Monday, May 30, 2011

A Tip of the Hat 2011: The Long Season

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

This is Part 1 of 4 that will appear over the coming week.

The 2011 season seemed at times like an unbearably long season, but then, as the weather warmed and the post-season approached, the season turned out to be much shorter than anyone wanted it to be.

■ Pre-season Predictions & Expectations
“Where we were picked preseason is based strictly on the performance of those guys last year, and it’s understandable,” Jamieson said. “For us to be good this year, it’s not one or two guys that need to step up. It’s several guys that need to step up.” (Columbia Tribune, 2/17)
“Eric’s a natural shortstop,” says Jamieson. “He’s got a great arm, obviously. He’s made every play for us and with Jesse Santo at third, we’ve really got two shortstops on the left side.”

Shortstop is not the only move for the young middle-infielder. Garcia will also be taking his talents to the mound, closing out games for the Tigers.

“Garcia will play at short,” explains Jamieson. “Also Garcia, is potentially our closer. That’s a guy really no one knows about as a pitcher. He didn’t pitch last year, but that should give us a really good punch at the end of the game.” (College Baseball Daily, 2/17)
Among the surplus of outfielders is Dane Opel (.270-3-30), a sophomore from Edwardsville, IL. Like Schmidt, Jamieson believes that Opel is ready for his breakout season. (College Baseball Daily, 2/17)
On KFRU's The Closers last week, Tim Jamieson said about the lineup, "you may not see anybody new", because there were so many freshmen who got significant playing time in 2010. (, 2011 Season Preview)
2011 should be Junior Ryan Gebhart's year. He's been on the scouts' radar for years. A can't-miss prospect. Unfortunately, injuries have limited his playing time during his first two years at Mizzou. He came on strong when he finally got to play in 2010. In 2011, Gebhart is at the front of a long line of candidates for the starting outfield positions, and he'll finally have the opportunity to show what he can do. (, 2011 Season Preview)
Senior Jonah Schmidt is always fun to watch because he plays the game with such joy. His defensive abilities, though, have always been a little suspect, and his impressive power at the plate has not always been accompanied by discipline at the plate. If he fails to be more consistent in those areas, he'll likely still see his name frequently on the lineup card as the DH. (, 2011 Season Preview)

". . . And Mizzou does not look good at all. Should be at or near the bottom of the conference." (Fred Katz,
"We've been picked to finish last in the Big 12. That's not gonna happen. I can guarantee you that's not going to happen." (Head Coach Tim Jamieson, at the 1st Pitch Celebration, February 12)
Weather or Not: Even before Game 1, this year's crazy weather impacted the 2011 baseball season. The tam hardly ever got to practice outdoors in January and February, a stretch that saw a blizzard shut down the entire town the first week in February, and forced MU to cancel classes for three days.

By season's ended, multiple games would be cancelled or rescheduled. Scheduled highlights of the season were cancelled by weather, including a Busch Stadium game with Illinois, and a Diamond Sports Fan Fest on a Saturday morning before big games for both baseball and softball.

We should have seen it coming, back on opening day.

Craziest Opening Day Ever
  • MU's first game was supposed to be against USC, but the tournament schedule was rearranged 3 or 4 times before the first pitch was finally thrown, with MU now facing Cal Poly

  • The game was interrupted twice by rain

  • One of the rain delays was prompted by a player in the Cal Poly dugout getting knocked out by a flying bat (BBCOR bats pack a wallop, apparently)

  • The Tigers won the game by scoring 6 runs in the bottom of the 6th inning, (sandwiched between the two rain delays), an inning that featured a walk, a balk, a bunt-for-a-hit, another rain-aided infield hit, a throwing error from 3rd to 1st, and, the topper, a wild pitch that allowed the winning run

  • Once the game was finally halted due to rain, it was first announced that the game was suspended and would be completed some time the next day; then, after most of the fans had left the stadium and headed home, they changed their minds and declared the game complete, a 10-9 win for MU
Season Opening Road Trip: Seven Games, 2-5 record
Total score: Opp. 61-MU 33

MU ERA: Starters: 4.67; Bullpen: 12.55; Overall: 7.87

Opponents' Batting Average: .339

MU Team Batting Average: .243

MU errors: 12; Fielding %: .955

LOB: 45

37 of the 61 runs given up came in the 6th inning or later
From, 2/27:
Go Tigers: Its going to be a long year, if those don't improve a bunch

DoubleplayMU: The schedule is only going to get harder...hang in there fellas, its gonna be a long one
March to Mediocrity: 17-game Home-stand, 10-7 the result

MU played 5 mostly also-ran teams in March before finishing the home stand against Oklahoma. Season-ending RPI rankings of those 5 opponents ( Pseudo-RPI):
  • 203rd UI-Chicago took 2 of 3 from MU
  • 66th - Gonzaga split 1-1 with MU
  • 224th - LeMoyne lost 3, won 1 vs. MU
  • 125th - Central Michigan lost 3, won 1 vs. MU
  • 166th - Central Arkansas split 1-1 with MU
By the end of March, MU stands at 11-1, with an RPI ranking of 172nd as they prepare to face Oklahoma on their final weekend of the home stand.

MU-OU: Futility and Hope . . . and more nasty weather.

The MU-OU series stands out to me as the point in the season that I realized I just can't count on making it to as many games as I once was able to do. My work life has gotten busier, my personal life has become more complicated with responsibilities, and I'm just too old to sit at Simmons Field in nasty, damp, cold weather, no matter how much I want to. I wrote about listening to the MU-OU games from home:
Mizzou Baseball Game Day: Home Game
Mizzou opened its Big 12 season with a hastily convened double-header on Friday afternoon-evening-into-night. The abrupt schedule change did not affect my plans in the least, since I've been stranded at home feeling sick since getting back from Wednesday's game.
The Physics of Baseball are driven by several unchangeable principles. Two that came into play tonight:
• The best games take place when you're stuck at home
• The likelihood of extra innings increases in direct proportion to the lousiness of the weather.
The first game was a great one - except for the errors. But the second game had everything a true fan could want. Great pitching on both sides, extra innings, cliff-hanger innings.
. . .
By the way, have you noticed that Tex is doing a great job of pronouncing Zastryzny, but stumbles more often over the seemingly simple Stites? Gotta love him.
The Tex-and-Hunter show is a real treat. Tex's down-home enthusiastic play-by-play is perfectly accompanied by Hunter's laid back delivery and knowledge of the players, the coaches and the game of baseball.
. . .
Big 12 Season: Part I

The Tigers struggled mightily through the first four Big 12 series, compiling a 2-9 record against OU, UT, OSU and KU, plus managed to post a schizophrenic 1-2 record in 3 non-conference games, taking a great win from Texas State (who finished the regular season ranked 46th in RPI), suffering yet another loss at the K to the hands of KU (who finished their season sitting at home while MU played at Bricktown), and, in the universally acknowledge low-point of the season, throwing away a Wednesday night game to SIU-Edwardsville, 7-1 (the Eds finished the season with a 1183rd-ranked RPI), before losing 2 of 3 to Kansas the following weekend.

What was the problem? Everybody had an opinion, nobody had the answer. Whispers around the ballpark and on the internet wondered whether Tim Jamieson would keep his job if the team continued to sink.

Baylor: The beginning of a new season

Heading into the Baylor series, the Columbia Tribune reported Time running short on slumping MU:
Missouri is scoring 1.9 runs per Big 12 game while leaving 9.6 runners on base. That doesn’t take into account the number of runners lost while slogging through a team-record-tying nine-game skid.

But Jamieson said he didn’t expect to be making any major changes to the lineup.

“It’s an option, but I don’t think it’s the right option at this point,” Jamieson said. “I think we’re playing the guys that give us the best chance.”
That quote from Jamieson makes me chuckle now, knowing what he was soon to do to his lineup. Conner Mach moved to the top of the order and into left field; Garcia moved to first base, C.J. Jarvis and Andrew Thigpen were inserted into the lineup and given more starts. And the offense started to come alive.

Big 12 Season: Part 2

Beginning with the Baylor series, the Tigers won 4 straight Big 12 series, taking of 2 of 3 in each series. The new lineup had the offense clicking along putting up runs and winning games.

Matt Stites shook off his early season inconsistencies and became the go-to guy in the starting rotation.

And Eric Anderson, who had been one of several Tigers on the slow road to recovery after 2010 injuries, forged ahead on his rehab schedule like a man possessed. Each time he went to the mound he seemed to get a little stronger, a little better. By the end of the season, he seemed to gain strength as each inning progressed during games. The guy who was a big question-mark in February was, by the end of the season, the Tigers' Friday night ace.

The team made the slow climb from the deep cellar of the league, at one point rising all the way to 5th before giving up their last series to Nebraska, 1-2, winning the one game necessary to finish 8th and banish the "loyal" Huskers to an early exit to the Big 10.

Tim Jamieson had delivered on his promise that the Tigers would not finish last, as everyone had predicted. Not only that, but his team had the all-important momentum heading into the all-important Big 12 Tournament. With an RPI ranking in the 90s and a losing record overall and in the Big 12, Mizzou had no chance of going to the NCAA Regionals without winning the Big 12 Tournament.

Bricktown Tigers

The Tigers played 4 games to get into the championship game - all four games against a pair of teams (UT and OSU) that they had gone a collective 0-6 against early int he Big 12 season. They showed just how much this team had changed during the long season.
  • Game 1: #8 seed beats #1 seed, as Eric Anderson continues his return to being a dominant pitcher and Jonah Schmidt leads a team-effort to top the Longhorns.

  • Game #2: It's always a battle when the Tigers play the Cowboys, and this game was no different. The Tigers blew a 5-0 lead and it went down to the bottom of the 9th tied 5-5. A pair of hits from Thigpen and Mach set up Eric Garcia for a walk-off hit to right.

  • Game #3: Needing just one win against UT to advance to the championship game, the Tigers couldn't get anything going against the Longhorns and lost 6-1, forcing a second game later in the day.

  • Game #4: Senior Kelly Fick pitched the longest and greatest game of his career to lead the Tigers past the Longhorns, 2-1.

  • Game #5: The #8 seed had never before played in the Championship game of the Big 12 Tournament. And a lot of people weren't happy about it
    @KendallRogersPG on Twitter: #Missouri beats #Texas 2-1 to advance to the #Big12 tourney title game against #TAMU. Bubble teams need to be #Aggies fans manana.
    MU finally got to play a team they had beaten 2 games to 1 during the season, in Texas A&M. But A&M had reached the final in just 3 games, while the Tigers had gone through 4 games worth of their pitchers.

    The Tigers, with everything to play for, fought tooth and nail through 10 innings, only to watch a walk-off home run end their season in an instant. The long season was suddenly not long enough.

Leaving the Zou

■ Jonah Schmidt: I still remember the first time I met Jonah, at the First Pitch celebration prior to the 2008 season. He was like an excited little kid, just thrilled to be there with all these fans and all these former Tigers. Oh wait. That was his dad.

It's been a blessing to watch Jonah develop from a fun-loving all-or-nothing swing for the fences freshman into a fun-loving bat-control specialist, accepting the role of Senior leader. And he still has the best hair on the team.

Jesse Santo: We only got to watch "Jersey" at Taylor Stadium for two years, but it was a great couple of years. In his senior years, Jesse became the guy who you were always glad to see coming to the plate in a pressure situation. He might not have the top stats on the team, but no one had a better approach to those do-or-die moments.

Ryan Ampleman: Amp could never quite maintain the offensive consistency to hang on to the starting catcher's job. But he earned a reputation as the guy most likely to pull a rabbit out of his cap and produce a fantastic hit or defensive play or an explosive move on the basepaths. He will stick out in my mind as a great team leader and as a true rarity - a catcher used frequently as a pinch runner.

Kelly Fick: I never thought Kelly got the opportunities he deserved to develop into a regular starter and leader among the pitching corps. And yet he soldiered on with a smile, always willing to pitch whenever and however long his coaches asked. He was among the most successful members of the Johnny Wholestaff experiment a couple of years back.

His final game for the Tigers, that incredible Saturday evening game against Texas at the Big 12 tournament, showed just what sort of pitcher and person he has always been. And it earned him a spot as a pitcher on the All-Tournament team, next to Taylor Jungmann, a future MLB superstar.

Brad Buehler, Jeff Scardino and Zach Hardoin are a trio I tend to think of together, as three guys who toiled for the Tigers in continually changing roles: closer, long reliever, short reliever, spot starter, mid-week starter, weekend starter. They've done it all. These are the guys that make up that middle of the pitching staff, between the regular starters and the closers. They don't get the attention and the press like some of the other pitchers, but where would the team be without them. Someone is going to have to step in and fill those roles in the coming years.

Andrew Thigpen: Nearly every year, "Thiggy" spent some time as a regular starter at 2nd or 2rd or shortstop. But every year he would either struggle offensively or defensively, and there was always someone waiting to push him out and take over the job. In 2011, he got a chance to be a regular starter again during the 2nd half of the Big 12 season, contributing to the offensive resurrection that carried the tam through to the Big 12 Championship game.

Phil McCormick: Phil's story has been told and told again. He was almost ready to be dropped from the team when he decided to work on a submarine pitch. And he mastered it so well that he became the most reliable pitcher in the bullpen over the past two seasons - so much so that the coaches about wore the poor guy out down the stretch in 2011. And also, so much so that he'll likely have to postpone his future career as a genius engineer, as he pursues a different future as a submarining pitcher for whichever MLB organization decides to draft a cerebral pitcher with an oddball delivery.

There will likely be other Tigers besides these seniors who will be gone by this fall. Matt Sites, Ben Turner and Conner Mach may hear their names called next week during the MLB Draft. And they'll have to decide whether they were drafted high enough to lure them away from the chance to come back and finish what they started this season.

Here's a tip of the cap to all the departing Tigers, and to a team that refused to accept mediocrity as their destiny.

Be sure check out the entire 2011 Tip of the Hat series:

1 comment:

  1. I heard Kelly may have injured his rotator cuff in that Texas game. RZ