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Boston College Baseball: Resetting Birdball, Part II - The Pitching

The staff was dominant when it needed to be, which is exactly what BC wanted them to be.

King Birdball }Josh McCoy Josh McCoy for BC Athletics

As part of the summer offseason, we will be both looking back and forward at the Boston College baseball program in its individual parts. For Part I talking about the offense, be sure to click here.

When Mike Gambino set out rebuilding the Boston College Eagles, he knew he had to be flexible with roster construction. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to put together the same type of All Star-laden lineup as Florida State or Louisville, he had to change the game in the conference room in order to win the games on the baseball field.

The reconstruction of the Birdball roster centered around pitching and defense. In putting together the 2016 roster, he followed the adage that pitching would win championships, and if the pitching staff rolled, everything else would fall into place.

That mentality worked perfectly this year. The pitching staff became arguably the best known part of Boston College, and it became the reason in many eyes as to why the Eagles were able to qualify for the ACC Tournament, advance to the NCAA Tournament, and win the Oxford Regional.

The pitching staff’s exploits speak for themselves. Justin Dunn finished the year 4-2 with a 2.06 ERA in 18 appearances, including eight starts. In ACC play alone, he started six games, going 3-1 with a 1.22 ERA, allowing only six earned runs in 44.1 innings.

Jacob Stevens went 4-4 on the year with a 2.54 ERA, shifting into Friday starter mode when Dunn joined the rotation. The matchup cost Stevens some wins, but he remained impressive in throwing 46.1 innings with a .234 opponents’ batting average in league play (and a 2.53 ERA) despite only going 1-3.

And Mike King, the Friday starter entering the season, was a workhorse, throwing 104 innings en route to an 8-4 season.

Behind the trio, the Eagles had a bevy of bullpen help in varying ebbs and flows. John Witkowski became a name to watch at the end of the year, finishing the season with 19 appearances and a 2-0 record with 20 innings thrown, striking out 20 to just eight walks.

Bobby Skogsbergh filled the role of old reliable, throwing 24 games with four saves, hurling 38 innings, achieving a 2.61 ERA. And Jesse Adams, after switching to the bullpen, saved six games, going 5-5 on the year.

I could list the individual exploits of the pitching staff for the entirety of a post and explain why pitching stood as the dominant factor of BC’s success, and it would speak for itself. But looking within those numbers proves just how dominant some of the Eagles staff really was.

The pitching staff is best known for its ability to strike out a lot of guys, thanks in part to Justin Dunn, but the Eagles finished eighth in the ACC in overall strikeouts with 431. Despite this, the team finished fourth in opposing batting average at .245, only four percentage points behind third place Florida State.

Even so, opposing offenses had some success over the course of the whole season, hitting .300 on balls that actually went into play. It illustrates that teams could have success if they put the ball in play, but getting the ball into play was a totally different situation.

For starters, 431 strikeouts might’ve ranked eighth, but 147 strikeouts looking finished fourth, right on the heels of third place North Carolina. And their strikeouts per game, which was at 7.64, was actually fifth because the Eagles only pitched 8.91 innings per game (FSU, in contrast, was tied for the league lead with 9.02).

And even if they were able to get runners on base when they put the ball in play, 71% of runners were stranded on base thanks to the Boston College pitching staff. As a generality, that number is considered average, but it also doesn’t take into account the different circumstances of the college game. Remember that pro baseball uses a five-man rotation every day, whereas college uses two distinct staffs (midweek and weekend).

If we’re talking exclusively about the three “weekend starters” for the Eagles (Stevens, Dunn, and King), the number jumps to 78%, considered great to excellent. If we add Jesse Adams as the fourth starter/swing with Dunn option, the number remains relatively high at 76%.

The numbers don’t actually drop off until we start factoring in the majority of lesser used pitchers, guys who could’ve seen their numbers take a beating thanks to one or two bad outings. Midweek pitchers by nature are more volatile in their production, and an extra rough outing can really destroy statistics and trends there. As a result, the weekend staff, which helped the team to an eighth-place finish in the ACC standings, was incredible at stranding runners.

There were times this year that the Boston College pitching staff was human, but they were dominant when they needed to be. For a team built primarily around arms, that’s exactly what they needed to be.