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Are the 2014 Cajuns Tony Robichaux’s Best Team? – From the Bird’s Nest

They’re ranked #1 in the country by Collegiate Baseball magazine and in the top six in every poll.

They’ve won 13 straight going into tonight’s game with Southern University.

But is this Ragin’ Cajuns baseball team the best one Tony Robichaux has had?

Well, that depends on how you define “best.”

Is “best” determined by how far a team goes in the postseason?  Is “best” defined by statistics?  Everyone has their own definition of “best.”

Personally, I don’t like the word when it comes to sports.  Because, by definition, if you’re the best, you’d never lose a game.

No I’m not going to do “best.”  I’m simply going to do some comparisons and let you judge how this team measures up.  And, while 2000, 2005 and 2007 are talked about by many as the “best” teams, there are other teams that may have done some things better than this particular team.

OFFENSE:  If you’re going to compare this Cajuns club to the really good ones, there are three teams to look at.  The 2000 team still holds the record for home runs with 83, but the bats were different then.  That team had a good slugging and on base percentage, but not a great team average.

The 2004 squad hit 78 homers, hit .300 as a team and slugged .510.  They didn’t walk a bunch, though.  They did, however, have four players with double figure home runs.

The .2007 team also had double digit homers by four players. They hit .310 and slugged .484.  This team, however, struggled offensively at a couple of positions.

The 2013 team hit .317 with 74 homers.  They slugged .503.  But again, this team didn’t walk nearly enough.

My favorite offensive team was the team the Cajuns had in 2005.  I’ve always thought that was the most consistent with the bats.  That year, ten players had at least 130 at bats.  Every one of them hit over .300.  They hit .327 as a team, best in school history.  Only two players hit double figure home runs, but they hit 65 overall.  Their on-base percentage was over .400.  They had a prototypical leadoff hitter in John Coker, who stole 29 bases.  It was a lineup that featured these ten names:  Lucroy (.373 as a freshman DH), Merendino, Cockrell, Morris, Tatford, McCarthy, Coker, Landry, Hawke and Morgan.  Pretty salty, indeed.  They averaged over eight runs per game.  There were really no holes in the lineup to speak of.  Josh Landry had the lowest average of the starters (.305), but drove in 62 runs, second only to Dallas Morris.

This team is pretty close to that team.

Right now seven players are hitting over .300 but the others have the capability to get to that number.  They’re hitting .303 with 29 homers in 25 games.  They’re slugging .498 with an on-base percentage of .405.  While the 2005 team was actually eleven players deep (Jameson Parker had 117 at bats), this one appears to be even deeper with twelve players that Robe can count on.  The 2005 team had a little better left/right balance, but now we’re getting picky.  We’ll see what happens offensively the rest of the season, but for now, the 2005 team is, for me, the benchmark because of its consistency up and down the lineup.

DEFENSE–I don’t know if there’s been a team quite like 2014.  Unless it was 2006.  That season the Cajuns fielded .971.  They only had one player who made more than ten errors.  Their up the middle defense with Jameson Parker and Devin Bourque  plus catcher Jonathan Lucroy and centerfielder Josh Landry was as good as anything the Cajuns have put on the field.  This team, with Strentz, Trahan, Conrad and Harrison is right there.  (The 2000 team, by the way, wasn’t very good defensively.  They made in the vicinity of 100 errors on the season.)  Which team am I taking?  This one.  Trahan and Conrad cover more ground than anyone the Cajuns have had at second base and shortstop.

STARTING PITCHING—The 2000 team had Scott Dohmann, and Justin Gabriel.  The third starter fluctuated.  Eric Templet was there for a while.  Nick Webb was the guy during most of conference play.  And, Andy Gros was Robichaux’ choice to get the ball against South Carolina. In 2007, Hunter Moody and Danny Farquhar were very good, and Brett Solich was a solid third starter.  The most consistent starting rotation was the 2006 club with Buddy Glass (8-2, 2.17), Hunter Moody (12-2, 2.63) and Jason Fernandez (9-2, 2.86).  The three combined for 43 of the team’s 59 starts.  All three gave the Cajuns a chance to win every game they were in.

The 2014 squad had Austin Robichaux, Carson Baranik and Greg Milhorn, who has been replaced by Cody Boutte while Milhorn is sidelined with an oblique pull.  This is the closest thing to 2006 the Cajuns have had for a starting rotation.  The pitching depth in ’06 was the only reason the Cajuns weren’t in a regional that year.  That, and an idiot selection committee.  I like this 2014 rotation a lot. And they might put up better number than the ’06 starters.  But it’s tough to beat Glass, Moody and Fernandez.

BACK END OF THE BULLPEN–Remember 1999?  That’s a Cajuns team that won a regional and came within one game of getting to the College World Series.  That’s also the team that had the two headed monster in the bullpen:  Brannon Baranowski and Alan Oschner.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.  Those two guys were lights out most of the season.  Oschner had a sidearm delivery that could buckle the knees of opposing hitters.  And Baranowski’s slider was just filthy.

In 2000, Aaron Welbourne had set a school record for saves before being sidelined with an arm injury.  No problem.  Gordon O’Brien turned out to be a guy the Cajuns could depend on to get the outs necessary to get the victory.  The Canadian might have had the most devastating curve ball the Cajuns have ever seen.

Kraig Schambough was Mr. Versatile during his career from 2001-05.  And, Chad Beck and Danny Farquhar were pretty nasty in 2006, until Beck was sidelined because he didn’t make his grades.  Both have pitched in the big leagues.  The 2007 squad was close to the ’99 squad with Matt Pilgreen and Andrew Laughter.

This is the part of the 2014 staff that needs someone to step up.  The Cajuns have some good ones, who, on any given night can get the job done.  But they need the guy who, when he enters the game, has the opponent saying “Oh, (bleep.)”  We haven’t seen that guy emerge…yet.

PITCHING DEPTH–While there may not be a dominant closer, the 2014 pitching staff might be the deepest, assuming an effective Milhorn returns.  Tony has ten pitchers he wouldn’t hesitate to use against any opponent.  I don’t think he’s had that before.  The 2000 club stopped around eight after Welbourne was sidelined. The 2014 team has a lot of interchangeable parts. Boutte and Plitt can start.  Bazar and Hicks can close and Griffitt has dominated the few times he’s been used.  When Ben Carter’s slider is working, he’s nasty.  The depth of this pitching staff is what I really like about the 2014 team.  Robe has never had this many arms he can count on in any given situation.

So, that’s my two cents (actually, this was so long it’s more like two dollars) worth.  What I’ve seen from the 2014 team so far this year leads me to say this.

I still don’t know about “best” because I don’t know how that is defined.  But I do believe this might be the most balanced team that Tony Robichaux has put on the field in this, his 20th season as the Cajuns’ head coach.

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