What We Learned- Steve Dalkowski Edition


Right now you’re probably wondering who Steve Dalkowski is and what he has to do with this sorry weekend of baseball for MSU.  Dalkowski is a baseball urban legend.  He is considered by some to be the hardest thrower in baseball history- perhaps as high as 110 MPH.  People like Ted Williams and Paul Blair- who has hit off of Nolan Ryan- have both said that he is the hardest throwing pitcher that they have ever seen.  In fact, the character of Nuke Laloosh in the movie Bull Durham is based off of Dalkowski.  So why have very few people heard of Dalkowski?  It’s because while he could throw hard, he couldn’t throw it ACCURATELY.  In fact, he walked almost as many people as he struck out in the minor leagues.  And because he was so wild, he was not very useful as a baseball player to his team, the Orioles.

Right now, MSU has a couple of pitchers doing a really good Steve Dalkowski impression- looking at you Evan Mitchell and Brandon Woodruff.  Except they don’t throw near as hard- but they are almost as wild right now.  And like Dalkowski, both have talent.  As it is, both are KILLING MSU right now.  That’s what is SO disappointing right now- we have a good team, we KNOW we’re good BUT two of our more talented pitchers are throwing it everywhere except in the strike zone.  The Bulldogs are 2-4 and probably should be 4-2, 5-1, or you could even make a case for 6-0.  Of course, they don’t give you style points- you only get runs and wins.

SOMETHING has to change.   Let’s look at all of our options because John Cohen has all but already said that changes will be coming.

Brandon Woodruff

Woodruff will not be in the starting rotation- I feel almost certain in saying that.  At the same time, I expect him to start against Austin Peay in one last ditch effort to salvage his year.  To me, this is the most disappointing thing about our year so far- because Woodruff has the potential to be a SEC ace, and he should be.  He started the SEC Championship Game among other big games for MSU and won just about all of them.   This year could not have possibly gone worse for him with arm soreness and now bouts of wildness. The interesting thing about Woodruff is he may be our easiest fix.

Woodruff with Mitch Slauter catching in 2013

1-0, 6 IP 5 hits 8 K’s 1 BB 0.00 ERA

Woodruff with Nick Ammirati catching in 2013

0-1. 5.1 IP 6 hits 3 K’s 8 BB 11.89 ERA

Now, you don’t have to be Bill James to see the trend there.  I want to be clear, though- I am NOT ripping or bashing Nick Ammirati.  In fact, I think he is a very good catcher.  But at the same time, there is a relationship between a pitcher and a catcher, and it’s not personal, but some pitchers and catchers work together better for whatever reason.   Perhaps the most famous example is Greg Maddux and Charlie O’Brien with the Atlanta Braves in the 90’s.  Also, some catchers frame pitcher’s pitches better than others, among other things.  So, if I’m John Cohen, I’m starting Mitch Slauter on Tuesday with Woodruff.  At this point, what’s really the worst thing that could happen?  If this doesn’t work, I don’t think anything else will.  It is also worth noting that Slauter caught Woodruff a lot last year when he was doing well as a freshman.  I know Cohen wants to rest Slauter, but in the grand scheme of things, catching Slauter likely three more games than Cohen planned is not likely to kill him.  Ammirati can still catch one game on the weekend, and if all goes as planned, Ammirati can still catch the last two non-conference games.

Evan Mitchell

Evan Mitchell is a pitcher with electric stuff that you would like to see from a SEC ace, but I think his personality is better suited for the bullpen.  In my opinion, I think it’s more of a concentration issue than anything else, and if you are a starting pitcher, you have to be able to concentrate and execute over a long period of time.  At this point, I think we have gone about as far as we can go with Evan.  Needless to say, I am not happy with his performance and I’ll leave it at that.

Luis Pollorena

Luis to me is the most logical solution to be the third starter for MSU.  He has starting experience and unlike Evan Mitchell, he has had success.  He gives the team energy, and people rally around him.  Pretty much what we need right now.  The problem is, he is a five inning guy.  And OK, yeah- that’s a LOT better than what we’ve been getting in general, but I think if you are Cohen or the MSU coaching staff, you have to be careful not to overextend him, or he will get hit after awhile- see the USM game this year.  We overextended him in that game because we had a big lead and we needed to rest our bullpen because guess what?  Our starters couldn’t give us quality innings!  But Pollo pitched much better in that game than his line score.  Pollorena attacks the strike zone and that’s what Cohen is looking for right now.  I don’t think it will effect the bullpen that much since he has had to come in the first or second inning a lot anyway. Pollorena has a 4-0 record, a somewhat misleading ERA of 2.77- I say misleading because we hung him out to dry against USM a little bit and 27 K’s in 26 IP’s.  If you take away that one bad inning against USM, his ERA drops down to 1.80.

Will Cox

In the pre-SEC games, Will pitched better than Evan Mitchell.  Calling a spade a spade.  The only thing that worries me a little bit is in SEC play, Cox gave up a home run to Mason Katz.  However, that was also in relief, which is totally different than starting.  I do think Cox is a starting pitcher, and the thing he was really known for in high school was eating innings and throwing a lot of pitches.  I remember him having a 150 pitch performance in a high school playoff game for Amory that was epic.  Is he an inning eater at this stage of his college career?  Maybe.  I’m not exactly sure what will happen, but if Woodruff continues to struggle, Cox could end up being the midweek starter, if not Pollorena.  One thing I do think Cox has over Pollorena is he is more of a starting pitcher and Pollorena is better coming out of the bullpen. Cox has a 2-1 record (the loss being in the aforementioned relief appearance), and he has 19 K’s in 18 IP and teams are hitting .200 against him.  What’s worrisome is his 8 BB’s in 18 IP’s.

Trevor Fitts (Wildcard!)

We’ve only seen a little bit of Trevor Fitts thus far- he has only pitching in five games, but he has an ERA of 1.29, which is actually a little bit lower than Will Cox’s ERA and he has 6 K’s in seven innings.   He is considered a possible future weekend starter as well.  There are some worrisome signs though- 8 hits allowed in 7 IP’s, and teams are hitting .286 against him, and he has 3 BB’s in 7 IP as well.  But, he may be worth looking at.  I would imagine that there are very little scouting reports on him, so there is the element of surprise with him.

Not Options at this point

I’ve seen a few people mention maybe moving Jonathan Holder or Ben Bracewell to the rotation.  Holder has been really good in save situations.  In other words, 9th inning, we have a lead and no one on.  Moving him probably would not work.  Being a closer is almost a persona and it’s definitely a mentality.  Some closers are better in certain situations than others, and starter is rarely one of those situations.  In fact, it’s probably a lot easier to go from starter to closer than closer to starter in general.  Ben Bracewell was very good as a starting pitcher last year- but he has had so many arm issues, set-up/closer is a more logical and productive spot for him.

Why is the offense getting a pass?

I haven’t mentioned the offense not because I am satisfied, but because when you start a game, and you basically spot the other team four runs, it’s hard to come back.  Especially against any SEC team who has at least two and probably three starting pitchers that are going to play pro baseball one day, and the third is probably a really good pitcher in his own right if he is not a pro prospect.  We can spot Alcorn a five run lead and get away with it- LSU, Kentucky, no.  When you get down like that, it almost totally shuts down your running game in the first inning on offense, and it changes the way you approach hitting because you have to be a little bit more patient.  It may have caused a player to think “home run” instead of base hit, go with the pitch, etc.  The way our offense is built, we are most effective when we are causing havoc on the bases and then Hunter Renfroe and Wes Rea are bombing the other team into submission.  It also changes the way the other team attacks you because with a four run lead, a pitcher is going to be a lot more comfortable.  That is why pitching, defense and pressure are all part of our identity.

Going forward, we have a good mid major in Austin Peay this week and then we have to go back on the road to Arkansas.  It doesn’t let up- but such is life in the SEC.  I’m going to be very interested to see if Slauter catches on Tuesday and also to see what changes are made and what effect the changes have on our pitching staff.  If there is one good thing to take away- I don’t think MSU has quite hit it’s stride yet.  But I think it’s coming- and hopefully sooner than later.

Hail State!