Mississippi State is a team that is built around pitching dominance. The starters for each series on the weekend are usually the three best pitchers on the team. After a two year departure from “usual baseball” in which the team was built around the strength of the bullpen, Mississippi State appears to be headed back to a regular rotation in which the starter goes around 6 innings before turning the game over to the bullpen. The first three weekend series of the baseball season created a quirk in the rotation though because they have played four games over three days. There have been four pitchers that have made themselves the front runner for the three spots.
I don’t think Brown has to worry about losing a spot as a starter. He has started on every Friday game, and he is second on the team in innings pitched. He has been more than solid, posting a 2.12 ERA, 3-0 record, and a 22:6 Strikeout to Walk ratio. Brown was arguably the best pitcher on the team his Freshman season until an injury derailed the season for him. Look for him to get the ball every Friday night.
Sexton has the best ability to simply take over a game. On Saturday, he became the first pitcher for Mississippi State to strikeout 10 and walk 0 batters since Chris Stratton did it in 2012. That’s pretty good company for the sophomore pitcher to keep. He hasn’t been able to go real deep in games, but when he has been on, he has been dominant. If you don’t believe me, maybe the fact that hitters are only hitting .167 against Sexton will convince you. For that reason, don’t expect Sexton to lose his spot in the rotation.
The original plan for Tatum was to team up with Trevor Fitts as a dual closer. Tatum’s first appearance was in relief early in the season, but since then, he has spent time as a starter. And if you are looking for the pitcher that has been the best in the rotation, the argument begins and ends with Tatum. Tatum leads the team with 18.2 innings pitched, leads all starters with a .145 ERA, sports a 25:5 Strikeout to Walk ratio, and hitters are batting a miniscule .085 against Tatum. Tatum will likely draw the Saturday starts through at least the first weekend of SEC play, but if he continues to pitch like this, I would not be shocked to see him move to the Friday night role.
My guess is that Laster will head to the bullpen. Laster has been good, but he doesn’t possess the upside that the other three pitchers possess. He has a slightly lower ERA than Sexton at 2.45, but hitters are hitting .283 against him, which is the highest among the pitchers who have seen a significant amount of playing time. Laster has the fewest strikeouts and has given up the most hits among pitchers that have made a start. Laster has similar pitches and style to Girodo, though I don’t think Laster will be able to strikeout the number of hitters that Girodo did, so Cohen and Thompson will likely look to use Laster in a role that is similar to Girodo’s role in 2013.
Based on the last two years, the starting pitching depth is a welcome change. The Bulldogs relied heavily on their bullpen previously, and it was a strategy that had a limited shelf life. There is little evidence that using your bullpen far more than your starters will lead to a highly successful season. The depth in the starting rotation could push the Bulldogs to the top of the SEC.