Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Season in Three Acts

The Buckeyes’ 2007 season is best viewed in three pieces. A solid non-conference campaign, albeit against weak competition, that did nothing to dash the high hopes for the team; a disastrous (by OSU standards at least) conference campaign that saw the Buckeyes need to win their final game of the season to even finish sixth and earn a tournament berth; and an awesome tournament campaign, that saw Ohio sweep through the Big Ten Tournament in four (including a win over that state up north and two from perennial diamond rival Minnesota) exciting games, then give a good effort in the NCAAs, losing in the ninth to Lousiana-Lafayette, beating LeMoyne, and finally falling to Texas A&M.

Looking at the team statistics, OSU was third in W% at .613 (Minnesota led at .659), third in EW% at .573 (tsun led at .707), and fourth in PW% at .565 (tsun led at .701). Looking at the other conference teams, the only one that significantly deviated from the expected W%s was Purdue, actually .407 but with an EW% of .495 and a PW% of .581.

The big problem for OSU this season was a poor offense. Pitching injuries which I will discuss later were a big culprit as well, but the Buckeye attack was fairly average. Even adjusting for the 3% pitcher benefit that Bill Davis Stadium provides, the Bucks only averaged 6.2 R/G versus the average of 6.1, ranking fifth out of the ten squads. OSU did hit .316 versus an average of .308, and draw .109 walks/at bat versus an average of .104, both good for fourth in the conference. But power was lacking, as the Buckeyes’ ISO was just .089 against an average of .114, ninth in the conference. Power has been the Achilles’ heel of OSU for a couple years now, but never as starkly as in 2007.

The bad news for the Bucks going forward is that the top three hitters in terms of RAA are all gone. Junior CF Matt Angle was +20, hitting 366/458/454, pacing the team with 58 RC and a 9.4 RG; he was drafted by the Orioles in the seventh round and signed, joining Jedidiah Stephen in the organization. Senior 2B/SS/DH Jason Zoeller was +14 and popped 9 of the team’s 21 homers. Junior C Eric Fryer was not as good as he had been his first two seasons, but he was still plenty good enough to be drafted in the tenth round by the Brewers after a 322/407/448, +10 season.

Looking at the rest of the Buckeye offense, sophomore 1B Justin Miller continued to improve, emerging as an above average (+3 RAA) hitter, albeit a low secondary average for a first baseman. He may return to his original position of catcher next year in Fryer’s absence. At third, junior Tony Kennedy stepped in, hitting for little power but posting a .397 OBA and +5 runs. True freshman Brian DeLucia earned more time as the year progressed, and although he was average in 47 PA, showed good promise with the leather. I expect him to earn the job outright in ’08.

The middle infield situation was clouded all year, when finally a freshman double play combination emerged. Zoeller started the year at second with true freshman Cory Rupert at short. But Rupert’s hitting was very poor early, and his fielding not great either, so Zoeller moved to short and fellow true freshman Cory Kovanda was installed at second. Eventually, though, Zoeller’s defense was untenable (Zoeller was not great at second base, let alone short), and so he was shifted to DH and Rupert came back in. Neither Rupert or Kovanda hit well, but both seemed to be getting more comfortable at the end of the season, and were solid in the field then too. Rupert hit 257/283/303, -10 in 113 PA while Kovanda hit 289/352/325, -8 in 121 PA.

Left field was manned by sophomore JB Shuck most of the time, and he rapped out enough singles for a 342/397/401, +5 line marred by a terrible slump at the end of the season. Senior Jacob Howell often served as DH due to his continuing hamstring problems, hitting 322/371/429, +2 despite having limited use of his excellent speed. That left a spot for freshman Ryan Dew in RF, and after a hot start he tailed off to 269/354/338, -5.

OSU pitching and defense was fourth in the Big Ten with 5.27 park adjusted RA/G, versus the 6.09 average, despite serious injury problems on the staff. Senior Dan DeLucia, the ace for the past two years, was 2-0 in three starts before requiring Tommy John surgery; he will receive a medical redshirt and pitch for the Bucks in 2008. Junior Cory Luebke stepped up big as the staff ace, going 9-1 with a 3.54 RA, 3.19 eRA, 7.5 KG, and +33 RAA, enough to be Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. He was signed by San Diego as a third round pick.

Sophomore JB Shuck lost some of his form from his freshman season, as he did at the plate, but took his turn each weekend and put up a 5.58 RA and +5 RAA, although his 6.56 eRA was scary. As a freshman he benefited from a low percentage of hits on BIP; in 2007, he was hit for 32.5%. An injury to projected #4 starter, sophomore Josh Barerra, kept OSU from ever establishing a stable rotation. Barerra was 4-1, +2 in 8 games and 5 starts in his shortened campaign. A variety of freshman were used as starters: Theron Minium (1-2, 13 G, 5 GS, 7.88, -6); Eric Best (3-1, 20 G, 4 GS, 4.97, +5); and Josh Edgin (2-2, 19 G, 7 GS, 6.55, -2). Eventually, would-be relievers, junior Rory Meister (4-7, 22 G, 5 GS, 3 SV, 5.80, +1) and sophomore Jake Hale (4-3, 26 G, 4 GS, 4.64, +11) got starts. By tournament time, Hale had reestablished himself in his 2006 rotation slot, while Meister was back to being the closer. Senior Trey Fausnaugh also was a key reliever, appearing in 16 games with a 6.95 RA and -2 RAA.

What was incredible about OSU pitching was the degree to which it was left-handed dominated. DeLucia, Luebke, Shuck, Barerra, Minium, Best, and Edgin are all southpaws. OSU lefties were 25-11 in 363 innings for +36 RAA; but the righties were just 13-13 in 160 innings for -1 RAA.

While it is way too early to make a prognosis for 2008, my early impression is that the 2003 Dodgers will be the most comparable team of recent major league memory. Losing the top three hitters from the team will be a difficult pill to swallow, and while youngsters like Dew, Kovanda, and Rupert figure to improve, it’s difficult to see a lot of power. On the other hand, even after losing Luebke, the pitching should be deep and outstanding. Without formally studying the matter, it has been my observation that freshman pitchers often make huge steps forward with experience under their belt. But it won’t take many to fill out a great staff; if Best can maintain his form, and just one of Minium, Edgin, and Barerra can be a solid starter, then you have a pretty good three-fourths of the rotation plus a lefty and righty relief ace. I think it all points towards a sub-par .500 type season, but Bob Todd has surprised before and I still think the program is in excellent shape, although it would be nice to find some pop.

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