From the Bird’s Nest: My All-Sun Belt team
Unlike football and basketball, the media does not get to vote on the All-Sun Belt baseball team.
The reason is, not every team in the league actually has someone covering baseball.
That being the case, I should get to vote in their place, too. Just kidding. Well, maybe not.
I don't particularly like the idea of coaches voting for the team. Coaches have agendas. Don't believe me? Ask Stefni Lotief, whose team gets hosed every year by a block of jealous coaches.
But I digress.
The "official" team will be released tomorrow. Mine won't be the same as the "official" one. But here's how I would have voted if the league would have let me:
Oh, one note. I did use the same nomination sheets as the coaches did.
The Sun Belt may be the only league that selects two starting pitchers. You play a three game series, you should select three starting pitchers. Come on, guys, how much does an extra plaque cost, anyway? My All-Sun Belt team has three.
Now really, is this a no-brainer? Ray, despite getting hit hard on Thursday night against South Alabama, has been the most dominant pitcher the league has seen in a while. Ray is 11-0 on the season and the only game he started that Troy lost was last Thursday. Ray's 2.39 ERA is stellar and it jumped a half point after the USA game. He throws three pitches for strikes, commands both sides of the plate and throws nothing straight. And, he walked only 12 batters in 101 innings.
PAUL DAVIS--FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Davis would get some consideration for Pitcher of the Year if Ray hadn't had such a dominant season. Davis was 10-1 with a 2.51 ERA. Not overpowering, he'll give up some hits (almost one per inning). But, like Ray, he's a three pitch guy. His only loss this season was to the Cajuns in Lafayette.
GARRETT HARRIS--SOUTH ALABAMA
Harris went 7-3 with a 3.41 ERA pitching on Fridays for USA. Harris is a power guy who led the Sun Belt in strikeouts with 90 in 105 innings. He also was tops in innings pitched per game. The Jaguars workhorse will be relegated to second team when the "official" team is announced. And, that's a real shame. He deserves better.
Phil Haig-FIU (9-3 3.43)
Haig is one of the reasons FIU is so much better on the mound this year. The lefty helped to solidify the FIU rotation and gave the Panthers a chance every time out.
Tanner Perkins-WKU (7-4, 2.32)
Perkins was the Top Topper for Chris Finwood this year. He dominated earlier in the season, but lost a few tough ones down the stretch. Still, it's hard to argue with that ERA.
Jacob Lee--Arkansas State (5-4, 2.74)
The preseason pitcher of the year certainly didn't dominate, but didn't always have a ton of support, either. He had 66 strikeouts in 85 innings on the season.
RELIEF PITCHER--HUGH ADAMS--FLORIDA ATLANTIC (0-0, 10 saves, 2.34)
Adams was dominant out of the pen for John McCormack this year. He had no won-loss record, but saved ten games and allowed only 26 hits in 34.2 innings. McCormack was careful not to overuse Adams. Those 34 innings came in 26 games. Opponents hit only .211 against him.
Second team-Nathan Hill-Troy (4-1, 3 saves 2.40)
A nasty lefty, Hill suffered his only loss Thursday night when Brad Hook hit a walk-off home run for USA. Hill had a staggering 55 strikeouts in just 43 innings of work. A GREAT breaking ball.
Rice has been a mainstay for Chris Finwood's Toppers. He wraps up his career leading WKU in most offensive stats for a career. This season, Rice hit .352 with nine homers and 56 RBI. The 56 runs batted in is second in the Sun Belt. Dude can flat out hit. Had a .551 slugging percentage.
Second Team--Brent Tanner--South Alabama
Tanner led the Jags in hitting with a .347 average and had nine homers and 52 RBI. Not as good defensively as Rice but can really swing it from the left side.
It should be noted that several first baseman were nominated in the Utility category. If your favorite isn't listed here, that could be the reason.
His batting average is down some this year (.289) but this dude is the scariest hitter in the league. Hit 13 homers with 53 RBI for an FIU team that struggled offensively in the first half of the season. Scary power. Scary hitter. When he comes to the plate, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Second team--Joey Rapp--ULM
Hit .317 with 13 home runs and drove in 46 runs for a Warhawks team that didn't score much. His numbers are right there with Martinez. But even though Rapp hit two homers against the Cajuns this year, he doesn't frighten me the way Martinez does.
First team wasn't a hard pick. Second team was.
RAYMOND CHURCH--FLORIDA ATLANTIC
The versatile Church hit first, second and third in the FAU lineup. Hit .338, played solid defense and stole a dozen bases. The catalyst of the Owls lineup, Church was an easy choice at this position
Second team-Jordan Poirrier, Louisiana
ULM's Caleb Clowers hit almost .300 and made only one error. Troy's T. J. Rivera was part of the league's best middle infield. Jason Houston had the best offensive stats after Church. But at the end of the day, Poirrier is my pick, and not because I'm a homer. On a team that struggled to score runs, Poirrier drove in over 50 runs on the season, fourth in the league. And he was clutch, with 20 two-out rbi. He wasn't as good defensively as the others and only hit .269, but you can't ignore his production.
Let me say that I am of the belief that shortstop is a defensive position. I'm willing to give the benefit to the guy whose batting average is a little less if he can solidify a team's defense. My picks reflect that philosophy.
Duh. Bryant is the league's best overall player. He has great range and a great arm at shortstop. He also hit .343 and led the league in runs batted in. An outstanding all-around player who will play this game for money next year. He slugged .571 and has speed on the bases as well.
Second team-Greg Fontenot-Louisiana
Blue collar shortstop who hit over .330 most of the season before finishing at .322. Made one spectacular play after another during the season defensively. Hit over .500 with the bases loaded and stole eleven bases. One of the toughest in the league to strike out. Fontenot probably won't be on the team released tomorrow. But with apologies to Nick Delguidice of FAU and Garrett Wittels of FIU, I'll take Fontenot's range over their batting average. Most of Fontenot's errors this year were on throws after making plays that other shortstops wouldn't even have gotten to.
Of all the decisions, this one was the toughest.
"The General" is one of the league's most dangerous hitters. Seems as though he hits everything hard. Batted .352 with six homers and 47 rbi. Walked 38 times and struck out only 23. Made a few errors (13), but third base is an offensive position. Makes the top of FIU's lineup really really good.
Second team-Tyler Hannah--Troy
Hannah started his career in the SEC before going to a junior college. Led the Trojans in hitting at .367 and led the league in doubles with 27. Only had five errors at third base, but played most of his games on turf. I went with Patton in a close one because he just scares me more.
Every year some good players get left off that play this position. This year is no exception.
Hitting leadoff, Bermudez hit .380 and had an on base percentage close to .500. He drove in 32 runs, pretty good for a guy hitting leadoff and stole 17 bases. Strikes out a lot for a leadoff guy, but you can overlook that with his production. A very, very good hitter.
TODD BAUMGARTNER--ARKANSAS STATE
Baumgartner turned in another solid year for the Red Wolves, hitting .348 and had 80 hits on the season. Drove in 45 runs on a team that struggled to score runs. Also stole nine bases. A solid defensive outfielder.
Petello hit .363 and slugged nine homers for the Ragin' Cajuns. He drove in 41 runs, second on the team. Slugged nearly .600 for the season. Also showed good speed on the bases with12 steals in 13 attempts. No question he has the best arm in the Sun Belt and got a chance to show it off a few times before teams just quit running on him.
Alex Hudak-FAU. Hit .379 with 35 rbi. Very good hitter, although he struck out a lot. Had a slugging percentage of .521. Lack of power and speed is the reason he's not on my first team.
Will Skinner-Middle Tennessee The league's leading home run hitter with 16. Hit .341 and slugged .655. Although he's got good power, numbers are somewhat inflated by the ball park he plays in. Probably doesn't hit ten bombs if he played half his games at Tigue Moore.
Hit .345, had 81 hits, stole 15 bases and played errorless ball for the Hilltoppers. Hit at the top of the order and when he got on base, WKU scored runs. Teammate Kes Carter actually had better overall numbers, but I'm going with Andreoli as my Topper of choice.
Marvel hit .315, but hit nearly .360 in league play. Drove in 22 runs, although he didn't become a starter until nearly midway through the season. Led the league in triples.
Second team-Nick Rountree-UALR
Rountree hit seven homers with 33 rbi in a small ball park. Hit .309 overall.
Some coaches nominate players in this category who weren't truly utility players. There may have been a logjam at that position and they felt the utility category was the best way to get them on the team. I'm choosing true utility players.
A .295 hitter as a regular in the Troy lineup, Workman really made his presence felt as a reliever. He was 5-3 with three saves and a 2.66 ERA. Opponents hit just .211 against him. No one in the league made more of an impact at two positions.
Second team-Justin Guidry--Middle Tennessee
While his presence as a pitcher wasn't felt much, it's hard to ignore the season Guidry had offensively. Led the team in hitting with a .349 batting average and played solidly defensively.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR--ADAM BRYANT--TROY
Like I said earlier, he's the best overall player in this league. When pitcher Drew Hull went down with an injury, Bryant got that much better offensively. If I were starting a team, he'd be my first pick
PITCHER OF THE YEAR--TYLER RAY--TROY
It amazes me that some teams insulted Ray by nominating someone else for Pitcher of the Year. Ray was head and shoulders the class of the Belt this season. No one else was close.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR--TYLER HANNAH--TROY
The league does not recognize a Newcomer of the Year any longer (that's a separate blog). But this isn't the Sun Belt Conference team. It's mine. And, I can have a Newcomer of the year if I want to. So there.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR--LOGAN KIRKLAND--SOUTH ALABAMA
Kirkland made some errors, but hit a solid .325 in his first season. Had 69 hits on the year. A narrow choice over WKU's Justin Hageman, who won eight games on the mound.
COACH OF THE YEAR--BOBBY PIERCE--TROY
Picked to finish in the middle of the pack, the Trojans won the league title. And, they did it despite losing a very very good pitcher early in league play. Pierce does an excellent job with the Trojans and is deserving of the award this season.
So, there you have it. You can compare this team with the "official" team to be released Tuesday night.
But I'm tellin' ya now, mine is better.