WVU Pitching Staff: Best of the Mazey Era?
MORGANTOWN, W.Va — Sometimes, the old adages hold true.
One of the hoariest of baseball bromides is that good pitching is necessary to enjoy sustained success, but even in today’s sabermetric world of advanced stats, that generalization still holds true. Exhibit A is West Virginia’s pitching staff, which goes into Saturday’s doubleheader against Kansas with a team ERA of 3.26. Check that number again – -it’s not the ERA of the starters, or of those with a certain minimum number of innings pitched. It’s West Virginia’s total ERA through 35 games. That put WVU 25th nationally, but that was only through games of April 10 – since that time, the Mountaineers’ figure has dropped by nearly a tenth of a run.
For those of us who have been covering WVU baseball for the past few seasons (that’s a number smaller than the team’s ERA), it begs the question. Is this the best Mountaineer pitching staff of the Randy Mazey era?
“With the way they are throwing the ball now, you would have to say yes,” said Ernie Galusky, the color man on WVU’s radio broadcasts and a baseball lifer, who has been involved with the Mountaineer program in one way or another for the better part of two decades. “There have been some pretty good arms here for the past six or seven years with Harrison Musgrave and John Means and on down the line. But I think top to bottom these guys are pitching very well.”
When Galusky says ‘pitching’, hear it as pitching. With emphasis. It’s clear in his view that West Virginia’s staff, as a whole, isn’t just hurling the ball up to he plate. They are approaching it as a craft, and working to follow the instructions and plans laid out by Mazey, who reassumed control of the pitching staff this year.
It’s also not just the starters. WVU has had some good weekend rotations in past years, but this year also has a dependable mid-week hurler. That quartert (Alek Manoah, Jackson Wolf, Kade Strowd and Nick Snyder) has a combined 16-8 record, but they are just part of the story.
“What I’ve been impressed with is the bullpen guys have been outstanding,” said Galusky. “Mid-week, and on the weekend, they are throwing strikes, they’re competing, challenging the hitters and getting outs. I think that has been the big key to the success this year.”
That group has indeed been very good, and the biggest surprise is that many of them are freshmen. First year pitchers Phillip Dull, Madison Jeffrey, Ryan Bergert, Zach Ottinger, Gabe Kurtzhals, Beau Lowery and Brock Helverson have all recorded good relief appearances this year, and while there have been a few blips, their contributions have made the difference in a number of games this year.
“With the way baseball has changed, freshmen are coming right in and competing at the highest level,” said Galusky. “I am surprised at how many strikes they are throwing. It’s really impressive.”
That has been a trend for the staff this season. WVU has struck out 338 batters while walking 152, contributing to an excellent team WHIP of 1.26. That number had WVU 32nd out of the 297 Division I teams as of last Wednesday. Galusky detailed a pair of reasons for the precocious performance of the freshmen in 2019.
“I think they are more prepared when they get to college with the travel baseball. There are good coaches all across the country that are getting these guys prepared. I also think Coach Mazey has done a really nice job with the pitchers this year, and the guys have responded to it.”
While there are still 19 regular season games to be played before tournaments — the Big 12 and hopefully the NCAAs — Galusky knows that the quality and depth of this staff will be a determining factor in just how far the Mountaineers can go.
“In any tournament format in baseball, I don’t care what level it is, postseason in major league baseball, if it’s college baseball, if it’s high school baseball, even in youth baseball. If it’s a tournament setting, three or four days, you have to have a lot of arms, or you can’t win. That’s just the reality of it. The team that has the most pitching depth is usually the team that is going to hold up the trophy on Sunday. I think this team has that, at least more than it had over the last few years, and I’m excited to see what they can do.”