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2020 Big Ten Conference Baseball Stock Watch

It’s not hyperbole to say that the last five seasons have been a massive success for Big Ten baseball. In fact, it’s probably fair to characterize the run as the best five-year stretch for the league since at least the 1980s.

In 2015, the Big Ten got five teams into regionals, the most ever from the conference in one postseason. Then, it did it again in 2017 and 2019. Illinois and Minnesota hosted regionals with two of the best teams in Big Ten regular-season history in 2015 and 2018, respectively. And in 2019, Michigan was the first Big Ten team to play for a national championship since the 1960s.

All of that success isn’t by accident or a fluke. The conference took a number of collective steps in the years prior, which set the stage.

New and renovated facilities popped up all over the conference, even in places without a lot of recent history. Talented young coaches, some of whom, like Erik Bakich and Mark Wasikowski, didn’t have obvious ties to the region, kick-started a few programs in need of a reset. Indiana going to the CWS in 2013 and earning a national seed in 2014 really hammered home the idea that there was no reason national success couldn’t be achieved in the Big Ten.

If you’re not moving forward you’re moving backward in the world of college sports, so it’s fair to wonder what’s next for the Big Ten. 

The most obvious things are probably to wish for a team to break through and win a national title after Michigan came so close in 2019, or looking for multiple teams from the Big Ten to get to the CWS in the same year or simply having more of its regional teams push to win regionals.

But perhaps the most important work the Big Ten could do to take a step forward is improve its depth. The conference has developed a quality group of programs that are in the postseason mix year after year, but simultaneously, there has also developed a clear bottom tier of the conference that has struggled to compete.

Any league as big as the 13-team Big Ten is going to have a team or two lagging behind at the bottom of the standings, but lately, it has been the same names at the bottom each year, with few exceptions.

Solidifying the quality of the membership from top to bottom could help the Big Ten become more of a league that expects to get five teams into regionals each year instead of a league that can expect between three and five bids. And at that point, it will make more sense to talk about winning regionals with more regularity, multiple CWS teams in a single postseason and having more than a puncher’s chance to win a national title in any given year.

All of those goals are in reach, and that’s a great place to be for a conference that not so long ago was considered to be a power conference in name only.

Five-Year Standings
*2020 records not included

TeamBig Ten RecordWinning Pct.Overall RecordWinning Pct.
Ohio State62-5851.67173-12657.86
Michigan State56-6247.46139-13251.29
Penn State29-8725.00101-15539.45

Things couldn’t get much more clustered than they are at the top of these five-year standings, with just a little more than three percentage points between first and fifth places. That reflects the parity in the conference that has allowed for four different regular-season champions in the last five seasons, with Minnesota in 2016 and 2018 the only team to win the title twice. It’s also notable that eight different teams in the conference have won more than half of their conference games, and Michigan State isn’t too far off from that in ninth place. That’s a reflection of a couple of things. One factor is that there aren't one or two teams here that are really running away with things, and another is that the rest of the league has feasted a bit on the four teams at the bottom who have all lost roughly two-thirds of their conference games or more.

Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends

The following are summations of how each Big Ten program performed over the last five full seasons. The arrow designation of up, down and to the side represent the results of the last five seasons, not a projection of the years to come.


The last five seasons have been a huge success for the Wolverines. They got to three regionals, their best run since going to four straight from 2005-2008. They also got to the College World Series in 2019, doing so for the first time since a Barry Larkin-led team did so in 1984. With recent results like those serving as a tailwind and the program’s proven ability to recruit nationally at a level that is more difficult to achieve for the rest of the Big Ten, there’s little reason to expect the Wolverines to slow down from here, barring coach Erik Bakich being lured away from Ann Arbor to coach elsewhere.


The Gophers had one of the best teams in program history in 2018, and for a proud program, that’s really saying something. That group went 44-15 overall, won the Big Ten regular-season title with an 18-4 record, hosted and won a regional in Minneapolis and might have had a shot to reach the CWS had it not been drawn against eventual national champion Oregon State in a super regional. But it was a good five years for Minnesota beyond that. It also won the regular-season title and advanced to a regional in 2016, and in the latter portion of this data sample, it developed a first-round pick in righthander Max Meyer. Under John Anderson, Minnesota has been one of the most consistent teams in the Big Ten, and that should continue going forward.


A down arrow might seem harsh for an Indiana program that simply continued to get to the postseason in the last five years, but recall that the arrow designations are a comparison to the period of time from 2010-2014. For the Hoosiers, it just so happens that 2010-2014 featured the greatest achievements in the history of the program, with a CWS appearance coming in 2013 and a spot as a national seed earned in 2014. But again, while the arrow is down, there has been a lot to celebrate at IU in recent seasons, with the Hoosiers going to the postseason four out of five years and winning the regular-season title in 2019.


The 2015 season was a big breakthrough for the Fighting Illini, as they dominated the Big Ten in the regular season to the tune of a 21-1 record, earned a top-eight national seed in the NCAA Tournament, won a home regional, hosted a super regional (even if their season was ended there by Vanderbilt) and finished the season with 50 wins. Since then, there have been other notable achievements, such as a return to regionals in 2019, but the 2015 season truly stands alone in terms of what Illinois has accomplished in recent years.


Over the last five years, Rick Heller and his assistants at Iowa have gone about completely changing the fortunes of the Iowa baseball program. In 2015, the Hawkeyes got to a regional for the first time since 1990, winning 41 games along the way, the most since 1981. They didn’t have to wait nearly as long for the next postseason appearance this time, however, as they got back to that stage in 2017 after winning the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa has also finished .500 or better in the Big Ten each of the last five seasons, which might seem like a small thing on its own, but not when you consider that it had finished under .500 in four of the five seasons leading up to 2015.


Although it began before this five-year data sample began, with a regional appearance in 2014, it was a bounce back five seasons for the Cornhuskers under Darin Erstad. That 2014 postseason appearance was Nebraska’s first since 2008, but then it backed it up by getting into regionals again in 2016, 2017 and 2019. For a program that felt a bit adrift near the end of its time as a member of the Big 12, the last five seasons have been a return to winning baseball in Lincoln. With Erstad stepping away at the end of the 2019 season, the onus is on new coach Will Bolt, a Nebraska alum who went to the CWS as a player with the Huskers in 2001 and 2002, to keep the momentum going.


The Terrapins took to Big Ten baseball nicely. After going to a super regional in 2014 in its last year as a member of the ACC, Maryland did so again in 2015 in its first year in the Big Ten. In 2017, it got back into a regional. Coach John Szefc left for Virginia Tech after the 2017 season, and the Terrapins have taken a step back since then, but Rob Vaughn and his staff have done an excellent job of restocking the roster with exciting young talent, suggesting a turnaround could be on the horizon.

Ohio State—⬆️

When Ohio State won the 2016 Big Ten Tournament, it cliched its place in a regional for the first time since 2009, although it was good enough that it might have gotten in as an at-large had it not done so. In 2018, the Buckeyes did get in as an at-large, and in 2019, they made a run to another Big Ten Tournament title as the event’s seventh-seeded team. Those three postseason appearances in four years are the best run for Ohio State since it went four times in five years between 2001-2005.

Michigan State—⬇️

Michigan State has had some good teams that were in the postseason mix over the last five seasons. In 2015, the Spartans were 34-23 overall and 14-10 overall, but got squeezed out of the Field of 64. In 2016, the Spartans were 36-20 and 13-11 in the Big Ten, but were even further out on the periphery of the postseason discussion. The three years after that have all seen MSU finish under .500 in conference play and nowhere near the postseason. The result is that it hasn’t been to the postseason since 2012, which also doubles as its only postseason appearance since 1979.


No program’s fortunes have been as much of a roller coaster over the last five seasons as Purdue’s. It struggled to a 6-17 record in conference play in 2015, bottomed out at 2-22 in the Big Ten in 2016, improved to 12-12 in league play in 2017, Mark Wasikowski’s first season at the helm, earned an at-large bid in 2018 while finishing second in the Big Ten with a 17-6 record and then thanks in large part to injuries, fell back to 12th place with a 7-16 mark in 2019. As wild as those fluctuations were, it wasn’t much different than the five years prior, when Purdue had ups, such as winning the regular-season title and hosting a regional in 2012, and downs, like back-to-back 10th-place finishes in 2013 and 2014, in equal measure.


Most of Northwestern’s recent baseball history involves it competing well within the Big Ten for the most part, but struggling to find a big breakthrough. You have to go back to 2006 to find the only time this century that the Wildcats have finished better than fourth in the Big Ten, and no season since 1957 has ended with the team in the postseason. Under Spencer Allen, there have been highlights, like a 13-11 season in Big Ten play in 2017 that made up the first over .500 conference season since 2010, but as has been the case for a while, Northwestern is still waiting for a breakthrough.


It has been a tough transition to the Big Ten for the Scarlet Knights. A 10th-place finish and a 9-14 conference record in 2019 is the best they have done in the five seasons they have been a member of the league. If anyone in the region seems capable of getting the program turned around, it’s probably Steve Owens, who turned Bryant into the class of the Northeast Conference in short order before taking over at Rutgers for the 2020 season.

Penn State—⬇️

Bad luck with injuries has played a role at times, but long story short, the last five seasons have been extremely difficult for Penn State. In 2016, it went 12-12 in conference play, but because of how compact the standings were that year, that was only good enough for 10th place. Otherwise, it was a 12th-place finish for the Nittany Lions in 2015 and then three straight last-place finishes from 2017-2019.

Trey Faltine Photo By John Rivera Icon Sportswire Via Getty Images

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Regional Recap by Year

YearRegional TeamsBest Result
20195Michigan - 3-1 in Corvallis Regional, 2-1 in Los Angeles Super Regional, 4-2 in CWS
20184Minnesota - 3-0 in Minneapolis Regional, 0-2 in Corvallis Regional
20175Iowa - 1-2 in Houston Regional
20163Minnesota - 2-2 in College Station Regional
20155Illinois - 3-0 in Champaign Regional, 0-2 in Champaign Super Regional

Overall, it was a really good showing for the Big Ten in the postseason over the last five seasons. Not only did the league break new ground in 2015 by putting five teams into the field of 64, but the conference also kept that quality up over the entirety of the five-year data sample, with five teams getting in two more times, three different teams getting to super regionals and one team getting to the CWS. In 2017, Iowa got the nod over Indiana and Maryland, which also went 1-2 in regionals, because the one win was over the host team, Houston. In 2015, both Illinois and Maryland got to super regionals, but Illinois is the pick here because it hosted both rounds.

Top Draft Picks

Tyler Jay, LHP, Illinois20156th overall
Cody Sedlock, RHP, Illinois201627th overall
Ryan Boldt, OF, Nebraska201653rd overall
Matt Gorski, OF, Indiana201957th overall
Ronnie Dawson, OF, Ohio State201661st overall

The 2015 season was a standout season in the Big Ten for a number of reasons, and the draft is just one more. The highest-drafted player in this data set, Tyler Jay, came from that draft, and the 2015 draft also saw 53 Big Ten players selected, the most in this five-year sample by a wide margin. The next-highest total of drafted players in any single draft is 42 in 2019. This particular group of five players, however, has not had the easiest go of it in pro baseball. None of the five have cracked the big leagues, including Jay, who wasn’t able to successfully transition into starting games in the minor leagues. Boldt and Dawson have both logged Double-A time in recent seasons, but both have been somewhat derailed either by injuries (Boldt) or struggles (Dawson) during the 2019 season.

Coaching Changes

2019NebraskaDarin ErstadWill Bolt
2019PurdueMark WasikowskiGreg Goff
2019RutgersJoe LitterioSteve Owens
2018IndianaChris LemonisJeff Mercer
2017MarylandJohn SzefcRob Vaughn
2016PurdueDoug SchreiberMark Wasikowski
2015NorthwesternPaul StevensSpencer Allen

Over the last five seasons, conditions have been ripe for lots of coaching turnover in the Big Ten. On one hand, with increased investment and increased success comes increased expectations for coaches. On the other hand, there is still not as much investment or opportunity as there is in other power conferences, so Big Ten jobs can still be stepping stones to other things, as we saw with Szefc, Lemonis and Wasikowski departing for jobs in the ACC, SEC and Pac-12, respectively. Schreiber and Stevens were two of the more tenured Big Ten coaches at the time they stepped away. The former coached Purdue for 18 seasons, while the latter led Northwestern for 28.

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