Baseball Preview: Illinois

Illinois didn't have too many expectations going into this season after going 25-26 and finishing in ninth in the Big Ten in 2010 and being picked by Baseball America to finish in the same spot again.

4 Seed – Illinois Fighting Illini
 

  • Overall Record – 26-24
  • Conference Record – 15-9 (1st place)
  • How they qualified for a regional – Automatic bid; Won Big Ten tournament (Beat Ohio State, Michigan State twice)
  • Last Regional Appearance – 2000 (1-2 at Clemson Regional)
  • RPI/ISR – 135/137
  • SOS – 138 (RPI)/143 (ISR)
  • Record vs. tournament field – 0-1
  • Record vs. top 50/top 100 RPI – 0-1/5-5


Season Summary
 
Illinois didn't have too many expectations going into this season after going 25-26 and finishing in ninth in the Big Ten in 2010 and being picked by Baseball America to finish in the same spot again.  It has been a Cinderella run for Illinois over the last month of the season and they have gone from 12-20 and 4-6 in Big Ten games to winning fourteen of their last eighteen games, including going 11-3 down the stretch in Big Ten games to win the conference regular season title on the final weekend and winning all three games in the Big Ten tournament to win the conference's automatic bid.
 
Illinois played their first four weekends in warmer climates and started out 4-8 after going 1-2 in the Big Ten/Big East challenge, 2-1 at Florida Gulf Coast, 0-3 in Stetson's tournament and 1-2 at Western Kentucky.  Illinois started to play better once they got back to the Midwest and went 4-2 before starting Big Ten play 4-5 with a series win against Iowa surrounded by series losses to Penn State and Michigan.  Illinois bounced back from losing the opening game of the series against first place Michigan State to win the next two games and the Illini haven't been stopped since, winning series with Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue and Indiana before scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat Ohio State in their first game of the Big Ten tournament and winning their next two games against Michigan State to win the tournament.
 
Illinois was a below average offensive team last season but returned four of their top six hitters and their offense has improved and they ended up third in the Big Ten in runs.  The Illini are aggressive at the plate with their team averaging almost twice as many strikeouts than walks and they finished ninth in the Big Ten in BB.   Illinois has average power and finished fourth in the Big Ten in HR and fifth in SLG.  Where Illinois gets their offense going is on the base paths.  The Fighting Illini were the Flying Illini on the bases last year with 114 SB and they led the Big Ten again this year with 95 SB and had four players steal at least fourteen bases.  For a team that runs as much as Illinois does, it is a little surprising that they rarely bunt because they are last in the Big Ten with only 17 SAC bunts on the season.  Illinois has had trouble scoring runs when their running game has been held in check and they have scored four runs or less 20 times but their offense has been hot down the stretch and they have scored at least seven runs in nine of their last thirteen games.  The Illini have also been very good at coming back in games and have won ten times when tied or trailing after six innings.
 
Illinois had a below average pitching staff in 2010 with a 5.89 ERA and their staff was better this season with a 4.84 ERA.  Their rotation was adequate with their first two starters having ERA's in the 4.30-4.40 range but the key to the success of the pitching staff has been a solid bullpen that has done a good job of protecting leads (19-1 when leading after seven innings).  Illinois doesn't have any power arms but their pitchers battle and get the most out of their stuff.  The Illini have allowed four runs or less 24 times.
 

Offense
 

  • Park Factor according to Boyd's World – 72 (decreases offense by 28%).
  • Batting Average – .284 (NCAA ranking – 150, Conf ranking 5)
  • Runs – 310 (145, 3) 5.8 per game
  • Home Runs – 28 (143, 4)
  • Stolen Bases – 95 (38, 1)
  • Slugging Percentage – .399 (146, 5)
  • On Base Percentage – .359 (DNR, 4)
  • Walks – 167 (230, 9), 3.1 per game
  • HBP's – 60 (105, 2)
  • Sac Bunts – 17 (281, 10)
  • Strikeouts – 313 (DNR, 6), 5.9 per game

 

Batting Order
 
2B #11 SR Pete Cappetta (RH – .326/.404/.451, 2-16-14) has had a solid SR season after hitting only .262 in 2010.  He was voted 2nd team All-Big Ten after hitting .403 in conf games and finishing in the top ten in the Big Ten in SB.
 
DH #15 Soph Justin Parr (LH – .333/.381/.422, 0-30-3) hit .411 in conf games.  He was a catalyst last weekend when he went 6-14 in the Big Ten tournament and scored in all three games.
 
C #27 JR Adam Davis (RH – .300/.357/.448, 5-33-15) is the third hitter at the top of the order who was voted 2nd team All-Big Ten.  He is a good athlete behind the plate and projected to be drafted in the 6th-7th rounds next week.  Davis was voted the tournament MVP after going 5-13 and helping the pitching staff allow only six runs in three games.  He is not a patient hitter and has only walked seven times.
 
3B #3 Soph Brandon Hohl (RH – .311/.410/.483, 5-38-0) is one of the power threats in the lineup and led the team in RBI and SLG and was second in HR.  He also has a good eye at the plate and has a solid BB/K ratio (23/33) and led the team in OBP.
 
LF #44 SR Casey McMurray (RH – .254/.343/.341, 2-30-9) led the Illini in AVG, SLG, OBP, HR and RBI in 2010 but has struggled this season.  He has an outstanding 23/9 BB/K ratio and is the toughest hitter to in the conf to strike out and was voted 3rd team All-Big Ten.
 
1B #17 SR Matt Dittman (LH – .259/.352/.416, 6-35-2) is a bit of an all or nothing hitter and leads the team in HR, including a grand slam that that put the final game away in the Big Ten tournament, but is second on the team with 40 K.
 
CF #42 JR Willie Argo (RH – .286/.397/.401, 4-26-25) has outstanding speed and had 41 SB in 2010.  His speed is a weapon and he is projected to be drafted in the 6th-7th rounds next week because of it.  Argo got off to a slow start and has been hitting better recently and went 5-9 in the Big Ten tournament.  He was voted 3rd team All-Big Ten.
 
RF #2 Soph Davis Hendrickson (LH – .304/.355/.376, 2-24-8) doesn't have much power and has only seven extra-base hits.  He also struggled in Big Ten games, when he had the lowest average among the regulars at .244.
 
SS #9 JR Josh Parr (RH – .306/.347/.439, 2-33-17) has very good speed and finished in the top ten in the conf in SB and was voted 2nd team All-Big Ten.
 

Defense
 
Fielding .974 (39, 2) – 61 errors.  Double Plays – 47 (101, 6)
 
The defense improved when Cappetta (2 E's) was put in at 2B for Justin Parr (9 E's).  Josh Parr is a good SS and led the Big Ten in assists.  Dittman is solid at 1B and Hohl is below average at 3B.  McMurray, Argo and Hendrickson have good speed in the OF.
 
Stolen Base Attempts – 34-51 (DNR, 2).  Runners were 30-46 against Davis.
 
WP's/PB's Allowed – 49 (DNR, 4).  Davis does an adequate job of blocking pitches.
 

Pitching
 

  • ERA – 4.84 (186, 9)
  • AVG – .272 (DNR, 3)
  • HR – 31 (DNR, 9)
  • Walks – 198 (172, 7), 3.9 BB/9 IP
  • Strikeouts – 299 (237, 9), 5.8 K/9 IP

 
Illinois returned only one weekend starter from last season so they knew that they could have some issues early with the rotation.  Two relievers from 2010 have moved into the rotation and they have kept Illinois in games.


 
Starting Pitchers
 
FRI – #22 Soph Kevin Johnson (RHP – 2-6, 4.33 ERA, 15 GS, 1 CG, 98 IP, 99 H, 37 BB, 67 K, .269 BA, 6 HR, 8 HBP, 6 WP, 9-13 SB) is the only SP returning from last season.  He has been inconsistent during Big Ten games with an ERA over 5 and one reason is he has walked almost a batter every other inning.  Johnson doesn't have a power arm, relying on a breaking pitch as his out pitch, and when he does come around the plate he has been pretty hard and allowed almost three extra-base hits in his conf starts.  He allowed 16 runs in starts against Michigan State and Ohio State before throwing better in his last three starts against Purdue (7 IP, 2 R, 8 H, 1 BB, 3 K), Indiana (8 2/3 IP, 2 R, 8 H, 3 BB, 8 K) and Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament (7 2/3 IP, 4 R, 5 H, 2 BB, 6 K).
 
SAT – #29 SR John Anderson (RHP – 7-6, 4.40 ERA, 16 GS, 4 CG, 90 IP, 88 H, 24 BB, 52 K, .260 BA, 7 HR, 13 HBP, 9 WP, 1-2 SB) pitched out of the bullpen in 2010 but has been a workhorse in the rotation with a Big Ten leading four complete games, including three straight conf starts.  He doesn't throw hard and is a strike thrower with very good control and walked only seven batters in his eight conf starts.  After throwing three straight complete games, he struggled in two of his three starts and allowed 13 runs at the end of the season before throwing very well at the Big Ten tournament in his start against Michigan State (7 1/3 IP, 1 R, 6 H, 4 BB, 1 K).
 
SUN – #31 JR Corey Kimes (LHP – 4-4, 5.26 ERA, 14 GS, 1 CG, 79 IP, 96 H, 35 BB, 54 K, .309 BA, 6 HR, 7 HBP, 7 WP, 7-8 SB) is a "crafty lefty" who has to change speeds and keep the ball down to get hitters out.  He struggled in Big Ten games with a 6.23 ERA and allowed batters to hit .312 against him.  Kimes started to pitch better late in the season and has allowed 3 ER or less in four of his last five starts, including a CG win against Michigan State to clinch the Big Ten tournament title (9 IP, 1 R, 7 H, 0 BB, 7 K).
 

Relief Pitchers
 
Illinois only had two experienced relievers returning and they have been relied on often at the end of games along with a couple of newcomers to give them four reliable options in the middle-late innings.
 
Closer – #32 SR Wes Braun (RHP – 2-0, 0.49 ERA, 18 apps, 6 saves, 18 IP, 8 H, 11 BB, 13 K, .136 BA, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 2 WP, 0-2 SB) has been very tough to hit and has good movement on his pitches, resulting in him also having some control issues.  He will rarely throw more than one inning.
 
#12 SR Chris Pack (RHP – 7-1, 4.99 ERA, 3 saves, 23 apps, 49 IP, 43 H, 8 BB, 29 K, .234 BA, 4 HR, 10 HBP, 2 WP, 5-7 SB) has been the good luck charm on the staff and shares the team lead in wins.  He has very good control and is able to go several innings like he did when he threw 4 2/3 shutout innings against Purdue late in the season.  Pack picked up a win and a save last weekend in the Big Ten tournament.
 
#37 JR Will Strack (RHP – 3-1, 3.35 ERA, 18 apps, 38 IP, 35 H, 25 BB, 29 K, .248 BA, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 5 WP, 2-5 SB) will be the other pitcher along with Pack most likely to be brought into the game in the middle innings.  He is also able to go several innings but has had control issues.
 
#30 FR Luke Joyce (LHP – 1-1, 1.96 ERA, 17 apps, 18 IP, 18 H, 9 BB, 12 K, .269 BA, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 1 WP, 1-2 SB) is a situational lefty who won't face more than a few batters.  He would be more likely to be brought in against the LH heavy lineups of Fullerton and Kansas State than he would against Stanford.
 
The other four relievers in the bullpen have appeared in ten or less games and are rarely called upon in tight situations.