Mississippi State Baseball’s Pitchers Limit Runs and Runners by Doing Everything, and They’re Making History while they’re at It.
It’s still early.
There’s a lot of baseball left to play.
But Mississippi State’s early pitching performances have the Dawgs on pace for one of the best seasons any staff has ever had. On the season, Bulldog arms have only given up 23 runs in 117 innings, earned and unearned. With a team ERA of 1.45, State has what would be the lowest ERA for a Bulldog team in at least 17 seasons; in nine of those seasons, State finished with an ERA above 4.40. And it’s not even close. The Dawgs are more than a whole run per nine innings better than their best season in those last 17. And they haven’t put up stellar numbers against merely the also-rans of NCAA baseball—five contests in 2019 have been against ranked opponents. In those five games? State has given up 8 runs, and has an ERA of 1.55. What has worked for the Bulldogs during this historic streak? It’s because the MSU hurlers have shown pitching coach Scott Foxhall everything one could ask for out of a staff. They’ve struck guys out: State has 158 strike outs and sends an average of 12 batters per game back to the bench with a bat in hand. 45% of MSU’s outs have come without balls even being put into play. 54 of those punch outs have come from JT Ginn and Ethan Small, who so far have done exactly what you want a weekend starter to do—go deep into games while giving your team a great chance to win. Ginn and Small have 19.0 and 18.0 innings in 3 starts apiece. A crucial advantage in any weekend series goes to the team whose starters can eat up the most inning without giving up a ton of runs. Besides guys mowing down hitters at the plate and going for 5+ innings consistently in their starts, State pitchers are helping the team win by pitching effectively with a lead and finishing games. A lot of the credit for this goes to Cole Gordon, who already has 4 saves on the year (and all 4 of the Dawgs’ saves this season). Gordon, a repurposed first baseman, has come into tight situations and delivered. He’s allowed baserunners in just about any way you can. Walks (both the unfortunate kind and the semi-intentional variety), hits, errors, dropped third strikes, and stolen bases have all worked against Gordon in his six appearances. But none of them have crossed the plate. Gordon is yet to give up a run in 2019, as his live fastball and sweeping breaking ball keeps desperate hitters guessing while Gordon records 15 Ks in 8 innings of work. However, it’s not just Gordon that has kept leads safe. The Diamond Dawgs have only allowed a team to take a lead after State has held a lead in one game this season, on March 1 versus Sam Houston State (State would go on to retake that lead and Gordon would record his second save). Bulldog arms have held on to their leads with an iron fist all season long. Another way State’s arms has fostered success is via their aptitude for situational pitching. MSU is forcing teams to strand 64% of their baserunners. 84 opponent base-reachers have been left on after some odd 131 went through the trouble of getting on base. 12 times the Dawgs have forced multiple baserunners directly back into the dugout without surrendering any runs at all. Another key to the Bulldogs early success is that even when pitchers aren’t getting strikeouts, they’re still not getting squared up by the hitters they’ve faced. MSU is out-doubling its opponents by a margin of 34 to 8. They’re out-homering teams 12 to 3. In all, State is giving up exactly one extra-base hit per game—the Bulldogs themselves hit almost four times as much. No team has more than 3 extra-base hits in a game against MSU. The best way to describe how State is pitching their way to a record season thus far is with one word: “completely.” The Diamond Dawgs have covered all their bases as far as a pitching staff has been concerned, doing everything a team needs to do with both seasoned veterans and green freshmen, with blistering fastballs and devastating breaking balls, and with starters and relievers alike. If the Bulldogs can continue these habits, State should have no trouble pitching their way back to Omaha and into the record books in 2019.