Clemson's baseball season is at the mid-point, but the steam started escaping long ago. An opening day loss to West Virginia and a letdown loss to Winthrop on the heels of the team's first series win over the Gamecocks since 2010 were the early warning signs. Now well into the throes of conference play, the Tigers sit at 14-14 (5-7 ACC).
Worse yet, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and Wake Forest are already in the books. Clemson still has series against North Carolina, Georgia Tech and the top two programs in the ACC Atlantic 11-1 Louisville and 9-3 Florida State - meaning things could get worse!
It's not just tough breaks and bad luck either. Clemson has hit just 16 home runs through 28 games (0.6 HR/game). Wake Forest, who just took two of three in Clemson, has swatted 34 home runs (over 31 games, 1.1 HR/game). Florida State has hit 30 home runs in 30 games. Miami has 24. Heck, Furman has 20! The nation's best power hitting team, UCF, has 46 home runs on the season, nearly three times Clemson (more on UCF shortly). At some point, we can no longer blame a cavernous outfield (which isn't so cavernous after home plate was scooted forward this offseason) or the high seam baseball (which had the seams lowered this season).
We're a defense and pitching team you say? Well with 40 errors, including two in the Tigers' Wednesday loss to Presbyterian, there are more than 160 teams with a better fielding percentage.
If this was the occasional down year, like 2008, maybe we'd look the other way, but that's certainly not the case. From 2005-2010, Clemson missed the NCAA tournament once (2008), but advanced beyond regional play five times, reached Omaha twice and won the ACC tournament once. 2008 was a down year, but even the best programs will have those on rare occasion and we shouldn't overreact. Unfortunately, this year is different.
Clemson has failed to advance out of regional play each of the past four years and this season looks even less promising as College Sports Madness is currently projecting four teams from South Carolina to make the NCAA tournament, none of which are Clemson. Last year it was Oregon scoring 18 runs against Clemson. In 2013 it was two losses to Liberty that ended Clemson's season (more on Liberty soon). In the years prior, that it was South Carolina and UConn knocking Clemson out. This isn't a blip on the radar. Clemson simply isn't an elite baseball program right now.
With all that negativity (and realism) said, it would be one-sided and incomplete to not mention all the challenges the baseball staff runs up against and Steven Bradley, a fantastic writer for Upstate Today and formerly with IPTAY Media, explained it all here. He breaks down some of the scholarship disadvantages Clemson faces, the lack of profit from the program, and the cost associated with terminating Leggett prior to the expiration of his contract.
Some of these are legitimate points that are being addressed, namely academic common market, but to argue that Clemson shouldn't spend $200,000 to buy-out a coach literally while they are spending millions on new facilities for the sport is nothing short of poppycock. That would be tantamount to someone who just bought a half million dollar home refusing to spend $1,000 to fix a broken heater, leaving the home cold and undesirable - which is exactly how February baseball could feel next season.
This is the point that worries me most though, because the way the Athletic Department is spending money these days has me scratching my head. The Clemson Insider reported on Monday, March 30th that the baseball team is currently using the Jervey locker rooms while the $9 million baseball operations center is being built right along the first baseline. That's not the weird part though. The strange part is that while they're pouring money into the facilities at Doug Kingsmore, they are waiting until the Women's Basketball team begins using Jervey to hook up cable for the TVs! Yes, they're prioritizing spending on Women's Baskeball, which is so sparsely followed that the team can share Jervey with the Volleyball team while Littlejohn undergoes renovations. Meanwhile, they've just upgraded the baseball dugouts, added 150 premium seats, and are currently spending millions on the baseball operations center, but apparently those Northland Cable bills are just outrageous.
They added the Chapman Grandstands miles away from home plate which only fill up on rare occasion and provide a sub-par gameday experience. They're spending $62 million dollars on a football "operations" facility that sounds more like a Dave and Busters than anything else (it will have mini golf and laser tag). Meanwhile, The Clemson Insider claimed, in that same March 30th report, that the baseball team is penny-pinching on the number of baseballs they can go through during batting practice.
I say all that to lend to credence and highlight one very thoughtful projections of how could all play out: