Central Michigan won the MAC in 2021 and played in the national tournament. While they’re favorites to repeat, it’s not a one-horse conference.
The 2022 college baseball season opened this past weekend, with all 11 MAC teams heading down south to start out their seasons, as most of the Midwest is still under the influence of snow and ice.
This preview should provide some context for the beginning of the season. Once the new players start to make their mark, the season will certainly change.
For this preview, we’re utilizing standard stats such as batting average, slugging percentage, earned run average and strikeouts per nine innings to analyze teams and players, as well as some of the more simple advanced stats like fielding independent pitching and weighted on-base percentage.
If you are unfamiliar with these, fielding independent pitching isolates the pitcher from the rest of the team. It only considers home runs allowed, strikeouts, and walks. These are the things that a pitcher can control. A constant is added to make it align with ERA, which is more of a team stat.
Weighted on-base percentage assigns a value to at-bats that result in the batter reaching base. A single is more valuable than a walk so they have more value in the formula. Alternatively a double is not twice as valuable as a single like in slugging percentage.
With all that settled, we dive into the storylines of the season:
Central Michigan represents the MAC in 2021
In 2021, the Central Michigan Chippewas won the regular-season title and earned the automatic bid to the national tournament. Due to COVID-19 concerns, there was not a conference tournament after the season like there is traditionally. (The conference tournament will make its return for the 2022 season.)
CMU played very well in the national tournament, posting a 2-2 record. They traveled to Notre Dame to play in the South Bend regional and lost the opener to the host. The Chippewas played and eliminated the Michigan Wolverines and UConn Huskies in order to earn a rematch with Notre Dame for the regional final. The Chips would suffer their second— and final— loss of the tournament to the regional host to end the season.
Central Michigan’s freshman pitcher Andrew Taylor cleaned up the pitching awards at the end of the regular season, winning Freshman Pitcher of the Year and the Pitcher of the Year award.
Best Returning Units
The top offenses in 2021 return solid cores in 2022. By runs scored, Central Michigan, Kent State, and Toledo paced the MAC. CMU was a bit of an outlier with 408 runs scored in 60 games. Each of those offenses returns over 60 percent of their at-bats and total bases from the previous season.
- Kent State
- Central Michigan
Kent State returns a well-rounded lineup with high batting averages, slugging percentages and on base percentages. Central Michigan and Toledo are going to have different approaches in 2022. Toledo has some serious power returning and strikeouts. Central Michigan is built to get on base and apply pressure every inning. They return a MAC leading, team on base percentage of .411.
The MAC is a hitters league this year. Some excellent pitchers will dominate their time on the hill, but as entire teams, there are not many teams that are strong top to bottom. Sundays are going to be wild.
- Central Michigan
- Eastern Michigan
Central Michigan might be the exception. Their pitching staff strikes out 10 batters per nine innings and walks only three. They have two starting pitchers that would probably be the ace of the staff on any other team.
After the Chippewas, there is a gap in quality. Eastern Michigan and Miami got solid production out of their returning pitchers. They each have to replace 65 percent of their innings from the previous season. The other teams lost their strongest pitchers and need development or fresh faces to make their mark.
Best Returning Players
- Gabe Denton, EMU – First base
Gabe Denton can turn a game around on any trip to the plate. He’s a power-hitting first baseman that hit 10 home runs in 2021. Last season he spent the majority of his time in the outfield and didn’t appear in a handful of games. The move to first should keep him on the field and collecting total bases.
- Mario Camilletti, CMU – Second base
Mario Camilletti reached base in more than half of his trips to the plate in 2021. He has an eye discipline at the plate, drawing a walk 61 times last season while also racking up 64 hits. Power is not his specialty, but he did hit 15 doubles and three home runs. Camilletti is a top of the lineup hitter for what might be the best team in the MAC.
- Scott Mackiewicz, Toledo – Center field
Scott Mackiewicz is a power-hitting outfielder, transitioning away from second base. Both of those positions are generally defense first, so seven home runs and nine doubles is great production from center field. His summer baseball stats confirmed his college ball numbers. Scott will be a menace at the plate this season.
- Justin Miknis, Kent State – Catcher
Justin Miknis played every position on the infield last year but spent most of the time behind the plate. Miknis is an all-around hitter with a batting average of .349 and 20 extra-base hits in 2021. He is even in his strikeouts to walks ratio and both are relatively low. He will spend 2022 in the heart of the Kent State lineup and every pitcher will have a game plan for him.
- Isaiah Peterson, Ohio – Center field
Isaiah Peterson hits leadoff for the Bobcats and can absolutely rake. More than half of his hits when for extra bases in 2021, nine home runs, two triples, and 13 doubles. Strikeouts are a little high, but that’s less and less important in today’s game. Combined with his teammate, Spencer Harbert, the Bobcats have a solid one-two punch in their lineup.
- Andrew Taylor, CMU – Starter
The returning MAC Pitcher of the Year is only a sophomore and has posted insane numbers for any collegiate pitcher. In 94 innings, he posted a 1.82 ERA, a WHIP under 1, struck out 12 per nine innings, and walked only two per nine innings. He will be MLB draft-eligible in June’s draft, assuming the old rules are in place in the new CBA, and a good 2022 season will go a long way in getting a higher payday.
- Edward Kutt IV, Ohio – Starter / Closer
Edward Kutt IV has been at Ohio since 2018 and is a consistent contributor to their pitching staff. He does not surrender walks and his strikeouts have been increasing year over year. His usage is unique. He had five starts and three complete games (doubleheaders were seven innings last season,) while also leading the league in saves with five.
- Jordan Patty, CMU – Starter
Jordan went 10-2 last season and pitched 91 innings with a 2.46 ERA. This season will be his fifth at Central Michigan. He’s another Chippewa pitcher who will not give away free passes and make hitters earn their way on.
- Conor Steinbaugh, Akron – Starter
In limited innings in 2021, Steinbaugh was a bright spot for the young Akron program. His 2.89 ERA would’ve been top 10 in the MAC if his innings qualified. Steinbaugh is an extreme strike-thrower and control pitcher; over his 37 innings, he surrendered only one walk while picking up 39 strikeouts. If he can clean up his wild pitches (four wild pitches and four hit-by-pitch), Steinbaugh will be an excellent contributor in the Zips rotation.
- Easton Sikorski, WMU – Starter
Easton Sikorski’s FIP of 3.01 suggests that his ERA of 4.14 is likely to improve this season. He’s a strikeout pitcher that only started 11 games in 2021 due to an injury. He’s also good at avoiding hard contact and returns the 10th best OPS. A full season with Easton on the mound will have the Broncos in good shape.
The coaches do a preseason poll every season, and each team is listed below in the order that they were voted by the coaches in the poll.
Central Michigan Chippewas
The reigning conference champions return quality offense and defense for 2022. The Chips have power hitters to replace but have a lineup of hitters that get on base. The returning pitchers combine for the best WHIP, ERA, opponent batting average, opponent OPS and FIP in the league and about two-thirds of the innings pitched last season return.
- Mario Camilletti – Senior second basemen
- Andrew Taylor – Sophomore starting pitcher
- Jordan Patty – Senior starting pitcher
Ball State Cardinals
The Cardinals have a lot to replace coming into this season. On offense, the current roster was responsible for 23% of the total bases in 2021. Part of that is surely opportunity, but the best indicator of future performance is past results. There aren’t very many past results to rely on. The pitching staff is depleted as well, but the coaches believe the Cardinals will reload and not rebuild in 2022.
- Decker Scheffler – Sophomore first base and outfield
- Trennor O’Donnell – Sophomore starting pitcher
- Tyler Schweitzer – Sophomore relief pitcher
Kent State Golden Flashes
Kent State returns five of their top seven hitters from 2021, which is great, as they were one of the best offenses in the league in 2021. The Golden Flashes will produce runs in any variety. They are the most aggressive team running the bases and will manufacture runs when doubles are hard to come by. The pitching staff is looking for players to take steps forward and keep their offense in games. They had average attrition, but the strongest performers from 2021 moved on in the offseason.
- Justin Miknis – Junior catcher
- Colin Mathews – Senior outfielder
- Michael McNamara – Sophomore infielder
Western Michigan Broncos
The Broncos will look to build on the progress made in 2021 this season. They return quality hitters, just not as many as at bats as most MAC teams. Senior catcher Connor Charping is an impressive athlete and will be the centerpiece of the offense. He lead the MAC last year in stolen bases with 32. Four of their top five pitchers by ERA are back as well. If their pitching improves and their hitters stay where they were last season, the Broncos could break into the top tier of MAC baseball teams.
- Connor Charping – Senior catcher
- Easton Sikorski – Junior starting pitcher
- Dane Armbrustmaster – Junior relief pitcher and spot starter
When a player like Chris Meyers leaves the program in the MLB draft, the numbers are going to look rough. It’s not exactly easy to replace a 1.248 OPS and reigning MAC Player of the Year, after all.
Despite that, the Rockets still return the second-best slugging percentage in the MAC. Their pitching staff is what held them back last season, and in 2022 there are reasons to be optimistic. The surface stats aren’t great, as the combined ERA of returning contributors is 7.15, but the FIP is 5.00. That kind of discrepancy is either luck or bad defense. That kind of differential usually sorts itself out over time.
- Scott Mackiewicz – Sophomore utility player
- Darryn Davis – Junior infielder
- Kyle Jones – Junior starting pitcher
Miami is in a good news, bad news situation. The good news is Cristian Tejada is back from injury to help a struggling offense score runs. The bad news? All but one pitcher that had a sub-4.50 ERA from 2021 is gone. The Redhawks had seven of those pitchers. The pitchers that are back are still big strikeout guys and may fill the gap well, but simply put, they haven’t been asked to do it yet. The offense returns its core and gets a good hitter back. Despite the coaches putting them sixth out of eleven, I think they’ll do better than that.
- Nate Stone – Redshirt sophomore outfielder
- Kenten Egbert – Junior relief pitcher
- Cristian Tejada – Senior infielder
The returning Bobcats pitchers are the second-best pitching unit in the MAC. They don’t give away free bases, with the fewest walks per nine innings in 2021 and strikeout nine per nine innings. They return the highest percentage of at bats in the MAC at 79 percent. The problem is they’re average as a unit. Normal development could make them a pesky team, especially if teams don’t handle Spencer Harbert with care. He mashed 10 home runs last season in 122 at bats.
- Isaiah Peterson – Redshirt senior outfielder
- Spencer Harbert – Redshirt senior outfielder
- Edward Kutt IV – Redshirt senior starting pitcher
Eastern Michigan Eagles
Eastern Michigan has the best returning hitter in the MAC in Gabe Denton. He slugged .606 last season with 10 home runs. Taylor Hopkins and Christian Bault also return and bring back 14 more home runs. The Eagles are looking to power their way to wins. The pitchers that are coming back are quality but need to carry the load this season. They return 36 percent of their innings pitched in 2021, the second-lowest in the MAC.
- Gabe Denton – Junior first basemen
- Taylor Hopkins – Senior infielder
- Cameron Wagoner – Junior relief pitcher
Bowling Green Falcons
Bowling Green brings back the highest percentage of their stats from last season in the MAC. The problem is that their 2021 production earned them an 18-22 record in MAC play and a seventh-place finish overall. The lack of turnover shouldn’t be a problem assuming they correctly develop and improve, but there’s also risk of stagnation if it goes wrong.
- Kyle Gurney – Junior catcher
- Adam Furnas – Senior infielder
- Tyler Ross – Junior infielder
Northern Illinois Huskies
The Huskies are probably going to have a rebuilding year and have hit the transfer portal hard. They lose their best pitchers and their top four hitters by batting average. In their place, NIU has added 11 transfers and four freshmen to the team. Hopefully, the newcomers can contribute immediately. The returning players have the second-worst OPS and allow more than two walks and hits per inning pitched.
- Eric Erato – Sophomore infielder
- Matt Barnes – Senior outfielder
- Michael Lasiewicz – Senior starting pitcher
Akron is still a pretty new program after their phoenix-like resurgence, and still trying to collect talent after bringing in the first recruiting class since the team was brought back. On the bright side, there is continuity in the pitching staff and the FIP suggests the pitching should improve in 2022.
However, the returning offense is the worst in the MAC. Before Covid-19 canceled 2020, the Zips were 1-11. In their first full season, they improved to 15-36. Another improvement in win percentage, in any amount, would be a successful season for Akron.
- Kaito Hara – Junior infielder
- Jackson Hickert – Senior relief pitcher
- Conor Steinbaugh – Senior relief pitcher and spot starter