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Published: June 14, 2012
I’m going to do something wacky here. Let me start out by saying that I think Jake Reed is the best pitcher on our staff going forward. But because of the scenario I’m going to lay out, I think he’s actually best served pitching Saturdays again next spring. I’ll explain. And note that what follows is merely my opinion, based on following every single inning of Duck baseball this season. I think I pretty much went chalk with the position players; I don’t many fans would disagree with my projected starters. You may or may not agree with my pitching rotation.
Let’s start with our Friday guy. Who do I have slotted here, tasked with setting the foundation for every weekend series of 2013? Christian Jones. Once upon a time, Jones supposed to be Jake Reed. Jones won the Saturday job as a true freshman going into the 2010 season, ahead of seniors Justin LaTempa and Zach Thornton, both of whom would be drafted a few months later. But Jones was hurt in his first start, and when he came back LaTempa and Thornton had established themselves as the weekend guys behind Tyler Anderson, and Alex Keudell had taken over the #4 midweek starting duties. Jones would make 20 appearances all told as a freshman, 18 out of the bullpen, where he proved to be a reliable arm with a knack for good K numbers. He made 12 starts as a sophomore, starting out the season as the #4, but moving to weekend duties once the bullpen became so bad Horton had to move Madison Boer to closer. He helped the Ducks to a strong finish, beating Oregon State twice and, while not figuring into the decision, a quality start in a win against Stanford. Obviously, he didn’t play in 2012 due to preseason Tommy John surgery. Assuming his arm is 100% — and there’s no reason to assume it won’t be – he’s my pick to take over Fridays. He has ace potential, and he’ll be pitching to impress scouts. He’s always pitched well for us, but he’s never been a star – in what could very likely be his final season in Eugene (I assume he took the redshirt, making him a redshirt junior), here’s hoping he becomes one.
Saturdays, we stick with a familiar name: Jake Reed. Reed was phenomenal as a freshman, going 8-4 with a 2.92 ERA in 17 starts. Tyler Anderson, the #13 overall pick of the 2011 MLB Draft? 2-9 with a 6.26 ERA as a freshman. Alex Keudell, the 2012 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year? 0-6, 5.15. Madison Boer, a 2011 2nd round draft pick? 1-8, 6.97 ERA. This conference can be brutal on freshman. But it never phased Reed, who pitched like an ace each and every Saturday throughout the season. My favorite Coach Horton line of the season: (describing Reed prior to his first start) “He reminds us a lot of Tyler Anderson, only more mature as a freshman than Anderson was. And Tyler Anderson was a very mature freshman.” I think the sky’s the limit for Reed, and he’s the obvious choice to take over Friday’s as the staff ace. So what gives? Why do I have him going Saturdays again next spring?
Here’s the twist: I’ve got Tommy Thorpe taking over Sundays. Thorpe was an outstanding set-up reliever as a freshman, making35 appearances (second only to Jimmy Sherfy, who had 36) as our 8th-inning go-to guy. The lefty went 2-0 with a dynamite 2.11 ERA, holding the lead virtually every time before Horton handed the ball over to Sherfy in the 9th. He made one start in 2012, blanking Oregon State over four innings in our lone win against the Beavs. He’s got elite-level stuff, and I believe he has all the makings of a reliable Pac-12 starter. I like our other guys – I love Thorpe’s potential. I think he’s got ace stuff.
So what’s the deal? Jones and Thorpe are lefties. Reed throws right-handed. In order to maximize our staff’s effectiveness, there’s a lot of weight to the theory of breaking Jones and Thorpe up in the rotation. The Yankees did this a lot with Andy Pettitte, often throwing him in the second game of a playoff series even if he was more like the #3 pitcher in the rotation. Andy Pettitte was a lefty. Throwing Roger Clemens, a righty, then Pettitte, then another righty gave the opposition different looks and doesn’t allow them to focus on a single throwing angle. For our purposes, throwing Jones on Fridays, Reed Saturdays, and Thorpe Sundays breaks up the southpaws and gives us a nice trio. It’s not like Jones is new; he’s made 14 career starts, second on the team to Reed’s 17. He can handle the Friday pressure.
So where does that leave some familiar names? I’ve got Brando Tessar as our top midweek starter going into 2013. Tessar went 4-1 in 9 starts as a sophomore, posting a 3.42 ERA. He’s not an elite arm, and his K/BB ratio isn’t great (37/33), but it was his first year as a full-time starter (he made 13 appearances and only 1 start in 2011) in a rough-and-tumble Pac-12, so growing pains were to be expected. He hurt his shoulder against Stanford and returned in the final game of the season against Kent State, and his long term prognosis should be A-OK. He survived the Pac-12, and I think he can develop into an elite mid-week guy.
The plausibility of this lies in whether or not Thorpe joins the starting rotation, of course. If he doesn’t, scrap everything you just read and get ready for a heavy dose of Jake Reed each and every Friday night. And that’s fine. I’ll take Horton’s call over mine. I just think we’ve got something special with Tommy Thorpe, and usually a starter can make a greater impact on a team than a reliever. And we’ve still got that Sherfy kid coming out of the ‘pen; it’s not like we’d be starting from scratch there. If Thorpe stays put as the 8th inning go-to-guy, the obvious weekend rotation would be Reed/Jones/Tessar.
Teams only need a 5th starter two or three times a season, assuming there aren’t any injuries (obviously, that was not the case for us last year). We needed a 5th starter three times in 2012, when we had two-game midweek series against Texas State, San Francisco, and Gonzaga. Really, these games are hard to forecast, and a lot of the time coaches seem content to experiment with younger guys to see what they bring. A Cole Wiper, Henry Gigeous, Sam Johnson, or an incoming freshman we haven’t seen yet would be a good candidate here.
Let’s start at the end: Jimmy Sherfy is one of college baseball’s top relievers, earning 2nd team All America in 2012. He burst onto the scene with 13 K’s in Hawaii, which won him the inaugural Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week award. Sherfy finished the season with 93 K’s and, at the end of the regular season, was 4th in the Pac-12 in strike outs – an unbelievable statistic, considering he threw nowhere near the amount of innings that starting pitchers across the conference did. I mean, think about that: he finished the regular season around 55 innings pitched. Alex Keudell, by comparison, finished with 127 innings pitched. Most starting pitchers in the Pac-12 averaged about 100 innings. Sherfy still had more K’s then all but three of them. Sherfy’s not going anywhere.
Naturally, I just took away our top 8th inning set-up guy. I moved Tommy Thorpe to the starting rotation. What now? Well, that depends. Joey Housey was selected in the 27th round of the MLB Draft. What does he do? He was a fourth year junior in 2012, so it’s entirely possible that he will have graduated. Does he take the jump? He’s coming off a remarkable season (2-0, 22 appearances, 1.72 ERA) and he isn’t likely to improve upon it (that would be hard to do, the numbers don’t lie and he’s not likely to steal that closer’s role from Sherfy unless Sherfy gets hurt). It’s entirely possible Housey chooses to go play professionally. If he stays, however, I think he’s the obvious choice to take over 8th inning duties. He’s got really good stuff, and, as a 5th year senior, nobody’s been with the team longer or provides better veteran leadership.
If Housey does depart, say hello to our old friend Jeff Gold. Gold was a full-time starter in 2012, beginning the year as our #4 before jumping into the weekend rotation as a result of Brando Tessar’s injury. He pitched admirably enough, to say the least. His first Pac-12 start against Washington State was a disaster, but he gave us everything we could realistically ask for over the next month in consecutive team wins against Cal, Arizona, USC, and Seattle U. His start against Arizona in Tucson, in particular, was a gem. He pitched the Friday opener of the Eugene Regional, and while he didn’t get the win, the Ducks did. He certainly wasn’t ‘on’ against Kent State, but that shouldn’t erase an otherwise solid 2012 season. I think Gold’s 2013 role serves us best as a late-inning reliever and an emergency starter when necessary.
From there, it’s really anybody’s guess. Due to injury, Jordan Spencer worked all the way up to our #4 starter in 2012. He threw a no-hitter against Portland, and shut down the Pilots again a month later. He didn’t always fare well elsewhere, but anyone who can throw a no-no certainly has the right stuff to stick around. Cole Wiper was one of our more heralded recruits from last year’s class, going in the 14th round of the MLB Draft but opting to come to Eugene instead. We lost him to injury before the season ever started. Sam Johnson was the #2 prospect from the state of Oregon in the same class, but he never pitched an inning thanks to an injury of his own. Both are talented arms and should be able to make an impact, be it somewhere as a midweek starter or out of the bullpen. With as crowded as things look to be, that will probably end up being the bullpen. Henry Gigeous only made three appearances, but as I alluded to above, guess how many times Sherfy appeared in 2011? Twice. In that train wreck of a bullpen. Now, I’m not saying Henry Gigeous is going to become Jimmy Sherfy; I’m just saying, it’s impossible to predict what some of these guys are going to do coming off one season to another, especially their freshman seasons.
To bottom line this thing, we’re loaded with arms. We were razor thin this year, but that shouldn’t be the case in 2013. And as you’ll note, I didn’t even begin to talk about potential freshmen-to-be and the impacts they’ll make.