2020 MAC Baseball Returning Production

The MAC Coaches Preseason Poll for baseball was released on February 12. I love analyzing how preseason polls do, especially from coaches. There’s no question that they know the game and their team, but every other team?

The order the coaches selected is as below:

  1. Central Michigan 109 points (3 first-place votes)
  2. Kent State 106 points (2)
  3. Ball State 105 points (3)
  4. Miami 93 points (2)
  5. Northern Illinois 68 points (1)
  6. Ohio points 67 points
  7. Western Michigan 57 points
  8. Eastern Michigan 38 points
  9. Toledo 33 points
  10. Bowling Green 30 points
  11. Akron 20 points

Akron is back this season after shutting down the program in 2015. They take the bottom spot and that’s expected. Rebuilds are hard, especially starting from nothing. They do have a team loaded with transfers, so they are a bit of a wild card.

The Top

At the top, there is a tight cluster of three teams. Kent State is a traditional MAC Baseball power coming off a tough season in 2019. Central won the whole thing last year and won their first national tournament game. Ball State was really strong and had pitcher Drey Jameson get selected 34th overall in round 1C.

Central Michigan has four players returning who had on OPS over 0.800 last season and two were over 1.000. Griffin Lockwood-Powell is a catcher and first baseman with plus home run power. In short, CMU will be a fun watch this season.

The Middle

Miami stands alone in the gulf between the really good teams and the pretty good teams. The pretty good teams, Northern Illinois, Ohio, and Western Michigan, all have their flaws but are capable of taking a series from anyone.

Under Construction

Then, in the coach’s opinion, the bottom four kind of group together. They each had rough seasons last year and Eastern Michigan and Toledo each lose their top hitter. Brad Boss from Toledo takes 200+ at bats and a 0.933 OPS out the door with him and Zachary Owings from Eastern got drafted by the Marlins and hit a nice even 0.280 in rookie ball.

Did the coaches get it right or did they base this mostly off last season results? Before I get too critical on the coaches for how much effort they put into a preseason poll, I do want to acknowledge that their job is to coach their team. They can mail this thing in or use it as poster board material if they want. It doesn’t matter to them how correct their ballot is.

Returning Production

Last season the MAC had nine baseball players get drafted in the MLB draft. Aside from that, many seniors finished their baseball career as division 1 athletes. Some teams more than others have more to replace than others.

I’m making a handful of assumptions to determine how much each team has to replace. The first is that the number of at bats a team has year to year is about the same. The second is the same but for pitching. The number of innings pitched is pretty much constant.

Hitters, better without Drey Jameson in the league

With that out of the way, the chart above shows how many at bats each team has returning in 2020. Miami returns a ton of their offense from 2019 and relative to what the other MAC teams, it’s good too. They lost just over 200 at bats, about one full-time starter and return Cristian Tejada, Landon Stephens, and Cal Elvers to name a couple. Stephens hit 9 dingers last year and Tejada was an on-base machine.

Kent State and Central Michigan also have high quality returning players, just not as many of them as Miami. Western Michigan also returns above-average offensive players but they have half of the at bats to replace from 2019.

Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Ohio are relying on player progression to improve. They return a lot of their production but if they replicate their seasons from 2019, it might be a long season. The nice part is, that’s unlikely. These three offenses should see improvement in their returning players. Ohio loses back to back MAC Player of the Year Rudy Rott and his ridiculous 0.618 slugging percentage.

Pitchers, Opportunities for fresh faces

Last season the MAC had multiple complete teams. Ball State, Central Michigan, Kent State, and Miami all had above average pitching and defense in 2019. Each of them returns quality pitching numbers in 2020 but they are in the bottom 5 in innings returning.

The teams projected to be at the top have an opportunity for fresh faces to make their mark. It could also be an opportunity for a dark horse to steal some games.

Ohio returns a ton of pitching and some solid starters. Specifically Eddie Kutt and strikeout machine Brett Manis. So far this season, Brett Manis has pitched 3 innings and has gotten 7 of his 9 outs via the strikeout.

Bowling Green should be much improved on the mound this season. The players that left the program in the offseason were the players that struggled last season. If they can get run support they will be a tough out this year.

My Ballot

Since I’m the one with all the research, I’ll put my neck on the line.

  1. Central Michigan
  2. Ball State
  3. Miami
  4. Kent State
  5. Northern Illinois
  6. Ohio
  7. Toledo
  8. Bowling Green
  9. Western Michigan
  10. Eastern Michigan
  11. Akron

The top is easy to identify, even with some pitching turnover. I’m pretty set that Central is a strong favorite but after that, the next three could come in any order. Ball State has a really strong rotation that should be able to eat innings to cover for youth in the bullpen.

Miami has the bats to win the MAC, but having roughly 370 innings to replace on the mound erodes my confidence. I want to see Kent State rebound from last season before I put them in front of teams that played very consistently last year.

NIU essentially lost a day one starter on the mound and one player in the field from last season. With normal player progression, which can be tricky to assume happens, could find themselves higher on this list than fifth at the end of the season.

Each team after that had at least one flaw that had to be quantified to determine an order. Ohio’s hitters need progression and the same for Toledo’s pitchers. BGSU needs to replace half of their hitters. WMU has heavy hitter turnover and pitching questions. Eastern Michigan’s roster needs newcomers to bring a spark. Akron is brand new to the party. Glad you’re here Akron.

Players to watch this season and for the MLB Draft

John Baker, RHP – Ball State

The first player to watch is pitcher John Baker for Ball State. He was selected in the 29th round last year and decided to come back to college. I don’t know why, I don’t want to guess, but he’s already proven to be an MLB Draft talent. I hope he dominates and can improve his draft selection.

Zavier Warren, SS / C – Central Michigan

I’ve never seen a catcher and shortstop position split before, but Zavier Warren plays both. He joined the launch angle revolution and hit 8 home runs in 2019 after 0 in 2018. Warren made a habit of hitting the ball hard last season. He hit 22 doubles. That’s a lot. If he replicates that effort, he could see himself in a rookie league this fall.

Ben Carew, CF – Kent State

Ben Carew is an outfielder for Kent State that hit over 0.400 last season. He’s listed at 6’1″ and 185 pounds. He’s not huge but that size for an outfielder isn’t a problem for a player to be drafted. He posted a 0.999 OPS and stole 24 bases. He was on the 2019 all-defensive team. What more can you ask for? He’s disciplined at the plate, has speed, has a good glove, and has double and triple power. I’d be shocked if he isn’t drafted in June.

Blake Dunn, CF – Western Michigan

Center fielder Blake Dunn for Western Michigan is another great athlete. He posted a 0.374 batting average with 30 stolen bases as a sophomore. He hit 5 home runs on his way to a 0.521 slugging percentage. He’s the best hitter on the Broncos and will probably be treated like he is.

Kyle Nicolas, RHP – Ball State

Kyle Nicolas has a fastball that gets into the mid-’90s, but he’s had a control problem. In 51 innings last season he held hitters to a .184 average, struck out 78 batters, and walked 47. So far this season he’s struck out 15 and walked 3 in two starts. That’s a great start.

Brett Manis, LHP – Ohio

Brett Manis’ stuff isn’t as hot but he’s a lefty strikeout specialist. In 48 innings he struck out 64. That’s good for 12 K’s per nine innings. With a 3.00 ERA, I’d lean heavily on that arm to put out fires through 2020.

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