As Arkansas finished their second consecutive shutout against South Carolina in Saturday’s doubleheader. It really showed the quality of the current staff. That came on the heels of a sweep of Auburn where the Hogs got quality appearances from all of the six pitchers who took the mound.
So while much of the attention is being paid to the lineup, the pitching staff is quietly doing things that even some of the best pitching staffs haven’t done at Arkansas. First let’s see how some of the basic numbers look compared to previous years.
- 2018: 3.09 ERA / .232 avg / 2.9 K/BB
- 2014: 2.63 ERA / .214 avg / 2.07 K/BB
- 2013: 1.89 ERA / .211 avg / 2.45 K/BB
- 2009: 4.67 ERA / .267 avg / 2.09 K/BB
- 2007: 3.94 ERA / .249 avg / 2.58 K/BB
First off, the 2012-14 group was insane. Dave Van Horn took advantage of the BBCOR era with guys like Ryne Stanek, Randall Fant, Colby Suggs, DJ Baxendale, and plenty of others. 2009 didn’t have the best numbers due to the era they played in, but Dallas Keuchel, Brett Eibner, Drew Smyly, and Mike Bolsinger was too talented of a group to leave out. And as always, all hail the 2007 trio of Nick Schmidt, Jess Todd, and Duke Welker.
The ERA of this group fits right in the middle, as does the average allowed. Where this team really stands out is the strikeouts and walks. They’re way ahead of the others in K/BB ratio, and their 3.15 K/BB rate in SEC play is even more absurd. Blaine Knight’s rate is almost 5:1, Kacey Murphy and Matt Cronin’s numbers are even wilder. Both are throwing over six strikeouts for every walk. Usually high strikeout numbers means high walk numbers as well, but this staff has found a way to avoid free passes. The Hogs aren’t just pitching to contact either, they’re averaging 9.18 Ks/9 innings as well. In fact here are the strikeout numbers over the past few seasons.
- 2018: 2.9 K/BB // 9.18 K/9
- 2017: 2.99 K/BB // 9.88 K/9
- 2016: 1.9 K/BB // 8.4 K/9
- 2015: 1.72 K/BB // 7.63 K/9
- 2014: 2.38 K/BB // 6.84 K/9
- 2013: 2.45 K/BB // 7.83 K/9
- 2012: 2.38 K/BB // 7.83 K/9
Notice a trend?
Yup, in the past two years strikeouts have gone way up, so has the strikeout to walk ratio. That coincides with Wes Johnson coming in as Arkansas’ new pitching coach. Johnson’s new philosophy has emphasized strike outs and not giving up free passes. If you noticed more swings and misses by Razorback opponents this year, it’s no accident. The change in philosophy has paid huge dividends this year and the current staff is shaping up to look a lot like some of the best in recent memory.
Blaine Knight has the ace role locked up much like Stanek and Schmidt before him. He’s keeping a low ERA and low opponent’s batting average. Matt Cronin is also starting to look more like another copy of Suggs and Michael Gunn. Arkansas’ most effective closers have been hard throwing guys with crazy low opponent averages. Right now teams are hitting just .129 off Cronin, similar to Suggs’ .139 in 2013 and Gunn’s .165 in 2014. Kacey Murphy has helped keep the starting depth strong and Isaiah Campbell looked much stronger in his start against South Carolina. That could give the Hogs the three man rotation that they’ve rode to deep post season appearances in the past.
So this year’s Hogs are doing things differently on the mound than what has usually been the case, there’s way more pitching for swings and misses. Even with the different philosophy, Van Horn has built his staff much in the same way he has in the past, and it’s been very successful.