In a little over two seasons of Michigan baseball coverage, I've seen highs and I've seen lows. In 2008, Michigan had an outstanding class of upperclassmen, perhaps their best since the 1980s. When they left, some to graduation, others who left early to the draft, Michigan was left with a huge void. In one year, Michigan went from a first place team in the Big Ten to one of the worst teams in the conference.
The 2010 season was supposed to be the first step to rebuilding. Michigan had two powerful senior captains. They had Ryan LaMarre, a guy now looking at being drafted in the first two rounds of the MLB draft. The pitching depth was there. They may have lacked the big star on the mound, but they were going to be good.
On Saturday, Michigan faced Iowa in a chance to make the Big Ten Tournament Championship. The game went much like the rest of the season. Michigan opened with a bang. The offense exploded. After it went quiet, the pitching held strong. But when the pitching left, so did much of Michigan's hopes for the NCAA.
Recap, and a look back at the big picture… or excel graph. However you want to look at it…, and a look forward after the jump.
The Wolverines had a 7-1 lead going into the bottom of the 6th. Sinnery was still in, having given up just one run on just 7 hits, but having given up 5 walks. Most watching probably thought Michigan was in the drivers seat.
Much to the chagrin of Michigan fans, the pitching ran out. To make things worse, the defense faltered. Even Dufek, a guy who hadn't had an error all Big Ten season was guilty. Michigan was desperate to advance, stretching Sinnery to his limit. Unfortunately, by letting him go, all the momentum was gone by the time that hit.
Iowa would score 10 runs over the last 3 times at bat. Sinnery, Gerbe, and Wood were helpless to stop them. Neither Gerbe or Wood was particularly sharp. Both threw 29 total pitches, with Gerbe connecting for 19, only 16 for Wood. While they only allowed one walk, they hung plenty of big ones for the Hawkeyes to hit.
Despite not winning the tournament, Michigan was well represented on the All-Big Ten Tournament team:
Bobby Brosnahan, P
Mike Dufek, 1B
Anthony Toth, 2B
John Lorenz, 3B
Ryan LaMarre, OF
That's 3/4 of the infield and one of the 4 starting pitchers on the team. Domination. Except kind of not really.
With the loss, Michigan was eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament. The season was all but over. Monday, it came to a finite end. With an RPI around 70 and no automatic bid, Michigan had no real chance to be picked as an at-large to the NCAA tourney. On Monday's selection show, there was no Michigan. It was over.
With the season at a close, we give thanks to those who will be leaving us. The only definites are the seniors. Chris Berset, Mike Dufek, Mike Kittle, Nick Urban, Alan Oaks, Eric Katzman, Vinnie Sarafa, and Jeff DeCarlo will all be missed. And as for "Evil" Katzman, Eric's evil twin, you had a good ride; may you stop tormenting Eric in his future endeavors.
With the draft upcoming, Michigan will most likely have a few more good byes. Ryan LaMarre has a lot of buzz surrounding him – to the tune of a 1st or 2nd round pick, a huge jump from the 6-10th rounds to start the season. Tyler Burgoon is also going to be a likely early departure. The small righty has started to generate some draft buzz himself as a solid relief prospect with a plus fastball and slider.
To all those that leave, good luck and god speed.
The Season in a Nutshell
Contrary to some, this season was everything it was expected to be. Coming in, Michigan wasn't supposed to win the Big Ten. They were supposed to contend, but they lacked the experience and the proven pitching staff to win it all. If anything, they were supposed to return to the level expected of Michigan. Michigan is expected to compete for the Big Ten crown. They're expected to be at least on the bubble for an NCAA berth. In the end that's right where they ended up.
The Clear Breaking Point
Still, some still have to be disappointed with the injury to Ryan LaMarre. In just the third game of the season, Ryan made a diving attempt at a ball on Texas Tech's field turf, one he wouldn't just spring up from. The thumb was broken, and so was Michigan's offense without its star.
The above graph shows just how defunct things got. The initial explosion was followed by a crater. Michigan's team batting average was at .252 to end the Big Ten/Big East Challenge. The on base percentage bottomed out at .343. The slugging reached rock bottom against Louisville, reaching a .361. This was 2 games after it was up in the .700s.
This graph shows the team ERA with the same scaled RPI. Downward trends are good times. Games like Indiana 3 (22 ER – right after the 5.19), those are bad. Things that stay about the same are somewhat indifferent. From this, Michigan looks to have done well against teams they should. I'd argue that some of the Big Ten was a bit further down the RPI ladder than normal this year just because the teams that finished the year hot had epically bad starts to their season.
What I do find disappointing is how well the pitching was doing during the offensive drought. I'm not disappointed with the pitching, but to have had that all squandered early. Had Michigan had that same pitching down the stretch, we'd be talking Big Ten Champs. Hell, if we could have just had the hitting we had against Indiana (also without LaMarre) throughout his absence, we may even be talking a #2 seed in the NCAAs. Instead, we've got nothing but another long off season.
Looking to Next Year
Michigan will lose a lot this off season, but it keeps quite a bit as well. Michigan returns Anthony Toth, John Lorenz, and Derek Dennis on the infield. That's got me excited. Lorenz and Dennis showcased their potential this weekend, both making the Big Ten Tournament teams. They also executed back-to-back homers in the elimination game against Iowa. Consider that a sign of how good Michigan will be next year.
On top of that, Patrick Biondi and Coley Crank also return to the lineup. Biondi will continue his centerfield duties, and I think we can expect Crank to move behind the dish as the full time catcher. Here's hoping his summer is spent improving defensively. Let's also hope this was just a building year for his offensive prowess. The guy is going to be a monster.
So that leaves Michigan with three regular positions to fill, and a new designated hitter. The easiest position to peg is first base. That race will be between to-be-junior Garrett Stephens and to-be-sophomore Cam Luther. Both are big power guys, but they just haven't found a place to play yet. Stephens was destroying his summer league last year, but he's been stuck behind Crank and Dufek at DH and first respectively. His numbers haven't been great either, but I don't know what else to expect from a guy who gets most of his ABs as a pinch hitter.
Cam Luther was another big piece of last year's prize recruiting class. He made four appearances this year, but spent a good portion of them striking out. In 7 plate appearances, he struck out 6 times. He walked in the final appearance of the season, dating way back to the Coastal Carolina series. With a long summer season ahead of him, he'll start to work out the kinks.
That leaves two outfield positions wide open for next year. Unfortunately, it's unclear who will take over out there. Kevin Krantz made a few starts out there during LaMarre's injury, and he started to come around nicely before fracturing his thumb and ending his season. He's a converted shortstop who doesn't seem to be taking over for Dennis any time soon. Another option is Tyler Mills. Mills was recruited as a pitcher, but he's made a few appearances in left this season. He fits the "quick" model that Rich Maloney has gravitated to over the last few years.
The other options are both incoming freshman. One is former Yankee Paul O'Neill's nephew Michael O'Neill. O'Neill has been a centerfielder for his high school career and has blazing speed. The other option from the incoming freshmen is Adam Robinson. Robinson is another quick guy that is described by his "grit" and "determination."
What worries me most is on the mound. Michigan will lose Oaks, Katzman, and most likely Burgoon. Luckily, the bullpen does return several key guys. If you asked me right now, the rotation to start the year will look something like Matt Miller, Bobby Brosnahan, and Brandon Sinnery. I'm not sure who will be the ace, but probably one of the formers. I wouldn't be surprised to see either Kolby Wood or Matt Gerbe become the closer. Ballantine and Clark will probably continue to grow in the bullpen. After that, Michigan still needs 2-3 guys to step up. There's a couple of freshmen coming in, but there's no telling just how well they'll perform.
In terms of next year's schedule, not much is known yet, but we can take a couple stabs at guessing. Obviously the season will open with the Big Ten/Big East Challenge, and with Michigan being one of the favorites to compete again next year, I have to guess we'll see a mix of the best Big East teams. Maloney has already hinted that Stanford is the big name weekend. With a younger team, I can't expect the extreme scheduling to continue, but you never know.
Once returning back to Ann Arbor, the conference schedule should stay the same with Michigan State being a mid week series only. Texas Tech will also be coming to Ann Arbor for a mid-week series, I assume in the place of Notre Dame. This could shape up to be pretty tough on the young guys already.
The Immediate Future
Two things are coming up in the next month. Michigan's outgoing players will be hitting up the Major League draft. We'll have coverage here as things come up. The other is summer league baseball. That coverage will be MUCH less intense. Once I get where everyone is going, I'll put up a small blurb about that. From there it's a monthly, maybe bi-monthly, update on how their summers are playing out.
Right now, I know Toth and Dennis are playing for the Wareham Gateman of the Cape Cod League, the former team of Ryan LaMarre. Hopefully they'll have a bit better season than LaMarre did.
Thanks for this season guys. May you all return healthy for the Big Ten title next year.