Well, here we are. The starting pitcher preview, the meat and potatoes of the season preview series. And, you betcha, starting pitching is the foundation of every college baseball team including TCU. Without these three to five guys toeing the rubber every weekend, we likely won't have a chance at Omaha. No pressure, but this is the ballgame.
First, let's look at what we got from the end of year weekend starters in 2012.
In summary, Preston Morrison was good, Crichton was average, and Finnegan had a tale of two seasons (bad early, good late).
But, is that really what happened? Well, Finnegan was probably better than his line shows, he was unlucky. Crichton was probably about right. But Morrison is perplexing, something I have thought about writing a lot about, but will stop short and explain things here.
You all know Preston Morrison by now. The freshman All-American in 2012 throws a sinker/slider combo with extreme precision, never hitting radar readings of higher than 82-85 or so, but also hardly ever missing his spots. His stuff is totally unimpressive, so the defense has to be perfect and his location must be flawless for him to have any kind of success. As the season started winding down in 2012, the location slipped and the defense wasn't flawless, the results followed accordingly.
To put it another way, here are some more advanced metrics from Morrison's season.
There are two things that stand out here... #1, his FIP of 4.00. FIP (Fielding-Independent-Pitching) looks to isolate pitching specific statistics and removes any type of fielder specific anomalies. It is then rounded to reflect a more normal ERA like number. 4.00 reflects an average, at best, pitcher, just as a 4 ERA would say the same. Not horrible, but not game changing, and something that is indicative of my hunch about Morrison's freshman year.
The second thing to notice here is the BABIP, or the batting average on balls in play. This one is fairly explanatory in its purpose, but its use is not. This is a fairly "controversial" new-age statistic in that it is not measured against a constant. FIP is based off ERA, and thus is grounded, BABIP is grounded to nothing. But, in short, what you look for is this: You want a pitcher to have a BABIP at the college average, for 2012 this was about .290. A BABIP that is under this by a lot is a sign of a player who was lucky and will regress, conversely a BABIP that is much higher reflects a pitcher who was unlucky and should see better results with limited improvement over time.
So, does that mean that Morrison WILL regress in 2013? No. Does it mean that he could, or maybe even should? Probably yes. But it doesn't mean he will be horrible, not at all.
What it does mean, in my opinion only, is that Morrison is now and has likely always been best suited for relief roles, in the form of a Trent Appleby-esk player. My theory here is about limiting opponents opportunity to study Preston in the box, if he only sees the lineup once, maybe across the 6th and 7th innings, will any of the above matter? In short samples, guys would have a hard time adjusting to Morrison's change of pace and slot, keeping them off his stuff. Let him start, and I am afraid things might go sour about that time the lineup rolls over once or twice, which then puts the entire staff in a bind.
I don't wish for him to fail, on the contrary, I want him to succeed and be the best he can be. That is the point, I am not sold yet that starting IS the best role for him, relieving might be better.
Will he actually end up doing that? It will be 100% dependent on performance. If he struggles, maybe he will get moved. If another guy is hot, maybe he gets a shot over a struggling Morrison. Preston is a good college pitcher in some role, I just don't think we know yet what that role is. To start the year, it will be as a Saturday starter, that much we do know.
As of today, roughly a week and a half ahead of the Frogs first weekend series, here is how the 2013 weekend rotation shapes up:
To start 2013, Brandon Finnegan is your Friday starter. Finnegan had a breakout second half to 2012 and has done nothing but improve since the final pitch in the 2012 super regional. His control and command is much better, the stuff is as good as always, and the kid has confidence now.
Last Friday in a team scrimmage, Finnegan struck out 10 over five innings with just one hit allowed and, most importantly, issued no walks. He has been mostly low to mid 90s this spring, with a plus slider and a useable change to boot.
Is he Matt Purke? Not yet, probably not ever. Is he about as close as you could hope to get in college baseball? Yep. And that talent is emerging right now, Finnegan is going to be special.
Preston Morrison is slotted to pitch second for the Frogs, a solid change of pace/angle/movement/style from Friday power arm Finnegan. As we discussed above, Morrison is not a typical star-level pitcher in terms of stuff but he has moxy and control, two things college pitchers can live on if they want.
I see Morrison as the most likely to lose his spot at some point in 2013, but what do I know? (nothing) The kid could just as easily put together an "as good" season in 2013 and be a dominant cog in the Frogs rotation.
For now, he is the Saturday stopper/series winner and I know the coaching staff is excited to see what he can bring to the table after his breakout, out of the blue 2012 season. It is one thing to be this kind of a pitcher when nobody has a book on you, it is another to be this guy when every opponents coach has studied your sequencing, movement and motion to design a gameplan to beat you. Time to nut up.
Stefan Crichton is your Sunday starter right now, an experienced junior that will be a rock for the Frogs early in the season. Crichton has improved dramatically from 2012 and coaches/scouts both rave about his stuff, presence and sequencing so far this spring. To put it another way, nobody has been as dominant on the mound so far this spring as Crichton, and that is a good thing.
Steven Maxwell was amazing on Sundays, nobody got past him. Crichton must be the same way, tasked with the opportunity to save the series, win the series, or sweep it. His stuff is good, his body is projectable, he could easily be a future major leaguer, he just needs to put it all together for an entire season. I have no doubt we will hear his name this summer, but how high will depend on the improvements we see this year on the mound.
Does TCU have a Sunday rock? It certainly looks like it right now.
But, the rest of the TCU pitching staff isn't just sitting around and watching, they are chasing. Could Morrison and Crichton lose their jobs at some point in 2013? It isn't so crazy to believe. A review of those names can be found below.
OTHER OPTIONS/TUESDAY STARTER
The first alternate option is lefty Alex Young, another power arm for the Frogs from the left side of the mound. Young, drafted in the 32nd round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Rangers, has been pitching really well this spring after missing a lot of the fall with a minor injury. He can usually sit 88-92 with his fastball, mixing in a couple of breaking balls and a changeup. He isn't there yet, but if Young gets the first Tuesday start and performs, I could easily see him pushing an under-performing weekend starter out of their spot down the line. Could he also be a lock down bullpen option as a power, high leverage lefty? Ya, and what a bullet that would be, very very very few college teams have one of those, we might have two (Young and Evans).
The second option is Riley Ferrell, a stud righty that went undrafted last summer solely due to his being such a solid commit to TCU. Riley was extremely well received in the fall, garnering a ton of praise from the coaching staff. He is 88-90 with his fastball, with an average breaker on the side. The biggest plus with Ferrell is his mound presence and approach to pitching, which is age-advanced to say the least. I think Young will get the first look on a Tuesday start, but Ferrell is right behind him competing every day. Major bullpen role in 2013?
The third option in my eyes is Trevor Seidenberger, a JUCO transfer from Blinn. Seidy is a odd lefty, who never flashes great radar readings but his stuff moves a ton and he has strong control of several pitches. Basically, Trevor has moments of pure brilliance on the mound, and then moments of average-ness. He is going to pitch a lot in 2013, but how much/what position is something I can't guess on right now.
Other options include (in this order): Trey Teakell, Nick Frey.
So, that was a lot right? Now here is the disclaimer: This could all change very early, very quickly in the season.
Here are the Frogs first seven games, with the likely starter:
02/15 AT Ole Miss (Finnegan)
02/16 AT Ole Miss (Morrison)
02/17 AT Ole Miss (Crichton)
02/22 vs. Cal State Fullerton (Finnegan)
02/23 vs. Cal State Fullerton (Morrison)
02/24 vs. Cal State Fullerton (Crichton)
02/26 at Dallas Baptist University (Young)
No Tuesday start during the first week of the season is tough, you want to get guys in games and see what they have. Instead, we wait until DBU. But after that? It is all up in the air, no spots remain safe. The schedule will get a bit easier before it gets harder, the perfect time for a staff realignment IF necessary. I hope it won't be, but it is entirely possible that TCU will see lackluster results through the first seven games given the competition and you can't help but think that, if this happens, we could see changes.
But, for now, the staff looks solid on paper, probably the best in the Big 12 top to bottom. Where we go from there will be determined entirely by performance, and which guys step up to the plate.
Nine days folks, nine days.