On Monday we had a look at the offenses in the Ft. Worth Regional, and today we'll run through the pitching staffs to definitively prove that NC State is going to win this thing. Well, I tried, anyway. I failed, sure, but I thought it was worth a shot.
The team-by-team comparison in some key pitching statistics:
BABIP = opponents' batting average on balls in play, excluding home runs. There is a strong luck component here since pitchers have little control over where balls are hit--a higher BABIP could mean that a team has been a little unlucky.
XBH% = extra-base hits allowed divided by total hits allowed
TCU owns the best number in five of the seven categories. The Horned Frogs remind me of the vintage Minnesota Twins teams from the last 15 years, who always seemed to have a gaggle of dudes who could locate well and avoid walking batters.
The Frogs easily have the best mix of quality depth, stuff, and command in the regional. They run four-deep in their rotation without any significant decline in quality; four players have made at least a dozen starts, and they all have impressive peripheral statistics.
The most impressive of them might be Tyler Alexander, who has walked eight batters in 78-1/3 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is well north of seven. Alexander may not have great strikeout stuff (62 Ks over those 78+ innings), but what he lacks there is mitigated by his ability to locate.
Preston Morrison is the workhorse of the staff--he's thrown 95-2/3 innings, with 71 strikeouts against 19 walks. He's won 11 games on the season, which is damned impressive for a 54-game season.
TCU's entire staff issued a mere 114 walks during the season--NC State's staff, by comparison, handed out 257 free passes. No Horned Frogs player has issued more than 19 walks; five Wolfpack pitchers have matched or exceeded that mark.
I still haven't gotten to closer Riley Ferrell, who probably has the best pure stuff of any pitcher in this regional. He's closed out 14 games this season while average 14 strikeouts per nine innings with a killer fastball-slider combination. His heater will hit the mid-to-upper 90s, while the falling-out-of-an-elevator slider runs mid-80s. Watch his demolition of Pepperdine in the Supers last year.
Ferrell is one of the few pitchers on the staff who can get himself into trouble with walks (17 issued in 27 IP). But he's surrounded in the pen by a bunch of guys with fantastic control, and Ferrell obviously is talented enough to erase a mistake or two. Opponents are hitting .082 against him.
Including Ferrell, TCU has a half dozen reliable arms in its bullpen, in addition to its four exceptional starting pitchers. No doubt the Frogs have enough depth to work their way out of the losers' bracket, should it come to that. If we're bein' honest, though, it probably isn't going to come to that.
Stony Brook, by contrast, was much more of a pitching-by-committee operation, with only two players establishing themselves as steady weekend starters. Daniel Zamora struck out 76 guys over 74-1/3 innings, which makes him nothing to sneeze at--though he did issue 35 walks as well.
The second starter is Tyler Honahan, who struck out 64 and walked 33 over 72-1/3 innings.
Those guys have the potential to keep Stony Brook in games on Friday and Saturday; it's just that it gets dicey quickly once the Seawolves hit the pen. They've given nine relievers/startery types the opportunity to throw 10+ innings, which implies depth where none exists. Outside of relief ace Cameron Stone (25 IP/32 K/8 BB), there isn't a lot to like.
Sacred Heart ... oh, dear sweet Sacred Heart, this weekend might hurt a lot. Against the 278th-toughest schedule in the country, the Pioneers couldn't keep the team ERA under five. They've used 14 pitchers this season and only two averaged more than seven strikeouts per nine innings. That wouldn't be such a doomy indicator if this group was better at locating, but they've been nearly as wild as NC State's pitchers.
If you can't strike guys out, and you also don't have a clue where most of your pitches are going to end up, that's uh, that's not good. That does not portend good things. They are going to need an enormous committee effort, with several guys significantly out-pitching their talent levels in order avoid an early exit from the tournament.