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Baylor Baseball

Baylor Baseball's 2023 Pitching Woes and What's Next?

May 16, 2023

Baylor’s pitching woes in Mitch Thompson’s first season as head coach have been well-documented. The team has a 6.71 ERA, the fourth-worst among all Power 5 schools and last in the Big 12 by a wide margin.

The Bears are last in the conference in hits allowed (556), walks issued (275), WHIP (1.84) and opposing teams are hitting a whopping .304 against BU pitchers.

The next closest teams in those categories are Texas Tech in walks issued (267) and WHIP (1.54), and Kansas in ERA (6.02), hits allowed (484) and batting average against (.282).

Baylor Athletics - Cole Tompkins
Baylor’s pitching staff has a team ERA of 6.71, the fourth-worst among all P5 schools.

Baylor doesn’t have a single pitcher who has thrown at least 15 innings and has both an ERA under 4.50 and a WHIP under 1.45.

Across the conference, Kansas and Oklahoma both have two pitchers who have an ERA under 4.50 and a WHIP under 1.45. Kansas State and Oklahoma State each have four. Texas Tech and TCU each share five. Texas has six, and West Virginia has seven.

As a reminder, WHIP is the sum of a pitcher's walks and hits, divided by his total innings pitched. An above-average WHIP is anything below 1.20, an average WHIP is around 1.30 and a below-average WHIP is anything above 1.40.

ERA represents the number of earned runs a pitcher allows per nine innings and Baylor’s numbers are mostly below average, partially due to bad defense that I’ll get into later.

One of Thompson’s main frustrations throughout the season has been the pitching staff’s inability to get through first innings in a succinct manner.

Through 51 games, Baylor’s starters have combined to throw just 11 total 1, 2, 3 first innings.

The Bears have been outscored in first innings, 51-to-23, and in conference play, they’ve been outscored 32-to-8.

Baylor’s weekend rotation combination of Blake Helton (Sr.), Mason Marriott (So.), Will Rigney (Jr.) and Cam Caley (Jr.) have handed the bullpen the lead just six times this year.

Despite the high ERA (7.57) and WHIP (1.88) totals, Marriott has good stuff; the command just isn’t there consistently yet. Some have compared him to former Baylor starting pitcher Tyler Thomas, who struggled to throw strikes until his fourth-year junior season in 2021.

When Rigney initially returned from injury, he struck out 13 batters in six innings of work. As the season went on, you could tell the 6-foot-6 righty was never at 100%, and even then, he was still the Bears’ best pitcher, although his numbers (4.45 ERA, 1.76 WHIP) don’t necessarily reflect that.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Sophomore RHP Mason Marriott can be a reliable pitcher in 2024 if he improves his command.

BU’s pitching staff has also been dealt a defense that was last in the Big 12 in fielding percentage (.961) and struggled consistently throughout the season. 

Time and time again, pitchers would have to get four or five outs in an inning, usually after a pop-up in foul territory was misplayed or a fly ball wasn’t caught.

It’s tough to quantify exactly how large of an issue this played because the majority of the time, those plays aren’t considered errors, and plays that “could have been made but weren’t” aren’t put in box scores. 

Take Sunday’s 10-4 loss to TCU for example; six of the Horned Frogs runs came in the first inning with two outs. The frame was extended by a ball that got past Kolby Branch at shortstop, a routine fly out in left field that Hunter Simmons did not come up with and multiple errant or lack of throws on the basepaths.

Caley was given the loss and his 8.39 ERA jumped to 9.40. All six runs were earned, but arguably not a single one should have been.

Throughout the series against No. 19 Texas in mid-April, the league leader in fielding percentage (.979), it was easy to be reminded of how important defense truly is. 

After re-watching just the highlights of the series, I counted twelve times the Bears' defense gave UT extra outs; just six were considered errors.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Baylor was last in the Big 12 in fielding percentage (.961).

Obviously, this is a small sample size, but BU’s defense not making plays was a common theme throughout the entire season.

Add that onto an already struggling pitching staff and a hit-or-miss offense; you get a 16-35 team that’s missing the Big 12 Tournament for the first time in program history.

The Bears were dead-last in the conference in runs allowed (415) and were the only team in the Big 12 with a negative run-differential (-146).

All hope is not lost for the 2023 pitching staff, however.

While it’s evident that Thompson and his staff will have to hit the transfer portal hard this offseason, there are still a handful of guys who can compete next year.

Jared Matheson’s (Jr.) last two outings were the best he’s looked all season.

Anderson Needham (Jr.) has 15 scoreless appearances in relief.

Grant Golomb (Jr.), Cole Stasio (Jr.) and Gabe Craig (So.) all had good moments.

But in particular, Hambleton Oliver (Jr.) and Ethan Calder (Fr.) had better years than their stats indicate. 

Baylor doesn’t have a pitcher who has thrown at least 15 innings and has both an ERA under 4.40 and a WHIP under 1.45.

Oliver was the name Thompson called upon repeatedly in difficult situations. Outside of a five-run clunker in Lubbock against No. 16 Texas Tech, the veteran reliever had a solid year. 

Calder, as a true freshman, was relied upon a lot in the middle innings and was impressive.

Thompson’s squad was also hit particularly hard with the injury bug in his first season.

Freshmen Tanner Duke and Collin McKinney were both out for the season with injuries. Blake Rogers (Fr.) and Andrew Petrowski (Jr.) flashed early before being lost for the season with injuries as well.

Even with some bright spots, the poor numbers across the board can’t be disputed. So where does the team go from here?

Realistically, anyone who returns should expect to compete for a job throughout fall ball.

Next season, the NCAA approved that college baseball rosters will be expanded from 35 to 40. 

The 2023 recruiting class features six freshmen pitchers, two two-way players and one JUCO pitcher. Only one pitcher on the current roster, Helton, is out of eligibility. 

On paper, not including guys who will enter the transfer portal or the two-way players, that’s 23 pitchers alone.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Freshman LHP Ethan Calder impressed down the stretch and was one of Baylor’s best options out of the bullpen.

It’s impossible to forecast who enters the portal and who Thompson brings in.

However, in order for the 2024 team to be competitive, there will need to be an overhaul of the current pitching staff in some capacity, and it remains to be seen if that can happen in one offseason.

In the meantime, there are still games to be played this season. The Bears will travel to Stephenville to take on Tarleton (24-24) at 6:30 p.m. for their final midweek matchup.

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