There are several different ways one can look upon Maryland baseball’s 2017 season. The Terps won 38 games, made the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, and tied their recent high for winning the most conference games (15) in program history. Brian Shaffer was named Pitcher of the Year in the Big Ten, while Tyler Blohm received the best freshman accolade. Finally, there will be a number of Terps hearing their name called in the upcoming MLB draft.
However, this was a team predicted to win the conference, was ranked in the top 25 a number of times throughout the season, and at one point was in serious contention to host a regional in the NCAA Tournament. They ended their season far short of those milestones.
So it appears that a lot of things went right, and a lot of things went wrong. Below, we’ll try to itemize each.
What went right?
Brandon Gum was as good as advertised at the plate, leading the team with a .338 average and a .451 on-base percentage. Marty Costes impressed scouts everywhere, hitting .322 and belting 13 homers.
Both Zach Jancarski and A.J. Lee had breakout years. Jancarski became the prototypical leadoff hitter, hitting .325 and stealing 20 bases. His fielding was nearly flawless. Lee struggled a bit at the plate and in the field early in the season, but turned things around in a huge way. He ended up hitting .307 and smacking eight home runs, and he looked exceptional at third base. Expect both players to be on scouts’ radar next season.
Maryland’s three weekend starters all turned in stellar seasons. Brian Shaffer’s seven wins tied him with John Rayne for second place all-time at Maryland with 20 career wins. The junior right-hander had a minuscule 1.76 ERA in regular season Big Ten competition, and was as solid a starter as one could hope for. Tyler Blohm led the Big Ten in wins with eight, and will be a Friday or Saturday starter next year. He was the only freshman that saw regular playing time this year. Taylor Bloom started off the season in a rough fashion, as he worked on developing his curveball. As a result, his usually sharp command was absent, and he was shifted from a Saturday to a Sunday starter. But he regained his 2016 form and ended up with seven wins on the year. Bloom pitched his best when it counted most in the postseason.
The bullpen definitely had its moments. When the team was going well, it was primarily because the bullpen was dealing, with the committee of Ryan Selmer (8 saves), Andrew Miller (3 saves and a 1.96 ERA), Jared Price, Ryan Hill, Mike Rescigno, and the surprising Jamal Wade. John Murphy had a breakout sophomore season, leading the team with a 1.71 era and showing marked improvement as the year progressed.
What went wrong?
The team’s everyday lineup was cemented midway through the season, and didn’t vary after that. This was due in part to a lack of depth, as evidenced by catcher Danny Maynard being asked to play left field for a couple of games. While the bullpen had a lot of arms, they were constantly being used in midweek games due to faltering outings by the starting pitching. The unavailability of Mike Rescigno and Andrew Miller really hurt during the tournament games. In essence, this looked like a team that was playing tired through May and June. Players who did well earlier in the season went into slumps during this time.
The team as a whole struggled in the field. Maryland made five more errors than its opponents, but this doesn’t tell the full story. Adding in passed balls, the Terps made a number of miscues that led to costly unearned runs. However, Kevin Smith was always good for at least one web gem play per game. While he’s officially listed with having committed 12 errors, Smith got to a lot of balls other shortstops wouldn’t have gotten a glove on, and he was penalized when the play couldn’t be completed.
For some strange reason, the Terps couldn’t consistently get their starters through two innings of midweek play. While Maryland came back most of the time, losses to George Mason and UNC-Wilmington pulled down the team’s RPI.
Finally, the inability to bring home runners in scoring position with less than two outs was damaging. Too often, the Terps grounded into double plays, struck out looking, or popped up when a big inning was in play.
Ten years ago, this would have been considered a fantastic season. But after having so much success during the John Szefc era, it seems like this team could have gone further. So from the vantage point of not having reached the Super Regionals or winning the Big Ten championship, there’s the sense that this team didn’t reach its potential.
However, what the Terps accomplished in 2017 demonstrated that the 2014 and 2015 seasons were not a fluke. Indeed, this year cemented Maryland baseball’s reputation as a national contender. The expectations of fans and those who follow national collegiate baseball in general have been elevated to expect continued success. When 38 wins is considered merely decent, it’s clear that Maryland baseball has arrived. This year’s team played a large part in making that happen.