Husker Baseball

The State Of Husker Baseball

Captain Obvious: These past two weeks the Husker baseball team has been in a funk. 

It’s Just 3 Games
It’s important to note that this funk really boils down to 3 losses it shouldn’t have, however the reason why people are really concerned about the team is the way they’ve been losing, with really bad pitching (more on that later).  Still though, why only 3?  The baseball team is 2-7 over that stretch, so you’re saying that 5-4 would mean everything is good?  Well, yes.  First is a 10-7 loss to Northern Colorado at home (a team we’ve lost to just 1 time in 16 other games), and second is the first loss to KSU 15-1 and the final being the last KSU game, 5-3.

Why would you say that? Look at it this way.  First, there is no excuse for losing to Northern Colorado other than baseball’s a funny game.  In baseball, the absolute best team will beat the lesser teams about 9 out of 10 times and so far against UNC we’ve done that. Does that Justify it?  Not really, but it’s baseball.

Move on to the weekend series at Oklahoma. Realize we’re the first team since May 2008 to win a game in Norman and frankly, not many teams are going to win a series there, so while a 1-2 outcome isn’t as good as winning the series (which, by the way, we had a good shot at taking game 1 and just came up short), it surely is not the end of the world. 

Next, we lose to Wichita State at their house in the last inning after finishing up the Oklahoma series in Norman just 24 hours earlier.  Ask anyone at that level of baseball, it’s tough to travel overnight and play a game the next day and Wichita State, while not great, is a decent team and plays well at home.

In comes Kansas State and the series gets pushed up due to expected inclimate weather to a double header Friday and a single game Saturday.   The reason the first and last game against KSU were disappointments was because KSU is not a baseball school and we should take the series against them.  While they’re considerably better this year than they’ve been in the past, it’s still a team you have to expect to win the series against and the first and last games there are no excuses. 

So what’s different about the second game?  Well, the second game we were facing All-American candidate AJ Morris.  Look at what AJ had done before coming to Lincoln. AJ had started 7 games for a perfect 7-0 record, and 6 of those 7 he didn’t allow a single earned run.  In fact, before Friday he had only allowed 2 earned runs the entire year over 46 innings for a measly 0.39 ERA. That included wins over a top 10 Oklahoma team (the best offense in the Big XII, and one of the best in the country), a top 10 Baylor team and according to 3 of 6 polls, the #1 team in the country in Arizona State, who by the way was the only other team to put up earned runs on him (2). Even though we gave Morris a run for his money (we were 1 or 2 early hits from putting him out of the game) and we put up more earned runs on him (3) than any other team had, we still lost the game and really when you’re facing a guy like that you can’t expect to win (3 top 10 teams have failed to do so).

The Season So Far
Does anybody really mean it when they say, “I hate to say it, but I told you so”. I’m not sure, but here goes, “I hate to say it, but I told you so.”

I’ve said all year long (before the season and now) that this is a young team and young teams will make you scratch your head one week (KSU) and jump for joy the next (Ark/OSU).  I said it’s going to be an up and down season all year long and it clearly appears to have come true.  The bad news is we’re currently last in the Big XII.  We lost series @OU (expected), won a series vs OSU (unexpected), lost a series @TTU (unexpected) and got swept by KSU (unexpected).  Even though we expected to beat TTU, it should be pointed out that they just took 2 of 3 from Texas A&M as well.

Is Mike Anderson the right man for the job?  You decide.
I’ve now had this argument with many Husker baseball fans, so I’ll present the facts and you can decide for yourself if Anderson deserves a rebuilding year while they look for talent on the mound. And yes, they are looking. In fact, they have a ridiculous amount of pitchers committed already next year, 9 pitchers and a few position players that can also pitch. The highlight is Rivals100 pitcher Lemke, who has said a few times that he really wants to come to NU, but a round 5 or earlier draft pick would be tough to overcome.

So, back to the situation we’re in. We’ve lost 13 pitchers in the draft over the past two years. Last year, the 7 we lost (5 players + 2 signees we had really high hopes for) represented 73% of the innings pitched last year. The year before that, the 6 pitchers we lost represented 69% of the innings pitched.

The typical response to that is, “Well, everyone loses players”. Which is true. However, I challenge anyone to find another northern school that has lost 70% of innings pitched two years in a row that finished in the Top 25. I’d be shocked if anyone can find ANY school let alone a northern school. I also would be shocked if any northern school that lost 70% just 1 year and finished in the top 25 the next.  It just plain doesn’t happen.

Why seperate northern schools? Well, most Husker fans are VERY familiar with the pains of recruiting to the north in football, well I promise you it’s 100x harder in baseball and the talent gap is even greater. Kids in the south play baseball year round and don’t have the ‘shaking off the rust’ time that kids in the north do every year. They just get better, all year round.

Most of Coach Anderson’s tenure has been that of good pitching and small ball offense. A lot of 3-2 games, but never a run-producing machine. Well, this year we’ve also seen a huge improvement on the offensive side, but the pitching staff has been abused more than Tina Turner (too soon?). This year (according to the most current stats on we’re 35th in the country in runs scored. That probably doesn’t seem that impressive, but considering there’s roughly 285 teams in Div I baseball, that’s very impressive.

Should Anderson be excused for a REALLY bad year this year? I don’t know, that’s for you to decide. I would add though, this season’s not over with and I doubt they’re just going to pack it in a give up. If you ask my opinion, if this year continues on the downward spiral we’ve seen recently, then next year will be a make or break year for him. This team is very young and next year would be put up or shut up time.

Does Anderson always make the best decisions? No, baseball is about playing percentages and going with your gut. Even the best coaches are second guessed constantly. His most recent move to send Nesseth to the bullpen, I personally felt was a mistake because we didn’t have any other pitchers to fill the gaps. On Friday, I think part out of frustration, he sent a guy home on a relay throw that was pretty much already on it’s way when he was behind 10-1 with just 1 out. It was a bad call, no doubt. He also pitched to Jeff Larrish, but that’s another story…

Believe what you want. Should he have seen the pitching losses coming? Yes, to a degree, however his recruits being pillaged from the draft didn’t help either. Should he recruit guys who are not going to be drafted? I guess, but I would think you’d want to go after the best talent in the hopes that some will slip through the cracks.

Baseball recruiting is a lot funnier than football because players typically enter the draft out of high school and still sign with a college and ‘see’ if they get drafted high enough. Imagine for a minute if Cody Green and Cody Spano got drafted by the NFL a few months after signing his letter of intent with the Huskers.  Could you imagine how much of a jam the the football team would be in with just 1 QB left on the roster? The football team gets 85 scholarships, the baseball team 11 or so. Almost NOBODY is on a full ride in baseball, which means the kids have to pay some of their own way, which means the incredibly talented inner city kid is going to take that 20th round draft pick and take his crappy (compared to an education) $100,000 signing bonus and leave. It’s unfortunate, but it makes it very difficult to predict an incoming class and make sure all your holes are filled. Add in that any 3rd year player can enter the draft and find out if they get drafted high enough and you’re not always sure who’s coming back and who’s staying so you don’t even know what holes to fill.

There’s a reason why there’s only 1 or 2 schools that have made the 64-team tournament every year for the last 10 years. Because even the best, LSU, CSF, UNC, UT, etc. etc. have down years. Heck, Oregon State won the title 2 years in a row (2006, 2007) didn’t even make the tournament last year (2008). It’s not realistic to think you’ll have a top 25 team every year. The great almighty Dave Van Horn hasn’t done it at Arkansas. The great Rob Childress hasn’t done it at Texas A&M. Almost every Nebraska fans consider them great coaches and they are, but they’ve had down years too.

Make up your own mind about Anderson, but don’t ignore the realities that are college baseball at a northern school.

A Look Ahead
Up next we have a night game with in state opponent Creighton in Lincoln before the top 15 Texas Longhorns come into town.  Another Big XII weekend, another Top 15 team.  If Oklahoma is the offensive champion of the Big XII, then Texas is the pitching (KSU is 2nd, by the way).  Their staff comes into the weekend with a filthy 2.26 team ERA.  It’s probably the best weekend staff the Huskers will see all year.  I personally like the Huskers chances this weekend, simply because we’ve faced 3 All-Big XII quality pitchers this year (Oliver, Lyons, and Morris) and all 3 have had their worst outings against the Huskers and only Morris walked away with a win.  Texas, however, is last in the Big XII in runs and 2nd to last in batting average, a matchup the Huskers could use right now.

It should be interesting the rest of the way.

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