By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – It has come off as whining or excuse-making to some observers, but the numbers back up Mississippi State coach John Cohen when he bemoans how heavily he must lean on freshman pitchers.
“I know that these guys are going to be solid,” he said following Sunday’s 19-11 loss to Ole Miss, “but up and down, when you look at this league, really nobody’s having to do what we’re having to do on the mound from a numbers standpoint.”
MSU (20-23, 5-16 SEC) has used more true freshman pitchers, seven, than any team in the league. And those young arms have accounted for a league-high 52.7 percent of innings pitched, including 51.2 percent in SEC games.
State freshmen have started 23 games, more than any other SEC team, and they have a collective ERA of 6.25, seventh in the league.
Cohen signed so many pitchers last year because he was short of arms – MSU had a league-worst 6.59 ERA last season. So he’s been forced to rely on guys like Luke Bole, Chad Girodo, Kendall Graveman and Chris Stratton, who between them have tossed 1582/3 innings.
Against Ole Miss this past weekend, Stratton and Bole were knocked around in the three-game sweep. Bole, who got just two outs on Sunday, could start tonight against Jackson State in Pearl.
Despite such struggles, Cohen thinks the future holds great things for those guys.
“I think our freshmen are doing what a lot of freshmen do,” he said. “I think they’re hitting a little bit of that wall. You play a high school season of 30 games, you get past the 30-game mark, and as much as you prepare these guys for it, they’ve hit a little bit of that.”
Not that freshmen can’t succeed in the SEC. Look at the top teams in the East.
First-place South Carolina, ranked No. 6 in the country, has had 26.6 percent of its innings thrown by true freshmen. That group’s ERA is 3.77.
No. 4 Florida has had 34.7 percent of its innings thrown by true freshmen, including 42.2 percent in SEC play. Brian Johnson is 4-2 with a 2.90 ERA, and in league games he’s 3-1 with a 1.80.
Gators get it done
Five Florida freshmen have a combined ERA of 2.86.
Florida’s gotten great play from freshmen at other positions, too. Following a sweep of LSU this past weekend, Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan told the Palm Beach Post, “It’s one thing to get experience, but to go out there and do what they’re doing is just outstanding.”
But what Florida is doing is unusual. The results are typically like what MSU and Kentucky are experiencing.
The Wildcats, who Cohen coached before coming to Starkville, have had 38.4 percent of their innings hurled by true freshmen. UK is currently fifth in the Eastern Division.
“I just feel like our young pitching just isn’t capable of being prime time SEC just yet,” Cohen said. “I think they will be, but they’re just not capable of navigating through an SEC weekend yet.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org