The season is still early and there are three more non-conference weekends to go before the Titans open up Big West Conference play at home vs. UC Riverside. With an overall record of 4-9 and staring down the barrel of a weekend series in Austin vs. Texas, the Titans will need to win the Big West Conference title to get invited to the NCAA tournament.
After just 13 games into the season, it’s not even St. Patrick’s Day and the hopes of getting an at-large bid are gone? Not necessarily. But it will take a monumental turn around to get a post season invitation without winning the conference.
But before we look too far ahead, let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly coming out of the weekend series with San Francisco and the two-game mid-week series with Arizona State.
Fri. February 28 vs. USF – Loss: 3-1
Sat. February 29 vs. USF – Win: 5-4
Sun. March 1 vs. USF – Loss: 7-6
Tue. March 3 vs. ASU – Loss: 12-2
Tue. March 4 vs. ASU – Loss: 9-3
Weekend Pitching… Again
Despite getting handed the loss, Tanner Bibee went a full complete nine innings vs. Univ. of San Francisco giving up three earned runs, issuing 1 walk and striking out nine. Bibee’s ERA sits below 2.00 at 1.93 and has struck out 27 batters over 23 1/3rd innings pitched.
Saturday starter, Kyle Luckham got hit a bit more than usual but of the 10 USF Dons that reached base via hit, only two came around to score. Seven strikeouts and zero walks for Luckham and he was able to scratch out the win, lifting his record to 2-0 on the season.
Joe Magrisi came back down to earth a little bit on Sunday, going 6 1/3rd innings, giving up four hits, four earned runs, 1 walk and five strikeouts. Still respectable and with the warm air and sunshine at Goodwin Field, balls were flying a bit more. Which brings us to our next item….
Home Runs X 2
Just when Titan Baseball fans were grumbling and mumbling if they will ever hit a home run in 2020, Miguel Ortiz gets the Titans off the schneid in the bottom of the fourth.
— Titans Baseball (@FullertonBSB) March 1, 2020
Later in the game in the bottom of the seventh, Josh Urps dropped a three run bomb to bring the lead to 6-5.
— Titans Baseball (@FullertonBSB) March 1, 2020
Granted it was Sunday, the sun was out and it was warm when the ball tends to fly a bit more but still… two home runs when the team was hitting none, we’ll take it.
Trevor Cadd Coming Out Party
Trevor Cadd had to wait all last year while he red shirted and still waited up until the 13th game of the season to finally pick up a bat. He did not waste his opportunity after being inserted into the line-up on Wednesday vs. Arizona State as the Designated Hitter.
Cadd promptly singled to left center in his first at bat in the bottom of the second inning. Cadd would eventually come around to score on Kameron Guangorena‘s single to right field. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Cadd laced a triple into right center that got past the center fielder and rolled all the way to the wall. Later that inning Austin Schell singled and brought Cadd home to score.
— Titans Baseball (@FullertonBSB) March 5, 2020
A small sample size to be sure but expect Trevor Cadd to see more time in the line up and could be a major player at the DH spot moving forward.
4-9 W/L record
Anyway you slice it, this season has not started off up to expectations nor the standards of the past. The natives are getting restless and we have overheard grumbles of, “Are we ever going to be good again?“.
Take that with a grain of salt knowing there are still 44 games left to go on the season. Based on the average number of wins per season in the Rick Vanderhook era, (37 per season average. 51 in 2013 the most and 27 in 2019 the least…) the Titans can only lose 11 more games for the remainder of 2020 to reach even the average win total under Hook.
Consider there is Texas for three games, Long Beach State who is much improved for six games, UCLA who is currently ranked in the Top 5 of any poll for four games, that equals 13 games. Of course we are not counting those as losses before they are even played but our point is, the road is not going to get any easier. On the flip side, win those games and the Titans get a much needed RPI bump.
Keep in mind, the Titans lost the series, at home, to the University of San Francisco. USF was a team many thought would be a walk over who was a last minute fill in for the scheduling SNAFU with Texas A&M. Speaking of San Francisco…
Series loss to USF
We already touched on how the USF series was not originally on the schedule but added at the last minute. Many Titan fans grumbled and asked, “Why are we scheduling these cupcakes?“. Maybe some of those critics are now asking, why are we not scheduling more perceived cupcakes just to get some wins.
It’s pretty bad when the team makes the D1Baseball Ouch List.
West coast baseball is much improved in 2020 and maybe USF will prove to be a formidable opponent after the season shakes out. But much like the JMU series last year, dropping that USF series may be a watershed moment we can point to where the season took a downward spiral.
Has Hook Given Up Already?
We all know this new generation of ballplayers is a different breed compared to those of yesteryear that previously put on the Titan blue and orange. Gone are the days of players driving themselves to road games and dressing in the parking lot. Nowadays, kids arrive on campus after years of learning under a private swing coach or playing on elite travel ball teams with all the perks of technology. The recent tweet from Shotgun Spratling took us a little by surprise:
I asked #CalStateFullerton HC Rick Vanderhook on Sunday how he could get Guangorena going. Vanderhook said he was going to tell Guangorena “to YouTube it because that’s about what they listen to.”
YouTube for the win!
— Shotgun Spratling (@ShotgunSprD1) March 5, 2020
Keep in mind, Vanderhook is the hitting coach and has taken on that role himself for years. Of course, can we gather tone of voice and context from a tweet? Absolutely not. Do we know if Hook was being sarcastic with Shotgun and didn’t want to reveal his secret recipe for getting his all-star catcher to hit better than the .050 batting average he carried into the mid-week series with ASU? Again, absolutely not. But read that response again and make your own judgements.
No matter how you look at it, a .221 team batting average is not going to win many baseball games. That will need to improve before the start of Big West Conference play.
Pitching and defense has always been the aspects Titan Baseball players and fans have been able to hang their hat. Pitching is strong and much improved from 2019. Defense? Not so much.
In the 13 games to open the season, the Titans have committed 17 errors. That’s an average of 1.3 errors a game. Keep in mind, those are only official errors the official on-site scorekeeper recorded as errors. There were plenty of others that were generously tabbed a hit when it should have been an error.
Of the 13 games in the books, only three games have been error free. Unfortunately, those errorless games have all been losses. The four wins on the season, the opponents have committed a combination of seven errors in those four games.
If the pitching, especially on the weekends, remains strong, the Titans really should shore up their defense behind those guys.
Calls for Hook’s Firing
Social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, message boards and even conversations on the concourse at Goodwin Field are filled with angry and frustrated Titan Baseball fans. After missing the post-season for the first time in 27 years and failing to win 30+ games in a season for the first time in the history of the program, can you blame them for being angry, frustrated and upset?
Now come the cries and clever social media hashtags calling for Rick Vanderhook’s firing. We’ve seen #GiveHooktheHook and #VanderhookOut circulating on social media. Honestly, it is getting ugly and sadly, Titan Baseball fans need a reality check.
It’s our opinion so take that with a grain of salt, but Rick Vanderhook is not going anywhere anytime soon.
There are three scenarios where Rick Vanderhook will not be the coach of the Cal State Fullerton Titan Baseball team in 2021. All of them are highly unlikely:
1) A slew of rich and concerned alumni all pass the hat and come up with the money to buy out Vanderhook’s remaining years on his contract.
Hook signed a five year contract extension that runs through the 2024 season. Numerous sources state that Vanderhook’s salary was $140,000 in 2013. Accounting for salary, total cost of benefits, endorsements from official gear suppliers like Easton and Nike, we can safely assume total compensation may be in the $200K range. (We don’t know compensation details in the contract extension. We’re merely guessing here.)
Since Vanderhook is signed through the 2024 season, that means he has four more years left on his contract. At roughly $200K per year and adding in a little buffer for lawyers who are assuredly needed to be involved, you are looking at a cool $1 million to fire Vanderhook. And that is probably a low estimate.
Many fans will point to Titan Alumni players in the MLB and say, “Justin Turner, Kurt Suzuki, Michael Lorenzen and others are making millions. They can afford to buy out Hook’s contract!”. Of course people love to spend other people’s money but keep in mind, these players in the MLB all played for Hook when he was an assistant or the head man. Highly unlikely they will come to the rescue and attach their name to the buyout of a man who coached them and helped them get to their financial position today.
On a side note, if Fullerton has these alumni with bags of money falling out of their pockets, why haven’t they come to improve the facilities like Jared Weaver and Troy Tulowitzki have to the Blair Field bullpen and batting cages respectively? Another topic for another day…
If this is the option fans want to go, they better start breaking their piggy banks and taking up a collection. It may take you until 2024 to come up with the money needed.
2) Hook will get himself fired for just cause like Troy Buckley did at Long Beach State
It’s true that Troy Buckley was jettisoned from Long Beach State for workplace violence. The details are sketchy but Buckley was fired for cause after reports came out alleging he physically assaulted a Long Beach State employee. Many speculate it was a member of his staff whom he allegedly assaulted. Despite the HR nightmare that ensued, Buckley was let go for cause and his contract did not need to be paid out.
Vanderhook will likely not leave that way seeing how he has a designated handler following him around as a result of the 2014 UC Santa Barbara incident. Hook was placed on administrative leave for a number of weeks after audio surfaced of him berating the team on the bus after a tough series loss at UC Santa Barbara.
Since Hook’s reinstatement, he has been closely monitored by an athletics department official to ensure there is not another incident. If you are dreaming of Hook flipping out and doing something that will get him fired for cause, there is an added layer of security to prevent that from happening again.
3) Hook will “see the light” and voluntarily step down
If you think this is a viable option, I have ocean front property in Oklahoma to sell you.
Being the head coach at Cal State Fullerton is the only job Vanderhook wants. He played at Fullerton. He was a member of the 1984 National Championship team. He was an assistant coach for years, winning two national championships as an assistant with numerous trip to Omaha sprinkled in. When Dave Serrano was given the job, Hook left and proceeded to win another national championship as as assistant coach, this time for UCLA.
Before coming back as the head coach, Rick Vanderhook has been in a Titan uniform as a coach for a school-record 22 seasons plus two as a player. Add to that another eight years as the head coach and you honestly think Hook will voluntarily step down because the team is scuffling this year and last year?
Hook has won Big West Coach of the Year a number of times and his teams have won the Big West Conference five times, advanced to a Super Regional four times and visited Omaha twice. All of these accomplishments have been achieved doing it “The Hook Way”. You think he will just wake up from an epiphany dream one morning, march into Athletic Director Jim Donovan‘s office and slide his resignation letter across the desk? Really?
Although the situation currently is dire and the win-loss record is not what everyone was expecting, thinking getting rid of the head coach is short sighted and downright ignorant. The thing that makes Titan Baseball so special is that it has been extraordinarily successful over the years without a large budget, high dollar facilities and huge alumni donations. Cal State Fullerton doesn’t have football money to dip into in order to fire a coach. You can’t just wave a bag of money like a magic wand and expect a coach to go away like at bigger schools.
And let’s just dream for a second. Imagine the impossible and one of the three scenarios does come to fruition. Who will want to take this job? For $200,000 per year, you think you will lure a big name coach to come to Cal State Fullerton? Just because it’s the almighty Cal State Fullerton?
Five of the eight head coaches that were in Omaha last season made $1 million or more. Combine the comparatively low salary Fullerton can offer to the high cost of living in Orange County. California taxes are the highest in the nation, housing costs are sky high and gasoline and other living expenses are highest in the nation. You think Fullerton can lure away Tim Corbin of Vanderbilt making $1,318,162 last year to come coach the Titans?
Dreaming of getting rid of Rick Vanderhook before his contract expires is akin to the dreams you have when you buy a lotto ticket. They’re fun to have and fantasize over but when you have to get up and go to work the next day and your bank account is the same as it was last month, that’s reality. Reality is Vanderhook is here for the duration and the sooner fans recognize that, they will have a better perspective on the program.
Continue to fantasize or you can still support the team. We’re not saying there are not problems currently going on. The win-loss column can tell you that. But thinking firing the head coach will cure all the ills of the team is nonsense.
Call it the “Augie Bowl”, this match up looked a lot stronger on paper in the beginning of the season than as of late. With a current three game losing streak and the Titans having dropped six of their last eight games, winning the series on the road could be a huge boost for the Titans morale and confidence.
No mid-week game scheduled after the Titans return from Texas and then will have a home series vs. Xavier.
All games are at Disch-Falk Field on the campus of the University of Texas. Times listed are Pacific time:
Fri. March 6 vs. Texas – 4:30 PM
Sat. March 7 vs. Texas – 12:00 PM
Sun. March 8 vs. Texas – 11:30 AM