The Michigan baseball team had the top pitching staff in the Big Ten during 2017, in terms of runs allowed, earned-run average, strikeouts and opponents’ batting average.
However, one of the people most responsible for that success — pitching coach Sean Kenny — left after the season to take the same position at Georgia.
Kenny’s replacement was announced Monday in Chris Fetter, a former Wolverine hurler who most recently was the minor league pitching coordinator for MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers, a job he took last November.
Fetter played four seasons at Michigan as a right-handed pitcher from 2006-2009, during which the Wolverines won three Big Ten championships and made four NCAA Tournament appearances. He was named an All-American his junior season after he went 10-2 with a 2.47 ERA, and won All-Big Ten Honors three times as well.
To this day, Fetter holds program records for most innings pitched with 332.1, and also ranks third in wins (28), fifth in strikeouts (281) and eighth in ERA (3.11, minimum 150 innings).
After the San Diego Padres selected Fetter in the ninth round of the 2009 MLB Draft, he spent four seasons in their minor league system, but never advanced farther than Single-A baseball.
Once his playing career was over, Fetter remained in professional baseball. He joined the coaching staff of the San Diego Missions, the Padres’ Double-A affiliate, for the 2013 season, and also spent three years as a scout for the Los Angeles Angels.
Fetter returned to the collegiate ranks in 2016 when he became the pitching coach at Ball State, reuniting with his former head coach at Michigan, Rich Maloney, who currently coaches the Cardinals. Under Fetter’s guidance, Ball State went 33-26 in 2016 and recorded the second-best team ERA in the Mid-American conference.
“His professional background combined with his loyalty and love for Michigan made Chris an obvious target from the start,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich in a press release. “He had an incredible Wolverine career as an All-American, three-time Big Ten champion, made four straight regional appearances and played in one super regional. Chris returning to Michigan to be our pitching coach further solidifies an extremely bright future for our program as we build on the championship success he experienced as a player while developing top professional prospects.”
While the Wolverines’ pitching staff was mostly dominant this season, Fetter will have a challenging task on his hands, as Michigan will have to replace 59 percent of its innings and 62 percent of its strikeouts from 2017. Three of the Wolverines’ top four starters — Oliver Jaskie, Ryan Nutof and Michael Hendrickson — are now in professional baseball after being selected in last month’s MLB Draft, and their top two relievers — Mac Lozer, who plays professionally, and Jackson Lamb, who retired — are gone as well.
However, Michigan still has the potential for a strong staff in 2018 behind right-hander Alec Rennard (6-2, 4.43 ERA, 65 strikeouts in 65 innings), left-hander William Tribucher (2.63 ERA, 43 strikeouts in 37 innings) and right-hander Jayce Vancena (3-1, 3.00 ERA, .220 opponents’ average). As freshmen, Tommy Henry, Karl Kauffman and Jack Weisenburger made an immediate impact out of the bullpen, combining for a 2.88 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 50 innings, and all three could be in line for larger roles this season. The Wolverines also bring in two freshman pitchers — Jeff Criswell and Angelo Smith — who were selected in the MLB Draft.
The success that Michigan has had in developing pitchers under Kenny — the Wolverines have had nine pitchers go on to play professionally in the last five years — is something that Fetter will surely hope to continue.
“My wife, Jessica, and I couldn’t be more excited to return home to Michigan,” Fetter said in a statement. “This university holds a special place in my heart, and to be able to come back and join Coach Bakich’s staff is a dream come true. The culture Erik has created and his vision for the future is beyond impressive, and I look forward to rejoining the Michigan baseball family and leading the pitching staff for years to come.”