strength of this ball club has been in its depth and the versatility of the players. We're not reliant on how well our middle of the lineup does. Some teams if their 3-4-5 guys don't have good weekends they lose. We've had that happen to us a couple times where our 3-4-5 haven't been real good but then you look up and our 7-8-9 hitters are hitting home runs. This club is more about trying to develop that kind of consistency throughout the lineup rather than the prototypical 4-hole guys or the prototypical 1-hole guys. I don't want to have to give away innings every time my 7-8-9 hole guys come to the plate. I like the idea that I have guys in the 7-8-9 hole that can not only get on base and steal a base every once in a while and drive runs in. Down the stretch, the last 16 games of the year, our goal right now is to continue to play good baseball. We can continue to rely on our pitching staff as we have for the last 10 - 12 games where we haven't been at full strength offensively. We've had a couple guys step out of backup roles into starting roles that have done really a nice job. We think we're good enough through this stretch, we're hopefully that by the time we get to Hawai'i we'll be at full strength and able to put on a run to the conference championship.

There aren't any off weekends in this league. You've got to come to play. Anybody can beat anybody. Yes, it's very difficult to play on the road but you can't come back home and not play your best baseball and expect to win. You've gotta bring it every time you come up in these series. We were fortunate enough in these last couple series to play four games in four days instead of the four games in three. But for the next four weeks we've got four games in three days. But we didn't schedule any mid-week games so we'll be at full strength in the pitching staff through those games. I think that Hawai'i is a good ball club. Guys gotta come out ready to play the next four games. There may be a little bit more pressure because if we're going to reach the goals we have then we need to win our home series. We need to win the home series the next three weeks and if we win our home series the next three weeks we're going to go into La. Tech with a chance to win the WAC title. That's a position we haven't been in in the WAC yet. We've got to finish it off and play good baseball. This is all preparing this baseball team to be ready to go into Hawai'i at the end of the season and win four in a row.