FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas baseball didn’t live up to its lofty expectations in 2013, falling well short of a return trip to the College World Series.
It’s hard to fault the Razorbacks’ pitching staff for its efforts, though.
Arkansas shattered the school record for earned run average, logging a 1.89 as a staff over 61 games. It was well below the mark previously held by the 1976 Razorbacks, who had a 2.74 ERA under former coach Norm DeBriyn.
The school record wasn’t the extent of the accomplishments. The Razorbacks also became the first team to log a sub-2.00 ERA since LeMoyne in 1992 (1.95). The ERA also stands as college baseball’s lowest since Connecticut (1.71) in 1976.
“Of course we’d like to be playing,” Arkansas pitcher Ryne Stanek (10-2, 1.39 ERA) said earlier this week. “It hurts not to be playing. We wanted it so bad. … But looking back at it, it was pretty incredible to be able to do what we did.
“Having the lowest era in the last 20 years or something like that in all of college baseball? That’s pretty special. It’s going to be hard-pressed to find another group like this one that we had with the mix of so many good arms.”
Stanek, Barrett Astin (4-4, 1.79 ERA), Colby Suggs (0-0, 1.74 ERA) and Brandon Moore (1-4, 2.68 ERA) were all members of the 2011 recruiting class. Seniors Randall Fant (6-1, 2.03 ERA) and Trent Daniel (0-1, 2.55) arrived in 2010.
The five were the veterans for a group that also got contributions from senior Tyler Wright (1-1, 0.00 ERA), sophomores Jalen Beeks (6-2, 2.20 ERA), Chris Oliver (2-2, 2.25) and Michael Gunn (1-1, 1.21). Even freshmen Trey Killian (3-3, 3.19), Colin Poche (3-0, 1.37) and Landon Simpson (1-1, 1.88) showed their potential.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said the group’s willingness to perform in their roles – and the competitiveness within the group – is the reason for the success.
“I like the way that they didn’t seem selfish at all to me,” Van Horn said. “They weren’t upset if they weren’t getting their time. They just pulled for each other all the time and I appreciate that.”
He also credited pitching coach Dave Jorn for instilling that mentality in the staff.
“If I had a vote I would vote Coach Jorn pitching coach of the year last year and this year,” Van Horn said. “I think he has done a tremendous job with the pitchers. He taught a wide variety. You think, well, they are all great pitchers and they just go out there and pitch. But he teaches them, develops them. They all accepted their role.”
Arkansas limited opponents to three or fewer runs in 44 of their 61 games.
Stanek was the most impressive, allowing one earned run or less in 13 of his 16 starts as a junior. He finished with the third-lowest ERA in school history.
The group did set other marks: Arkansas’ 19 saves were the most in a single season in school history. Suggs had 13 of them, which also set a single-season record.
“We were able to accomplish being the best pitching staff in college baseball,” Suggs said about the entire group Wednesday. “I think that’s proven. We don’t have to go out and prove it anymore. It’s known around the country.”
Van Horn and Jorn now will try to retool the staff for 2014. Arkansas will lose its three weekend starters (Astin, Stanek and Fant), closer (Suggs) and some key relievers (Moore and Daniel) after draft weekend ends.
There are some young arms returning with Beeks, Gunn, Oliver, Simpson, Killian and Poche scheduled to play bigger roles next season. Van Horn said outfielder Brian Anderson may help on the mound as well, while a few freshmen will get chances.
But it’s hard to imagine the 2013 Arkansas staff repeating the accomplishments of its predecessors in what was a record-shattering year on the mound.
“I hope we can put another one of these together in the future,” Van Horn said.
What’s With Wise?
Arkansas catcher Jake Wise is a draft-eligible junior who was likely on his way to professional baseball this summer. But Van Horn said Wise’s immediate plans are unknown after revealing earlier this week he must undergo Tommy John surgery.
“If the organizations know that he is hurt, which I think they would, and still draft him they will discuss it with him,” Van Horn said. “But it’s going to take a little bit of money. He’s not just going to sign for a few thousand bucks and go play.”
Wise is projected as a mid-round pick in this week’s draft after hitting .212 as a junior. Van Horn said he had a disappointing year offensively, but was a valuable leader behind the plate for the Razorbacks.
Backup Jean Ramirez and redshirt freshman Blake Baxendale, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, are scheduled to be on the 2014 roster. Van Horn said Ramirez may not return is Wise decides to come back to Arkansas as a senior.
“He can come back and rehab and be ready to go in March,” Van Horn said about Wise’s recovery time from the injury. “It’s just in the air right now. We’ll figure it out in the next few weeks and a decision will be made and then we will move on it.”
Dealing With RPI
Van Horn was asked Thursday if he’s come to any conclusions in how to deal with the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Van Horn’s plan? Hit the road early in the year.
“My evaluation is we need to go on the road more because it’s a lot easier,” Van Horn said about building a good RPI. “You go win one out of three on the road, it’s probably better than winning two out of three at home. You win two out of three on the road, they give you a lot of points. No matter where the team’s RPI is that you’re playing, or the strength of their schedule, or how the people do that they play.”
A change in scheduling philosophy won’t be felt right away because most of Arkansas’ schedule for 2014 is complete. Arkansas will play in a tournament in San Francisco and also has home games against South Alabama and Nebraska.
Arkansas’ performance is key, but Van Horn hopes the 2014 schedule gives the Razorbacks a chance to host an NCAA Regional after going on the road the past three years. Fourteen of the 16 regional hosts advanced to super regionals this season.
“Very rarely probably is a team going to win 18 games and lose 11 in the SEC and not host a regional,” Van Horn said about the 2013 season. “That was probably the most disappointing part, because I felt like we should have.”