Mizzou welcomes No. 1 Vanderbilt to town this weekend for a three-game series, so let’s break down what exactly the Tigers should be expecting from the best team in all the land.
All the love for Vandy typically goes to their unreal pitching staff, but we’re going to start with their offense which has some studs, too. As a team, they slash .308/.421/.536. To put those numbers in perspective, that puts the Commodores in second in the SEC for AVG and first in both OBP and SLG%. They also can run like crazy, stealing 26-28 this year. So what makes this potent offense click with such efficiency?
When talking about this year’s Vandy team, it’s easy to see what gets this offense going— Freshman CF Enrique Bradfield. As a freshman, Bradfield is slashing .357/.507/.429, and that doesn't even tell you about his speed or elite defense. Bradfield gets on base over 50% of the time, and he also has stolen 15-16 bases this year. He’s everything you could ever want from a guy setting the table for an offense. He doesn’t have much power, but the young freshman does everything else for Tim Corbin, and he will be a handful for Tiger pitchers with his quality ABs and unreal speed. Check this video out for a small taste of that game-changing speed:
After Bradfield, the Commodores have a lot of sticks to drive the speedster in. The most intimidating of these bats is definitely 1B Dominic Keegan. The junior has only played 12 games this year, but in those games, he’s done almost as much damage as every other bat in this Vanderbilt lineup. This year, he has 4 HR, 17 RBI, and his SLG% that exceeds 1.000 (yes, you read that right). Currently, the slugger's OPS is 1.631 and no one has figured out how to pitch to him. Something that definitely contributes to Keegan’s success is the depth of the Vanderbilt lineup not leaving pitchers much room to pitch around him.
Behind Bradfield and Keegan, you have guys like Isaiah Thomas, Jayson Gonzalez, Tate Kolwyck, and others who’d likely bat third or cleanup on any other team, but in this Vandy lineup, they’re everywhere.
Here’s what the rest of the Vanderbilt lineup’s stats look like:
Even with how potent the Commodore offense is, the reason this team is 16-3 starts with their pitching, specifically who has the ball on Friday and Saturday. Kumar Rocker (Friday night) and Jack Leiter (Saturday) will both be top-5 picks in June’s MLB Draft and have a good chance to go back-to-back at No. 1 and No. 2. We will break down the pitching day by day for this segment.
Kumar Rocker gets the ball on Friday nights for Tim Corbin and there might not be a better player to hand the ball to in all of America. Rocker burst onto the scene in 2019 with perhaps the greatest pitching performance in college baseball history, but at the very least the best ever by a freshman. In the super regional against Duke, Rocker threw 9 no-hit innings and struck out 19 batters. It was the first-ever no-hitter in super regional history and it firmly put Rocker on the national radar.
This year, Rocker is 5-0 with a 0.58 ERA in 31.0 IP and 48 Ks to just 10 BBs. It’s safe to say he wasn’t a one-game wonder, and it’s easy to see why MLB scouts love him. Rocker stands at 6’5 and weighs 245 giving him the ideal body of a workhorse, but he’s much more than a guy that just has the measurables. Rocker has the stuff of a No. 1 pick. With a fastball that can touch triple digits and a wipeout slider, Rocker is practically a build-a-pitcher. However, Rocker is human, and he does have issues with his changeup and his ability to command it. MLB teams will look to polish that aspect of his arsenal, but I’m sure Mizzou will be worried enough about just hitting his fastball let alone his devastating breaking ball.
Check this clip of Rocker’s 14 punchies from last weekend against Top-25 South Carolina:
If you’re somehow still not convinced of this guy’s unreal stuff, here’s an overlay of his fastball and slider that will have you mesmerized:
Kumar Rocker, 95mph Fastball and 88mph Cutter, Overlay pic.twitter.com/H2TXEuDrHV— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 20, 2021
Alright, so now that we’ve established how dominant Rocker is and how hard it’ll be for Mizzou to hit him on Thursday night when the two teams play, let’s address Jack Leiter, the only pitcher in America having a better year than Rocker. Currently, he is 5-0 with a 0.31 ERA in 29 IP with 49 Ks to 11 BBs.
Leiter is the son of former MLB pitcher Al Leiter, and he may be Vanderbilt’s No. 2, but according to most people, he’s just as good if not better than Rocker. Leiter isn’t nearly as imposing as Rocker, as he stands at just 6’0 205 lbs, but he packs just as big of a punch. Leiter will also approach triple digits with his fastball and commands the pitch with elite precision. He doesn’t have the same dominant breaking ball that Rocker has, but he can throw it for strikes to set up his fastball as his strikeout pitch.
Coming into this weekend, Leiter will be buzzing with confidence after the start of his career last weekend. Against South Carolina, Leiter faced 28 hitters. He walked the first batter and retired the next 27. Not only did he throw a no-hitter, but he struck out 16 batters in the process and dominated national HR leader Wes Clarke on multiple occasions to polish off college baseball’s most dominant performance of the season so far.
Leiter doesn’t tire easily, either. Last Saturday, his 124th and final pitch read 96 mph on the gun, so it’s safe to say Mizzou batters will need to be ready to hit 93-97 all night. If you want an idea of what it might look like, check out these clips from his no-hitter last weekend.
Jack Leiter. 16K No Hitter.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 20, 2021
Jack Leiter, Slider & Fastball combo.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 20, 2021
7th K thru 3. pic.twitter.com/bC0Cf9TRj8
If the Tigers are going to steal a game off these Commodores, it will likely have to be Sunday. Vandy has lost the last two weekends on Sunday and there’s a big dropoff from Leiter to Thomas Schultz. Schultz sports a 6.19 ERA and in his last two starts have both been losses for Vanderbilt.
Against Oklahoma State, Schultz was unable to get out of the 2nd inning and gave up 6 ER. Last weekend against South Carolina was a little better going 4 IP and 3 ER, but Schultz still gives the Tigers their best chance at finding a win in this series.
If the Tigers are going to get to Schultz, however, they’re going to need to take matters into their own hands. Schultz has issued just 2 free passes all season, and the Tigers will need to get some good wood on the ball if they plan on roughing up Schultz.
As far as the Vanderbilt bullpen goes, it’s deep, but it’s not perfect. Closer Luke Murphy is as dominant as they come in the back half of the bullpen, and so are a couple of other arms that anchor the late innings. However, if the Tigers can get to the Vandy middle relievers, that bodes well for their chances to score a couple of extra runs after getting Schultz out of the game.
Vanderbilt is far and away the best team the Tigers have faced all year. There’s a good chance they will be one of the top offenses the Tiger pitching staff has to face, and there’s no question they will have the toughest pitching the Tigers will see all year. Getting to Rocker and Leiter will probably be next to impossible, but game 3 gives the Tigers an opportunity to salvage a game from a series that most would have them being swept in. If Mizzou’s bats can come alive against Schultz and the Vandy bullpen, a repeat of last weekend could be in the cards with the Tigers stealing the series finale to avoid a sweep.
Thursday | 6 pm | SEC Network
Friday | 7 pm | SEC Network +
Saturday | 5 pm | SEC Network +