Watching Tim Jamieson's Tigers can be like marathoning 20 seasons of Law & Order.
The plot rarely varies. You think you know who done it, only to find out someone else did it, with the real perp revealed in the final five minutes. With Mizzou Baseball, you think the team is going to have a big inning, but it falls short. Then an unexpected contributor leads the charge in another inning, leading the viewers to think they know how it's going to end. But in the final ten minutes, everything's liable to change again.
Law & Order stays remarkably the same year after year, even though the cast of characters continually changes. For Mizzou Baseball, the names in the lineup change from season to season, but the theme of a few great pitchers and a handful of promising but inconsistent hitters remains constant, with remarkably similar results.
At the halfway mark of the 2016 season, this team looks a lot like just another season of a sometimes riveting but often frustrating program. Or does it?
The 2016 season was supposed to be #OurMoment for #MizzouBaseball. Unfortunately, hashtags aren't enough to turn a program around. There have been too many #OwMoments and too much of the same plot-line we've seen from #MizzouBaseball in previous seasons.
Can Tim Jamieson, the veteran Mizzou showrunner, turn this season around?
Reasons for hope
In the midst of a 4-10 slump, some fans and followers have already given up hope on the season. For the glass-half-full crowd, though, there is reason to think the Tigers can improve as the season progresses.
Reggie McClain & Tanner Houck
McClain and Houck have been hosting a pitching school on Fridays and Saturdays. Houck's 9-inning, 14-strikeout, 2-hit outing against the Commodores was one of the best pitching performances I've ever seen at Simmons Field (and I've watched Scherzer, Crow, and Gibson). McClain is on a mission this season to show the scouts and the whole world that he should have been drafted last June - and drafted high. With just a little more help from the Tiger offense, these two aces could lead the team to a series victory every weekend (which is what it will take to put Mizzou in contention in the SEC).
Just to address "Chris O'Leary only uses still pictures" narrative...— Chris O'Leary (@thepainguy) March 29, 2016
Tanner Houck at 120 frames per second. pic.twitter.com/b2703XWz78
The pitching after McClain and Houck has been less than reliable (see below), but there are some good signs.
RHPs Brian Sharp and Liam Carter have both done fairly well overall, in spite of some rough spots. RHP Ryan Lee has had some great outings, contributing to Mizzou's 5-1 mid-week record to-date, impressive for a program that has struggled in mid-week contests.
This past weekend LHP Austin Tribby nailed down a save in a key situation. Considering the solidstart by freshman LHP Michael Plassmeyer the next day, sending Tribby back to the bullpen looks like a move in the right direction.
There's also news that both freshman RHP Grant Macchiocchi and sophomore LHP Lake Dabney will soon be available to shore up the bullpen. Jamieson mentioned before the season that Macchiocchi was expected to be the closer. If both he and Dabney are healthy and able to live up to expectations, the Tiger's pitching problems could dwindle.
Fans who have been following this team know that in any given game there is a real expectation that someone in the lineup will put together a fantastic game at the plate or an amazing clutch hit or defensive play. Pre-season All-SEC SS Ryan Howard has proven repeatedly he has the ability to win a game with a single swing of his bat. Sophomore 3B Shane Benes is struggling to raise his batting average, but his ability to launch a rocket over the outfield wall makes him a feared member of the lineup. Junior CF Jake Ring and Senior 1B Zach Lavy have been on fire, driving the offense. Up and down the lineup are hitters who have demonstrated their ability to do great things in the clutch.
I've not watched or listened to a single game where I didn't expect the Tiger bats to suddenly put together a 2 or 3 run inning. They demonstrated their ability to put it all together and score the runs they needed against SEC competition when they out-scored Arkansas 24-13 over their 3-game series.
If the lineup can get in sync and become a run-producing machine, the season's outlook will improve dramatically.
Turning #Almost into #OurMoment
Of the Tigers' seven losses to SEC teams, five of them were by two runs or less. With a shot in the arm from rehabbed pitchers, improved confidence and production by the bullpen and Sunday starters, and even a small increase in consistency by the offense, those close losses could more often turn into close wins.
The Tigers have already faced two of the best teams in the SEC (the Florida Gators and the Vanderbilt Commodores) . While they still have to face the division leading South Carolina Gamecocks and the Mississipi State Bulldogs, the "easier" part of the SEC schedule is still ahead. Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky are not pushovers, but but none of them sits any higher than 4th in their division. They're all comparable to Arkansas, and Missouri has a legitimate shot at beating them, especially with that 1-2 punch of McClain and Houck attacking the opposition every weekend.
Reasons for Concern
That was the good news. There is, of course, plenty of bad news.
Houck and McClain combined have an ERA of 2.66, but their combined ERA in the SEC is 4.75. The rest of the pitching staff has an overall ERA of 4.63 with an SEC ERA of 5.03 . That's not horrible, but the real-game results have undercut the team's progress.
For a team that can be exciting to watch, the actual results are less impressive. The team batting average is .255, 13th in the SEC. In SEC games, the BA drops to .233. Only four hitters are batting better than .250. Only three of those are hitting over .250 against SEC pitching. Missouri has 15 home runs and 236 strikeouts on the season, which puts them next-to-last in the SEC in both categories.Those numbers are going to have to improve if the Tigers are going to turn this season around and make it into the post-season.
As noted above, Mizzou's offense is capable of exploding with a Big Inning. The flip side of that Big Inning approach is that they've also frequently put together a Big Inning that that falls just short of actually pushing a runner across the plate. Someone comes up with that great hit, a steal, or works a tough pitcher for a walk. Someone else advances the runner and the next guy gets on base. And then... nothing. Mizzou needs a lot less of those nothing innings if they're going to bring this season to satisfying conclusion.
Missouri leads the SEC in errors. By a lot. The SEC average is 30. Mizzou has 47.
In four of Mizzou's losses, the difference between the opponent's runs vs. earned runs is equal to the number of runs by which Mizzou lost. Three of those error-produced losses were in the SEC, including the Sunday Vanderbilt game, where Mizzou lost 17-7 after the Tigers committed 8 errors and the Commodores scored 7 earned runs and 10 unearned runs.
If the #OwMoments keep up at this pace, Jamieson's Tigers will fumble away any chance of a post-season.
The Tigers have dug themselves a pretty deep hole in the SEC. Even with some of the best teams behind them, they still do have to face USC and MSU, as well as non-conference foes Missouri State and Oklahoma. If pitching and offense continue at the same level, it's going to be a difficult path to Hoover, and forget about the Regionals.
9 Reasons to Keep Watching
Whether this season shifts into rerun mode or becomes must-see-baseball, there are always good reasons to keep showing up at Taylor Stadium.
- Reggie and Tanner really are worth coming out to the ballpark to watch. Those who were around in 2004-2006 will always be glad they showed up to see Max Scherzer put on a show once a week at Taylor Stadium. A few years from now you'll be telling people you saw Tanner Houck pitch before he became a superstar for some MLB team.
- The Mizzou offense and defense can be frustrating to watch sometimes. But you really don't want to miss it when Ryan Howard comes through in the clutch or Shane Benes delivers a bomb over the left field wall or Trey Harris excites the entire crowd with his enthusiasm for the game.
- If you're a Columbia resident, you need to come out and see Connor Brumfeld, a Rock Bridge grad who is putting together one of the best freshman seasons for the Tigers since Jacob Priday was here. Check out ABC 17 News: Brumfeld settles in with Mizzou baseball.
- You're also bound to see some future major leaguers playing for MU's opponents. Every SEC team, plus Missouri State and Oklahoma, feature players who will be high draft picks and likely big leaguers some day.
- If you're coming to CoMo on April 16th for Mizzou Football's Black & Gold Game at 5:00, you'll want to show up early and watch Mizzou Baseball play LSU just across the street at 2:00, with ace Tanner Houck on the mound.
- On May 17th Missouri will host the Oklahoma Sooners in a mid-week game, the first Big 12 opponent the Tigers have faced since the move to the SEC. Most of the students will be gone by then, but hopefully Mizzou fans from CoMo and elsewhere will want to pack Taylor Stadium to watch this reunion.
- The weather is finally getting warm enough for all of you literal "fair weather" fans to enjoy three hours at the ballpark.
- It's baseball. For 5 bucks you can sit closer to the action than you'll ever get at Busch or the K.
- Whoever the opponent, whatever the result, at Taylor Stadium you always get to watch the Best Managers in Baseball at work. Also the #BestManagersOnTwitter