Stanford baseball is just over the midway point of its season, and it’s fair to say that this season has been nothing short of disappointing for the team. The Cardinal’s record stands at 12-18, and they have yet to win a conference game in nine tries. In fact, both Arizona and Washington swept their first series ever at Sunken Diamond over the last month.
Misfortune might be the most to blame. The injury bug has hit every position of the team: The Cardinal lost each of their top three starting pitchers at the start of March and had each of their three returning positional starters out for long stretches. Still, the pitchers’ lack of command, shoddy defense and sometimes lethargic hitting has also played a role in the team’s recent skid.
The Daily’s Jordan Wallach sat down with head coach Mark Marquess, currently in his 39th year at the helm of the Cardinal squad, to discuss how different this season has been from the coach’s side.
Mark Marquess (MM): There’s a different gauge that you’re evaluating [pitchers] on now; it’s a little bit different, inconsistent. We’re not throwing as many strikes, walking a lot of people, and then combining that with not really having a lot of of our offense.
[Junior outfielder Zach Hoffpauir] was probably the most successful RBI-power guy in our lineup that is really just coming back now. [Junior shortstop Drew Jackson] gave us some steadiness and a speed thing; we lost him and finally get him back now. [Junior designated hitter Austin Barr] really started to hit, but now he’s out for a couple of weeks. And so at one time you’re playing four freshmen in the infield — catcher, first, short and third — and that’s a lot.
You can maybe play young on one side of the ball like we did last year — you can have a young pitching staff if you’re more experienced in the other side. It’s tough to play young or inexperienced in both areas, and that’s kind of where we are.
But it can’t be an excuse because then we’re not going to get better. Obviously nobody is happy with the way we’ve been playing, but there hasn’t been a lack of effort and work. And that’s the key thing especially with the younger guys.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): As a result of everything that’s happened this season, is this one of the hardest coaching jobs that you’ve had?
MM: Yeah, in different ways. Sometimes you’re very talented and very good, and it’s difficult. Because you’re talking about continuing to play hard and doing those other things. There are different challenges.
This team has been probably as good a team to work with in terms of their work ethic, and maybe that’s because they’re inexperienced and really eager, and there’s no real star. Hoffpauir would have been maybe the guy you look to — [sophomore second baseman Tommy Edman] is a really good player but not a Alex Blandino type. It’s very different because it’s not fun to lose, and there’s expectations.
TSD: Have you shifted your mindset to next year, given your record halfway through the season and the amount of injuries that have piled up that would inhibit a stretch run?
MM: Here’s an example: If I really thought that [freshman first baseman Matt Winaker] was going to be a real good player and the season was lost, I’m going to play Winaker no matter if he hits .100 — you might do that. Or a pitcher — he throws it 95 miles per hour, but he can’t win right now — but I’m going to pitch him regardless. Then, you’re not playing to win. You gotta play to win.
More of a situation is like yesterday: We pitched the guys that didn’t pitch, and the guys who haven’t played a lot, we let them take at-bat. So we’re trying to improve them — they have potential, maybe they’ll be starters next year — but we’re not going to play them at the expense of somebody who can help us win. Even a guy that’s a senior. In reality, you might say, “Why would we play a senior if you’re playing for next year? He’s not going to be here.” You can’t do that, and I wouldn’t do that.
You still have to play to win. You get that other person in if you’re ahead or way behind, then you flip that freshman in and give him an at-bat. Or you give him extra work tomorrow or in the non-league. You let the older guys sit down for a time or rotate the experienced players. You want to develop the younger talent, but you can’t throw in the towel and not try to win. That’s not fair to the seniors, because it’s all about trying to win.
Now the flipside of that is, that really hasn’t been a problem because I’ve barely had enough players to play. I’m asked, “Well, why didn’t you pinch hit for that one?” Because there’s nobody else to pinch hit. So in some ways, it’s easier. [laughing]
It’s frustrating. It’s difficult for everybody, it really is. And what you really have to do is just making sure, “Are we getting better?” And that’s tough, that’s what you need to do.
TSD: Do you have a different day-to-day mindset this season compared to others?
MM: A lot more teaching. I do a lot — which I rarely would do — during the game. A lot of times, if something happens defensively or offensively, I’ll go to those guys that are not playing: “This is what he should do here.” Or a lot of times, when a hitter makes an out — which I would rarely do with a freshman — I’ll have him come talk to me right after the at-bat: “This is what you should have done in this situation.”
With an experienced team or whatever, or if that third hitter wasn’t a freshman, I wouldn’t talk to him — I would talk to maybe the freshman who’s hitting eighth or ninth the next day.
Whereas, a lot of times, if you don’t address it at the time, it gets away from them. So it becomes a lot more of a teaching situation, a lot more individual work, a lot more hitting — not hitting 10 to 12 guys at the same time, hitting two or three at a time so you can slow it down. So they can ask questions, a lot more individual stuff. Same with pitchers — a lot more teaching. And making sure they don’t get too discouraged so they don’t get frustrated. It’s hard.
TSD: It’s been especially hard with the losses piling up, no?
MM: Absolutely. And all these guys have been successful in high school. Maybe they don’t appreciate — they assume they can do it.
There are reasons for [the struggles], but you can’t accept them. “You can’t win, you’re just too young, you’ve lost all your guys.” That may be the truth — but I’ve always felt as a coach, you really can’t evaluate your team until after the season’s over. Because if you say, “Hey, we’re not very good,” then we’re not going to work to get better. If you say, “Hey, we’re really good,” it could go the other way too. You don’t do enough. But for sure here, we have to do more teaching because of where we are — we’re so young and inexperienced.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.