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.

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Goals for Michigan Baseball on Varsity Blue

July 3, 2009

This is more something for me, but perhaps some of you might be interested in what I’m working on.-FA

While my posts here at formerlyanonymous are of the sporadic, as-it-happens sort of substance, my posts at VarsityBlue are much more targeted.  It’s plainly obvious that much of what I do there is rehash games and add a little extra opinion to the standard press releases offered by MGoBlue.  My goal for next season is to increase that coverage a little bit more.  I want to help encapsulate the history and tradition that makes Michigan baseball the storied program that it is.

Most people, even pretty strong Michigan fans, don’t have any idea of the baseball juggernaut the Wolverines used to be.  This is a real shame, because, along with winning, all a fan wants is that their team be meaningful.  With the state of college baseball being what it is – south dominates and the north is left to be “mid major” or worse despite having well over half the teams – it’s very easy for fans to be lost when it comes to Michigan baseball.  It’s a non-revenue sport.  It’s played for the most part after students are already off campus.  The stadium is tucked away from the main streets of campus.  There just isn’t much enthusiasm to see games in potential snow storms.  There are just way too many factors against it.

I know I’m not going to change those factors.  What I can do is get people excited about history and tradition, something I’ve found many Michigan fans value more than common sense (see: #1 jersey mess of last year).  The following are some of the ways I’m thinking about cashing in on nostalgia:

  • A series on “Players Past.”  Included in this would be a list of the most famous of Michigan baseball players.  I’d give a bio of players such as George Sisler, Bill Freehan, and Barry Larkin.  I also want a separate section on players currently in professional baseball, both majors and minors.
  • Michigan Records.  This one is a little bit harder with the resources I have available.  I’d like to get a list of Michigan team records, Michigan BigTen records (I have a copy of this), and anything else where Michigan is the “Leaders and Best” type-things.  Comparing Michigan’s overall record and # of wins to the NCAA.  To start the 2009 year, we were #4 in total wins (still #4 as Stanford is 40 games behind us) and #18 in winning percentage (fell to at least #19 behind Texas A&M this season).
  • World Series Recaps.  While Michigan hasn’t made it to a CWS in a long time, they still have a couple appearances.  I want to recap these big moments.
  • The NCAA violations.  With the 1989 sanctions, I think its important that fans get the whole picture, not just the happy moments.  If anything, we can compare it to the basketball sanctions, showing how far a program can come when down.

After that, I’m planning on havnig my season previews much like last year.  I’ll start with the recent class of seniors that left.  Then I’ll move to returners on the mound, recapping their 2009 campaign and summer ball where available.  Then I’ll move to the offense/defense and do the same.  I’ll probably pepper in the new guys with the returners as there is little I’ll know about them going in.

I’ve already got a good jump on the “Players Past” section, with 5 already completed and a couple more on the way later this week.  I think the big plan is to have as much of the early season stuff done early so I get a good jump on next year.  I found that this last season was so quick to escalate into a regular thing that I really felt overworked in the first few weeks.  It started with just a few previews over at Maizenbrew and all of a sudden, I get a call to post on VarsityBlue regularly.

As far as after the preseason, the other thing I really want to work on is obtaining interviews.  It’s going to be a little bit harder to do this from Houston, but I’d like to get an interview with either players, or even possibly Coach Maloney here or there.  If things work well enough, possibly even ex-players.  I find interviews offer the best view into how a team is performing and what players are like.  I’ll be the first to admit that what draws me into baseball is the personalities.  While I haven’t met any of the current players, I have pseudo-personality traits for many of them.  Each guy is one I can’t help but root for.  Things like the Captain’s Corner Blog on MGoBlue just solidified those personalities.  It was great.  I want to be able to share these kids with more fans.  They deserve it, and I really think interviews are a great way to bring that out.

So with that, I think I have my two goals for the next year.  First, I want a tradition laden preseason – something to draw in a few extra fans.  Second, I want to get at least one good interview.


Q&A with Behind the Plate

April 20, 2009

So comes another weekend series against a BigTen foe with a blog. I like it. This week I’ll be doing some Q&A with


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.


Talkin’ Baseball with Illinois Baseball Report

April 8, 2009

As an alternative to the in depth preview of Illinois, I participated in a little bit of Q&A with Illinois’s baseball blogger Tom Nelshoppen, formerly with Baseball Zealot. The new site is Illinois Baseball Report, and it does some great justice to the college baseball program in Champaign. Tom works in the IT department for UI and is an avid baseball fan. The guy covers baseball as I could only dream from this distance.

To see my half of the Q&A, visit the IBR. I’m growing less positive, but I swear I’m trying to leave some hope. As I said, this will be the alternative to the in depth preview as it covers a lot of what I do already. I’ll still have a short post up for the weekend on Friday morning for final notes, media, and probable pitchers. On to the questions:

Question 1:

I see last year’s closer Ben Reeser has made the jump to starter most impressively this season, but despite his shiny 2.01 ERA and 12:37 walk-to-strikeout ration, he’s only accumulated 3 wins in 6 starts. Is it the bullpen or the lack of offense that is keeping his win total down?

Arggh! You just made me flash back to last Saturday’s loss against Indiana when Reeser was just one strike away from a 1-0 shutout. So in that case, yes, it was a case of lack of offense. I’m sure that was a tough one for Ben.

Reeser’s pitched great all year and has just been the recipient of some tough luck no-decisions. Fortunately, many have been wins for the Illini.

Question 2:

Speaking of pitching, I can’t help but notice these ERA and opponent batting average numbers for Illinois starters. I’ve heard all sorts of positives from the LSU series, but just how good is this starting pitching staff?

http://www.fightingillini.com/sports/m-basebl/spec-rel/ill-m-basebl-CumulativeStats.html

More specifically, which three starters do we see and who is the weakest link, if one exists?

No doubt we have good pitching but it’s the depth in Illinois’ rotation that has really helped them. Pitchers like Will Strack, Bryan Roberts and Lee Zerrusen have really stepped in when we needed them. Strack surprised some with his shutout against Michigan State two weekends ago. And every time I look at Roberts’ ERA and do a double take because he’s only allowed three runs in past three starts over 21 innings.

This weekend, my guess is that you will see Phil Haig (who had a rough last couple starts but I think he’s coming around), Reeser, and Roberts.

If the Orange and Blue can avoid the big inning by Michigan, they’ll do okay.

Question 3:

Looking over the offense, the Illini have some impressive batting averages (team: .313, starters: .327) and some decent but not great extra base hit totals – 7th in slugging percentage in the Big10. It appears Brandon Wickoff is still an absolute monster (.402 BA, 25 R, .529 slugging, only 4 K in 102 ABs). Is he still batting third and is there a way to pitch around him? Are the batters behind him that much of a threat?

Wikoff is indeed a catalyst on our team. Last night against Bradley, he continued his torrid pace by hitting for the cycle (first Illini to do so since 1990) raising his average to .421. It goes without saying that Wik is an essential part of our offense.

That said, our offensive threat continues all the way down the lineup. If Michigan pitchers want to pitch around Wikoff, be my guest. Cleanup hitter Dom Altobelli is an obvious threat at the plate (.333, 26 rbis) and #5 guy Aaron Johnson simply loves to hit with runners on base (.366, 4 hr, 28 rbi).

Question 4:

On defense, third basemen Altobelli’s fielding percentage at third base. Is he having trouble with run of the mill ground balls, throwing the ball across the diamond, slow rolling bunts, or a little bit of everything? Or, is he just the recipient of some bad luck? I can’t see his bat leaving the lineup, so do you think Michigan will test him at the hot corner?

It’s true, defense has been an issue for Altobelli, especially during the early part of the year. But rumor has it, he’s been working on it. Those who watched the Indiana series last weekend saw the difference. He made the plays he should have and maybe some others wouldn’t have.

I’m expecting the improvement to continue.

Question 5:

Speaking of defense, Illinois appears to be collecting quite a few double plays this season. They rank 9th in the nation in double plays per game by the last NCAA statistics release (3/29/09). Michigan has been all about crippling double plays at times this season (see: Arizona currently leading the nation in double plays per game). Are we going to see a lot of sinking fastballs and splitters this weekend? If so, who from?

Wow, I hadn’t seen that. Since our pitchers don’t strike out a whole lot of batters (Reeser excepted), placement of the pitch is so important. Fortunately, they do it well, keeping the ball down.

Our keystone combination of Brandon Wikoff and Josh Parr are above par (sorry, I couldn’t resist) so I give them a lot of credit for those numbers.

By the way, I just noticed that Indiana surpassed Illinois in DP numbers this week.

Question 6:

Speaking of Michigan crippling itself, Illinois doesn’t appear to be dominating in the strikeout column. I don’t even have a question for you. I just wanted to point out that I think the Illini Ks-per-9-innings is going up this weekend. Call it a hunch.

Hehe, that may be. Your point is well taken about Illinois’ strikeout rate. Reeser has 37 Ks in 40+ innings but no other starter approaches that (though Roberts’ is decent at 25 Ks in 30 2/3). Phil Haig doesn’t strike out a ton of batters but his walk rate is good.

Question 7:

How is starting second baseman Josh Parr doing? I noticed he left a game this last weekend against Indiana. Nothing serious I hope? Would Bonadonna take over second base if he is out? And speaking of Bonadonna, what happened with him? I see he’s still stealing bases like a mad man, but the average has plummeted from last year.

Thanks for asking. The word is that Parr will be back for this coming weekend’s series against Michigan. He made an appearance last night against Bradley as a pinch hitter. I’m glad to hear it since Parr has been an invaluable part of this team from the very start (4 for 4 in his college debut).

As for Joe Bonadonna, Coach Hartleb had confidence in him in the early part of the season when his batting average was quite low. It was a good call because I think it’s starting to pay off. Bonadonna had a key role in a couple games that really paid off for the team. He’s starting to turn it around offensively.

Besides that, Bonadonna brings so much more to the game. You already alluded to the baserunning aspect. His defense in centerfield is superb as we found out last weekend against Indiana. Finally, Joe is starting to develop as a leader within the clubhouse and the dugout. I’m keeping an eye on him.

So that concludes this part of the Q&A, remember to check in with IBR for my answers to Tom’s questions. Thanks so much to Tom for making this happen.

Now, on to more pressing matters, like brushing my teeth… I just opened the CMU box score and threw up a bit in my mouth. [formerlyanonymous shutters then walks away slowly. /scene]


Mid-Week Matchup: Indigenous Native American Week

April 7, 2009

I’ll update this before it gets posted on Varsity Blue tomorrow, hopefully with a better idea of who’s pitching. -FA

Since midweek games now mean absolutely nothing toward the Michigan campaign to reach the NCAA tournament, they will start getting less coverage.  This week we face off with Central Michigan Chippewas (the first of two Indian tribes visiting Ann Arbor this week), who, like most other midweek games we’ve played this season, are not supposed to be that good.

Weather for the game appears to be a mass improvement over the start of the week:

Generally sunny despite a few afternoon clouds. Slight chance of a rain shower. High 52F. Winds W at 10 to 20 mph.

West winds means straight in from right.  Don’t look for too many to carry over the Blue Brick Monster.

For Central Michigan

My guess for starter is last week’s midweek guy, freshman lefty Rick Dodridge, who just came off his career best start.

http://www.cmuchippewas.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=46417&SPID=4207&DB_OEM_ID=10500&ATCLID=3704723

The win over Wayne State was good enough to win MAC Western Division Pitcher of the Week.  The CMU sports information directors haven’t released the probable pitchers for the week, so I’m going to guess this guy.

Things to note about CMU:

  • Their batters walk… alot.  They currently rank 16th in the nation.
  • Their pitchers strike out plenty of batters.  They rank 60th with 8Ks/9IP.
  • They rank top 100 also in: Runs Scored (not runs per game however), Stolen Bases, Sac Bunts, and Double Plays (not DPs per game however).
  • Nate Theunissen is their power hitter with 28 RBI, 5 HR, 2 3B, and 5 2B (.621 slugging).
  • Billy Anderson and Rhett Goodmiller get on base a lot.  Anderson is the stolen base threat.

For Michigan

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sinnery or Wood start this game.  Sinnery did see some action this weekend, so he may miss his start in favor of Wood.  As of yet, the SID hasn’t announced the probables, so your guess is as good as mine.

Other Notes

It’s a Wednesday game, which can only mean one thing:  MICHIGAN BASEBALL BINGO NIGHT!  As per MGoBlue.com:

Wednesday, April 8, vs. Central Michigan, 6:05 p.m.
adidas Michigan Baseball Bingo — All fans in attendance will receive a Michigan baseball bingo card. The first five BINGO winners will receive a great Michigan prize!

I have no idea how they’re doing it, but get yourself out to the game and win “a great Michigan prize!” Go Blue!


Questions for Illinois Baseball Report

April 7, 2009

I’m doing a little bit of Q&A with the IllinoisBaseballReport, so I thought I’d post questions here, and if any of you who keep up with this thing had anything else to add, feel free to leave it in the comments.

Question 1:

I see last year’s closer Ben Reeser has made the jump to starter most impressively this season, but despite his shiny 2.01 ERA and 12:37 walk-to-strikeout ration, he’s only accumulated 3 wins in 6 starts.  Is it the bullpen or the lack of offense that is keeping his win total down?

Question 2:

Speaking of pitching, I can’t help but notice these ERA and opponent batting average numbers for Illinois starters.  I’ve heard all sorts of positives from the LSU series, but just how good is this starting pitching staff?

http://www.fightingillini.com/sports/m-basebl/spec-rel/ill-m-basebl-CumulativeStats.html

More specifically, which three starters do we see and who is the weakest link, if one exists?

Question 3:

Looking over the offense, the Illini have some impressive batting averages (team: .313, starters: .327) and some decent but not great extra base hit totals – 7th in slugging percentage in the Big10.  It appears Brandon Wickoff is still an absolute monster (.402 BA, 25 R, .529 slugging, only 4 K in 102 ABs).  Is he still batting third and is there a way to pitch around him?  Are the batters behind him that much of a threat?

Question 4:

On defense, third basemen Altobelli’s fielding percentage at third base.  Is he having trouble with run of the mill ground balls, throwing the ball across the diamond,  slow rolling bunts, or a little bit of everything?  Or, is he just the recipient of some bad luck?  I can’t see his bat leaving the lineup, so do you think Michigan will test him at the hot corner?

Question 5:

Speaking of defense, Illinois appears to be collecting quite a few double plays this season.  They rank 9th in the nation in double plays per game by the last NCAA statistics release (3/29/09).  Michigan has been all about crippling double plays at times this season (see: Arizona currently leading the nation in double plays per game).  Are we going to see a lot of sinking fastballs and splitters this weekend?  If so, who from?

Question 6:

Speaking of Michigan crippling itself, Illinois doesn’t appear to be dominating in the strikeout column.  I don’t even have a question for you.  I just wanted to point out that I think the Illini Ks-per-9-innings is going up this weekend.  Call it a hunch.

Question 7:

How is starting second baseman Josh Parr doing?  I noticed he left a game this last weekend against Indiana.  Nothing serious I hope?  Would Bonadonna take over second base if he is out?  And speaking of Bonadonna, what happened with him?  I see he’s still stealing bases like a mad man, but the average has plummeted from last year.