Big Ten Baseball: A Scheduling Conundrum

August 1, 2010

While this isn’t a pressing issue at all, there is an upcoming problem facing the Big Ten’s baseball scheduler. Unlike most other sports teams in the Big Ten over the last few years, baseball has been blessed with an even 10 teams. With Wisconsin not fielding a team since the early 90s, and the addition of Penn State shortly thereafter, the conference has been able to avoid bye weeks.

Starting next year with Nebraska’s move to the conference, the baseball standings will stretch to an 11th team, complicating scheduling that’s already hampered by weather. A bye week is now mandatory as only 10 teams can play each other while the 11th sits dormant.

That bye situation is tougher to deal with than it might seem. This means that you must have an odd number of byes every week if you have more than one team with a bye (11 teams with 2 byes means 9 teams for 5 games, someone still not playing someone). This necessity for at least one bye per week makes the 8 week schedule impossible. At least one week will require an even number of byes.

Adding a Week to the Conference Season

With that, the primary option would be to change the length of the conference regular season*. There’s two ways to do that, adding the week to the front of the regular season or dropping the conference tournament. Both of those have their pros and cons.

In moving the start to the conference season up a week, the conference tournament and it’s RPI boost/potential extra bid to the NCAA tournament is preserved. That’s arguably a good thing. The downside to starting the conference season a week earlier is the plight that is northern baseball. That weekend is usually teams’ first attempts at baseball outside, and the weather that weekend has a history of snow and rain outs. This past year, teams were lucky. Hedging that bet might not be best for teams.

The second option is to drop the conference tournament and add a ninth week of games where the conference tournament once stood. This idea seems reasonable as the conference tournament hasn’t really been a force in getting extra teams into the NCAA that win. Indiana is the only recent team to get a huge RPI boost in winning the auto-bid, but they were two-and-out of the NCAAs. The tournament also isn’t a money-maker for the conference, especially when you put the predetermined spot on a campus that’s not participating.

But despite some of those slight positives, would-be tournament teams do lose the opportunity to boost their RPI, and teams lose that chance to play their way into the NCAAs. Both of those are tough losses for some programs.

I think the option of changing the season length like this would be the most logical option, but let’s look at other ideas.

*I’ll point out that if the expansion of the season (post Uniform Start Date) added a week to the beginning of the season instead of the end of the season, as argued by many of the northern baseball schools. Had the rules committee, the city of Omaha/CWS, and ESPN been able to broker the deal to have it added to the end of the season, all this would be moot

Six Conference Series

A second option that would be viable is to drop the conference regular season to just 7 weeks, and have teams play only 6 conference series before the tournament. This gives teams the opportunity to try and schedule another pair of non-conference series, one during what used to be the first weekend of conference play and another during their bye.

This gets a bit tricky as many of the northern teams have enough trouble trying to schedule opponents for home series (see the tomato cans like IPFW and Oakland that Michigan has scheduled recently). Finding a quality opponent willing to travel north that late in the season is going to be near impossible. That leaves RPI vacuums from the Horizon League, Missouri Valley, Summit League, or Ohio Valley Conferences as likely culprits to drain teams’ RPIs.

To alleviate this problem, the conference could go back to 4-game weekends and just leave the bye as an actual bye week. This would put the conference season back to 24 games, where it was before expansion. This seems like a capable scenario, but it’ll be interesting to see how coaches view this. The reason 4-game series were dropped was to reduce RPI loss against the lower teams in the Big Ten and to save their pitching depth, as 4 games tended to drain everything they had.

Divisions Fail

As far as divisional structure, things get no better here. With 11 teams, one division is going to have an odd number of teams. This just complicates all of the previous scheduling to the point of not working at all.

For example, if the 6-team division plays each of it’s five division rivals, it has played 5 series. The 5-team division will have played 4 series. How do they make up that lost series? Do they get a bye weekend and the 6-team division not? Is that fair? I would say definitely not. And it’s not like they could play an extra week of divisional games (like playing a divisional opponent a second time). One team would have a bye and still not play an extra series.

This just can’t work.

Conclusions

The only way I see the conference schedule working out is by adjusting the season length. I don’t think coaches would really go for the 4 game weekends, and I’m not sure I see the coaches wanting to drop the conference tournament. This means that adding a week to the beginning of the conference season is the only logical approach.

It sounds like baseball fans need to invest in a better set of blankets. That weekend in early March isn’t the home opener against a tomato can that you can just skip guilt free.


Early Look at All Big Ten Teams

May 20, 2010

There’s no doubting that I’m excited for this weekend’s series to get underway so the most exciting pennant race in college baseball, for those who notice it at least, can hit high gear. As we enter the last week of regular season play, I’ve started to form a rough draft on All-Big Ten teams.

Creating the teams was pretty tough. I focused more on a balance of offense and defense, with a slight emphasis on the former. Some emphasis was also added for ending the season well, so players like Purdue’s Wurdack receive recognition even if their season numbers aren’t the greatest. Certain positions, like second base and the outfield (surprisingly) weren’t so tough. Others, like catcher and first are pretty stacked with talent. Then you have the left side of the infield, which is WAY weaker than anywhere else on the field by miles.

First team:

  • SP – Alex Wimmers (OSU)
  • SP – Matt Bischoff (Purdue)
  • SP – Phil Isaksson (Minnesota)
  • RP – David Lutz (Penn State)
  • C – Chris Berset (Michigan)
  • 1B – Jeff Sabourin (Indiana)
  • 2B – Ryan Jones (Michigan State)
  • 3B – Cory Rupert (Ohio State)
  • SS – Nick Overmyer (Purdue)
  • LF – Ryan LaMarre (Michigan)
  • CF – Zach Hurley (Ohio State)
  • RF – Alex Dickerson (Indiana)
  • DH – Josh Lyon (Indiana)

Second Team:

  • SP – TJ Oakes (Minnesota)
  • SP – Jarred Hippen (Iowa)
  • SP – AJ Achter (Michigan State)
  • RP – Tyler Burgoon (Michigan)
  • C – Ben Heath (Penn State)
  • 1B – Paul Snieder (Northwestern)*
  • 2B – Zach Morton (Northwestern)
  • 3B – Zach McCool (Iowa)
  • SS – Jonathon Roof (Michigan State)
  • OF– Brandon Eckerle (Michigan State)
  • OF – Kurtis Muller (Iowa)
  • OF – Eli Boike (Michigan State)
  • DH – Michael Stephens (Ohio State)

*Also 3rd team RP

Third Team:

  • SP – Drew Leininger (Indiana)
  • SP – Francis Brooke (Northwestern)
  • SP – Drew Wurdack (Purdue)
  • C – Chad Noble (Northwestern)
  • 1B – Jeff Holm (Michigan State)
  • 2B – Cory Kovanda (Ohio State)
  • 3B – Torsten Boss (Michigan State)
  • SS – Ethan Wilson (Indiana)
  • OF– Michael Kvasnicka (Minnesota)
  • OF – Steve Snyder (Penn State)
  • OF – Michael Earley (Indiana)
  • DH – Coley Crank (Michigan)

Freshman

  • SP – Brett McKinney (Ohio State)
  • SP – TJ  Oakes (Minnesota)
  • SP – Kevin Johnson (Illinois)
  • RP – Steven Hill (Penn State)
  • C – Kevin Plawecki (Purdue)
  • 1B – ????
  • 2B – Ryan Jones (Michigan State)
  • 3B – Cameron Perkins (Purdue)
  • SS – Derek Dennis (Michigan)
  • OF– Patrick Biondi (Michigan)
  • OF – Arby Fields (Northwestern)
  • OF – Steve Snyder (Penn State)
  • DH – Torsten Boss (Michigan State)

The All-Big Ten overall teams seem to be pretty fair. Picking a third string shortstop was horrible. Pick anyone not listed already, and you can probably make a case for them. Well, maybe not Tyler Engle at Ohio State, but the other 7 shortstops are all about the same.

The other position that I’m having trouble filling is freshman first baseman. Is there a freshman that’s played enough first base to remotely qualify? If so, they get in by default of no one else even registering on the radar.

One weekend to go, time for the players to make their final pushes.


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.


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.


I’ve Been Bought Out

July 24, 2009

News finally broke today that VarsityBlue, my home to Michigan baseball coverage the last 5 months, has been absorbed by MGoBlog – the leader in University of Michigan sports coverage not related to the actual school.  For those of you not familiar with the sports blogging world, Brian, the creator of MGoBlog, is widely heralded for being an innovator when it comes to the medium (college sporting blogs related to a specific school, and to an extent, college sports in general).  His site, created as a writing outlet for a fan, has grown into one of the largest individual sites dedicated to college football.  He became so successful that he was able to give up his job as an software engineer and do the blog full time – and for good money.

Now, after experimenting with a recruiting correspondent for a few months, Brian is looking to absorb VarsityBlue with Tim as a lead reporter, Paul as an Ann Arbor based correspondent (Tim’s not always in Ann Arbor), and me doing baseball.   This is a great chance for me to increase exposure of not only Michigan baseball, but my own writing.  I’m not opposed to either of those, obviously.  Really, that goals post was written the day before I found out there were plans for the absorbtion.  At least I have a plan to put towards Brian now at least?

So while details on my role have been sparse, I’m hoping to start getting things kicking in the next few weeks.  I’ve got to discuss with Brian his thoughts on other minor sports, particularly ones that happen during football season.  I’ve got some ideas about limited volleyball coverage, but I need to run it by him.  The goal of the merger appears to be making MGoBlog into the media center for Michigan sports coverage, which means any new coverage would be warranted.  Brian’s already discussing the problem of providing too much content, which is a very valid concern.  If there’s too much, people will just be overwhelmed by the content.  I’ll play it by ear.

Also, with the transition to MGoBlog, I’m contemplating my current use of anonymity.  With VarsityBlue, as well as commenting on MGoBlog for the last two years, I’ve stuck with the tag name of formerlyanonymous.  I’m contemplating going to my real name for posting there not only for exposure, but more importantly for validity.  By putting my name to my work, I’m taking a larger responsibility in what I say and think.  I can’t hide behind the faceless entity of “formerlyanonymous.”  I would put my work to my name, which will help with my credibility as a writer.  Plus, I mean it makes me even more “formerly anonymous.”  And who doesn’t like clever tags like that?

I’ll be updating some links, tags, and categories on here in the meantime.  Once I know how the new MGoBlog will work, I’ll provide an update along with creating an RSS feed of posts on the new big site.

Excitement.


Draft: Half Way Through

April 18, 2009

Disclaimer: This post will be updated and posted on VB on either Monday or Tuesday after the Recap comes out.  I just wanted to get on it before I got busy with school and work on Monday.

With the Michigan State Series wrapping up today, the BigTen Conference season has reached the midpoint.  The conference season hasn’t fared so well for Michigan, obviously, as the Wolverines are currently 4-7 in 8th place.  Lets take a look back at what we’ve seen, then look forward to what we have left to know what we have to do to make a solid run, and finally end up with my projections to the finish.

Where We’ve Been

@Iowa
Series Record 2-1
Scores 4-3 1-2 7-5
Game 1 Fetter gives up 3 early, but clamps down for the CG, and the comeback win
Game 2 Katzman/Miller/Burgoon combine to 6-hit Iowa but lose as we have no offense
Game 3 With snow piled up in the warning track, an ugly game defensively for both teams.  We out hit and take advantage of 5 Iowa errors.
Outlook then We should have swept, but this series shouldn’t affect a tournament bid.

We should have swept.  Iowa is one of only two teams below us in the standings.  We definitely need that win now. Iowa’s season has been a slow spiral downward. They took one game from Purdue, were swept by Indiana, and split with Northwestern. Iowa isn’t a good team and we squandered that game.

vs Penn State
Series Record 1-2
Scores 4-6 (10) 9-5 5-16
Game 1 Fetter gives up 3 in the 4th and 1 in the fifth, but offense went to sleep and Miller gave up two in the 10th.
Game 2 Katzman pitched well, but PSU scored a 5 spot late from a LaMarre error, we scored 5 to answer in the bottom of that inning.
Game 3 We never stood a chance as Smith/Wilson/Sinnery/Gerbe give up 16 runs(12 earned).  Total blowout.
Outlook then My expectations for the team are falling pretty fast. With the massive amount of inconsistency, added with the sloppy play all weekend on defense, I’m not sure we get higher than a 4 seed in the BTT now.

We’re pretty equal to Penn State.  They are currently right at .500 in conference play.  We’ll be fighting them head to head for a 6th spot in the tournament.  Losing the series to them hurts as it is the tie breaker.

vs Illinois
Series Record 1-2
Scores 4-2 8-10 5-11
Game 1 Fetter goes the distance again with 13 Ks. Offense scrapes by.
Game 2 We knock out the Big10s best pitcher (along with possible injury) out after 1 inning.  Sloppy defense in the 5th gives up 5 runs.
Game 3 Alan Oaks kept the team in the game after a shaky Smith start.  Unfortunately he stayed in about 3 batters too long, leading to a late 4 run inning.
Outlook then I don’t think this was too bad of a weekend for the team. Illinois is one of the better teams in the conference this season, especially in the pitching department. There were a few lapses though, especially on defense.

This still wasn’t a bad series.  We could have performed a little bit better, but the outcome is about what I would have expected.  Illinois is a strong team and toward the top of the BigTen standings.  They’ll be a top 3 seed in the tournament.

@/vs Michigan State
Series Record 0-2
Scores 7-8 (11) 1-3 0-0
Game 1 Fetter gives up 3 (1 earned) in 8 innings, leaving with the lead. Burgoon blows the save by overthrowing 2nd base on a sac bunt.  He blows the win again in the 10th giving up 2 earned runs.  Katzman takes the loss in the 11th.
Game 2 Alan Oaks throws the game of his career, 7.2 innings, 3 Rs, 5 BB, 4 K. No offense as we only get 5 total bases.
Game 3 TBD
Outlook then TBD

Then is now. It still sucks.  Michigan State defends their homefield well, but we would have won Game 1 if not for the bullpen.  We should have won Game 2 if not for the lack of offense.  Would have, should have, didn’t.

Where We’re Going

Indiana (6-3):  The Hoosiers are a great hitting team and have probably the best offensive player in the BigTen with Josh Phegley.  The Hoosiers have players in the top 3 of nearly every offensive category in BigTen play.  They also rank third in the league in strikeouts.  The Hoosiers split a pair with Minnesota, took 2 of 3 from Illinois, swept Iowa, and took 2 of 3 from Penn State.   We may take one game in this series.  I fear the Sunday game.

@#26 Ohio State (7-3): Everything the Hoosiers do, Ohio State does better.  The Buckeyes sit atop the BigTen standing and will have a hostile home crowd.  They took 2 from Penn State, 1 from Minnesota, swept Michigan State, and swept Purdue.  My prediction: pain.  I again think we have a shot to win a game, but it’s not a very high chance.  The one thing we’ve got going for us is no midweek games so the entire bullpen should be rested.  Game 1 of Fetter vs Wimmers should be epic (aka most of you will find it boring as all hell).

Minnesota (7-3): Minnesota completes our three game streak of tough competition.  The Gophers are ranked in some polls – deservedly so.  Offensively, their numbers match up to Michigan’s very well, but they get that extra hit to drive in the run where Michigan has failed consistently all year.  On the pitching side, they are exactly opposite of Michigan… they are consistently good.  Minnesota split a pair with Indiana, took 2 of three from Ohio State, swept Northwestern, and took 1 of three from Illinois.  The outlook doesn’t look good right now.  It’ll be a struggle to win a game here.  The only good news I can offer is we do better against good pitchers than we do meh pitchers.

@Northwestern (2-7):  Northwestern is the worst team in the BigTen.  They are the worst hitting team in the BigTen and they don’t pitch particularly well.  They rival Michigan State for fewest strikeouts, but sit 7th in BigTen team ERA.  I see us winning at least two games in this series, most likely a sweep.  But as we’ve seen all season, we have a tendency to blow games to inferior teams.

I really think we end up with 6 or 7 wins out of that schedule, especially the way we’re playing right now.  That leaves us with a conference record around 10-13 or 11-12 for the season.  The cut of for the tournament is historically around 12 wins (actually ~=16 wins, but we moved from 4 game series to 3 this year, 16*.75=12).  We’ll be very close to making the 6 seed to keep our 6 year conference tournament streak alive.


Mid Week Closeout: Central Michigan

April 9, 2009

Now that I’ve let the nerves and stomach settle from the initial reactions to the awful box score, I’ll actually comment on last night’s game against CMU. For those of you who couldn’t pick up from the first sentence of this paragraph, or even my ambiguous post about softball, the Michigan baseball team lost in embarrassing fashion to Central Michigan on Wednesday – 10-2 the final score.

The game featured 7 Wolverine pitchers making a trip to the mound.  Coach Maloney was seeking some sort of spark from the starting rotation and started freshman Kevin Vangheluwe, but, as many other things with Michigan baseball lately, when it rains it pours, completely dousing any chance of a spark to happen. Kevin couldn’t make it out of the second inning, giving up 4 runs while only recording 2 outs.

Things never got much better after that. Wilson gave up a run in 1.1 innings, Matt Miller gave up 2 runs (1 earned), and Brandon Sinnery gave up 3 runs in 0.1 innings. The good news is Travis Smith looked good in the short 1.1 inning appearance, as did Kolby Wood and Alan Oaks throwing a perfect 2.2 innings to finish the game.

Defense wasn’t much prettier. Along with a throwing error on a double play chance by Toth and a throwing error on a bunt single by Lorenz, there were several reported brain lapses on the field. Nick Urban was pulled from third base after failing to cover third base, allowing a pair of runners to advance. Five(!) balls hit to the outfield should have been caught but weren’t. One I give Fellows a break for as he slipped on the turf that was still wet from the snow last weekend, but the other four could – and most probably should – have been caught, including the play in this picture from Liesa Thompson at the Ann Arbor News:

That's a catch that should be made.

We didn’t do well behind the plate either.  Kalczynski had his 9th passed ball of the year.  He bobbled another transition on a base stealing attempt, dropping the ball.  He would eventually be replaced by McLouth during the middle of that same inning during a pitching change.  That pitching change?  It was on an 0-2 count when Maloney pulled Sinnery.  Pulling a pitcher on 0-2?  What’s going on?

The offense was anemic this game.  Despite Alan Oaks great outing on the mound, his plate appearances were atrocious.  He went 0/4 with 2 Ks, a foul out to second base, and a 4-6-3 double play.  He stranded 4 runners on base to end innings.

The 6 hits Michigan mustered came from 6 different players. Fellows, Cislo, LaMarre, Dufek, Crank, Kalczynski each had a hit-a-piece, Cislo and LaMarre’s being doubles.  The team only managed multiple hits in one inning, the 8th, where they scored just one run.  The run in the 9th came by walks and errors on behalf of CMU.

If you want a positive in all this, we only stranded 6 runners (would have been 2 more if not for a pair of grounded into double plays) and we only struck out 7 times… only 7 times….

In defense of some of the hitting, Coach Maloney made an attempt to stir up the lineup in this game.  The starting lineup looked like this:

  • Fellows, Kenny lf
  • Toth, Anthony ss
  • Cislo, Kevin 2b
  • LaMarre, Ryan cf
  • Dufek, Mike 1b
  • Urban, Nick 3b
  • Crank, Coley dh
  • Oaks, Alan rf/p
  • Kalczynski, Tim c

Some of this makes some sense.  Toth has raised his average to a point where he would look attractive in the 2-hole.  Fellows is getting on base enough and has the ability to steal bases; he’s alright for a 1-hole, but not the most attractive choice.  Alan Oaks dropping down makes sense with the bottom of this line up, too.  Kalczynski makes sense in the 9-hole as well as he has been doing a little bit better about getting on base.

What’s Going On?

Michigan isn’t the same team its been the last few years.  We lost the best team we’ve had since the CWS runs in the 80s.  We have a group of 5 walk ons that lead the team.  Two of them were either cut or virtually told to go elsewhere for playing time:

Coach Rich Maloney cut Kenny Fellows from the University of Michigan baseball team during his freshman-season tryout. Two years later, Maloney told Tim Kalczynski he could transfer if he wanted playing time.

We have several players playing out of their original positions.  Urban was a walk-on middle infielder turned outfielder who is occasionally thrown into third base.  Kalczynski was once a walk-on outfielder playing catcher and occasionally third base.

Add in our youth and inexperience, and you’ve some problems.  Lorenz is a true freshman who didn’t even play his senior year of high school ball.  McLouth and Crank are making the best they can of their early playing time, but neither has been that consistent.   They’re freshman.

Once you start looking at the scholarship players, many of them are just in their first year of starting as well.  Michigan lost Nate Recknagel, Adam Abraham, Jason Christian, Leif Mahler, and Zach Putnam this off season from the offensive starting lineup.  Berset, Dufek, and LaMarre contributed a lot, but they weren’t the leaders.  They will hopefully be that one day, but right now they are just sophomores and juniors.

Kevin Cislo is the player I’m looking to right now to pick up the team.  Maybe this is why Coach Maloney moved him to the three hole.  Put him right in the middle of everything and see what happens.  Let him try and spark the team.  Let him lead.  The problem with this is Kevin isn’t a three hole hitter.  Unlike Iowa who can throw Toole in the center of the lineup to generate offense, Michigan doesn’t have the same team build.  We have power hitters, they need runners on in front of them who can move themselves into scoring position to be hit in.

Pitching isn’t much different than the offense.  We don’t have experience.  What experience we have in the starting staff is either very good (Fetter) or meh (Wilson).  Katzman is in his first season as a starter. Smith hasn’t had a full season of starts yet and he’s just a sophomore.   In relief, we don’t have that dominate guy.  As much as I hoped Burgoon would be that guy, he’s not.

We’re a young team; we’re an unexperienced team.  We’re a not that great team.  It is what it is.

How Do We Fix It?

This is the toughest question on Maloney’s mind I’m sure.  I think we have two options at this point.

1)  We need an upperclassman to step up and really take over this team.  He needs to call a players only meeting and say all those right things, but more importantly, he needs to back it up with his play on the field.  He needs to be the enforcer, not Coach Maloney. He needs to be the one picking up guys.  He needs to be the one getting on a guys case when he’s out of position.

During the preseason, and even into the first few weeks of the season, I thought Chris Berset was going to be the one to do this.  I thought this was Chris’s team to take over.  Maybe its the catcher in me that makes me feel this, but the catcher that runs much of the show.  Sure its probably coincidence that we went from 7-2 with Berset to only 11-9 without him.  I think his value to our lineup cannot be matched from Crank and Kalczynski, neither can his leadership.  I’m not sure when he’s due back, but its not soon enough.

2) Our hitting coach (whether that be Maloney and Ust) has to step up his game.  Something has to be done about our strikeout rate.  Something has to be done about moving runners into scoring position and knocking them in.

The worst thing that can happen now is the team starts putting too much unnecessary pressure on themselves.  That will just force more bad habits.