spoiler alert: i linked this
Now that we've reached the conference midpoint and looked at the conference outlook, it's time to take a look at the team stats. Unlike in previous editions, the graphics will include some pitching related stats despite too small of a sample size to be that meaningful. The pitching stats are starting to show some trends, though.
As another reminder, these stats aren't official, but they should be pretty close. I have to compile these by going through every box score and input them into Excel tables. Many times, box scores contain errors that are corrected in the official statistics, but they may not be adjusted in the online box score.
So, as I start each of these posts, we'll look at the three major derived stats that are readily available in the college game (batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage):
In that AWESOME EXCEL GRAPH, you can see each of the percentages as they accumulate over the season. It should be pretty obvious that as the season goes along, the lines should normalize to the average as more data comes in. What may be a bit more difficult to see is that Michigan's offense peaked in the Central Michigan game. At that time Michigan was hitting .328 (BA) and .411(OBP). The slugging picked up a bit since then, peaking in the offensive explosion in Illinois game one, with a .477 slugging percentage.
Michigan currently sits at .321 (BA), .404 (OBP), and .470 (SLG). That ranks 3rd, 3rd, and 4th in the Big Ten respectively (more on this below). In terms of conference only stats, Michigan is at .322 (BA), .411 (OBP), and .469 (SLG), which means we've done a little bit better in conference in terms of getting on base, but everything else has been pretty similar to the non-conference season. That's pretty surprising given the difference in talent we've faced, but at the same time, Michigan has had a couple of anemic offensive games against some of the Big Ten's best pitchers (Hippen, Bischoff, Leininger), and they've had some explosive games against some of the not so good (Illinois win).
Speaking of talent difference between conference and nonconference, the purple line in the above graph, for those who didn't pay attention last time, represents the RPI of our opponents. The number one team in Boyd Nation's pseudo-RPI would be a 1.000, and a team holding the #302 RPI (or any non-D1 opponents if you're a Buckeye who plays AND LOSES to D2 and NAIA teams) would register as a 0.000 score. From that, you can see that our non-conference schedule was pretty difficult with two games against #1 Coastal Carolina, but our last few games, as well as the Big Ten regular season are quite a drop in competition.
The second graph I tend to post up is per nine innings stats, particularly runs, hits, strikeouts, and walks. These are just the sum of our total stats accumulated over the number of innings Michigan has batted (a home win normally only has 8 innings, as compared to any road game having 9 innings). Taking a peak:
Looking at the above, we can clearly see the differences between "OMG WE LOST LAMARRE" and the the team becoming stable. LaMarre came back against Central Michigan, where we can see a small jump in hits and runs, but not much in terms of long term changes. The only long term pattern that comes from the post-LaMarre return is a slight drop in strikeouts, a product of Krantz and Stephens getting less at bats.
At the time of LaMarre's return, I probably would have predicted an increase in hits and runs per game, but as we'll see in a bit, a couple of players have really cooled down over the last few weeks, most notably Coley Crank.
For individuals and a brief look at pitching, follow the jump. Warning, it gets long. Probably unnecessarily long. But it is what it is.
Michigan took two games against a weak opponent that is still looking to wake the echoes and return to glory from their days when Paul Mainieri, current coach at LSU, was still in South Bend. In Notre Dame's first visit to Ann Arbor since 1977, Michigan won a closely contested game, and the next night, the Wolverines pounded out a huge win.
Abbreviated midweek recaps and thoughts after the jump.
Michigan took both games in the midweek, beating Toledo by a score of 8-4 and Bowling Green State by a score of 8-5. I'm not going to get into either game too much as the midweek games are pretty meaningless from a long term perspective, but there were a few notable players and storylines worth recapping.
Eric Katzman was brilliant in relief of Matt Miller on Tuesday. Katzman went 5 innings, allowing just one hit and two walks to earn the win. It was great to see him get a solid long relief appearance and hopefully this builds his confidence when it comes to the weekend relief corps. He was mixing up pitches really well, and had some stretches of "effective wildness" that kept hitters off balance and rolling over pitches.
On offense, Ryan LaMarre kept his offensive tear rolling, knocking a 2-run homer in the first inning, his first long ball since returning from the injury. But not everyone enjoyed the LaMarre homer. Chris Berset, still feeling the "sting" of losing his 3-hole spot last weekend, came up on the next pitch to hit a solo home run of his own, the first back-to-back homers Michigan has had since February 2009.
John Lorenz also added on in the early innings to remind some of us that he's just as capable of producing in the 8-hole. Biondi also went 3/4.
This game was a bit more bothersome from an offensive perspective. For the most part, Michigan was kept off base for the first 5 innings. Biondi and Toth combined to produce a run in the first inning, and then the offense went into hibernation mode as Apthorpe chewed through our lineup.
Upon Apthorpe's exit, things picked up. Anthony Toth picked up his first career homer, and LaMarre and Berset both followed that up with hits. After a Crank hit by pitch, the Falcons made their only error of the game on a would be double play ball to end the inning. Instead, it opened the flood gates to a 5 run Michigan inning.
Things weren't all sunshine and happy following the inning. On Berset's double, LaMarre went 1st to 3rd and came up holding his hamstring, stretching it out thoroughly during a pitching conference at the mound. LaMarre would stay in and score on a Dufek sac fly, but he left the game as a precautionary move to start the next inning. He's expected to be fine for the Illinois series.
On the mound, Matt Gerbe made a good start, making it through 4 innings and giving up just one run. He gave up a lot of baserunners, but he managed to escape time and again. That changed in the 5th inning. After loading the bases, with only one out, Gerbe threw a wild pitch through Crank's legs. That plated the first Falcon run of the inning. The next batter would line one right back to Gerbe who made a great snag to catch the ball for an out, but when Gerbe went to throw out the runner at third for not tagging up, the ball was thrown away. Two more runners would score and Gerbe would be pulled.
Kolby Wood came in and did alright in earning the win, but the team did have to use Burgoon again for 2 innings. Tyler was lights out as usual, but I have to wonder what his availability is this weekend. I imagine he won't be in Friday unless it's a dire necessity.
Bonus update from The Daily's game wrap:
“I want to thank Tyler Burgoon for my inspiration for my first home run,” Toth said. “He inspired me by telling me I am never going to get one. He tells me that every single day, whether we have a game or not, so I’m glad I got that monkey off my back.”
Illinois questioning [ed: and awesome excel graph!] after the jump:
Michigan handily took care of Central Michigan on a fairly wet day in Ann Arbor by a score of 13-7 in front of 880 fans braving the weather. Matt Gerbe took the win in his first career start, moving to 1-0 on the season. He went only 3.2 innings giving up 4 hits, 3 runs (all unearned), and 2 walks whiles not recording a strikeout. Behind him, Travis Smith, Ben Ballantine, Kolby Wood, Matt Miller, and Matt Broder combined to finish the game and give up on 4 runs (3 earned). Decent day against a decent hitting team.
The offense was clicking in full, recording 18 hits, including a multi-hit game by Biondi (3), Toth (2), Berset (2), Crank (2), Dufek (2), Urban (2), and Dennis (2). Every starter had a hit in this game, and the only batter with a plate appearance without one was John Lorenz, who went 0-for-1 after entering the game as a defensive replacement. No real stars here, as everyone hit well and was timely about it.
It is worth noting that Ryan LaMarre made his first start since breaking his thumb, playing left field instead of center as he started in the season opener. LaMarre went 1-for-3 on the day with a hit by pitch and a strikeout. He also unlaced a screamer up the middle, seen in the video highlights almost hitting Berset as he lead off second. That's encouraging to see him hit the ball hard and up the middle.
The other major lineup change was moving senior Mike Kittle to third base for the start. I'm not sure this is a permanent move, but Kittle has had a hot bat of late and it appears Rich Maloney wants to try and keep that bat in the lineup. That could be a tough break for sophomore John Lorenz who has really picked up his game play of late. He had raised is average to nearly .280, which isn't bad for a 8-hole hitter in the Big Ten, but he hasn't been that consistent at the plate.
What will keep Lorenz in the mix at third is, surprisingly, his defense. Kittle had a diving play that he reacted too slow on early in the game. Lorenz faced an identical play late in the game, and he was able to move in front of the ball and make the easy throw to first. I'm not sure who to expect to start at the hot corner on Friday, but I think we see Lorenz. I somewhat think this was just a trial to see how Kittle would perform defensively. It's not that he failed that test, I'm just not sure that switch is warranted yet. Should be interesting to see come Friday.
Michigan takes on Purdue this weekend. I'll have some Q&A with a Purdue baseball blogger tomorrow and a couple series thoughts out Friday. Friday's first pitch is currently slated for 7:05pm at Ray Fisher Stadium and televised on the BTN (the television channel, not the internet stream).
Continuing the baseball previews in a build up to opening day this Friday, I'll look at how the team is infield, offensively and defensively is shaping up this year. Previous preview posts: Initial Schedule Reaction, Maloney Podcast, A Look Back, Pitching.
On a side note, you can see the baseball television schedule here.
The infield is a tale of two halves, the right and the left. On the right, we have solid returners with solid, not quite stellar, offensive and defensive play. They're proven with a full year's experience. On the left, we have a pair of unknowns. Our third baseman played semi-regularly last year, but could never solidify himself, while our shortstop is a true freshman with a great pedigree.
The only full time starter returning to the same position for the Wolverines this year is Mike Dufek at first base. Dufek will be in his second full season at first base, his freshman year was spent split with Nate Recknagel. Dufek's defense is pretty good at first, but he does lack a bit of range. For this reason sometimes you'll see him replaced by Garrett Stephens, or even true freshman Cam Luther if Maloney finds himself unable to red shirt the exceptional talent. Both of those are expected to be potential defensive upgrades over Dufek, and they will allow Dufek a chance to DH a bit more often.
Speaking of DH'ing, Dufek isn't in the lineup for his defense anyway--the guy can swing the bat. Mike hit 17 home runs last season, tied for third best in school history, and his .627 slugging percentage was 5th best in the BigTen.
The big question surrounding Dufek this season is can he cut down on the strikeouts? Last season saw him strike out one in every 3.8 at bats. High risk/high reward batters may have their merits, but those type of batters need to be hitting 6th, not clean up.
After debating this lightly with commenter Colin over the last few days, I've still yet to be able to accept Dufek as living up to the needs of the teams just because of his 17 home runs last season. Yes, Dufek's OPS was 1.001 last season. Do I think that was enough? No. It sounds weird as a 1.000 OPS is generally regarded as very good. I just don't think his .374 on base percentage is what it should be in the middle of the order. He should be at least .400 to be gaining the sort of praise he's been getting. Even his .304 batting average, that's got to rise up. This is college, not the pros. A great hitter like Dufek has the potential to be needs to be hitting in the .320s. Call it tough love, call it what you will, but I think he's underachieving.
But that also gives me hope. With another year of experience under his belt, I feel like this should be the year that Dufek hits one all cylinders. He's gotten better every season he's been at Michigan, I expect the same thing of him this year. I expect him to be more patient and more explosive.
Moving to second base, our other returning starter, Anthony Toth, will be playing after moving from shortstop. I think this is a positive for the team and Toth. Toth's a little small for shortstop in the big leagues, so he might as well get accustomed to second base now. I think this will also help with his tendency for errors as he'll have easier plays at second than the massive area he had to cover at short. Hopefully he can cut that team high 16 errors last season by at least half if not 3/4.
At the plate, Toth will hit second, and by all current indicators, that's where he'll stay all season. Anthony is a pretty good contact hitter who can put the ball in the gap. This should work well in moving our lead off hitter around the bases and setting up LaMarre with easy RBI opportunities. Like Dufek, though, Toth has a high strikeout rate, and that needs to be fixed this season. We can't win if our 2 and 4 hole hitters strikeout at the rate they did last year.
Unlike Dufek though, Toth had a solid on base percentage of .410. He really started to produce after being moved down in the order, and continued to do pretty well when bumped back to the top of the lineup following Cislo's injury.
At third base, John Lorenz will once again start at third base to open the season. If he's able to lock down the position is still a big question. Last year saw him have to split time with senior walk-on catcher Tim Kalczynski. Being a true freshman starting in college is tough, especially when you miss your entire high school senior season. Defensively, Lorenz has a very good arm, but he too had trouble on the left side of the infield last year. His 14 errors was second highest on the team (the next closest was 6). If he's going to hold on to his position, he must field the ball better.
Offensively, Lorenz was a non-factor in the lineup. He was relegated to the 8-spot in the lineup, generally reserved for the worst hitter on the team. His .375 slugging percentage would likely have been a BigTen low last season for third basemen had he enough at-bats to qualify. Lorenz will most likely stay in the 8 spot as far as I can tell. If for some reason he comes out on fire, look for a possible move to the 2-spot and Biondi to drop in the lineup, especially if Biondi struggles – more on that in a later post.
Putting pressure on Lorenz this season will be redshirt freshman Kevin Krantz. Krantz is a converted shortstop that has spent the last year prepping for a move to the corner, especially with the signing of Derek Dennis to lock down shortstop for the foreseeable future. Krantz put up pinball like numbers in high school playing weak teams in the Traverse City area, but he was widely considered a D1 prospect anyway.
That brings us to short stop and the aforementioned Derek Dennis. Dennis is widely heralded as Michigan's best signing in the last decade, maybe two. The kid was drafted in the 7th round of the MLB draft by the Rays and turned down their $700,000 contract to play at Michigan. He's a 5-tool player with a good glove, solid arm, quick bat speed, some gap-to-gap power, and a pretty good base runner on top of all that. Hopefully his size and range will help solidify our defense at shortstop, a place we had quite a bit of trouble with last year.
That's Dennis legging out a triple in the fall game against an overmatched team from Ontario. You can also see a video of his first hit in the game, a double off the brick monster in left. You can see he has some power and speed, also looks like a baseball player in the build. Now to see him live up to the last player to wear #19, Kevin Cislo.
We still have to see how Dennis adjusts to college pitching, though, so don't set your standards too high just yet. Maloney will be batting Dennis at the bottom of the lineup to work him in slowly. This seems like a solid place for the freshman as your third best contact hitter is usually placed here as a lead off man at the bottom of the order. Coach Maloney's current plan has Dennis here to start the year, and whenever LaMarre finally leaves for the pros, Dennis will take over the 3-hole.
Coming Up Next
I'm going to lump the catchers and outfielders together in the next post as this is getting a bit long already. After that I'll move to a look around the BigTen and our schedule overall. I'll try to have a weekend preview up for the Texas Tech tournament by Friday.