Baseball Preview: A Look Back

Submitted by formerlyanonymous on February 15th, 2010 at 11:34 PM

With baseball season officially starting Friday, I'm going to make several sporadic posts over this week in order to preview the team. For starters, I may suggest going back to my previous podcast with Rich Maloney or my initial reaction to our schedule, which I will probably update my outlook after completing my previews.

Last year's record came in at a less than sterling 30-25, the lowest win total since Rich Maloney stepped on campus. The 9-15 BigTen record is tied for the 6th worst conference record in Michigan history (102 seasons), and the worst since 2000 when the team went 10-18. Obviously last year was a disappointment. So much like football, hockey, basketball, or most other sports that get coverage around these parts, baseball was just as involved in the recent so called "curse of 09-10" as Brian put it in mgo.licio.us.

Depth

Michigan came into the season with the usual high expectations, but something was different than years past. After losing 4 players to the draft early, Michigan wasn't able to reload with talent it usually would have (how can you when they get drafted 4 months after signing day and less than 3 months before school starts?). Michigan was starting a true freshman at third base, a key middle reliever's career was cut short by surgery, our right field spot was wide open, our designated hitter came out of nowhere in the form of unknown little brother of MLB player Nate McLouth, and our off the field narrative in the media was "walk-ons lead the team."  I think the Ann Arbor News really hit the spot last year in their preseason article:

Many of the would-be run producers are tenured but inexperienced, including corner outfielders Kenny Fellows (fifth-year senior) and Nick Urban (fourth-year junior).

"We have a lot of guys with some potential, but they don't have bios yet," Maloney said. "It's kind of a wild card."

Oh, and what a wild card it was. Consistency was never something Michigan could grasp. Eric Katzman earned the alternate persona of Evil Katzman at least once every two weeks. McLouth fluctuated wildly in terms of plate production. Third base was a carousel between John Lorenz and Tim Kalczynski. Right field was Urban, Oaks, Urban again. Burgoon was injured and the bullpen went by committee. We lost Kevin Cislo and Chris Berset for stretches of the season. Nothing seemed to go right.

Well, almost nothing. Chris Fetter, our senior ace was the one consistent bright spot. Fetter carried the team for most of the season, eating up innings and mowing down line ups. He is responsible for our BigTen best team ERA of 4.80. But there was a lack of depth behind him. Before the season ever started, we lost Ben Jenzen, one of our top relievers from the season before. Left handed freshman Bobby Brosnahan, the pitching gem of the incoming class, was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. For a period of 6 weeks, we lost our closer, Tyler Burgoon with a shoulder bruise suffered trying to make a play on a bunt.

So while Fetter could carry us through a Friday game, Saturday and Sunday became an adventure in the bullpen. Like clockwork, you could set an implosion coming every three weeks. The weeks of Evil Katzman meant the bullpen was routinely called in during the third or fourth inning, sometimes earlier. Our Sunday starting position during the first half of the season was just as inconsistent. Travis Smith struggled, as did Kolby Wood and Brandon Sinnery.

Not until Alan Oaks re-entered the rotation did we gain any extra consistency. By then, Fetter was already showing signs of fatigue from his highest inning total ever.

 
Dear Ryan, please don't leave us after this season, attrition hurts.
(Photo by Jeremy Cho, Michigan Daily)

On offense and defense, preseason depth hurt here, too. Adam Abraham left for the majors after his junior year leaving a HUGE void at third base. John Lorenz would have had time to red shirt and prepare for the college game. Instead, he and walk on senior Tim Kalczynski ended up playing third base by committee. Timmy Kal had been a catcher previous to this move. That's how bad we were hurting at depth. Neither player was that great offensively, especially not compared to the great player that Abraham was.

Joining these two on the left side of the infield was a first year starter in Anthony Toth. While his size would lead most people to think of Toth as a second baseman, he was given the keys to short stop with no real back up available. Toth did alright at the plate, eventually giving a decent hitter in the 9-hole. On the field, he was about average. He committed quite a few errors, always at the worst time, but he wasn't horrible.

In right field, Alan Oaks began the season sick, missing the first two weeks of the season. This opened the door for a previous back up middle infielder Nick Urban to get the starting nod. This actually worked out well for Michigan. Urban was the better defensive outfielder with great speed. Upon Oaks' return to the lineup, he hadn't regained his swing yet either.

In all, we were missing at least four veteran players from the draft, and another 2-3 players at any particular point of the season depending who were injured.

Strikeouts

dufek What are the chances this pitch is a Dufek K? 1 in 30?

To complicate things, Michigan's hitters really loved the strikeout this year. Mike Dufek struck out once in every 3.8 at bats, Most players average about 4 at-bats per game for a reference. That's killer for an offense when the clean-up hitter strikes out that much. He wasn't alone, however, as Toth and Oaks were nearly as bad with a strikeout every 5 at bats. Michigan finished second in the conference in team strikeouts, one behind Minnesota. The problem was that Michigan only bat .294 while the Gophers hit .314. That was the difference between a 7th place finish and a 2nd place finish.

Overview

On the whole, an outsider looking at our team would have seen one great pitcher, and depending on the weekend, either a couple of average pitchers or several really bad pitchers. On offense, they'd seen a bunch of walk on players, some better than others, and a rotating cast of fill ins.

In the next installment of the previews, I'll examine how our depth has adjusted in the last year after getting a full recruiting class, some players healthy, and some more experience.

Comments

formerlyanonymous

February 14th, 2010 at 3:25 PM ^

I don't think he goes that high without a truly break out year. He's graded out at an average outfielder, not an exceptional one, mainly due to his less than ideal arm strength. If he goes high, it'll be his offense. He has good ability to hit the gaps with regularity, but he isn't an overly huge power hitter. I'd be surprised, based on just his past, that he gets drafted higher than the 7th or 8th round. If he has a All BigTen POY season, top 5 would be a possibility. Without seeing the senior season, I'd guess in the 7-12 area, leaning toward the later of those rounds.

pistonsfan133

February 15th, 2010 at 12:21 AM ^

Just fwiw ive heard that lamarre is leaning towards going pro. I dont know if this is really that known or not. Would be great to have him back a year, but I have a few good sources that have said that Ryan said as early as his freshman yr that he would stay until after his junior season and then turn pro

Quag77

February 15th, 2010 at 12:53 AM ^

Nice recap of why last year didn't please anyone. Very accurate and confirms my reasoning of just a very unfortunate year all the way around.

Looking forward to your thoughts on the 2010 team. Here's a couple of mine'

1. Defense will improve dramatically. 3rd base & LF the 2 question marks as left has a true freshman. I do think Lorenz will settle in at 3rd and LF is probably the one spot where a frosh can do the least harm. Defense alone will add 3-5 wins this year.
2. U of M will lead the Big Ten in pitching again this year. Burgoons slider has been coming in at 85-86 range...with 92-93 FB and developed a nice change in the off season. Oaks shoves it at 93-94 and has the endurance needed to get to late innings. Brosnahan will show he is a very crafty lefty that spots well. If Miller stays consistent...he may be the best of the bunch. Woods is looking just filthy and should be a very capable closer.
3. Speed....we have a fair amount his year, not an abundance, but enough to keep the other pitchers attention and put some pressure on.
4. We're not a young team! Yes we have 2 frosh starting but we have a lot of experience on the field and in the pen.
5. Did I say we're not young?
6. My one concern... Offense. We will improve from last year (geez, how could you not) but I just don’t know what to expect on the K's again. Decent power, probably not as good as 2008's 75 HR's but better than the 55 from last year...maybe mid 60's. We can not leave as many on the bases as we did last year.

All in all... I really do think we will be in the top 3 this year with a legit chance at the title. 5 more days.... Go Blue!

colin

February 16th, 2010 at 4:58 AM ^

Walk rate and SLG are far more important. And in any case, they were average. OPS+ would be very illuminating and not that hard to figure. Looking at the NCAA site, it looks like Michigan had an above average offense that got a little unlucky considering it took plenty of walks and slugged at an average rate. And given that and their meh average, I'm pretty sure that they weren't excessively prone to striking out. If they were, it got made up for in BABIP.

Anyway, it looks like they mostly just got unlucky. They led the conference in ERA and probably in FIP (suggesting that it wasn't a BABIP fluke) and had a good offense that didn't get score as many runs as expected. In so few games, that can easily be chalked up to luck.

Lastly, Dufek K'd so much because he was busying leading the Big Ten in HR/G. He slugged .627, just shy of White Sox pick Dan Black's .657. It would be nice if he took more walks, though.

formerlyanonymous

February 16th, 2010 at 9:50 AM ^

I actually focus more on slugging percentage/ops numbers in the upcoming season previews. I'm fairly convinced that last season wasn't all that much unlucky behind the plate. Michigan's team OPS was 6th in conference, and as far as BABIP, I'm not sure how useful it is in college, more because I'm not sure how to compare it across teams particularly. I'll post the general data here and see what you make of it.

BigTen teams are sorted by slugging percentage in case you were wondering the order, 2009 stats only. Michigan teams are sorted by year.

Team BABIP BA
OSU .353 .328
Indiana .371 .326
Purdue .369 .316
Illinois .348 .316
Minnesota .364 .314
Michigan .349 .294
Iowa .351 .293
PSU .355 .294
MSU .325 .284
NU .309 .264
Past Michigan Teams
2008 .344 .315
2007 .363 .327
2006 .346 .302

To me, it looks were only slightly less lucky than years past, particularly 2006. I'm just not sure BABIP works so well in college where players mature and fluctuate a bit more than in the pros. Just my epinion. If there's a better way to compare what our BABIP means, I'd be interested in hearing it. I don't use that particular sabermetric that often.

colin

February 16th, 2010 at 2:32 PM ^

likely does not represent much skill since we're talking 30ish conference games and 50-60 total, so it's probably a good check for good/bad luck. Batting average, then, mostly falls into the same category.

But Michigan's bad luck seems to be of a different order. They got on base but didn't get as many runs out of it as expected. So presumably they just didn't hit well with runners in scoring position or something.

But it looks like you've got access to some stats here? I'd be interested to see the league averages for a lot of these.

formerlyanonymous

February 16th, 2010 at 2:52 PM ^

The last 8 or so seasons are available on BigTen.org. It's just a matter of computing the advanced ones. Michigan stats are a little tougher to get, but I've got copies of the last 4 seasons final stats.

I agree totally with not hitting well with RISP. A lot of those were the same strikeouts I've been complaining about. There was a short stretch of GIDP, but most of it has been a strikeout negating the chance for even a sacrifice. I don't have the time to really quantify all of that at the current time, and I started doing some of that last season before I had a string of finals, a funeral, and general life going nuts to end the season. Then the mgoblue.com redesign erased a lot of the access to information that's just making it's way back out.

colin

February 16th, 2010 at 4:53 PM ^

just aren't that valuable in a league that scores 6+ runs per game. And strikeouts aren't a problem unless they were happening especially in RISP situations, but even then that's luck and going to even out over time. In general, it's true that there's a correlation between more K's and more HR's and extra base hits. If that relationship isn't holding, then you're doing it wrong and striking out too much.

Steve in PA

February 16th, 2010 at 10:10 AM ^

I followed it at VB and look forward to this season at MGoblog. College baseball doesn't get enough love in the north IMHO. Much like minor-league pro ball one can always take the kids to a game and get great seats.