Monday, June 11, 2012

A Tip of the Cap 2012: A Season on the Move

It's time once again for's annual Tip of the Cap Awards, named in honor of the signature pose of legendary MU Baseball Coach John "Hi" Simmons.  We'll be taking a look back at the 2012 Tiger season all week long, and tipping our caps so much there might be a breeze.

A Season on the Move

I created the title for this opening piece of the annual Tip of the Cap posts way back at the beginning of the season.  With the conference change looming, it seemed appropriate.  I also had hopes it would be appropriate for a year in which the team began their move back into another string of NCAA Regional appearances.

For the most part, though, 2012 was a season on the move up and down.

The chart  below shows the peaks and valleys of a season that never seemed to catch hold.  That first high point in the chart represents, ironically, the mid-March 3-game set against High Point.  Riding a 10-game home stand winning streak, the Tigers lost the sloppy 3rd game of that series, giving up a slew of runs (13), both earned and unearned, while managing only 7 runs on 6 hits (High Point committed 2 errors along with MU's 4).

From that "High Point" on, the Tigers bounced up and down like a yo-yo, being swept by Baylor and Oklahoma but sweeping Kansas State; sweeping the annual 2-game set against Missouri State for the first time in a dozen years and taking 2 of 3 from mighty Texas, but losing 2 of 3 to Texas Tech and Memphis.

2012 MIZZOU BASEBALL SEASON (click to enlarge)

Moving on from the Big 12 with a Bang

The Tigers came limping into the Big 12 Tournament, having lost their last two series of the regular season, 1-2 against Memphis and, worst of all, 1-2 against Kansas.  It felt good to beat Kansas in the last meeting ever, but losing the series was a downer.

And then the Tigers marched through the Big 12 Tournament like General Sherman through the South (practicing my SEC heckling themes).   The Tigers said farewell to the Longhorns with a 5-0 drubbing.  Then they knocked off fellow Big 12 bad boy Texas A&M 5-3.

And then the Tigers played what was the most satisfying game of the season to date, run-ruling the Kansas Jayhawks, 12-2 in 8 innings, in the FINAL final grudge match.

It was almost anti-climactic (almost) the next day when the Tigers outfought the Sooners to an 8-7 win and the Tigers only - and final - Big 12 Championship.

Tigers form identity with thrilling Big 12 title run (The Maneater)
Jamieson offered a possible answer to what “it” was after the title.

“I just wanted us to come out and play our butts off and execute and be focused,” he said in a press conference. “When you do that, you give yourself a chance.”

"It" peaked in the Big 12 Tournament, when the Tigers were most in need, when the program was competing in the tournament for one last time, having never won the crown in program history.

“It” somehow delivered a championship in MU’s final competition as members of the Big 12.

Now Missouri exits the conference and enters the Southeastern Conference, known for having the country’s premier culture and talent in college baseball. But with this season’s championship, where an often-maddening team suddenly gelled and blew past favored competition, the Tigers know that when “it” is there, almost anything can happen.

On the Move to Tucson

I had to keep reminding myself through the entire Tucson weekend that not much of anyone - me included - expected to still be following Mizzou Baseball in June this year.  It seemed obvious that if the Tigers were to have any shot at winning the Regional, they would have to repeat what they did at Bricktown - win through, without dropping into the losers' bracket.  The starting pitching just didn't have the depth to go the long way around.

It was all a moot point, though, since the Arizona Wildcats caught fire like the Tucson heat and went on a 47-8 offensive wildfire through the Regional field.

On the Move to the SEC

And yet the team and the fans alike can move on from the 2012 season with a good feeling because of the way they bid farewell to the Big 12 (and Kansas), leaving them in our dust.

The road ahead is an uncertain one.  In the SEC, Baseball is the #2 sport.  It's the conference of baseball champions.

Everyone keeps telling me Mizzou Baseball moving into the SEC will be a huge challenge.  My answer is always the same:
Sure, it'll be a challenge.  But we'll have to wait and see if the SEC is up to it.
Moving on from Mizzou

Ryan Clubb: 64 innings pitched in 4 years, just 1 of those in 2012; 51 earned runs surrendered, for a 7.17 ERA.  It's unusual for a player with those kind of numbers to stick on a Big 12 roster for 4 years.  But Clubb filled a different sort of role for the Tigers, one that Tim Jamieson obviously valued.   Clubhouse jokester, dugout cheerleader and choreographer, rain delay games master - Ryan Clubb was the guy who kept the team loose.  It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

Jeff Emens:  In contrast to Mr. Clubb, Jeff Emens racked up the innings like a workhorse.  86.1 innings in 2012, which is almost exactly double his total innings the previous 2 years (197.2 total in 4 years).  And the increased workload seemed to make him an even better pitcher, putting together a 2.71 ERA in 2012, compared to his 4.61 combined ERA in the previous three years.  Emens led the 2012 bullpen in both his numbers and in his approach to the game.  His leadership and effect upon the younger members of the pitching staff will continually to reap benefits over the next few years.

Conner Mach:  As a freshman some fans referred to him as Mach 2, the younger version of Mach 1, his older brother Kyle.  Conner has played a number of positions in his four years, but eventually settled in at third base, continuing the Mach excellence at the hot corner, a position that had not seen any Tiger play with sustained excellence until Dave and Regina sent their boys to MU.

Take a look at the career statistics compiled by Conner and Kyle.  They are astonishingly similar, including their penchant for getting hit by the pitched ball:
Kyle:     .294 BA, 635 AB, 187 H, 9 HR, 22 HBP
Conner:  .278 BA, 629 AB, 175 H, 9 HR, 33 HBP
Andreas Plackis: Doctor Plackis, as he was being called by the end of the season, accumulated about the same number of at-bats in 2012 (119) as he had during the previous two seasons (126).  But this year, after waiting for his turn to be given the everyday starting job at first base, the Doctor improved on his previous .246 BA with a productive .294 BA.   He had the best strikeouts to at-bat ratio of anyone on the team with over 100 AB.  Besides the contribution he made to the team on the field, Andreas has built a reputation off the field.  I can't tell you how many times I'd be talking to students who don't even follow baseball, but when they heard I'm a Tiger baseball fan, they'd say, "I know someone who plays baseball: Andreas Plackis.  He's a really good guy.  Do you know him?"  That's high praise.

Dusty Ross is the only senior who came in as a junior college transfer.  He will probably forever be remembered as "The Rifleman", if only because Tex Little told that story almost every time Dusty took the mound to close out a game.  But the nickname fit, because he approached the task of relief pitching like a wild west gunslinger taking his stance in the street, facing down his opponent with quiet, calm determination.  During a long stretch of the 2012 season, Ross was the guy that elicited a sigh of contented relief from the fans in the stands when he was called in from the bullpen.  You knew he might not be perfect, but you could rely on him to get the Tigers out of whatever jam they'd gotten themselves into.

Ben Turner was named co-captain before the start of the season, and took that responsibility on his broad shoulders and dared anyone to get between him and his duty.  Ben was bowled over, smacked int he head with a backswung bat, knocked down, covered with more than one gigantic pile of dust, and even landed on top of one baserunner after catching the ball.

He talked and cajoled the pitching staff into focusing on their job.  He demanded and earned respect with his style of play.  He caught 95% of the innings in 2012, and he will be missed.  Patrick Q et al have very big shoes to fill.  WE wish Ben well as he earns his way up through the SF Giants' farm system.

Blake Brown was selected by Atlanta in the 5th round of the MLB Draft, and within 24 hours he had signed with the Braves and is gone with the wind. We'll miss the energy that crackled whenever Blake Brown took the field. At the the plate he was like a rattlesnake poised to strike. On the base paths he was like a hot rod straining to accelerate to the finish line. Occasionally that energy resulted in less than controlled performances - Blake led the team in both hits and strikeouts. But he was always fun to watch.

Eric Garcia was also drafted by the Braves and also signed quickly with them.  Eric was willing to do anything for the team -  even if it meant playing a stint at first base in 2011.  In 2012, though, he was the shortstop - for every game.  While sometimes he suffered through hitting slumps (and occasional fielding slumps), Garcia could carry the team on his shoulders when he was in the groove.  We'll miss the acrobatic plays deep at short.  And I'll miss sitting with his grandfather, Flavio, during a game, chatting about baseball and the state of Texas and his two favorite activities:  going out to the dance hall and watching Eric play baseball.

Blake Holovach was drafted and signed with the Seattle Mariners. Blake only spent one year with the Tigers, transferring from Coffeyville Community College. He has a great arm that had the scouts salivating. What he doesn't have is extensive experience pitching, which he only began doing during his senior year in high school. He provided the Tigers and their fans with some masterful games during the season. His great "stuff" should convince the Mariners' organization to be patient with him as they teach him the fine art of pitching and give him plenty of innings to hone his craft.

2012 Mizzou Baseball Seniors

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