Bakich's lineup tweaks working so far

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By Danny Vargovick, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 18, 2015

As the Michigan baseball coach, one of Erik Bakich’s many duties is setting the batting order every game. It’s a task he doesn’t take lightly.

A number of factors come into play: the advantage against the opposing pitcher, mixing up right-handed and left-handed hitters and setting the table at the top before bringing in the power in the middle.

Bakich isn’t too concerned with limiting consecutive lefties or righties in the lineup. Jacob Cronenworth, Jake Bivens, Jackson Glines and Carmen Benedetti all hit from the left side, but the desire to get the team’s best hitters more at-bats trumps that concern.

“We don’t look at (switching lefties and righties in the order) much,” Bakich said. “If there’s a matchup that we’re aware of, we may make an adjustment. Some of our best hitters hit left-handed and right-handed pitching the same.”

Bakich has, however, changed his lineup based on the platoon advantage against the scheduled starting pitcher. Bivens, a lefty, has been very strong against righties so far this season, but hasn’t been as good against lefties.

“Bivens is a guy we’ve moved around the order a little bit based on the lineup and the matchup,” Bakich said. “If the information was indicative of an advantage of shuffling, we would want to create the best competitive advantage for the team to win.”

Still, the main factor will always be getting the best hitters at the top and heart of the order.

For Michigan, the offense revolves around Glines. He’s been in either the second or third spot all season this year and is leading the team with a .475 average. He has just three extra-base hits on the season, but his massive contact rates have lead to an extraordinary 1.094 OPS.

“Glines is an extremely advanced hitter who has a knack for hitting line drives, getting on base and scoring runs,” Bakich said.

Many managers have a headache over who to bat leadoff. That’s not a problem for Bakich — he has an obvious candidate in Cronenworth, who has been the team’s second-best hitter on the year. The speedy, undersized first baseman has done exactly what Bakich expected him to do — walk a ton. Cronenworth’s 15-percent walk rate helps him to a .440 on-base percentage and .882 OPS.

This year, Benedetti and Bruder have displayed the best combination of contact ability and power — they’re first and second on the team in extra-base hits, respectively.

Benedetti has been extremely aggressive at the plate this year — earning only one walk in 75 plate appearances. Bakich said that’s a product of him having runners on base to try to drive in, and him getting good pitches to hit because of solid protection in the lineup from Bruder. He was moved to the fifth spot after starting the season in the two-hole, and he sports a .393 on-base percentage and .839 OPS.

Behind Bruder, Lugbauer has had a cold introduction to college baseball. He’s hitting .161 with a .214 slugging percentage and strikeouts in 30 percent of his plate appearances. Bakich, however, isn’t concerned.

“If we were playing at home, he’d probably have five or six home runs, it just happens that the first five or six weeks of the year we were playing in massively large ballparks,” Bakich said. “He hit some balls that were well over 400 feet that got caught. With the power guys, especially the young power guys, you’re going to get some strikeouts.”

Bakich’s blueprint is working. The team leads the Big Ten in runs scored with 101 – 11 more than second-place Maryland. In the end, though, Bakich wants to keep the focus on his players. If no one hits, the lineup doesn’t matter.

“I think the order of the hitters is very important,” Bakich said, “but more important than the order of the hitters are the hitters in the lineup themselves.”