Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tip of the Cap 2010: The Season that Wasn't

It's time for our annual year-end awards, named in honor of John "Hi" Simmons' signature gesture.

This is Part 1 of 5 that will appear over the coming week.

The Season That Might Have Been

The 2010 Tigers finished the game with a 29-26 record, 10-16 in the Big 12.

It was known senior Aaron Senne was going to be the centerpiece of the Missouri Tigers’ lineup. It was known that junior right-hander Nick Tepesch would be pitching on the weekend.

It was hoped junior college transfer Brett Nicholas would combine with Senne to become one of the Big 12’s best run-producing tandems.

Michael Liberto’s defense was never a question, but his emergence as a leadoff hitter was a pleasant surprise.

The rest was supposed to work itself out. It never really did. (Columbia Tribune)

“We just fell short in a lot of areas this year,” Missouri Coach Tim Jamieson said. “But I think the one area we did not fall short is how we responded and how we played hard every damn day.” (Columbia Tribune)

Tim Jamieson said his Missouri baseball team has a knack for playing just poorly enough to lose.
. . .
“We’re just good enough to get beat by a small margin and not good enough to win.” (Columbia Tribune, 4/19)
That last quote from Tim Jamieson ruffled a few feathers among some fans. But to me its the defining statement of the 2010 season. There's a fine line between the season that wasn't and the season that might have been.

MU's #2 weekend starter was to have been freshman Eric Anderson. He started just 9 games, compiling a 1-4 record. As we know now, EA was pitching hurt most of the season, and was out of action after his appearance in the April 21st game against Kansas.

Three of his losses were very close games. Texas A&M (3-1), OSU (10-7), Kansas (1-0). A healthy Anderson, pitching up to his potential, could have made the difference in at least half those games. And Anderson on the mound could have made the difference in the three Saturday Big 12 losses the Tigers suffered after he went down.

If EA makes the difference between a W and an L in even half those 6 games, the Tigers add three wins -- Big 12 wins -- to their record.

Aaron Blunt also went down to an injury in mid-April. MU lost 4 Sunday games by just 1 or 2 runs in the remainder of the season. If a healthy Aaron Blunt makes the difference in even half of those, that's another 2 W's for the Tigers. Again, Big 12 W's.

That's a possible 5 more wins if the Tigers' pitching staff isn't cursed by the injury bug, and the team is 32-20 going into the Big 12 tournament. And with a 15-11 Big 12 record, they are more like a 3rd - 5th seed than the 8th seed. And the Tigers' better overall record (gained against Big 12 competition) would mean a higher RPI and a better shot and a bit better showing in the Big 12 Tournament. And the Tigers would be in their 8th straight NCAA Regional.

But that's the season that wasn't.

So what about the season that was? And what does it mean for the season that will be in 2011?

The Tigers used 52 lineups in 52 regular season games. To many, that was a big negative on the season.

The plus side of that musical chairs lineup is that the 2011 lineup will feature 11 players who had at least 1 at-bat per MU game (plus another, Brannon Champagne, who fell just short because of injuries). By contrast, the Texas Longhorns will likely return only 5 hitters with that much 2010 game experience.

The Tigers will be losing their Friday night ace in Nick Tepesch. He's just a junior, but his press clippings say he'll be drafted high next week.

Who steps in to take his place? Hopefully Eric Anderson and Aaron Blunt come back healthy and are able to step into leadership roles on the pitching staff. And pitchers like Kelly Fick, Jeff Emens and Tyler Clark have shown signs of maturing into steady and effective starters.

And there's always the newcomers.

When Gary Arndt graduated, nobody expected a Micahel Liberto to eventually come in and lead the infield. When Kyle Mach left third base unguarded, we wondered who would fill his shoes -- and then Brett Nicholas came to town and not only patrolled 3rd base for 22 games, but took over for Trevor Coleman at Catcher for 29 games. Greg Folgia and Ryan Lollis left (and Aaron Senne moved to first), and here came a crowd of talented freshman outfielders.

The best thing about college baseball is watching the kids arrive as freshman and watching them leave as men. I remember a raw, wet behind the ears kid from Minnesota who showed up four years ago. This fall some rawboned boy will become the next Aaron Senne.

I can't wait

269 days til the season opener.

Leaving the Zou

A Tip of the Cap to the Tiers who are likely moving on . . .

■ Brett Nicholas

The transfer from Scottsdale, Ariz., Community College arrived as a catcher. But because Ryan Ampleman filled in so well when Coleman was hurt last year, the Tigers figured putting Nicholas at third was the optimal way to get both in the lineup. He also occasionally played first base to allow Senne to see time in the outfield. But when Ampleman struggled at the plate, Nicholas took over at catcher, where he’s drawn the attention of major league scouts.

The coaches “talked to me about that, just bring all three gloves out and be ready to do whatever,” Nicholas said. “I was more than happy to bounce around.” (Columbia Tribune)
■ Nick Tepesch

Tepesch was an escape artist in the few innings Nebraska put together a threat. But he spent much of the night making the Cornhuskers hitters disappear.

Junior catcher Brett Nicholas wondered what else Tepesch had.

“I could’ve called a magical pitch, and he would have been able to throw it and he would’ve been able to hit his spot tonight,” Nicholas said. “I mean, that’s a once-in-a-season performance. That was just unbelievable.” (Columbia Tribune)
■ Michael Liberto

“He doesn’t chase a lot of bad pitches,” Jamieson said. “That’s what you want at the top of the lineup, is a guy who’s going to see a lot of pitches, has a high on-base percentage and then can run.”

Jamieson said he loves having Liberto as a player and likes the high-energy that is always gushing out of his body.

“I think Mike enjoys life,” Jamieson said. “I don’t think it necessarily relates to winning and losing. Winning’s more fun, but he just loves life.” (Columbia Missourian)
■ Aaron Senne

Senne made the switch to first base to make room for the surplus of talented young outfielders on the Tigers' roster. Senne still considers himself an outfielder and said while his position has changed, he knows his bat will still be relied on.

“You can’t be leaving everything up to all of the younger guys,” Senne said. “I’ve been around, I know what it’s like. I know how to handle myself, and how to prepare myself for each game. I just got to go out there and do it, and make sure I’m ready to play. Help get them ready get ready to play. I think it’s pretty important to take the pressure off of them a little bit.”
. . .
Junior Brett Nicholas, who transferred from Scottsdale Community College, has also become an important part of the Tiger offense. Nicholas said that watching Senne have a great weekend, makes him want to contribute more as well.

“Just watching him go about his day, day-to-day, and how he approaches his game is just a lot of fun,” Nicholas said. “Watching a veteran like that take over a weekend, just makes you want to pull your weight as well. It makes you want to pick him up as well because he’s working his butt off, so you’ve got to do the same.”
Here's to you, guys. We look forward to watching your journey through the ranks of professional baseball.

Read more of our Tip of the Cap awards, coming up over the next three days:

Part 2: By the Numbers
Part 3: Quotes & Notes
Part 4: And the Winner is . .

And check out our Tip of the Cap awards from years past.

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