Todd Butler will coach Wichita State baseball out of the Missouri Valley Conference and into the American Athletic Conference.
Boosted by a promising group of returning position players and protected by a contract signed until 2020, Butler will return for a fifth season, WSU athletic director Darron Boatright said.
“There’s no one more frustrated by the win-loss record than Todd,” Boatright said. “When you have someone that is leading your program that does things the right way, brings quality people onto our campus … represents us well … when you have an individual like that leading your program, they deserve every opportunity to be successful.”
WSU opens play in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Wednesday in Springfield, Mo., with a record of 27-28 and will try to avoid a third straight losing season. The Shockers finished 10-11 in the MVC, their third straight sub-.500 conference record.
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In four seasons, Butler is 105-126 at WSU with one winning season — 31-28 in 2014 — so far. This season’s record will show improvement, however, from last season’s 21-37 mark.
“I look forward to the good days,” Butler said. “There are good things coming. I’m confident. The day we get this thing back to winning is going to be a great moment for all of us.”
When hired by former athletic director Eric Sexton in 2013, Butler signed a seven-year contract with a base salary of $300,000. With three years remaining on the deal, WSU would owe Butler around $900,000 if it were to fire him.
On July 1, WSU joins the American Athletic Conference and will face a significant jump in competition. According to warrennolan.com, the American is fifth nationally in the power rankings (RPI) with seven of the eight schools in the top 100. The MVC ranks No. 16 with Missouri State and Dallas Baptist in the top 100.
“At the conclusion of this season, he and I will sit down and make sure we’re doing everything we can to help his program be as successful as all of us want it to be,” Boatright said. “We’re making a big step up in baseball. I want to evaluate the support we’re giving the baseball program as a department to ensure that those needs are all met.”
Butler and Boatright find their optimism in the position players.
The starting lineup should return largely intact in 2018. In 21 MVC games, the Shockers are hitting .300 (tied with Dallas Baptist atop the MVC) with 44 doubles (tied for second) and 22 home runs (fourth).
Those players — such as sophomore first baseman Greyson Jenista and sophomore third baseman Alec Bohm — are evidence to Boatright that Butler’s high school recruiting is working. Boatright looks back on misses on junior college players in Butler’s first swings at recruiting as a false start.
“He tried to fix it too quickly and went the junior college route,” Boatright said. “That set us a year behind where we expected to be. His high school classes have panned out nicely. We have a really talented group of sophomores and a really talented group of freshmen.”
It’s the second consecutive season WSU led the MVC in hitting in conference play.
“It’s just the growth process of these young players,” Butler said. “They’re all back.”
The Shockers produced an uneven 2017 regular season to finish fifth in the the MVC. They started 7-0, all at Eck Stadium. Then they lost six of their next seven, all on the road. That started the pattern — WSU is 22-7 at home and 5-21 on the road. It went 7-2 in Valley home games, 3-9 on the road.
WSU is 9-6 since April 28 with three of those losses by one run.
While the offense improved throughout the season, the pitching under new pitching coach Mike Steele faltered after a solid start. WSU’s ERA of 6.21 in MVC play ranks sixth. Its overall ERA of 4.86 is down more than a run from 2016.
“You have to pitch,” Butler said. “Pitching is No. 1.”
A buyout of $1 million is a big number for any college baseball program. WSU’s move into the American brings financial challenges for the department, which needs to replace and add almost $2 million to cover money lost from the MVC and increased travel.
Boatright refused to pin his position on the contract.
“Finances have nothing to do with any decision I’m making on the leadership of our baseball program,” he said. “We are acutely aware of the record and we are aware of what the expectation is. Those fans deserve to be frustrated, absolutely. But, if they’re supporters of the program, come support the program. If they don’t like any decisions I’m making, evaluate me. It’s my responsibility to evaluate the coaches.”
- Game 1 – No. 3 Indiana State (27-24) vs. No. 6 Evansville (17-37), 9 a.m.
- Game 2 – No. 2 Dallas Baptist (36-19) vs. No. 7 Bradley (20-29), 12:30 p.m.
- Game 3 – No. 4 Southern Illinois (27-28) vs. No. 5 Wichita State (27-28), 4 p.m.
- Game 4 – No. 1 Missouri State (37-15) vs. No. 8 Illinois State (13-38), 7:30 p.m.
- Game 5 – Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 9 a.m.
- Game 6 – Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 12:30 p.m.
- Game 7 – Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 4 p.m.
- Game 8 – Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7:30 p.m.
- Game 9 – Game 7 loser vs. Game 5 winner, 9 a.m.
- Game 10 – Game 8 loser vs. Game 6 winner, 12:30 p.m.
- Game 11 – Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 4 p.m.
- Game 12 – Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner
- If necessary games at 11 a.m., 3 p.m.
- Championship, 7 p.m.
All games on ESPN3.com