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Nebraska Baseball: The 2017 Postmortem

Husker baseball was good, but the season ended with the same script as before.

Brian Towle/CN

Brian: Well, I guess this is where I’m supposed to tell you that Darin Erstad needs to go. After all, I got to think it’s gonna be soon that someone from the OWH tells you that Nebraska’s not doing well at baseball cause they need to spend more money than DE’s $100k/year salary.

Well, I don’t have that hot of a take, but it’s going to be warm enough. Darin needs to be a guy that learns what he’s done wrong in year’s before & apply it to make not only his team better and himself a better coach.

Nebraska is to be commended for winning the Big Ten regular season title, especially when it was picked to be 3rd and be way closer to make a regional, if at all. And, honestly, I can live with losing to Yale. I mean, they were close to Nebraska in RPI (48th vs. Nebraska’s 44th acc. to, and they ran a good pitcher in Scott Politz. Yes, the whole first win for Yale vs. a team lower than 100 in the RPI thing should be bothersome, but I can deal. It was team 32 vs. team 33 in a 64 team field.

What I have a hard time living with is some of the things Erstad said after Saturday’s rollover to Holy Cross, the 64th team in the field. A team that had a RPI heading into the weekend of 210, which is 14 spots worse than Penn State, who Nebraska struggled with for 2 of 3 games in the final regular season weekend.

This is what Erstad said about his team’s loss to a team that was 150+ lower than his team in the RPI:

“Obviously, wins and losses are important, but I’m just more concerned about how we go about our business,” coach Darin Erstad said. “We went about our business the right way today. We just didn’t get those hits.

“Credit Holy Cross. They swung the bats, found holes and kept putting pressure on us.”

They... they got on top of you, never trailed, and put pressure on you? I mean, weren’t you embarrassed like you were the previous day vs. Yale? You said it yourself.

"I'm one that takes the 'win the best way you're suited to' approach. Oddly enough I don't think we win tomorrow against Oregon State's #2. Our best chance was catching them later in this regional and now we know we don't have to pitch our #2.

Don't get me wrong, losing to Yale how we did was embarrassing but in my mind, with the team we have, we are better suited playing 5 and saving our best two guys."

I mean, this program hasn’t faced a host seed in a NCAA Regional the past 3 trips to the tournament, all on Erstad. Get to a game vs. them before you worry about how you’re going to match up against them.

If Darin can somehow, someway, learn from all that, then Nebraska can take a next step and improve from 2-10 in postseason play (B1G/NCAA) in the past 3 seasons. If they can’t, well we’ll just have to take our annual 3 seed, 2 & BBQ roast we’ve gotten.


I am not going to sugarcoat it. This sucks. Nebraska should have made the regional final and could have at least given Oregon State a run for its money. Well instead Nebraska finished the postseason 1-4, with one win coming against Purdue and losses to Iowa, Maryland, Yale, and Holy Cross.

Technically Nebraska is paying Erstad somewhere in the 165k/year range, slightly above the 100k a year that is reported above. Let’s also remember that Mike Anderson was making $320,000 a year and we granted him three seasons of losing before that ship sailed.

The loss to Iowa I can deal with, that is baseball. Nebraska executed two of three parts of the game, pitching well and playing good defense. They failed to get the key hits and lost, it happens.

With Jake Meyers unable to go against Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska was sent scrambling. With Ethan Frazier being injured in the second inning, Nebraska did a solid job of being able to just be in that game. Maryland has legitimate talent and played well. Credit Maryland and Iowa where it’s due.

Against Yale was where the Huskers major flaw was exposed. They lack top end starting pitching. Ask yourself, is there another Friday night starter based on raw makeup that you would not trade Jake Hohensee for? I can think of only two or three starters that Hohensee is better than on Friday night.

I would be willing to trade Hohensee for a Brian Shaffer, or Alex Troop in a heartbeat. Trade Oliver Jaskie, Lucas Gilbreath, or Nick Gallagher for Hohensee and I would think Nebraska wins four or five more games this season, just in the regular season.

The second of the Huskers problems is the strikeout. Nebraska struck out 323 times in 2015, 363 in 2016, and 433 times in 2017! Nebraska actually was more lucky this season then last. They hit .342 when putting a ball in play this season compared to only .320 last season.

The good news is that there are solutions to the problem, and it may be an easier fix.

First the starting rotation could be getting a makeover next season. Nebraska needs to replace at least one weekend starter, and could have to replace all three. Meyers and Hohensee are draft eligible. The thing with Meyers is that nothing he does on the mound stands out, he doesn’t throw 95 and he isn’t exciting as a hitting prospect as well. He is a good college player who should be a senior sign next season. The same can be said with Hohensee.

With Hohensee and Meyers both back, Nebraska has (potentially) a logjam of starting pitching. This is not a bad issue to have! Next season the Huskers will have Hohensee, Meyers, and Matt Waldron all back. Paul Tillotson should be returning from shoulder surgery, and Matt Warren could get his sixth year of eligibility as a transfer from Creighton.

The Huskers also have three pitchers in the recruiting class who could contribute. Andrew Abrahamowicz out of Ohio is a potential Saturday caliber starting pitcher, and could push Hohensee. Keegan Watson would be a relief pitcher in the mold of Luis Alvarado who could play the outfield and become a closer. The real pitcher to watch is John Swanda. Swanda would be a legitimate Friday night starter. If Swanda makes it to Lincoln, Nebraska is in business.

With a potential rotation of Swanda, Warren, and Hohensee Nebraska would be a preseason top 25 team without a doubt. You could make a rotation of Waldron, Meyers, and Tillotson and it would be better than half of the Big Ten.

To fix the second problem, Mike Kirby needs to make some adjustments. Luke Roskam, Hagge, and Angelo Altavilla combined for 145 strikeouts against just 70 walks. Altavilla had 53 strikeouts, the most for a Husker since Daniel Bruce in 2004.

The good news is that the trio of hitters is young, and should be able to learn. Roskam and Hagge especially struggled against left handed pitching this season. If the Huskers can refine their approach at the plate, then the future could be bright.

The future is bright. Recruiting is on the uptick, and Omaha is starting to become a mine that Nebraska is visiting more. The Huskers are going after kids that are quality players and Erstad is learning on the job.

For someone who was brought in six years ago, Erstad has done a good job. There are serious questions about his postseason record, but they are making progress. Losing to Yale and Holy Cross is a setback, but with a potential speedier, more athletic team next season with more of a power pitching approach there is a bright future in Lincoln.

Jon Johnston

I can’t really add much to this, other than to say - I remember Erstad repeating over and over that he “had to get better at his job” after Michigan State eliminated Nebraska from the Big Ten and tournament in Minneapolis in 2015. (That loss also eliminated the Huskers from the NCAA tournament that season.)

Since then, his teams have made the NCAA tournament two years in a row, and he won the Big Ten regular season title this year. Fact is, he HAS gotten better at his job. (If you expected it to happen all at once, you’re the fool here, not him.)

He’s getting into the postseason, now he just needs to figure out how to win. I agree with Keith that this sucks. It’s an embarrassing end to an otherwise pretty great season.

I see some people saying that Erstad needs to go, that there needs to be a change, but I have seen absolutely ZERO recommendations on who would replace him that would do better. ZERO. You got a solution? Let’s hear it.


Baseball is a cruel sport. In less than two weeks, NU went from Big Ten champions, celebrating in Penn State’s locker room, to having their season end with a rather ignominious loss to Holy Cross in Corvallis, OR. This was supposed to be the season they got past these kinds of endings. This was the season they were supposed to make a run in the tournament. There was open conversation before the season about hosting a regional. It didn’t happen. Something is missing at Hawks Field.

Not everything, though. There are some good things happening. They did win the conference title. When you go a decade or more without winning one, that’s a significant accomplishment (we can save the conversation for why it took 12 years between conference titles for another day). Read Keith’s overview of talent and it seems like that’s improving as well. The Mojo revelation this year was also a huge development. I’m excited about the potential of guys like Luke Roskam and Jesse Wilkening. Having Angelo Altavilla back is big, too. He had some big hits down the stretch. But the strikeout rate is concerning. And when it got to tournament time, they largely seemed to grip the bat a little tighter. That doesn’t work in this sport. When that happens, it looks like you lack energy and effort. It’s often the opposite. But they did look a step slow, a little tired and rather lethargic. Yale, on the other hand, looked very much ready to go. NU never matched that energy and urgency.

But something for this team isn’t working in the postseason. I’m with Keith again when he says the rotation needs to be addressed. One of the biggest pieces they need to figure out is where they’re gonna find a stud Friday night pitcher. Is he already in the program? They basically had an inverted weekend rotation. Meyers was their best pitcher pretty much all season, but his offensive ability mandated he pitch on Sunday. And that was a real weapon for NU. Not many teams had a pitcher to match him at the end of the weekend. It probably was the reason they made it to the NCAA Tournament in the first place. But he should have been the Friday guy. Hohensee should have been the Sunday guy. If they can find a guy for that role and still keep Meyers on Sunday, well, then you’ve got something and maybe that fantasy of hosting a regional could become a reality.