Hitting is contagious.
It’s a baseball adage that may seem cliche, yet continues to ring true for good teams. The No. 24 Michigan baseball team (11-4 Big Ten) has found this saying accurate as they have used big innings to fuel their explosive offense this season.
The Wolverines have relied on a number of big innings this year, using high-scoring frames to seal the epic comeback against Michigan State, to sweep Purdue, and to pull away from Penn State this past weekend.
“We’ve had big innings a number of times this year, so I knew we were certainly capable,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said after the seven-run comeback in the ninth inning against Michigan State.
But the high of the miracle comeback has faded a bit as Michigan has returned to action and subsequently dropped two of their next four games. Furthermore, some of the offensive struggles that have plagued the Wolverines for long stretches in those games have become more glaring; yet the team has still been able to put up a lot of runs throughout the season. And Michigan has relied on high-scoring frames to do it.
A “big inning” is a general term for a successful inning, and is usually marked by many hitters coming to the plate, many runs being scored, or many pitches being thrown. The Daily will look primarily at the number of runs scored as what constitutes a “big inning.”
Here are some numbers on the big innings for Michigan:
Multi-run innings: 22
3+ run innings: 16
4+ run innings: 9
5+ run innings: 6
Just 26 runs of the 105 total runs were scored in one-run innings. Amazingly, the odds of this team scoring one run in an inning are roughly the same as the odds of scoring multiple runs in an inning.
These big innings have accounted for 79 out of the Wolverines’ 105 runs or over 75%. Innings with three or more runs scored have accounted for about 64% of total runs and innings with three or more runs scored have accounted for nearly a third of total runs.
The threat of the big inning has opened the door for several come-from behind wins fueled by the explosive offense.
“For us, it’s about not putting a lot of pressure on ourselves,” sophomore outfielder Clark Elliott said. “We know we have the capability to come back in any situation and have big innings in any inning, so when we get down in a game we don’t have to press ourselves or put too much pressure on ourselves.”
Obviously, teams are likely to get a large share of their runs in multi-run innings in baseball, as multiple runs are often scored on the same hit. But the offensive approach Michigan has adapted has accentuated these big innings; the team has 15 home runs on the season (opponents, for comparison, have just four) and a .426 slugging percentage.
“I’m just trying to stay in my legs and put the ball in play,” sophomore catcher Jimmy Obertop said after he hit two home runs in a game against Illinois. “I’m just staying through the ball, not really pulling off, just trying to drive the ball in the gaps.”
Tellingly, the Wolverines have struggled when the big inning hasn’t come. Again, it may seem obvious that the team would lose more when it failed to score as much, but the drop off is stark; Michigan has had a multi-run inning in just one of its four losses, a 7-3 defeat to Iowa.
But these shortcomings have been few and far between this season. The Wolverine offense has been able to use big innings to propel Michigan to its 11-4 start.
“Our guys came out swinging, continuing to string quality at-bats together, continuing to apply as much pressure on the opponent as possible,” Bakich said after the Wolverines took two of three games from Penn State.
“When we’ve done that, we’ve created some big innings and some scoring opportunities for ourselves.”