In our ongoing, but almost never remembered to be done Q&A series, we Anchor of Gold writers occasionally loosen our grips on our cocktails long enough to type and send questions to upcoming competitors of which we are less aware than our SEC brethren. As such, Alex Robbins of SBNation's Crimson Quarry, the Indiana University sports blog, reached out to us this week. As Indiana is the #3 seed in our Region, it can't hurt to get an insider's perspective, right? Right??? (For an outsider's perspective, come back to Anchor of Gold later in the afternoon to see my full preview of the Indiana Hoosiers baseball team.)
Anyway... Alex asked me a series of questions. In the spirit of quid pro quo, I did the same. Here are the questions I asked, and the responses given, verbatim.
Anchor of Gold: It's not news to you that the best coach in the history of Indiana baseball is at Arizona State now. In the year since Chris Lemonis has taken the helm, what's been the main difference, strategically, between a Tracy Smith IU squad and a Chris Lemonis IU squad?
Crimson Quarry: It's hard to tell if the approach of the two managers is very different because the situations are so different. The 2013 and 2014 teams had some dominant pitchers and one of the best offenses in the country. They also played in a terribly weak Big Ten. The 2015 team has good pitching, but no one dominant, and a decent offense, but nothing like what we became accustomed to in Bloomington.
So, really, everything has been different strategically. Lemonis has had to tinker with the starting rotation, where Smith pretty much had it set from day one each season. Lemonis has also had to shuffle guys around defensively and in the lineup because of inconsistencies and injuries, both things with which Smith did not have to deal. One thing that they were dealt similar hands with is speed on the bases. The hands were similar because neither of them had much to work with. But that hasn't stopped Lemonis from being aggressive. And that may be the only facet of the game where it's fair to the compare the two thus far.
AoG: Last year, you clubbed your way into a National Seed (which you then lost to Stanford, which... thanks, by the way, I guess) by going 44-15 and destroying your conference foes to the tune of a 21-3 record. What's the main difference between last year's team and this year's team, who went 34-22 (12-10 Conf.)? It's not all Kyle Schwarber, right?
CQ: It's not all Schwarber, but that's because that team wasn't all Schwarber. Sam Travis, Dustin DeMuth, and Joey DeNato were also huge losses from that team. Schwarber, Travis, and DeMuth combined for more than 1/3 of the team's at-bats, hit .359, and drove in 146 RBIs (43% of the team total) last season. They also hit 31 of the club's 43 home runs. That was an unbelievable amount of production to try and have to replace.
And the loss of Joey DeNato was almost as costly defensively. He was Indiana's all-time leader in wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched. He was a guy that you could throw out on Friday night against anybody and know that you were going to get a minimum of six innings, and maybe all nine, and would have a chance to win it no matter who was pitching against you. He went 13-1 with a 1.82 ERA in 109.0 IP last season. And absolutely no one has been able to replace him.
AoG: In a year where HR totals are near universally up in college baseball, your team has dropped precipitously in HR totals, down to 32 on the year. Again, this can't all be the loss of Kyle Schwarber to the Cubs, right? Is it a change in offensive strategy, coaching philosophy, or just a turn-over from a power hitting squad to a young team who needs to hit the weight room?
CQ: Like I said in my last answer, Travis and DeMuth were also part of that. But there are also some youngsters who need to hit the weight room. Craig Dedelow jumps immediately to mind. In the final regular season series against Ohio State, Dedelow hit two home runs and was a combined 15 feet from having three more. Five more pounds on the bench probably would've turned those warning track shots into homers.
Logan Sowers probably has the best power on the team. The freshman was Mr. Baseball in Indiana last year and has hit some bombs this season that Hoosier fans excited. I can see two years from now when Sowers is a junior and Dedelow and Austin Cangelosi are seniors a scenario where Sowers takes the Schwarber role and Dedelow and Cangelosi take the Travis and DeMuth roles and they just clobber everything. But that kind of offense is at least one year away.
AoG: Who's your most dangerous hitter? Not just what the stats show (I'd nominate So. OF Craig Dedelow from stats alone), but who is most capable of changing the game by himself? Further, which batter makes you feel most confident when he's up to the plate with ducks on the pond?
CQ: Scott Donley or Casey Rodrigue, two of the seniors in the lineup, are probably the most dangerous. Rodrigue seems to have a knack for rally-starting hits. But if you're looking for one swing of the bat, not matter how his day or week has gone, it's Donley. He was a big part of the 2013 trip to Omaha, so he has the nerve to come up clutch. And he only had 15 strikeouts in the regular season, far fewer than any other regular Hoosier.
The best example of his short memory and clutch hitting was from one week ago. Hitless through his first seven or eight plate appearances in the Big Ten tournament, he came up to the plate in a 2-2 elimination game in the Bottom of the 8th against Ohio State after three Hoosiers had reached base with 2 outs. He fought off a couple pitches and then smacked a 3-run triple to the opposite gap. Not many guys can step into that spot with the week he was having and will their team to play another day.
AoG: Who are you starting on the mound against Radford? Do you feel they are a tough enough opponent to throw your ace, or are you going to roll the dice against Radford and throw your best guy against us?
CQ: I would be shocked if Kyle Hart, who has really turned into the team's ace down the stretch, starts against Radford. I don't think that's because they're going to save the best guy for Vanderbilt, but rather because Radford's lineup will probably have six right-handed batters and Hart is a lefty. Even if Vanderbilt's switch-hitters make that a righty-dominant lineup too, I see Lemonis trying to play the matchups and the splits on Friday to get in the winner's bracket.
Luke Harrison, the team's best and most consistent reliever of the past two years, made a start in the final regular season series and one in the Big Ten tournament. He lasted four or five innings in each outing. He's a big, strong righty, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he started against Radford and Scott Effross, the team's best option in middle or long relief, spelled him at some point around the 4th or 5th.
Then, I would expect Hart on Saturday against Vanderbilt. But if Hart goes on Friday, you might look for Harrison, Caleb Baragar, or Christian Morris to start against the Commodores.
But regardless of who IU has to pitch against by committee, they'll be competitive. Lemonis has 11 or 12 guys he can comfortably send to the mound.
AoG: If we see you guys on game 2, who do you fear most on our team?
CQ: This team has too much experience and grit to fear anybody, but I think the guy fans should have their eye on the most is Dansby Swanson. Those are stupid numbers. And Indiana has had a problem this season with not making other guys beat them. By that, I mean that they have given up too much to the best players opponents have. On paper, he appears to be the best player you've got. So, yeah, Swanson.
AoG: Predictions for the Regional?
CQ: I like Vanderbilt and Indiana on Friday. By my count, Vanderbilt has played 20 games against teams in the tournament field and Indiana has played 21. Radford and Lipscomb have only played 10 and one, respectively. That, combined with the experience that IU and Vandy gained in 2013 and 2014, respectively, is enough to make me think they come out ready to play tournament baseball.
Give me Vanderbilt on Saturday, but it'll be a battle, especially if Hart is the starter for IU. And I suppose Radford wins the first elimination game. Then, I'll take IU on Sunday against Radford.
I don't know if IU would take the Sunday night game against Vanderbilt and be able to push it to Monday, but ultimately, I see Vanderbilt winning this regional by beating Indiana twice. I'd like to think the Hoosiers will beat Vanderbilt once. They're plenty capable of beating quality teams (e.g., Fullerton, Louisville, Charleston). But unless Vandy slips up against Lipscomb on Friday, it's hard to imagine Indiana winning the regional. I don't think anyone is going to beat Vanderbilt twice.
*Bonus Question: You say you likely won't pitch Hart against Radford's right hand heavy lineup. How hard does Hart throw? Is he a guy who can blow smoke, or is he your Tom Glavine to Jaime Moyer type crafty lefty who must hit corners, expand the strike zone, and get in hitters' heads?
*Bonus Answer: I forgot the biggest thing about Hart: he missed last season with Tommy John surgery. His pitch count has been around 95 but he's been able to get through 6 innings or so in each of his last 3 or 4 outings.
He'll hit 91 or 92 and his breaking stuff will dip into the 70s. But he mostly hangs in the upper 80s with the fastball.
Andrew VU '04's Note: Oh thank God he's not a low 80's magician.
I'd like to personally thank Alex Robbins of Crimson Quarry for giving such prompt and thorough responses. See you in the Regional. Or not... you never know how these things will work out.
See Alex's Nashville Regional Preview Here.