Big Ten Thoughts

March 8, 2010

While I cover Michigan over at mgoblog, I’m going to try and move some of my Big Ten thoughts over to here for the time being. They don’t quite fit the mgoblog scene, but with BigTenHardball gone and BigTenBaseball virtually gone, I think I’ll at least throw some conference wide thoughts out somewhere.

So for now, this will be a place to occasionally – we’ll see if this lasts – discuss some Big Ten baseball for me.

Power Poll

With three weeks of the season in the books, I thought I’d take a look at the Big Ten baseball conference and give my thoughts on where every one stands. I’m breaking this down into two different sub-polls, one on one game only and the other on series. This is who I think would win either of those scenarios, not how well of a season they’re having. This is to be thought of as "if they played today."

Big Ten Power Poll

# One Game   Series
1 Ohio State   Ohio State
2 Michigan   Michigan
3 Minnesota   Michigan State
4 Michigan State   Indiana
5 Indiana   Minnesota
6 Iowa   Iowa
7 Penn State   Penn State
8 Illinois   Illinois
9 Northwestern   Northwestern
10 Purdue   Purdue

Ohio State gets anointed to the front of both lines reluctantly. They’re offense is so strong that they’d be hard for any Big Ten team to beat consistently. Unfortunately, they are the flag bearers for the Big Ten nationally this year. They play no one of import until they have a pair with Louisville late in the season. But that has the pollsters apparently not paying attention to their loss against Saint Louis, allowing OSU to hold on to a #23 rank by the writers.

I had to go with Michigan’s pitching staff second in both sub-polls. They’re the class of the conference, but I don’t think the Wolverines have quite the offense capable of holding off the Buckeyes, especially in a one game series.

From here the sub-polls diverge. Minnesota is the strongest overall team, but their pitching hasn’t held up. If they can focus everything on one game, I take them over any one else. If they have to play a couple games, the Gophers just find new ways to struggle.

Michigan State has the second best pair of starters in the league, and in a one game series, you better believe it will be a low scoring pitchers’ duel. The bull pen isn’t great though, and it’s already caused Coach Boss to over extend Bucciferro for a supposed 150+ pitch start.

Indiana is either pretty good or really lucky this season. And while I say really lucky, you could say that their late inning losses may actually be a bit unlucky. Coach Smith is making something out of nearly nothing this season. This weekend, he threw a couple of guys against Vanderbilt that hadn’t pitched since high school. They managed to take Vandy to 11 innings, while still collecting 2 quality wins on the weekend.

Iowa has the best win in the conference with a win over then ranked #25 Kansas. Between Jared Hippen and Phil Schreiber, Iowa has to decent options at starter, one lefty and one righty respectively.

The Nittany Lions of Penn State are leading the conference in RPI after their second week of games. They went 2-1 in the Challenge, and they split again this weekend in Lamar, where they beat McNeese State and Dallas Baptist, both pretty good baseball schools. The Lions did lose two to Lamar, but Lamar isn’t some slouch team either, as they beat Rice earlier in the week.

Illinois has just one win on the season, coming over Notre Dame in their opener of the Challenge. They’ve had their chances, leading in several different ball games, but they can’t close out their opponents. They still have the talent that they should be able to beat out NU or Purdue.

Northwestern fell a bit this weekend after their good showing in the Challenge. This week featured a loss to Oklahoma State and Minnesota. The Wildcats don’t have much on offense, and their pitching is experienced but not very talented.

Purdue is a black hole. The Boilermakers were swept in the Challenge and just lost two of three at Southern Illinois. As T-Mill at Hammer and Rails told me, their 285 RPI might be rather generous, despite the ranking only being out of 295. This could be a long season in West Lafayette.

I’ll probably do another one of these in two weeks or so, just so we can check in before conference season starts.

Bid Hunting

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the Big Ten is shaping up to be a one bid league. No team is tearing it up and dominating like Big Ten leaders have in years past. Minnesota is one hell of a funk. Michigan lost it’s star and their offense has been sulking over it since. Ohio State has a good offense, but their pitching is thin. Their offense has off days as well, complicating issues. I can’t see any way that multiple teams will make the tournament at this rate.

The only hope is that one of the teams that can keep raising it’s RPI can take a big win or two over the next two weeks. That team, and one of the other high RPI teams need to run away with the conference, and the team that didn’t get that big win before the conference season starts must win the tournament.

The best opportunity for that will be Michigan beating Coastal Carolina and Ohio State to take a mid-week game from Louisville in May. If those two can get those signature wins and run away with the conference, and that is quite possible, I think both can get in.

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Rice’s Glaring Problem

March 4, 2010

Over the last few weeks, Rice University’s baseball team has faced a fairly serious safety risk in the middle of their evening games – the blinding glare from the sun’s reflection off the Hilton Houston Plaza/Medical Center hotel.

During this transition from winter to spring, the sun has aligned itself to reflect perfectly from the building, to the batter’s eye during a pitch. This not only can blind the batter, but also the catcher and the umpire. As you can see in the picture I took below in August 2008, the building is dead center facing the setting sun (the stadium faces southwest).

8.29.08 Michigan vs UL Lafayette 001

Over the course of this season specifically, a "glare delay" has been used at least twice, both for about 30 minutes. Umpires, looking out for the safety of the batter, catcher, and himself, as well as trying not to allow one team an advantage over another, has had to call time and wait it out. My question becomes is there something that Rice can do about this?

Part of the problem is that this issue is only temporary and restricted to a portion of early March, so it would be overkill for Rice to ask for any major costs to avoid about 3 hours of delays over a two or three week period. It would be ridiculous to build a batter’s eye tall enough to block out the building. It would have to be a well over one hundred feet tall and capable of withstanding hurricane force winds. That’s not feasible without building an actual building to block it out, but there’s no space for that either.

Moving mid-week games to the day isn’t a really great idea at an academic institution like Rice who’s players aren’t going to be missing class when they don’t have to. It’s an option, but not a particularly promising one when trying to get other academic institutions to travel to your park in the mid-week. So what we’re looking for is something moderately cheap, perhaps only temporary.

My solution is commercial advertising. By dropping a windscreen-style billboard down the side of the Hilton, the advertisement will diffuse sun rays, greatly reducing the glare. This can also be a profitable enterprise for the Hilton, selling the advertising space to either Rice or another advertiser only during the three week period that sun is a problem at Reckling.

The screen style billboards are not that unattractive, and they do allow those hotel guest staying in the Hilton to have a fairly clear view out of their windows, just slightly tinted. And while air conditioning costs aren’t a huge issue this March, the tinting may also help the Hilton in the warmer March months by blocking out some of the sun’s heat, therefore lowering operating expenses.

It would be interesting to see what Hilton’s view of the advertising may be. They might consider themselves above advertising on the side of the building, but at the same time, there are some potential benefits to them monetarily. Plus , if Rice manages to secure the 3-week advertising spot, it’s publicity to the university not only at their baseball games, but to the area west of the Medical Center.