Col­lege strike­outs on up­swing en­ter­ing World Se­ries

The Record (Troy, NY) - - SPORTS - By Eric Ol­son

OMAHA, NEB. » If the Col­lege World Se­ries is like the rest of the sea­son, there will be lots of strike­outs when the final eight teams play for the na­tional cham­pi­onship at TD Amer­i­trade Park.

Strike­out num­bers are the high­est on record in col­lege baseball, and pitch­ing staffs av­er­ag­ing nine or more Ks per nine in­nings have tripled the last two years.

What’s hap­pen­ing in the col­lege game mir­rors the ma­jor leagues, where strike­outs are on track to set a record for the 11th straight year.

“It’s called good pitch­ing and pitch­ing coaches,” said Texas Tech coach Tim Tad­lock, whose Red Raiders play de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion Florida in their CWS opener Sun­day. “I think it’s a trickle- down ef­fect a lit­tle bit. Guys are do­ing what they see.”

Tad­lock is right that the level of pitch­ing tal­ent is high. Ten of the first 45 picks in the Ma­jor League Baseball draft were col­lege pitch­ers, many of them rou­tinely throw­ing fast­balls over 95 mph. Also, more in­struc­tion is avail­able for pitch­ers at younger ages, and pitch­ing coaches in top col­lege pro­grams are paid hand­somely.

There’s more to it, though.

An­a­lyt­ics and im­proved scout­ing have per­me­ated the col­lege game. There is a line of think­ing that a strike­out is no dif­fer­ent than any other out, so there’s no shame in whiff­ing. Coaches say fewer bat­ters are adept at chok­ing up and short­en­ing their swings to put the ball in play on twostrike counts.

The cur­rent fas­ci­na­tion with launch an­gles and exit ve­loc­i­ties of bat­ted balls also mean play­ers are swing­ing for the fences like never be­fore no mat­ter the count, mak­ing them more prone to strik­ing out.

Pitch­ers also tend to be big­ger and stronger and, com­bined with greater in­struc­tion, throw with higher ve­loc­ity than was com­mon years ago.

“When I played col­lege ball in the early ‘90s, if a team had two guys who threw 90 mph, you were, ‘Holy moly, this is a re­ally good col­lege pitch­ing staff,”’ said Duke coach Chris Pol­lard, whose team’s post­sea­son ended in su­per re­gion­als. “If a high school ju­nior doesn’t throw 90, we prob­a­bly don’t take a look at him. That’s how much the game has changed rel­a­tive to how hard th­ese guys throw nowa­days.”

The 297 Di­vi­sion I teams have com­bined to aver­age 7.88 strike­outs per nine in­nings this sea­son, the high­est fig­ure in NCAA records dat­ing to 1970 and a huge 21.6 per­cent in­crease since 2014.

Pitch­ing staffs from forty- one teams — in­clud­ing CWS par­tic­i­pants North Carolina, Mis­sis­sippi State and Ar­kan­sas — aver­age at least nine strike­outs per nine in­nings. That’s up from 16 teams in 2016 and from just one in 2012. Six pitch­ers in the CWS aver­age 10 or more strike­outs per nine in­nings, led by Ore­gon State’s Kevin Abel (12.68) and Luke Heim­lich (11.29).

Duke’s Pol­lard said video and scout­ing ser­vices have al­lowed pitch­ers to fig­ure out bat­ters’ ten­den­cies.

“Should he pitch top of zone, should he pitch bot­tom of zone, should he pitch in, should he pitch away, should he throw his break­ing ball more and where should he throw his break­ing ball in the zone?” Pol­lard said. “That’s part of the swing and misses.”

The high strike­out num­bers are re­gret­table to long­time Min­nesota coach John Anderson. He said more bat­ters seem con­tent to try for a three-run homer rather than join team­mates in string­ing together three or four good at-bats to score runs.


In this Fri­day file photo, Min­nesota’s Ter­rin Vavra, right, re­acts af­ter strik­ing out as Ore­gon State catcher Ad­ley Rutschman, left, heads to the dugout in the first in­ning of an NCAA col­lege baseball tournament su­per re­gional game in Cor­val­lis, Ore.

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