Previewing the 2018 Big Ten Baseball Tournament

By Jeremy Karll on May 22, 2018 at 9:10 am
Go Hawks Go

@UIBaseball

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The Big Ten baseball tournament seeding went down to literally the final game of the season when Iowa clinched the six-seed with its sweep over Penn State. This is one of the most well-balanced and talented conference tournaments in recent years, as seven Big Ten teams currently have a chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That makes for a lot of intriguing matchups from the start:

Offense: Iowa's offense has been up-and-down all season. While it ranks top-five in on-base (.375) and slugging percentage (.408), and sixth in runs among Big Ten teams, it is just eighth in slugging percentage (.374), ninth in runs and 11th in hits during conference play. That said, Iowa's lineup is strong from top-to-bottom, as seven of its nine hitters with at least 100 at-bats are batting over .250 -- Chris Whelan, Tyler Cropley and Robert Neustrom are each hitting above .300. Cropley's .351/.460/.597 slash line is one of the best in the conference this season, though he ended the season hitting 5-for-29. In order to make another deep run, Iowa needs someone like Whelan last year, who won the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player Award, to step up.

Best Hitter: Tyler Cropley -- .351/.460/.597, 67 H,  9 HR, 50 RBI, 20 2B

Pitching: Iowa has seemingly settled on a starting rotation heading into the tournament. Nick Allgeyer (2.50 ERA in 90 IP) has 12 quality starts in 14 tries this season -- five shutout innings was one of his non-quality starts -- and will start against a Michigan team that only managed five hits and an earned run against him over seven innings earlier this season. Cole McDonald looked sharp against Penn State, and Jack Dreyer has allowed just three earned runs over 16 innings in his last three starts. As a team, Iowa leads the conference with 418 strikeouts, which is 58 more than any other team, and also ranks top-five in opponent batting average (.252) and hits allowed. However, its 4.18 ERA is largely due to a few poor performances from the bullpen, though Iowa's ERA dropped to 3.95 in conference play. Zach Daniels could play a similar role to Josh Martsching last season, and a few freshman (Cam Baumann, Derek Lieurance, Ben Probst) might have to eat some innings, too, especially if Iowa wins a few games and needs Brady Schanuel to start a potential game four.

Best Pitcher: Nick Allgeyer -- 2.50 ERA, 1.178 WHIP, 5-4, 90 IP, 96 K, 25 BB

#1 Minnesota Golden Gophers (37-13, 18-4, RPI: 16)

Offense: Minnesota ran away with the Big Ten title and is the favorite to win the Big Ten Tournament due to its offense. After returning nearly its entire lineup from a year ago, the Gophers managed to lead the conference in BA and OBP (.391), while ranking second in runs, hits and strikeouts. It's no surprise that a team hitting .300 has seven players with at least 100 at-bats batting over .290, including none under .250. Minnesota's biggest weakness are its lack of power, as they rank sixth in home runs and have no double-digit home run hitters, and little speed, finishing ninth in stolen bases, although they do have three players with at least 10 stolen bases. However, Minnesota still hits a lot of extra-base hits, helping its slugging percentage rank third in the conference. 

Best Hitter: Terrin Vavra -- .387/.455/.618, 72 H, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 6 SB

Pitching: Minnesota hasn't allowed more than six runs in a game since it beat Purdue 18-8 on April 14. The Gophers own a minuscule 3.18 ERA this season because teams simply can't hit their pitching -- .229 opponent batting average. Those numbers have gone down to 2.64 and .217 in conference play, respectively. However, Minnesota doesn't strike out a ton of batters, ranking seventh in the category. Patrick Fredrickson leads the team with 62 strikeouts, but those came across 80 innings. Instead, the Gophers have a fantastic defense, as they have a .976 fielding percentage thanks to committing the second fewest errors on the year. Minnesota's starting rotation does have some concerns, though. Fredrickson is the conference's best pitcher, but will the bigger stage get to him as a freshman? Also, he and Reggie Meyer (3.03 ERA over 86 IP) are their only pitchers with double-digit starts this season, while three of their other four starters with at least five starts own ERAs over 5.00. Minnesota owns six relievers with ERAs under 2.20, but last season we saw Michigan's solid bullpen struggle as the top seed. 

Best Pitcher: Patrick Fredrickson -- 1.80 ERA, 0.938 WHIP, 8-0, 80 IP, 62 K, 17 BB

#2 Purdue Boilermakers (34-18, 17-6, RPI: 40)

Offense: Purdue doesn't want to get into a slugfest. They're an impressive fourth in OBP (.379) and BA (.275), but they rank in the bottom half in extra-base hits, including 10th in home runs. In fact, Jacson McGowan and Ben Nisle are Purdue's only hitters with more than two home runs this season. Purdue likes to put pressure on the defense and pitcher by wreaking havoc on the base paths. The Boilermakers have a Big Ten-high 38 stolen bases in conference play, led by Nick Dalesandro's 22 ranking third in the conference. In total, Purdue has three players with at least 10 stolen bases and another three with at least five.

Best Hitter: Nick Dalesandro -- .311/.405/.430, 60 H, 2 HR, 32 RBI, 22 SB

Pitching: The Boilermakers' starting pitching has a chance to pitch its way deep into the BTT. Tanner Edwards (2.71 ERA in 83 IP) and Ryan Beard (3.81 ERA in 54.1 IP) have been Purdue's anchors, but Gareth Stroh and Trent Johnson have made 14 and nine starts, respectively, giving them valuable experience, as well. The bigger concern is getting the game into the hands of Ross Learnard, who leads the conference with 15 saves and has shown the ability to pitch for three straight days. Purdue needs other bullpen arms to step up, though. After Learnard and Bo Hofstra's 3.30 ERA, Purdue is left with few reliable options, which is why their ERA was just 4.60 during Big Ten play.

Best Pitcher: Ross Learnard -- 2.25 ERA, .0938 WHIP, 2-1, 15 SV, 32 IP, 32 K, 7 BB

#3 Michigan Wolverines (32-19, 15-8, RPI: 55)

Offense: Michigan's offense ended the season in a slump. After topping five runs in seven straight games, the Wolverines failed to score more than five in their last six games. They managed just four runs in their season finale series against Purdue last weekend, which is surprising for a team that ranked top-five in BA (.277), OBP (.375), hits and runs. Even though Michigan's lineup is top-heavy, it's worked since three players are hitting over .350. That said, other than Jesse Franklin's .320 BA, no one else is hitting above .275. However, similar to Purdue, Michigan likes to run when it gets the chance. Four players have double-digit stolen bases, and Christian Bullock's 18 SBs are even more impressive considering his sub-par .326 OBP.

Best Hitter: Jonathan Engelmann -- .359/.442/.530, 71 H, 6 HR, 43 RBI, 21 SB

Pitching: The Wolverines enter the tournament with arguably the best weekend rotation, as Tommy Henry's 3.14 ERA is the worst among their  three pitchers with double-digit starts. While their bullpen isn't as dominating as last season, Michigan still has a lot of options. Angelo Smith (1.23 ERA) and Jeff Criswell (2.48 ERA) have thrown a combined 51 innings, and William Tribucher (3.37 ERA), Jack Weisenburger (3.46 ERA) and Troy Miller (3.48 ERA) have combined for six saves. That said, Michigan's staff could run into problems if they win a few games and have to use less reliable starters, such as Alec Rennard and Jayce Vancena, who sport .277 and .328 OBA, respectively, which is higher than Michigan's .232 team OBA.

Best Pitcher: Karl Kaufmann -- 2.84 ERA, 1.233 WHIP, 6-3, 73 IP, 75 K, 30 BB

#4 Illinois Fighting Illini (31-18, 15-9, RPI: 50)

Offense: Illinois arguably has the scariest offense in the conference, making it one of the toughest outs. The Illini scored eight or more runs in 17 games this season thanks to their power hitting. Illinois' BA (.274) and OBP (.367) are underwhelming, but it made up for it by finishing second in slg% (.449), doubles and home runs. Bren Spillane's 22 home runs easily leads the conference, but Zac Taylor (10), Doran Turchin (9) and Michael Massey (5) make the entire lineup dangerous.  Containing Spillane is extremely important as Illinois is 11-4 when he hits a home run this season and undefeated when he hits multiple homers.

Best Hitter: Bren Spillane -- .407/.512/.944, 66 H, 22 HR, 57 RBI, 14 SB, 17 2B

Pitching: There isn't a true ace in Illinois' starting rotation, but they still have three solid starters, which is fitting for a team ranking fifth in ERA and OBA. The Illini put a lot of pressure on their defense, though, as they have 36 fewer strikeouts than any other tournament team this year. For the most part, Illinois' defense has answered, owning the best fielding percentage, committing the fewest errors and turning the third most double plays. Illinois' strength is their bullpen. Joey Gerber is second in the Big Ten with 14 saves, and he has a dominant setup man in Ryan Thompson (2.77 ERA). That said, no other Illinois reliever has an ERA under 4.00, though only one with at least 20 IP has an ERA above 4.60.

Best Pitcher: Joey Gerber -- 2.36 ERA, 1.050 WHIP, 0-1, 14 SV, 26.2 IP, 43 K, 11 BB

#5 Indiana Hoosiers (37-15, 14-9, RPI: 23)

Offense: Indiana didn't cruise through the Big Ten like most expected, though they ended strong on a six-game winning streak by scoring at least six runs in every game. The Hoosiers own a veteran lineup, which came with consistency. Only one Hoosier with at least 100 ABs hit under .280 and only two had an OBP under .350. Also, without a legitimate power hitter, Indiana still led the conference with 60 home runs. Luke Miller led the team with 11 home runs, making up for his sub-par .327 OBP, and six others hit at least six, helping the Hoosiers also lead the conference in slg%. A lot of their home runs came with men on base, as well, considering they were third in BA (.289) and OBP (.384).

Best Hitter: Matt Gorski -- .370/.422/.571, 70 H, 7 HR, 35 RBI, 19 SB, 13 2B

Pitching: Even with a revolving door with Indiana's third starter between Tim Herrin and Cam Beauchamp, Indiana had the best pitching staff in the Big Ten this season. Their 2.85 ERA is the only one under 3.00 in the Big Ten, though their 2.80 conference ERA is topped by Minnesota. However, Indiana is also third in OBA and second in strikeouts behind only Iowa. It's evident by Indiana's top-four starters owning OBAs under .250 and only three of 10 pitchers with at least 20 IP owning an OBA over .250 this season. Not to mention only one pitcher has an ERA over 3.30. If Indiana's pitching is on during the BTT, there's a good chance they never cough up a lead.

Best Pitcher: Pauly Milto -- 2.00 ERA, 1.153 WHIP, 7-2, 67.2 IP, 55 K, 22 BB

#7 Ohio State Buckeyes (34-20, 14-10, RPI: 41)

Offense: Despite finishing the season 7-7, Ohio State scored fewer than six runs only once. They scored double-digit runs in eight games during that span, though they went just 4-4 in those games. In fact, the last time the Buckeyes failed to score six runs in back-to-back games was on April 20-21 against Indiana. As a result, Ohio State led the conference in runs, hits and doubles and ranked second in BA (.291), OBP (.389) and total bases, while ranking fourth in slg% (.418). Ohio State is an average home run hitting team but five players hitting above .300 has helped make up for that. The Buckeyes don't hit for power or steal a lot of bases, they simply get a lot of hits and cycle through their lineup more than any other team in the conference.

Best Hitter: Noah McGowan -- .368/.456/.603, 75 H, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 19 2B

Pitching: Given Ohio State's explosive offense, it should be higher than the seventh-seed. But their starting pitching has held them back. Ohio State has kept their weekend rotation the same all season, but Connor Curlis (3.59 ERA) is their only starter with an ERA below 4.00, as Ryan Feltner and Adam Niemeyer own ERAs of 4.97 and 6.60, respectively. Ohio State might have to go to their bullpen early, but that has even been shaky outside of Seth Kinker. That has led Ohio State's pitching stats to be the opposite of its hitting ones -- eighth in ERA (4.58), 11th in OBA (.276) and 12th in hits. 

Best Pitcher: Seth Kinker -- 1.62 ERA, 0.898 WHIP, 6-1, 13 SV, 55.2 IP, 52 K, 5 BB

#8 Michigan State Spartans (20-30, 11-12, RPI: 188)

Offense: Michigan State is the only team with a losing record in the BTT, but we saw how well that worked out for Northwestern a year ago. The Spartans are an interesting team, as they are one of the worst offensive teams in the conference but 4-9 when scoring at least 10 runs. The Spartans are last in OBP (.321), slg% (.326), runs and doubles, 12th in home runs, and 11th in hits and BA (.244). The Spartans don't have any .300 hitters -- Danny Gleaves' .276 BA leads the team -- and just one batter with an OBP above .350. Michigan State will need to steal a lot of bases if it wants to upset a few teams. Bryce Kelly's 32 stolen bases is eight more than any other Big Ten player, helping the Spartans lead the conference in the category. 

Best Hitter: Justin Antoncic -- .270/.361/.351, 47 H, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 14 SB

Pitching: The Spartans' pitching is in the middle of the pack, ranking seventh in ERA (4.45) and OBA (.259). They also have the fifth-most strikeouts this season and fourth-most in conference play. Michigan State isn't afraid to rotate players through its starting rotation or closer role. They have four pitchers with at least seven starts and seven with multiple starts, while three different players have recorded a save. Mitchell Tyranski and Jake Lowery (2.29 ERA) are Michigan State's top relievers, but eight of their 11 pitchers have an ERA under 5.00.

Best Pitcher: Mitchell Tyranski -- 2.23 ERA, 1.141 WHIP, 2-1, 5 SV, 40.1 IP, 53 K, 15 BB

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