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Does Rutgers Baseball have what it takes to be a consistent winner?

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Was a tough non-conference record a symptom of the issues faced by RU’s diamond men or was it actually a sign of better things?

On Tuesday, our David Anderson did an outstanding mid-season assessment of Rutgers Baseball as it heads into its Big Ten Schedule. I told him that his post was longer and more detailed than my master’s thesis. Which was a lie since I didn’t write a thesis. But if I had, it would not have been as good as his baseball analysis.

Dave is our baseball guy, but I’ve followed (supported) the team for a long time, His post, though, serves as a bit of a counterpoint to what I have to offer today about that same team.

A few weeks ago, we had a post about how few baseball and softball games Rutgers were going to have on BTN. And we commented that facilities certainly play into that decision.

We also noted that winning more might also be a reason why RU wasn’t on TV more. Which generated this comment:

Baseball will continue to be bottom quarter of the conference

Unless they hire a new staff. Litterio is just an extension of the small time thinking for athletics instead of acting like a B1G program. Do what Football and Basketball did and hire guys that have won previously and know what it takes to build a winner. Litterio came from Wagner, doesn’t have a good reputation, and the guys on his staff aren’t qualified D1 coaches. Clean house, get a guy that knows how to build a baseball program and is well respected, and maybe we’ll actually start fielding a decent team. Litterio is in his 5th year and there’s been 0 improvement year over year. Start with a new staff, then work on improving the facilities, which need a lot of work. Our baseball complex is an embarrassment and does not help us with good in-state talent.

Posted by RUKnight63 on Mar 16, 2017

To be honest, that isn’t the first time I’ve heard that comment about the baseball staff. And it made me think about whether Rutgers did, in fact, have the right leadership with baseball.

Last spring, our Aaron Breitmann wrote about coaching decisions that Pat Hobbs would need to address in the near future. He talked about extending the contracts and giving raises to successful coaches like Mike O’Neill (women’s soccer) and Scott Goodale (wrestling). He did mention facilities as a possible issue for success....but he never mentioned baseball or softball. Should he have?

It’s too $%^#$# cold

Now, there will be people who say you’ll never get a top tier baseball program in this area; it’s just too cold. After all, New Brunswick’s average low temperature in April is a balmy 40 degrees. So, fair point, except in the March 27 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll, Michigan (average April low temperature 38) and St. John’s (average April low temperature 44) were numbers 26 and 13 respectively. And “also receiving votes” in the last two polls were - along with their average April low temps - James Madison (38), Maryland (44), Michigan State (35), Old Dominion (49), Oregon (42), Virginia Tech (38), Washington (43), West Virginia (39).

So, cold weather isn’t necessarily a detriment to have a good baseball team. It doesn’t help, but it clearly doesn’t stop it. And for those who need a visual....

What comes to mind next? How about our favorite topic....money.

Can we afford it? (of course not!)

How much does Rutgers spend on baseball compared to others in the conference? From the latest NCAA report obtained through Open Public Records Act requests, we looked at Rutgers along with Michigan and Maryland (both on the NCBW list), as well as Indiana (see tweet below) which, since at least 2012, has had good success in the conference.

Whether head coach salaries, overall program budget, scholarships, or recruiting budget (what budget?) Rutgers is at the bottom of the list among those four schools. This doesn’t even take into account the facilities, which are, for Rutgers, abysmal compared to the others.

Oh, and for the record, Bloomington’s average low temp in April is 42.

Since entering the Big Ten, Rutgers has gone 7-17 (2015) and 9-15 (2016) in conference play, finishing 12th and 11th respectively. There’s always a money issue with Rutgers.

And one more point about money. We talked about donations to Rutgers in a post just a little while ago, but, just for kicks, how much money do you suppose Rutgers brought in through donations to baseball? In 2015-16, it took in $75,962 in donations. And Maryland, just as a comparison? How about $714,515. That’s 60% of the entire Rutgers budget that Maryland raised from gifts!

Recruiting

In his post, David talked about this, and he certainly had a better sense and understanding than me. As he graded each area of the team, he said that recruiting received an Incomplete:

What this regime has done well is recruit gamers....The jury is out so far as the freshmen have not seen too much action so far.... On the recruiting I can tell you from personal experience....that the level of play in baseball has gone down in the state of New Jersey in the last 20 years. For this reason I think the job of recruiting especially when everyone wants to go somewhere warm will really hurt RU and the Big Ten.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program, regardless of the sport. And with the need to find talent - and that may mean outside of New Jersey if, in fact, it’s not that strong here - it’s a difficult task when your budget is as anemic as the one Litterio has to work with. On the flip side, look at Men’s Lacrosse with a recruiting budget of $17,669 and wrestling with $12,202. But look at how much talent those two sports have in their back yards.

Results are the bottom line

Rutgers head coach Joe Litterio, a 1994 RU Grad and baseball letterwinner, spent 12 seasons as the head coach at Wagner. He was the Seahawks winningest coach in program history. His last bio in 2011 on Wagner’s website states:

During Litterio’s 11 seasons the Seahawks have made seven postseason appearances, winning it all in 2000 and finishing second in 2004, after only qualifying once previously in school history.

Known for his ability to recruit throughout the Northeast, specifically the New Jersey area, Litterio has increased his incoming class size nearly every year.

That sounds pretty good; the part that’s not included, though, is that he was also the losingest coach; his 12 year record on Grimes Hill was 240-372-2 (.393). And in 2011, his last year with the Seahawks, Wagner went 18-33 (12-20 NEC). After that season. Litterio moved to Rutgers as an assistant to Fred Hill. Four games into the 2014 season, Hill stepped down and Litterio was named head coach. He was heavily involved in the development of the indoor training facility and the team improved in its APR from 2015 to 2016. That’s good, too.

On the field, RU was 30-25 under Litterio the rest of the way in 2014. That was the one and only year that the Knights competed in the American Athletic Conference.

To date in 2017, Rutgers is 10-14 and on a four game winning streak including yesterday’s 6-4 win over Monmouth. In fairness, most of those losses were down south as RU traditionally faces a bunch of schools in Florida to start the season. It’s a way to get in game conditions in better weather while facing high end competition. That included games against now-No. 16 Virginia, Old Dominion (rec. votes), and now-No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast. And they wrapped up their non-con southern swing with a 3-0 record against South Carolina Upstate (12-14). Sophomore Jawuan Harris hit three home runs in the finale for the 11-3 win in the second game of a Saturday doubleheader.

And if you look at RPI, Rutgers sits at No. 50, ahead of perennial high performers as Auburn and Texas. And it’s the fourth best RPI among Big Ten teams through games of March 26. The next best Big Ten squad is Iowa at 62.

Overall, Rutgers’ record is not as good as the top eight Big Ten teams. But of those eight, only Michigan State (RPI 24), Indiana (RPI 34), and Michigan (RPI 35) have better RPIs than the Knights. So, a tough non-con schedule may have hurt the record but it might show a better performance later.

How about results against teams that face the same weather conditions as Rutgers? Under Litterio, Rutgers has won a good deal more than they’ve lost against them. Since 2014, and through yesterday’s Monmouth game, Rutgers is 24-9 against local rivals. It still has seven out of conference mid-week contests scattered through the rest of the schedule.

But while these are the teams Rutgers is basically recruiting against, we’re in the Big Ten and they’re not. Not that Big Ten teams can’t lose to other D1 schools, but you don’t want to do it against teams against which you recruit. You also don’t want to lose in recruiting. And maybe that recruiting budget noted above says more than anything.

Knights in the pros

The reality is that you don’t get a whole lot of players from the Northeast into the pros. But Rutgers has had its share. Over the last 9 years, there have been eight Knights drafted by MLB teams. Ten others signed free agent contracts at some level of professional ball. Brian O'Grady (2014 Cincinnati Reds - Rd 8, #245), Mark McCoy (2015 Kansas City Royals - Rd 29, #879), and Howie Brey (2016 Houston Astros - Rd 31, #937) were each drafted while Litterio was head coach, but were recruited while Fred Hill was running the show. And let’s not forget Eric Young, Todd Frazier, David DeJesus, and, from the ‘60’s, former Dodger catcher and Mets manager Jeff Torborg. But whether this metric is a true indication of success is debatable.

Closing thoughts and where to next

Rutgers has not been to the NCAA post-season since 2007 which was also its last conference championship.

Baseball is, for the most part, a warm(er) weather sport. Your top teams are in the SEC, the PAC 12, and the Big XII. Or any other conference that has warmer weather than the span of states from Minnesota to New Jersey. But teams in that northern region don’t have to be pushovers, either. Rutgers has had its share of success, but has fallen a few notches in the last decade or so. Why? Can it be changed? Is it facilities, money, coaching, or a combination of all three and perhaps other issues?

Right now, Rutgers appears to be, at best, a middle of the pack team on the diamond. The records have been sub-.500 both in conference and overall. It was not picked to be in the upper half of the Big Ten in the preseason polling. There doesn’t appear to be any immediate message that facility upgrades are on the near horizon. How do you get out of the losing spiral? Is the answer the comment that RUKnight63 made above: clean house and get in a coach who will be “Big Ten ready”? At some point - and I would hope sooner than later - Pat Hobbs is going to have to take a look at all the non-rev coaches, their records and other results, and decide whether this is what Rutgers wants. Bill Parcells used to say you are what your record says you are, but is Litterio’s team better than its record? Is it more in line with its RPI? If the answer to those questions is yes, then they get to show what they can really do beginning Friday afternoon against Maryland at Bainton Field.

If not, then maybe it just might be time to see who else could reset the program.

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