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See You in Omaha: 2016 Pitching

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With only two returning starters who will end up in the rotation for the Beavs?

OSU Athletics

The strength of the Beavers over the last few years has been the pitching staff, featuring such starters as Sam Gaviglio, Josh Osich, Ben Holmes (Wetzler), Matt Boyd, Jace Fry, and Andrew Moore. All of these Beaver aces have ended up in minor league systems; Osich and Boyd have already found their way into the major leagues. This year should give rise to the next Oregon State star, Drew Rassmussen.

The Ace

Rasmussen has been getting a lot of love as the likely Friday starter and it has been well deserved after his freshmen year. His best weapon is his mid-to-low 90s fastball, but he showed flashes of a slider and changeup last year, though the control was sometimes lacking there. When he gets it going he is near un-hittable and was absolutely un-hitttable when he hurled a perfect game against Washington State.

Consistency is what Rasmussen still needs, when he is hitting his spots and throwing strikes he is going to be good enough to win just about any matchup. On the road last year it was a worrying trend, here are his road splits:

Away
SUM of IP K% BB% ERA WHIP
ASU 6.67 10.71428571 3.571428571 1.349325337 1.1994003
Oregon 6.33 14.81481481 14.81481481 2.843601896 1.105845182
Stanford 6 19.23076923 15.38461538 3 1.166666667
UCLA 5.67 3.703703704 7.407407407 6.349206349 1.587301587
VCU 4.33 14.28571429 0 10.3926097 1.616628176
Washington 4.33 13.04347826 8.695652174 12.47113164 2.540415704
Grand Total 33.33 12.5 8.55 5.40 1.47

Not the best there. This is a case where the numbers seem to reinforce what the eye test shows: Rasmussen did not have his best stuff on the road. Let's compare that to his home splits:

Home
SUM of IP K% BB% ERA WHIP
Arizona 7 25.92592593 14.81481481 2.571428571 1
Cal 9 15.625 3.125 0 0.7777777778
Cal Poly 7.33 6.666666667 13.33333333 4.911323329 1.36425648
Fresno State 7.33 16.66666667 0 1.227830832 1.091405184
Grambling State 7.67 33.33333333 0 1.173402868 0.5215123859
USC 8 21.21212121 9.090909091 2.25 1.25
Utah 8.33 15.625 3.13 0.00 0.72
WSU 9 37.03703704 0 0 0
Grand Total 63.66 21.01 5.46 1.41 0.82

Just about any number you compare is somewhat alarming, his home numbers are all above average but his away numbers are less than desirable. Any one stat by itself would not prove much but the collection is fairly damning. He actually allowed only three more hits at home with 30 1/3 innings extra.

A case could be made for questioning level of opponent as the non-conference schedule was easier than the Pac-12 portion, but some of his best games came against conference foes. I don't see it as much of a factor, as both parts of the schedule had their share of champs and chumps.

None of this says that he will certainly struggle on the road this year. After an offseason of more practice and some time with Team USA he could emerge with better command in all conditions, but it is something to keep in mind before the hype train runs totally off the rails.

All the context added I still believe that Rasmussen will be an outstanding Friday starter for the Beavers. His stuff is good enough to carry him through some lesser performances and I'm expecting to see better control of his secondary pitches. The defense should also be tremendous (will be discussed later) to back him up through any days where he isn't at his peak. He will be successful in the Friday starting role, but I don't expect him to be as perfect as Andrew Moore last year.

An Unsettled Rotation

Outside of Rasmussen the pitching staff is unsettled. Travis Eckert was last year's Sunday starter and pitched acceptably but from some statements Pat Casey made to the Portland Tribune's Kerry Eggers (you should probably read his whole thing) Sam Tweedt may have been above him on the depth chart. That casts a slight shadow onto how the staff is currently viewing Eckert right now. Here are some of Eckert's stats from conference play last year:

IP K% BB% ERA WHIP
57.67 12.7 8.6 4.84 1.40

His numbers are perilously close to road Rasmussen, which is cause for some concern. Like Rasmussen the hope is that he continues to improve his stuff and can be more consistent. He was good enough to get drafted in the 20th round and Nate Yeskie has a pretty terrific history with pitchers. This may all seem rather alarmist but I believe that Eckert (and Rasmussen) will be able to handle their starting roles, I just hope that they will be able to excel in them.

The last spot in the weekend rotation has been much discussed though Luke Heimlich is currently in the lead according to just about everybody. That is unsettled however as redshirt freshman Christian Martinek has been in the discussion along with Jordan Britton and two year fringe starter Jake Thompson, who suffered a leg injury last season.

Martinek was injured last year but is one of the biggest players on the team at 6' 5" and 219 lbs. He features a low 90s fastball with a breaking ball. As a gut feeling I expect Martinek to end up as the lefty on the weekend staff. The size and power should end up being enough to make a reliable starter. Heimlich is the primary competition for the role and his mix of multiple pitches should keep him there. His most concerning part is the lack of velocity and the occasional loss of control. One factor might be that Heimlich graduated high school early and is still developing physically. Without more control or more velocity I think Heimlich ends back up in the bullpen.

Jordan Britton has been getting rave reviews and freshmen have had plenty of opportunity to start for coaches Yeskie and Casey before so I would not rule him out, but it's been difficult to find much about him. Thompson has the velo but has had injury issues and control issues as well. He could still possibly emerge, but after last season it seems more unlikely for him to be more than a 4th starter.

The Bullpen

Here are some easier roles to define. Mitch Hickey seems likely to slot back into the closer role. OSU gets Max Engelbrekt back, after he missed last season due to knee surgery, and the lefthander should be great as an all purpose reliever. He throws mid to high 80s but his 3/4 arm slot seems to help him with his good command. Scotland Church is focusing purely on pitching this year (again thanks to Eggers and you should absolutely read it) and he looked pretty good in relief last season, which should be a nice addition to the pen as well. John Pomeroy is another name that is starting to pop up on some prospect lists. As with any year any smattering of freshmen that Yeskie has brought along will get some time but with the return of Engelbrekt the bullpen is already so much stronger. Whoever loses out on a starting role will likely get added as well, though someone will have to stay as the midweek starter.

Prediction

There has been some doom and gloom throughout this but it's not too bleak. Rasmussen should make a jump forward from a freshman to a sophomore, plus with a whole offseason preparing as a starter instead of starting as a reliever. I expect Rasmussen to fill in the shoes of the aces that came before him. Eckert should be an okay Saturday starter; he may be a bit up and down but he should be alright. The options for the end of the rotation are good too. At least one of the potential starters will emerge though it will likely be a lefty as Casey has generally opted to try and keep sides alternating.

My stab at the eventual starting rotation, say come conference time, will be Rasmussen, Martinek, and Eckert (to alternate RHP, LHP, RHP).

There is potential with this group to be very good, but if they can't be consistent things could go south in a hurry as well.