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Texas Baseball Preview Part II--Pitching

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As we noted in Part I, the hope around these parts is that there is no way for the UT pitching staff's performance to go anywhere 2009 but up. The question is, how far up? Let's take a look at the prospects for this year's team on the mound, starting with...well, starting pitching.

  • Sophomore Chance Ruffin will be the obvious leader of the staff and thus the probable Friday night starter. Ruffin posted a truly remarkable 1.84 ERA in last year's regular season (including the postseason, he ended up with a still-incredible 1.96).  Amazingly, Ruffin's ERA was even better as a starter (1.54) than his overall number (which included several relief appearances). We have always been of the opinion that the most overvalued statistic in baseball is wins by a pitcher; there are so many variables that the pitcher simply can't control which factor into wins and losses. ERA, however, is designed specifically to determine how good a pitcher is at doing his job: stopping the other team from scoring runs. In college baseball, if a pitcher allows an average of less than two and a half runs per nine innings, he gives his team an extreme competitive advantage. On top of the sick ERA, Ruffin held opponents to a .191 batting average in 2008. That's almost unheard of in an aluminum-enhanced game where even Texas' lowest-hitting starter hit .247. All the Longhorns will need from the righty is to be close to the pitcher he was last year, and they'll have an excellent opportunity to go up 1-0 in every series they play.

More on the staff after the jump...

After Ruffin, there are several good choices for other weekend starters. These guys will probably battle it out early in the season for a spot in the weekend rotation once conference play begins:

  • The incumbent weekend starter, presumably with an inside track, is senior Austin Wood. He sported a less-stellar 4.43 ERA in 2008. Opponents hit .255 against Wood, who was the staff workhorse in throwing 85 and 1/3 innings on the season. Wood changed roles in '08, serving primarily as a starter after having been mostly a closer for the previous two seasons. He would no doubt like to reprise the starter role in 2009. The argument for Wood to take the second starting job hinges on two assumptions: first, that his experience as a starter last year is a value-add to this year's staff. Second, that his methodical, control-based approach would serve as a nice change of pace on Saturdays from Ruffin's power game on Fridays. Wood's top goal will be to prove to the coaching staff that he can cut down on the 11 homeruns he gave up last season. 
  • The other three guys most likely to contend for weekend starting spots seem to be freshman Taylor Jungmann and sophomores Cole Green and Brandon Workman. Baseball America states that Jungmann will be the weekday starter, and we agree--at least to begin with. But with 95-mph capability, it may be hard to keep him out of the weekend rotation for the entire season. The exciting thing about Jungmann in the short term is that, even if he doesn't end up with a weekend job, he should push the older guys to be their best because he could easily steal their spots. As for Green, he showed flashes of brilliance in an up-and-down freshman campaign. The key for him will be to harness his control (24 walks and eight wild pitches in 58 innings last season). If he can be more consistent, he can be nasty. Finally, according to the Baseball America preview Workman made great strides in the Cape Cod league last summer. If that improvement carries over, he certainly has the stuff to claim the Saturday or Sunday spot as well.

Bullpen: At least one of the above-mentioned hurlers will end up as relievers this season. That number could easily be higher--Jungmann could emerge as a weekend starter and someone else could end up being the weekday go-to, for example. Or, one of the guys below could step up into a weekend starting role once the season gets underway. But that's what we get for predicting the unpredictable.

  • Sophomore righty Stayton Thomas was very impressive as a freshman last year and looks to build on that as arguably the top guy out of the bullpen in 2009. Thomas actually held opponents to a nutty .194 batting average in '08. He was remarkably consistent, lodging a 3.82 ERA and 30 strikeouts in just 35 and 1/3 innings pitched--numbers that would stand out for a freshman on any team that doesn't feature Chance Ruffin. He did issue too many walks (21) and hit batsmen (9), but like Green we hope he will settle down a bit as a sophomore and improve that control.
  • Senior southpaw Keith Shinaberry is a lot of fun to watch on the mound because of his funky submarine delivery. Shinaberry brings a calm, veteran leadership to the 'pen and at the very least will once again be used frequently to specialize in getting left-handed hitters out (he averaged less than an inning per appearance in 2008). He does not overpower anyone, but does a great job of throwing strikes and making hitters earn their way on: he only allowed two walks last season. However, if Shinaberry wants to see more action this season he is going to have to bring even more precision to his game by keeping the ball out of the wheelhouse and painting the corners. Opposing batters hit an ungodly .372 against him last season while he accumulated an equally striking 7.15 ERA. It must be noted, though, that with only 11.1 innings pitched the sample size is not significant enough to draw any serious negative conclusions from those numbers.
  • Rounding out the bullpen, the Horns have a lot of depth provided by freshman Austin Dicharry, junior Hunter Harris, and senior Riley Boening, among many others. In fact, Augie is so confident in the depth of his bullpen that he has already declared that Brandon Belt will be exclusively a first baseman this year and will not pitch at all. Dicharry was a highly-regarded recruit much like Jungmann, and if he lives up to those expectations he has stuff nasty enough to find himself closing some games. Harris had only six appearances for a total of ten innings last year, but performed admirably in limited duty. Look for him to fight for more time this season. Boening was actually the Longhorns' fourth starter for most of '08, starting 10 games and only appearing three times in relief. We are excited about the kind of weapon he has the potential to be out of the bullpen.

Stay tuned for Part III, where we will look at the Texas offense for 2009.