Entering the 2015 season, you'll be hard pressed to find someone who will claim the Boston College Eagles have one of the best pitching staffs in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
As a unit, the Eagles posted a 4.29 earned run average last year. They ranked second to last in the Atlantic Coast Conference, 158th in the nation. Of the 15 players who threw last season, seven had ERAs over 4.00. Opponents hit .261 against them.
Andrew Chin, the team's undisputed ace last season, signed with the New York Yankees after the Bronx Bombers drafted him in the 15th round of the 2014 MLB Entry Draft. That means BC loses his 5-2 record, his .214 opponents batting average, his 52 strikeouts, and his staff-leading 78.1 innings pitched. They lose a pitcher who spun a complete game shutout in his final start, a guy who really found his stroke as the year went on. They lose two years of his eligibility, and BC arguably's lost the player who would be the cornerstone of the staff.
Scott Friedholm, a guy who worked with each of these players day-in and day-out as the pitching coach, moved on from The Heights to UNC-Asheville, where he became the program head coach. They lose him a year after the pitching staff posted its best numbers under him. In addition, the program loses a guy with local ties, a Walpole native who went to Providence College. They further lose the coach who was the recruiting coordinator, a player who helped bring in some great raw talent.
You might think it's crazy, then, that the road to the ACC Tournament for Boston College is paved with arms. But that's exactly what might happen.
Despite losing its best pitcher, the Eagles return a deep staff with major potential. John Gorman and Jeff Burke are back as starting pitchers, with Gorman looking like the front runner to the ace's role. Overshadowed by Chin's monster numbers, Gorman held opposing hitters to a .237 batting average, averaging just about eight strikeouts per game. His 68 punchouts ranked 18th best in the league. Although he only had a 3-8 record, he averaged just about five innings per appearance.
Over the summer, he entered the Cape Cod Baseball League as a temporary player and earned a full-time spot with Bourne. He became one of the best relievers in the league, finishing the summer with a 2.03 ERA in 13 games and striking out three times the amount of batters he walked.
Although BC will need to find a third starter, they bring back a talented crop of arms capable of filling the role. Mike King started three of his 16 appearances, going 2-2 on the season and throwing 43 innings. He held opposing teams to a .239 batting average and was overpowering at times, striking out 35 to just 12 walks. The rising sophomore went 2-1 with a 3.57 ERA in ACC play, striking out 19 over 22.2 innings against league opponents.
Outside of these arms, the Eagles return about a dozen pitchers who threw frames last season. The key to this pitching staff, though, will need to be some type of consistency. John Nicklas was trusted with the closer's role, but he only recorded four saves in 20 appearances with an ERA well over 7.00. Luke Fernandes threw too many innings at the end of the season for too many innings. Bobby Skogsbergh had a 2.22 ERA in 19 relief appearances, but it didn't look like the Eagles wanted him to be closing games.
As a result, it'll be really interesting to see what happens with the staff. As I mentioned at the end of last season, the best teams in the nation hhave a legitimate closer. Maryland had Kevin Mooney; Virginia had Nick Howard. BC needs to trust someone with the back end of the games, go to him, and stick with him through the season. That player needs to have the "closer's mentality," a guy who savors the end of game, pressure situations.
To help rebuild the bullpen, BC turns to a new pitching coach, Jim Foster. Foster, the former head coach at Rhode Island, won more games as a head coach for the Rams than anyone else. Named the associate head coach of BC, he steps into the program to stabilize a pitching staff that never really quite worked through its problems.
Foster's a proven developer of talent, though. Another former Providence pitcher, he's a guy who comes to The Heights with a reputation of being able to build a program without resources. For what it's worth about the Boston College baseball program with respect to the baseball field, Foster is the perfect guy to help fix this program's issues. While he's not the savior without results, he can help the pitchers and catchers without the assistance of any amenities.
There's reason to believe a guy with his baseball acumen will help continue the development of a pitching staff with deep arms. Since most of the guys are younger, the perfect time is now for the program to turn around its history of guys deteriorating throughout the years. Players will need, quite simply, to get better, and while the past history hasn't proven that's the case, there's reason to believe that these guys stepping into this program have the ability to get better.
Boston College has great potential this year to get back to the ACC Tournament. With the schedule in conference lining up to help BC avoid two of the league's best teams, the chance exists that, as the season progresses, the team can get substantially better. If that happens, it'll be the pitching staff at the front of the line.