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Baseball Season Review: A disappointing, yet encouraging season for young Northwestern team

Despite ending the season in heartbreaking fashion, the program has a lot of returning pieces to build on.

@NUCatsBaseball

Wildcat baseball ended the 2019 season on an all-too-familiar empty note.

After an up-and-down season highlighted by multiple come-from-behind late game rallies and marred by pitching injuries/woes, Northwestern put themselves in position to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament with a home series win against Minnesota in the final weekend of the season.

Despite finishing with a +5 run differential over the Gophers on the weekend, the Wildcats came up just short of winning the two games necessary to book their trip to Omaha for postseason play. A pair of one-run losses sealed their fate.

Adding insult to injury, the seventh-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes, a team Northwestern swept in the regular season and could have knocked out with one more win, ended up winning the BTT and earning the auto-big to the NCAA Tournament.

Although the season ended in heartbreak for NU, the ‘Cats’ overall improvement from 2018 to 2019 shouldn’t be overlooked. The numbers tell the story:

2018/2019 Team Statistical Breakdown

Statistic 2018 2019
Statistic 2018 2019
Overall Record 17-31 24-27
Conference Record 6-18 11-13
Team ERA 6.25 5.27
Team Average 0.25 0.267
Runs per game 5.06 5.31
Run differential -92 -19

While the year’s numbers still may be less than ideal, they show clear improvement for a program that has struggled to become relevant in the Big Ten for much of this century. Spencer Allen’s team contended for the conference tournament, and those small steps are essential for a Northwestern team seeking any semblance of consistency in the years to come.

The team’s improvement can also be measured in terms of its conference recognition on the “All-Big Ten Baseball” teams released at the end of each season. In 2018, Jack Dunn was the only Wildcat to earn honors, being named the conference’s third-team shortstop.

This season, five NU players earned said honors. Jack Dunn and Alex Erro were named to the first team, making up the full left side of the infield. Freshman Shawn Goosenberg was a third team and all-freshman honoree. Michael Doherty and Michael Trautwein joined Goosenberg on the freshman team.

The Wildcats will lose some incredibly important pieces, but developed a wealth of talent and will have plenty more returning from injury to join them next season. We took a look at the performance and outlook of every position group.

Infield

As a whole, the Northwestern infield was the offensive heartbeat of the team. The Dunn/Erro/Goosenberg trio proved to be the most consistent source of production for virtually the entire season.

2019 Infield Stats

Name Position Year Starts (out of 51) Slash Line RBIs Home Runs
Name Position Year Starts (out of 51) Slash Line RBIs Home Runs
Jack Dunn SS Senior 51 .340/.403/.435 36 0
Alex Erro 3B/2B Junior 50 .322/.455/.372 34 4
Shawn Goosenberg 2B/3B Freshman 43 .288/.397/.338 27 0
Willie Bourbon 1B Senior 49 .242/.382/.348 31 4
Charlie Maxwell 3B Junior 27 .228/.317/.328 5 0
Michael Trautwein C Freshman 43 .243/.309/.322 15 1
Jack Kelly C Sophomore 20 .296/.378/.423 11 1

With Northwestern losing one if its best players in program history (to say nothing of an iron man who started all 211 games the team played across his career) in Jack Dunn, it will be interesting to see who Spencer Allen tasks with filling that void next year.

I’d expect Goosenberg or Erro to be given the nod given how the two proved themselves in the field and at the plate this season, but the Wildcats will have a hole to fill regardless. Charlie Maxwell will almost certainly regain the starting spot he lost to Goosenberg, though he may not head back to third.

Outfield

By the end of the season, Northwestern had a very solid defensive outfield trio in David Dunn, Ben Dickey and Casey O’Laughlin. The trio combined for just five errors on the year and were able to cover a lot of ground thanks to the range of the first two. Even O’Laughlin, in right, has sneaky speed despite his slugger profile, stealing seven bags on the year.

2019 Outfield Stats

Name Position Year Starts (out of 51) Slash Line RBIs Home Runs
Name Position Year Starts (out of 51) Slash Line RBIs Home Runs
David Dunn CF RS Freshman 50 .271/.327/.349 20 2
Ben Dickey RF Senior 37 .256/.361/.344 15 2
Casey O'Laughlin LF Sophomore 36 0.260/.347/.457 27 5
Leo Kaplan OF Junior 21 .193/.265/.307 14 2

With Dickey graduating, Leo Kaplan is the favorite to step into the third outfield position next season alongside Dunn and O’Laughlin. Kaplan seem poised to morph into one of the program’s better players after a strong freshman season, but has now struggled to get consistent at the plate in back-to-back seasons after a tough 2019 campaign. The rising senior has proven power and clutch hitting capability, but has failed to bat higher than .209 across the past two years.

Pitching

Pitching consistency was this team’s biggest question entering the season, and it remains that way now that the year is done. Hank Christie and Quinn Lavelle, Northwestern’s two projected top starters heading into the year, both had solid starts to the season before injuries kept them out for the remainder of the season. Christie only started one conference game while Lavelle missed the final three Big Ten series.

2019 Pitching Breakdown

Name Year Innings Pitched Games (Started) ERA WHIP
Name Year Innings Pitched Games (Started) ERA WHIP
Mike Doherty Freshman 48.1 13 (9) 3.72 1.56
Ryan Bader Sophomore 58.1 16 (7) 5.04 1.48
Quinn Lavelle Sophomore 60.2 11 (11) 5.09 1.45
Hank Christie Junior 33.2 7 (6) 6.42 1.51
Parker Hanks Freshman 36 15 (9) 5.5 1.53
Sam Lawrence Junior 34 20 (3) 5.82 1.18
Tommy D'Alise Freshman 26.1 14 (4) 4.78 1.42
Jack Pagliarini Sophomore 33.2 17 (2) 6.42 1.69
Nick Paciorek Junior 26.2 20 3.38 1.41
Anthony Alepra Sophomore 28.2 19 5.65 1.67
Josh Levy Junior 24.2 19 3.65 1.28
Danny Katz Senior 7.41 11 7.41 1.71

Although Northwestern may not have gotten the production they wanted from their top two arms this season, the strong performance of a few youngsters was very encouraging. Freshman Mike Doherty emerged as a reliable Saturday starter by the end of the year and sophomore Ryan Bader also finished strong, despite a couple of bumpy outings.

Nick Paciorek, who made the switch from catcher to pitcher just this season, wasn’t always sharp, but ultimately proved to be the hard-throwing, swing-and-miss guy out of the bullpen that Northwestern has’t had in a while. Paciorek finished with a team-best 3.37 ERA and struck out 44 batters in 26.2 innings.

All in all, NU will suffer some key losses for next season. But with plenty of talent returning and the starting pitching situation beginning to coalesce, there is hope for this team going forward. Northwestern still has a long way to go if they want to compete at the top of the Big Ten, but the Wildcats have made great strides in branding themselves as consistent competitors.