Monday, June 30, 2008

Running in Place

The 2008 OSU baseball season was mostly disappointing. For that reason, this season recap will be quite perfunctory compared to others that I have written. I do not like to dwell on the failures of teams that I actually care about. If I was to write a post-mortem for the Indians, I would do it wholeheartedly; sure, I would have liked to see them do better, but it really doesn’t bother me that they are now in last place as I write this. I take the Bucks’ shortcomings much harder.

Of course, I should point out up front that it wasn’t that bad; it was bad only in the framework of the high expectations for OSU athletics--OSU finished with an overall record of 30-26 to run the streak of consecutive winning seasons to 21, tied for the fifteenth longest streak in the nation. The Bucks went 15-15 in Big Ten play to finish in fifth place.

The season started well enough--three mediocre opponents were swept the first weekend, then Ohio took one of three from a tough group of teams (the win was against Louisiana Tech). However, the annual week-long spring break trip to Bradenton, usually an opportunity to beat up on lesser opponents while easing young players into action, was a major disappointment. The Bucks went just 5-4 on the trip.

In mid-week games against non-conference opponents, OSU was 6-3; not terrible, but usually only one or two of those games would be dropped in a given campaign. The conference portion of the schedule was dead average as was aforementioned: 15-15.

In the Big Ten Tournament, the Buckeyes were unable to make a run to the championship as they did in 2005 and 2007. Instead, they were swept right out, with disappointing losses to Illinois (3-2) and Indiana (10-8 in 10).

The final overall (all games, not just conference) records show OSU fourth with a .536 W%, second with a .586 EW%, and fourth with a .521 PW%.

The single most fundamental problem with the Buckeyes over the last several years has been a lack of power. This reached critical levels this year, as OSU managed just 19 homers, their lowest total since 1980. OSU led the Big Ten with a .318 BA, and the W/AB of .116 was just a tad above average, resulting in a solid .389 OBA (second in the league by just a point). But in ISO, the Bucks ranked last at .093. The lack of secondary offense left Ohio State with 6.6 runs/game versus an average of 6.5.

Individually, junior 1B Justin Miller paced the Bucks by hitting 395/442/535, +15 runs above average. Junior CF/P JB Shuck, a sixth round pick of the Astros, hit 356/431/420, +10. Senior LF Tony Kennedy led the team with a .274 SEC and was +6 runs, while sophomore 2B Cory Kovanda emerged as a walking machine, drawing 37 in just 182 at bats, +6. Sophomore 3B Brian DeLucia was an encouraging +4, albeit in only 71 PA.

On the flip side, other regulars or semi-regulars included sophomore 3B/SS Cory Rupert and sophomore CF Zach Hurley (each -1, although both step forwards from freshman campaigns); freshman DH Ryan Meade (-7); sophomore RF Ryan Dew (-8); freshman C Dan Burkhart (-8); and freshman SS Tyler Engle (-12). I never quite understood why Rupert did not play shortstop with DeLucia at third, considering that Engle’s bat was not ready for full-time collegiate play (or at least did not appear to be in the small sample size of a college season; that should always be kept in mind, and really should go without saying, but there it is).

OSU’s team RA was 6.12, good for fourth in the conference. What the pitching staff lacked in brilliance, it made up for in depth--there have been few seasons in recent memory in which Bob Todd used such a wide array of pitchers. Of course, some of that may have been out of necessity due to the average-type performances.

The aforementioned Shuck was +16 runs in his final go-around, making him the easy choice for team MVP when coupled with his excellent offense and manning of a key defensive position (CF). Senior SP Dan DeLucia (a 35th round choice of the Tigers) recovered admirably from Tommy John surgery, turning in a +10 campaign. Freshman Dean Wolosiansky emerged as a third reliable starter at +7, while junior Jake Hale turned in a +5 season, although his performance could be considered a bit discouraging for the player given the #1 pitching assignment. Nonetheless, OSU boasted four solid starters, a refreshing change from 2007 when injuries resulted in a mess.

OSU had a decent but frustrating pair of relievers: sophomore lefty Eric Best was the nominal closer, + 5 runs, but he walked 25 in 35 innings (while fanning 33). Freshman righty Alex Wimmers seemed to be his mirror image (in the handedness sense)--+6 runs, but with a 51/31 K/W in 40 innings. Behind them, true freshman reliever Drew Rucinski and starter/reliever Andrew Armstrong (the most common mid-week starter) were average. Sophomore lefty Josh Edgin made no progress from his freshman season (-8 RAA, although his 6.2 eRA was better than average), and senior Rory Meister had a disastrous end to his career which had started as a dominating freshman closer (25 runs in 14 innings, -15).

In the end, OSU had an average season, which is a below-average season for a program of its caliber. Unlike the last two such seasons, the Buckeyes were not able to win a championship in the Big Ten tournament to push the final evaluation of the campaign into the “success” column. However, that has been the exception rather than the rule for Bob Todd’s team, and the program is not in bad shape. It’s just not in the excellent shape it had been in for so many years prior.

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