Saturday, February 08, 2020

The Beals Goes On

Greg Beals is entering his tenth year at the helm of the OSU baseball program, having somehow parlayed a second run to the Big Ten Tournament title in three years into a three year contract extension. This despite his overall record over those nine seasons being the worst for the program in thirty years. At some point, it becomes an exercise in masochism even to repeat these facts. Greg Beals is apparently the coach for life.

This year, expectations are high. Baseball America ranked OSU #24 in their preseason Top 25, with only the forces of darkness joining them from the Big Ten at #8. Their explanation: “Ohio State brings its entire rotation back from that team and has a star behind the plate in Dingler”. That rotation will be fronted by redshirt sophomore lefty Seth Lonsway, who is likely to be a high draft pick come June. His strikeouts (12.3 per nine) outshone his overall performance (a good but not great +9 RAA) but offer the promise of an ace-level breakout. Fellow soph Garrett Burhenn was just as effective in 2019 (+10 RAA), but with a much more pedestrian strikeout rate. Junior lefty Griffan Smith was above average (+3 RAA) and should be a solid #3. It’s easy to see why this rotation - all of whom made at least fifteen starts and topped ninety innings – is highlighted as a strength.

The same can not be said for the bullpen, which is filled with significant question marks after Andrew Magno’s graduation. Last year, the weekday starters were by committee; only Jake Vance, now a senior, made more than three starts, and he only logged 41 innings over his 11 appearances/9 starts, and was not effective in doing so (7.90 RA). Sophomore Will Pfennig may be used as the relief ace, but also is a potential starter as he pitched 58 innings over 24 appearances in 2019.

Grad transfer lefty Patrick Murphy pitched sparingly during his time at Marshall, and in 18 innings last year allowed 7 runs with a troubling 11/15 K/W, but he Beals loves deploying lefty specialists and he may fit the bill. A couple of sophomore righties threw hard but didn’t know where it was going (Bayden Root with11.8 K/7.2 W over 35 innings and TJ Brock with 6.7/5.8 over 31) and their lefty classmate Mitch Milheim allowed 23 runs in as many innings (Milheim is another potential starter). Senior Joe Gahm only logged 19 innings; he was effective with a 4.26 RA but his peripherals tell a different story (6.63 eRA). He is one of only four returning Buckeye pitchers who had a RA better than the conference average in 2019 – the three starters are the others, which explains my concern about the bullpen. A cadre of freshman righties (Ethan Hammerberg, Cam Hubble, Tyler Kean, Wyatt Loncar, and Yianni Skeriotis) could be in the mix, and if there’s any justice in baseball than Ethan Hammerberg is a future lockdown closer.

Junior Dillon Dingler will handle the catching, and was Baseball America’s choice as preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. He did everything at the plate but hit for power last year (.291/.391/.424). His primary backup will be junior Brent Todys, who hit well enough last year to get at bats at DH where he is also penciled in as the starter for 2020 (.256/.345/.462). The four backstops on the rosters are all juniors as Dingler and Todys are joined by transfers Ronnie Allen and Archer Brookman.

Senior Conor Pohl is the incumbent at first, coming off a very consistent two year run of middling averages and power but solid walk rates (.279/.377/.393 in 2018 and .264/.350/.396 in 2019). Senior Matt Carpenter emerged from the bench as a Beals favorite as the second baseman, but his production (.257/.300/.324) left much to be desired. Sophomore Zach Dezenzo did an admirable job with an average offensive performance (.250/.316/.440) despite being stretched at shortstop due to an injury to now-senior Noah West. He will be counted on to be a middle of the order hitter for this squad. The aforementioned West is a solid fielder who was average at the plate in 86 PA before his injury, an improvement from his first two campaigns. Sophomore Nick Erwin will be a key backup; he struggled to a .235/.288/.272 line after being pressed into duty at the hot corner when Dezenzo slid over to short. Junior transfers Colton Bauer and Sam Wilson, sophomore Aaron Hughes, and freshman Avery Fisher round out the roster.

The outfield will have to be rebuilt as OSU’s top two offensive performers from 2019 (LF Brady Cherry and RF Dominic Canzone) are gone; they combined for a whopping 60 RAA. Also gone is center fielder Ridge Winand, although he will be easier to replace (-2 RAA). The only returning player with any significant experience is sophomore Nolan Clegg, who is penciled in to play right (.286/.348/.476 in 47 PA). The other spots are slated to go to freshman Mitchell Okuley (left) and Nate Karaffa (center), but there could be opportunities for a number of other players including juniors Jake Ruby and Scottie Seymour, redshirt freshman Alec Taylor, and true freshmen Joey Aden and Caden Kaiser.

OSU will open the season next weekend against lower-tier northern teams (St. Joe’s, Pitt, and Indiana State) in Port Charlotte, FL, then go to Georgia Tech and Lispcomb for true road series before facing Stetson, Harvard, and Fairfield at neutral sites and North Florida on the road. March 13 is the home opener at Bill Davis Stadium with a weekend series against Liberty, with the succeeding weekend opponents being Rutgers, @ Indiana, MSU, @ the forces of darkness, Illinois, The Citadel, @ Nebraska, Maryland, @ Northwestern. Mid-week opponents include Wright State (away), Bowling Green, Toledo, Morehead State, Dayton, Miami, Ohio University, Cincinnati (away), and Xavier (away).

Far be it from me to question Baseball America, but this does not look anything like a top 25 national team to me. The offense is not likely to be good; only Dingler and Dezenzo figure to be well above average performers, and the entire outfield is a question mark. The starting pitching is strong, but the depth behind it and the bullpen give less reason for optimism than the outfield, where at least hope can be placed on the shoulders of freshmen. Most of the non-weekend pitchers have already struggled; while we should expect a couple to take a step forward, they aren’t a blank slate on which to project hopes and dreams.

And there’s nothing in the world of Buckeye baseball further from such a blank slate than Greg Beals. Beals is what he is – a coach running a middle-tier Big Ten program in perpetuity, lucking his way to Big Ten Tournament titles that satiate his apathetic athletic director and even occasionally fool the wise folks at Baseball America. Coach for life despite having never won a conference title – it’s good work if you can get it, but it doesn’t make for a good fan experience.

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