Hokies Baseball 2014 Season Preview: Pitchers

Editor's Note: Many thanks to former writer Ben G who helped us get started with our baseball coverage this season. And thanks also to John who helped finish this piece. John will return tomorrow with a preview on the Hokies hitters. --Flyers13

When the Virginia Tech Hokies take the field for the first time this season on Friday, February 14th vs Youngstown State, they'll bring along a new philosophy with them. Former pitching coach and newly appointed Head Coach Patrick Mason will put a major emphasis on pitching this season. This is a different approach for the Hokies who were very offensive-minded under coach Pete Hughes. Mason will have his hands full with the staff after losing four pitchers to the MLB Draft. Joe Mantiply and Jake Joyce, both seniors, were selected late into the draft along with juniors Colin O'Keefe and Eddie Campbell. Mantiply in particular is a devastating loss. He was the first Hokie starter to go undefeated in the regular season in 20 years. In addition, he is the first Hokie to ever be drafted three times. He also led the team in ERA, posting a crafty 2.85 through 13 starts. The only weekend starter who remains is workhorse Brad Markey (who was drafted in 2012 and decided to return to school).

We should expect Mason to play to his strengths. Hughes' teams were true sluggers and it will be interesting to see how much of that format Mason decides to keep. While the fighting Hughes could always be expected to score, there were often times when their defense could have won the game and failed to deliver (NCAA tournament game vs Oklahoma). It might have been all that stood between Tech and an ACC championship last season. We will surely miss that ability to score, but a little more defense couldn't hurt.

In order to get an insight on how practice has been going and how the coaching change has effected the players GC writer Ben sat down with someone very close to the team and learned that the biggest improvement coach Patrick Mason has brought with him is new pitching coach Robert Wooderd. Coach Wooderd had a great playing career with the Tar Heels and was apart of the Padres organization from 2007-2009. Since his stint with the big leagues he has been an Assistant Coach at both UNC and UNC-Wilmington. To get a sense of how lucky the Hokies are to have him on their staff, his supporters rave that he's the type of coach you want to keep as long as you can, as he is expected to move onto his own managerial job sooner than later.

Wooderd will have to build a brand new rotation around Senior Brad Markey.  Markey will be welcomed back for his senior season after leading the team in complete games, strikeouts, and starts. Markey's numbers also fall in line with team averages almost exactly. His 4.04 ERA, 6.7 K/9, and 1.42 WHIP (hits + walks/ IP) all are right in line with the Hokies team numbers of 4.14, 6.2, and 1.45 in those respective categories. Hopefully, Markey can improve in all areas and miss more bats, because as far as number one starters go, VT has some room to grow.

Redshirt Senior Tanner McIntyre is a name to watch, he missed the end of last season with an injury but will be vying for a spot in the rotation this year. He has a perfect record of 10-0 going into the season and last year held batters to an average of .214 before being shut down last April with a shoulder injury. He's only had nine months to recover so it will be interesting to see if they ease him back into action out of the bullpen.

Freshman Aaron McGarity has been dominant so far in practice and was one of Tech's top recruits this year. Other schools showed interest in McGarity but he knew right away Virginia Tech was the school for him as he signed late 2012. His fastball has been clocked at 90mph and also features a curveball that sits in the mid 70's. He seems to have a lead on the third spot in the rotation. He could also be suited to a closer-type of role if needed.

In addition to losing most of their staff that lead them to the ACC Championship in 2013 they also lost their closer Clark Labitan. The first Tech closer to record more than 6 saves in a single season since 2003, Labitan notched 11 last year. The only player returning who has a collegiate save is Brendon Hayden (1).

Out of the bullpen, VT  freshman Luke Scherzer (no relation to Cy Young winner Max Scherzer) hopes to make an impact in his first season of college baseball. Scherzer was heavily recruited by the University of South Carolina, University of Maryland, Old Dominion University, and nearby college Radford. Scherzer features a fastball that sits in the mid 80's which is impressive at such a young age (2013 class average was 80mph).

Below is a chart of every Hokie that had pitching experience for the team last year (including Sean Keselica and Brendon Hayden who primarily play the field).

Wins

Losses

ERA

IP

K

WHIP

Brad Markey

5

4

4.93

100.3

75

1.42

Tanner McIntyre

3

0

3.81

26.0

18

1.35

Sean Keselica

2

1

4.55

31.7

22

1.64

Brendon Hayden

2

0

3.00

21.0

12

1.29

Luis Collazo

0

0

5.82

17.0

10

1.82

Sean Kennedy

0

0

7.71

11.7

6

1.89



While none of the above numbers pop out at you it is worrisome that only one returning pitcher threw over 32 innings last year. Not only will lack of experience be a factor for the Hokies new rotation, but the injury risk will be big too. It's always a concern to see a pitcher who doesn't have a full year of starting experience to suddenly ramp up his innings, as the rule of thumb is to not increase a pitcher's number of innings by more than 20% over the previous season's workload. This is called the build-up. Expect the coaching staff to spread out the innings over a large number of pitchers this season.


If the Hokies want to compete in the loaded ACC this season they will need big performances out of their new-look pitching staff. I've done some research to see how they stacked up against the best of the best last season.

ERA

K/9

BB/9

WHIP

Virginia Tech

4.14

6.2

3.49

1.45

ACC Leader

2.81

(UNC)

8.8

(NC State)

2.36

(UVA)

1.18

(NC State)

National Leader

1.89

(Arkansas)

9.6

(Louisville)

1.41

(Cal St)

1.0

(Cal St)



As you can see they had a decent season from their staff and they were still nowhere near the National or ACC leaders. As I'm sure you already know having an ERA of 4.14 is less than stellar but with their run production under coach Hughes they always made up for it. With a new philosophy they are going to have to improve their pitching production especially with losing four starters to the draft. Team MVP and C Mark Zagunis hopes to take some pressure off the pitching staff as he returns after his breakout season at the plate. Make sure you come back later this week as John previews the batters in preparation for the 2014 season.

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