|He's Bringing It, Image from MGoBlue.com|
Moving along in the series to open up the Michigan season, we have come to returning pitchers. Like any other college program, consistent loss of pitchers is the norm. Many programs stockpile as many partial scholarship pitchers as they can, then they accept more walk ons. You can never have too much pitching in todays game of offensive explosions and MLB teams consistently poaching quality players right and left (especially the left, as in left handers). Unlike football, players can enter the pros (minor leagues) right out of high school. Many players in college are there just to polish themselves for a year or two to improve their draft stock. Its for this reason that Maloney lists 15 pure pitchers on his roster. Three other players are also listed as part time position players. Two of those were detailed in yesterday's post in Alan Oaks and Mike Dufek. These guys may see some limited action this year, but I wouldn't expect much more work than Adam Abraham did last year, 5 or so appearances early in the season. The other is Tyler Burgoon, who we'll talk about more later.
Before I get started, I'd love to give you a scouting report including descriptions of their pitches, such as a blazing fastball in the upper 90s with a outward slide on some, or a sharp slider that goes high 80s from 12-to-6, but honestly, its been a while since I've seen these guys pitch. Some of these I haven't seen in two years. Some of the pitchers I'll be mentioning I've never seen pitch. I went back and read some articles and box scores. Its up to you the viewer to go out and see these guys. Form your own opinion. Baseball is America's game. Go out to the Fish and enjoy it. If you've never been to a college game, you'll enjoy it. Its cozy and quaint. I wish I could, but I'm stuck in Houston. So that's my mini-soapbox rant to start the season. On to the introductions...
To start this preview, we go no further than last year's (de facto) Big Ten Pitcher of the year (there is no way you can tell me that Zach Putnam was better overall, there is more than just record and being a senior) Chris Fetter. Fetter lead the conference in ERA (2.47), opposing batting average (.209), innings pitched (94.2), strike outs looking (34), wins (10), games started (3 way tie with 14), second in strike outs (82), 7th in hits allows (71, ok, so Putnam beat him here... in less innings), and 4th in runs allowed (35, Putnam beat him here too... in less inngings). I'm not trying to knock Putnam here, but how did Fetter not take Pitcher of the Year honors?
|Chris Fetters, Image from MGoBlue.com|
Fetter, by all indications will be the Friday night opener pitcher for the whole season. Based on Maloney's previous rotations, I have to believe he will start his ace in game 1 of every conference series to set the tone. There are some coaches out there that save the ace for the weekend to boost attendance, or on the last game to end on a good note, but that hasn't been Michigan's thing that I've ever noticed. By being the most used starter, we should expect 13-15 starts out of Fetter, along with 10-12 wins. Much of his success will depend on his support from the offense. Fetter can keep the opponent from scoring, but having watched Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettite, and Roger Clemens pitch as Astros, giving up 1 run isn't always enough to win. I'm not that pessimistic about our offense, there are just that many question marks. Its also worth noting that Fetter is on every major watch list there is for pitching both in the Big10 and the nation.
You can keep up with Fetter on the Captain's Blog. His posts are by far the most enlightening in terms of understanding the pressures of the student athlete. Great read.
My projected second starter is the lefty Eric Katzman. Katzman was the second most valuable reliever down the stretch, so much though that he earned a start in the Big Ten Conference Championship game. The concern with Katzman is he hasn't been a starting pitcher consistently since high school. His small sample size of starts have all been either short or rough. He made the occasional start in Saturday doubleheader games, hardly ever making it past the 5th inning. If he's going to be the answer to one of the rotation spots, he had better have developed some arm strength/stamina.
|That's Probably a Balk, Eric Katzman, Image from Blue Cats and Red Sox flickr|
Other Starters - Guess Work
The other reason I see Katzman as the second starter is to have the left hander sandwhiched between two right handed starters. The leading candidates due to nothing other than experience are Travis Smith and Kolby Wood. I might even throw Mike Wilson into that hat as well if he hadn't spurned me every time he entered a game last year.
Smith is a right handed sophomore out of Austin, Texas. As a freshman, he had the best numbers as a starter from anyone not named Fetter or Putnam. Michigan was 6-2 in his starts, most of which were non-conference games. The Wolverines sturggled in finding a third and fourth starter last year. Midweek games were started by whoever the flavor or the week happened to be. Smith faired the best, but was still just meh. His 4.40 ERA was 5th on the team; his 43 innings pitched was good for fourth on the team. Hopefully he can avoid a sophomore slump and continue to build upon his past success.
Kolby Wood had quite a bit of success in the rotating Tuesday starter role, but he was also limited in innings. In his five starts, the team went 5-0. The problem with this? His longest outing was 4 innings, so he didn't receive the win in any of them. Kolby showed good potential, he just didn't have the arm strength as a freshman to sustain pitching over the long haul.
|Mike Wilson, When he was good, Image from Rob Migrin, The Daily|
Mike Wilson was not a good pitcher last year. His 9.00 ERA in 15 games, 9 starts, is just the tip of the iceberg. To put it in perspective, in those 15 games, Wilson only managed 34 innings. Even if he only had one inning per relief appearance, that just leaves him a shade over 3 innings per start. His opponent batting average was 2nd highest on the team at .313 (Adam Abraham decided to stick to 3b after that). Despite all of this, Mike still has a good chance at starting, and maybe even being one of our top pitchers. His sophomore year was the exact opposite of last year. This is what happens when you let Canadians play baseball, weird things happen. As a sophomore, Wilson posted a 3.45 ERA, going 7-1 in 15 games (12 starts). Hell, he threw a shutout one game. Then came the second inning of the Super Regional at Oregon State. Everything since then has been downhill. Hopefully Mike rights his ship and regains his confidence this season. We really need him to step up.
|Tyler Burgoon, Image from Blue Cats and Red Sox's flickr|
Tyler Burgoon is another interesting choice to start. Last year Tyler emerged from the closer by committee system to take over the duites. He was not there long because he was also forced into the rotating midweek starter role. I'm not sure what Maloney has in mind for Burgoon just yet, whether it be as a reliever or starter. Tyler pitched very well down the stretch and in the post season as a setup man for Powers. He is at least flexible enough to try either if the need arises.
Relief? Starters? Pine Riders?
The rest of the returning pitching staff is a myriad of question marks. Ben Jenzen is more of the Academic All Big Ten than he is athletic (not that there is anything wrong with that). Gerbe hasn't been that exciting since he was forced to redshirt his freshman season from injury. Miller hasn't looked good in his limited work. DeCarlo is another one of those Academic All Big Ten guys. His numbers are slightly better, but there just isn't enough to look at to judge. I'm pretty optimistic we will have at least 3 quality starters out of this whole mess. The mid-week games are going to be getting much tougher though. We really need one or two of these guys to step up and beat the MAC teams of the world. Unlike football, the Big10 isn't that far ahead of the MAC. My next post will be my projections at the remaining positions left on the defense. I'll have it out by Monday. I'm out.