I was recently asked about the candidates for Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. That inquiry got me thinking about who else might be on my shortlist for other conference awards. Instead of keeping my thoughts on the subject to myself, I've decided to present them to you, as well. What's the point of having a blog if you can't share your ridiculous assertions with the world?
Pitcher Of The Year
It's a three-man chase with a few others vying to get into the mix. Indiana's Eric Arnett, Michigan's Chris Fetter and Ohio State's Alex Wimmers are the trio at the top.
Arnett wasn't really on anyone's radar in February, but has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the conference. IU's righthander is leading the Big Ten in ERA (1.94), innings pitched (69.2) and wins (8). He's second in opponents batting average against at .202 and fourth in strikeouts with 69.
In contrast to Arnett, Michigan's Fetter opened the season on nearly everyone's All-America list. He's done nothing to disappoint. The senior righthander is second in the Big Ten in ERA (2.07) and innings pitched (65.1). The All-Big Ten pitcher is third in the conference in K's (70) and eighth in both opponents batting average against (.235) and wins (6).
The Buckeyes' Wimmers is pacing the conference in strikeouts (79) and is second in wins (7). Wimmers is third in opponents batting average against (.203), fourth in innings pitched (64) and eighth in ERA (2.95).
OSU closer Jake Hale and Minnesota starter Tom Buske lead the group that are right behind the front-runners. Hale is leading the Big Ten in saves and appearances while Buske is amongst the top ten in five categories including having the best batting average against in the conference at .196. Another Gopher, Chauncy Handran, and Illinois' Aaron Martin are just a step behind.
Player Of The Year
This race is even more wide-open. My list of candidates begins with Minnesota's Derek McCallum, Indiana's Alex Dickerson, Purdue's Dan Black and IU's Josh Phegley.
McCallum's Player of the Week (both nationally and in-conference) performance lifted him to the top of the Big Ten batting race. However, McCallum's numbers go far beyond that. The Gophers secondbaseman is also first in RBI (52), second in slugging percentage (.709), hits (57) and total bases (100). He's third in triples (3) and fourth in homers (10).
Dickerson's strong freshman campaign has him atop the Big Ten in total bases (102). The lefthanded hitting DH is second in hits with 57. Dickerson's third in batting average (.390) and homers (11). He's also seventh in RBI (41).
Black, the Boilermakers' all-conference 3B, is pacing the Big Ten in slugging percentage (.718), on-base percentage (.538), homers (12) and walks (46). Black's eighth in both RBI (39) and total bases (88).
Phegley, everyone's preseason choice for Player of the Year, got off to a slow start, but his numbers have really been climbing. The IU catcher is in the top ten in RBI (3rd at 44), on-base percentage (3rd at .480), runs (4th at 38), total bases (5th at 88), slugging percentage (6th at .652), homeruns (6th at 9), batting average (7th at .378) and hits (9th at 51).
The names of Michigan's Ryan LaMarre, Minnesota's Michael Kvasnicka, Ohio State's Dan Burkhart and Zach Hurley as well as Illinois' Brandon Wikoff litter Big Ten stat sheets. Any or all of them could having a strong close and get into the top half of my shortlist.
Freshman Of The Year
IU's Dickerson is the front-runner, but he's not going unopposed. Minnesota shortstop A.J. Pettersen has become Dickerson's primary challenger for first-year honors. Pettersen finds himself leading in the Big Ten in runs scored with 42 and is second in both batting average (.402) and on-base percentage (.481). The redshirt frosh is also third in triples (3) and seventh in hits (53).
Illinois' Josh Parr is leading the next wave of fresh faces. In addition to providing offense at the bottom of the Illini lineup, Parr is playing Gold Glove caliber defense at second.
Coach Of The Year
Bob Todd's Ohio State team is sitting atop the conference and that's sort of the objective, isn't it? Yet, Minnesota's John Anderson has his team with a top 30 RPI after the worst season of his Gopher career. Illinois' Dan Hartleb engineered a series victory at (then #1) LSU and has his squad in the hunt for a conference crown. They would be the three leading candidates for postseason hardware.
The darkhorse candidate is Michigan State's Jake Boss, Jr. The Spartans' first-year skipper has MSU in contention for a conference tournament spot with team most people had penciled in closer to the bottom of the standings.
If I have omitted your choice(s) in any category, don't worry. The good news is that there's plenty of time before season's end for someone to force their way onto one of my short lists. The better news is that I don't actually get to vote for any of these awards. That remains in the hands of Big Ten coaches.