How do you spell relief? B-U-L-L-D-O-G-S
Good pitching beats good hitting, most experts will tell you, and then they’ll say starting pitching remains the most critical building block for a winning baseball team.
But then there are these Mississippi State Bulldogs, who defy that second bit of baseball logic.
Where State is concerned, good pitching still beats good hitting, but State’s really stupendously good pitching comes from the Bulldogs’ bullpen.
Kendall Graveman, who has been State’s most effective starter, averages just over 6 innings per start. Jacob Lindgren, the Bulldogs’ second best starter statistically, goes exactly four innings per start. Graveman pitched the only three complete games of the seasons for State, which won 46 games, while losing just 18 entering this weekend’s Super Regional at Virginia.
And that really does defy baseball logic, says Jackson Academy coach Jay Powell, the former Bulldog ace, who excelled as a starter at State and then in the bullpen in the Major Leagues where he won the seventh game of the World Series for the Florida Marlins. I think we can consider Powell an expert.
“When you have a great bullpen, it usually means you have great starting pitching,” Powell says. “Because when your starters don’t go a lot of innings, it really taxes the bullpen and usually wears them out.
“That’s what makes State’s bullpen so amazing. They have so many good arms, and they haven’t worn out. This bullpen is really, really special and I think you have to give Butch Thompson (State’s pitching coach) an awful lot of credit.”
Injuries have radically changed State’s starting rotation and the Bulldogs have adjusted on the run. Remarkably, State has eight pitchers with an earned run average of 2.51 or below. All eight are primarily relievers and made a total of nine starts this season.
The numbers are truly staggering. The State bullpen is 30-5 with a 1.68 ERA and 19 saves. They have accounted for 299.1 of State’s 580.1 innings pitched. That’s more than half.
While closer Jonathan Holder (2-0, 17 saves, 1.17 ERA) gets most of the attention, two others have had remarkable seasons as non-closer relievers:
Chad Girodo (7-1, 1.10 ERA), including his season-saving performance in State’s regional championship victory.
Ross Mitchell ((12-0, 1 save, 1.41 ERA, 83.0 IP). Yes, that’s correct: twelve victories, no defeats.
Obviously, there are many more. After all, are talking practically 300 innings of relief here.
Holder, who turns 20 on Sunday, leads the entire State staff with 81 strikeouts. In two seasons, he has 111 strikeouts in 283 career batters faced. In other words, he is striking out nearly four of every 10 batters he faces, which is a crazy number.
Holder will bust you inside with a 90-plus fastball and then break your back with a Major League curveball. When he’s on, which has been nearly every appearance, he has been as close to un-hittable as pitching gets.
As this is written, it is raining in Charlottesville (the result of the storm named Andrea) and there will be no outdoor practice today and tomorrow’s game, if played, will be a damp one.
There’s no sure thing with the weather, unlike State’s bullpen.
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