2017 position-by-position breakdown
The No. 22 Michigan baseball team’s lineup was not yet set in stone when it traveled to California for a 13-game road trip over spring break. After losing former pitcher Brett Adcock, first baseman Carmen Benedetti and pitcher Evan Hill to the MLB, there seemed to be multiple voids the Wolverines would have trouble filling.
What Michigan did not know, though, was that it would fill those positions with incredible ease, recording 238 hits, 165 runs and a .387 on-base percentage so far this season. Just as the Wolverines have had a consistently high-octane offense, their defense has had ice in its veins.
Posting a 19-6 record with a cumulative 3.16 earned-run average and seven saves, the Michigan pitching rotation has outperformed expectations. Backing the pitchers up is a veteran fielding squad that has given up just 18 errors so far this year.
The Daily breaks down the Wolverines position-by-position in order to anticipate the solidifying starting lineup approaching Michigan’s long home stand, starting with a three-game matchup against Penn State this weekend.
With two of four starting pitchers returning from last year’s squad, the battle for the ace job ensued immediately from the start of spring training. Despite the competition, it seemed inevitable that junior left-hander Oliver Jaskie would fill that role.
With a 3-1 record and 3.44 ERA, Jaskie boasts the best performances and the most innings pitched out of the starting rotation with 34. However, he has not quite achieved superstar status due to the prowess and consistency of his teammates.
Junior right-hander Alec Rennard, who transferred this year from Santa Rosa Junior College, has certainly stepped up to the challenge, recording a 3.20 ERA with four wins and one loss. Rennard has quickly solidified his role in the rotation as a spot starter, and the fact that he has walked just two batters over the course of his 25.1 innings pitched displays his consistency.
Junior left-hander Michael Hendrickson stands as the lone pitcher without a loss. With a 3.25 ERA — but 13 walks and 11 runs forfeited — Hendrickson has proven to be a reliable arm and will continue to get the nod. Junior right-hander Ryan Nutof, on the other hand, lags behind the rest of the rotation with a 6.39 ERA and a 1-1 record. While Nutof has a discrepancy in the ERA column, his 14 walks over 31 innings pitched is on par with the rest of the rotation.
Michigan has not found its go-to relievers as of yet. Senior right-hander Jackson Lamb leads the team with six saves and has been entering the game in the most save situations.
However, it is unclear who will come into the game in the sixth, seventh or eighth innings. Sophomore William Tribucher has pitched the most innings from a reliever with 19 and has a 2.37 ERA, while freshman Tommy Henry has 16.2 innings pitched with a 1.08 ERA. Both seem to be the frontrunners for a mid-game clutch substitute, but have been used interchangeably.
As the Wolverines are in the midst of an 18-game home stretch, kicked off by a matchup against Penn State this weekend, Michigan will need to mix-and-match pitchers in order to maintain its consistent performances.
One thing is clear about the catcher position, and it’s that senior Harrison Wenson will be behind the plate. His lackluster .224 batting average thus far is not indicative of his impact on the field. With 20 RBI — third on the team — he certainly makes his presence known on and off the field. Though Wenson was drafted 39th in last year’s MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, he decided to stay at Michigan, a decision that speaks to his passion for the team as well as his leadership. Right now, junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer starts behind the plate when Wenson can't. However, that deal is not permanent, as two freshmen recruits in Harrison Salter and Marcus Chavez joined the squad. Junior Brock Keener seems poised to assume the position in the future, as he already has been filling in for Wenson in certain situations.
Junior Jake Bivens has taken up the mantle at first base and seems to have a solid footing for the position. With a .258 batting average — right in the middle of the pack — and a .421 on-base percentage, Bivens established himself as a reliable bat that can hit in any spot in the lineup. His recent move to sixth in the batting order shows his versatility as a hitter.
What’s more impressive, though, is his glove. He’s been involved in 203 put outs, and has only committed one error. Bivens’ offensive output and defensive prowess makes him a pivotal part of the lineup.
The first batter that steps up to the plate at Ray Fisher Stadium is 5’8” sophomore Ako Thomas. Though atypical for a leadoff hitter, Thomas boasts a .323 batting average with 31 hits and a .450 on-base percentage. Thomas has proven that his lead-off abilities demand respect, and his one error shows his reliability in the field.
Ranked third in the Big Ten in hits with 34, currently leading the team in batting average at .330 and in the midst of an 11-game hitting streak, Michael Brdar exemplifies what it means to be a senior on a baseball team. His two errors are not too shabby either, making him a player that can be counted on to produce offensively while making very few mistakes in the field.
In the third game of Michigan’s series against Northern Illinois earlier this season, Lugbauer stepped up to the plate and said goodbye to the Huskies with a walk-off three-run home run beyond the right field wall. Lugbauer leads the team in home runs and RBI with six and 27, respectively. The clean-up hitter has been a machine at the plate and he will likely continue to be a staple for the Wolverine offense.
Much like the infield, the outfield exemplifies offensive performance supplemented by solid defense. In right field is sophomore Jonathan Engelmann, who trails his fellow outfielders with a batting average at .246. In center field is Johnny Slater, who leads the team with four triples and also boasts 22 RBI. In left field is redshirt sophomore Miles Lewis, who leads the outfield in batting average at .302. Lewis, since transferring this season, has provided the Michigan offense with yet another reliable bat.