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Diamond Dogs Breakdown: Why Is the Georgia Bulldogs Pitching Staff Breaking Down?

Prior to perusing any statistical observations I offer about baseball, you would do well to remember that I am no Bill James. For instance, on April 13, I suggested moving Robert Shipman up in the lineup and moving Levi Hyams down in the batting order. Since that time, Hyams has gone six for eighteen with three RBI, while Shipman has gone two for ten and has batted in no runs. In short, if you want statistical expertise, look to Beyond the Box Score.

That said, I have been wondering what in the world has happened to the Diamond Dogs’ pitching. Here, through Sunday’s game against Arkansas, is the tale of the tape:

Pitcher 2008 ERA ’08 BAA ’08 IP ’08 W-L 2009 ERA ’09 BAA ’09 IP ’09 W-L 2010 ERA ’10 BAA ’10 IP ’10 W-L
Steve Esmonde 3.80 .258 23.2 2-0 6.00 .347 27.0 1-0 7.03 .279 24.1 1-0
Alex McRee 3.98 .247 61.0 7-1 6.27 .293 56.0 4-4 6.61 .238 16.1 0-1
Justin Earls 6.21 .327 37.2 2-1 7.31 .311 32.0 0-1 7.52 .373 26.1 2-0
Justin Grimm 10.91 .313 31.1 0-1 4.15 .273 78.0 4-4 5.10 .258 47.2 2-5
Cecil Tanner N/A N/A N/A N/A 4.29 .224 35.2 3-1 13.79 .297 15.2 1-2
Jeff Walters N/A N/A N/A N/A 4.64 .242 42.2 2-0 7.86 .326 44.2 1-3
Chase Hawkins N/A N/A N/A N/A 4.76 .331 28.1 3-2 8.37 .368 23.2 0-3
Michael Palazzone N/A N/A N/A N/A 5.13 .242 33.1 3-0 7.90 .347 41.0 4-4

Those are the pitchers presently suiting up for the Red and Black who have taken the mound for Georgia in at least two of the last three seasons. Once again, the 2010 numbers go through April 18. Notably absent from that list are Trevor Holder, Stephen Dodson, and Nathan Moreau, who served as the regular weekend starters for the College World Series runners-up in 2008. All three had sub-5.25 ERAs that season, and the Bulldogs’ closer, Joshua Fields, finished the season with eighteen saves. McRee leads the 2010 Classic City Canines with three saves.

The favorable indicators are few and far between, I am afraid. Esmonde and McRee have seen their earned run averages increase annually through three years, with Esmonde’s ERA being a full run higher in 2010 than in 2009 and almost double what it was in 2008, despite comparable numbers of innings pitched. While the batting average against Esmonde is down significantly from last year, opposing hitters are averaging 20 points higher against the senior right-hander today than they were two seasons ago.

Tanner’s ERA has ballooned to three times what it was in 2009, while Hawkins, Palazzone, and Walters all are conceding in the neighborhood of three more earned runs per outing. Marked increases are evident in the batting averages allowed by Hawkins (up over 35 points), Tanner (up almost 75 points), Walters (up almost 85 points, in spite of an almost identical number of innings pitched), and Palazzone (up over 100 points).

Unsurprisingly, the won-lost records of Hawkins, McRee, and Walters all are trending downward, although injuries, errors, youth, and ineptitude at the plate all are contributing to the dearth of victories in the pitchers’ ledgers. Grimm, for example, has pitched much better than his record suggests.

Grimm and McRee both boast batting averages allowed which are the lowest of their respective careers. The senior southpaw’s ERA is up only slightly from where it was a year ago (in far fewer innings pitched so far in 2010), and the junior righty’s earned run average, although almost a run above what it was in 2009, is less than half of what it was in 2008.

There is a lot not to like in the above numbers, but the fact that Grimm and McRee have pitched as well as they have yet have posted a combined 2-6 record in 2010 (after going a cumulative 16-10 in 2008 and 2009) indicates that there’s a lot more wrong with this club than just what is happening on the hill.

Moreover, just as the absence of Georgia’s three stellar starters from 2008 affects the quality of the current crop of Bulldogs, the above chart is influenced by the absence of such first-year hurlers as freshmen Patrick Boling, Malcolm Clapsaddle, Blake Dieterich, Cooper Moseley, and Alex Wood, sophomores Zach Laughlin and Evan Tieles, and juniors Ben Cornwell, John Herman, and Eric Swegman, all of whom contributed their initial varsity innings for the Red and Black this season.

Brady Wiederhold’s history as a pitching coach offers some hope for the future. In his first year on the Georgia staff in 2007, Coach Wiederhold oversaw the SEC’s second-youngest set of hurlers. Freshmen combined for 86 appearances in a disappointing 23-33 year that had me questioning the direction of the program, but the staff showed marked improvement as sophomores in 2008. In particular, McRee and Dean Weaver collectively went 3-7 as first-year collegians before combining to go 13-2 the following year.

Maybe, just maybe, we will see a similar boost in performance from the returning members of this year’s pitching staff in 2011. For what it’s worth, the Bulldog hurlers’ woes have been worsened by confrontations with such foes as Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, and Georgia Tech, all of whom ranked among the top 25 teams in NCAA Division I in runs scored through April 18. (LSU, another Georgia opponent, is tied for 26th.)

The Diamond Dogs are giving up some runs, but a lot of them are being conceded to teams that are putting up big scoring numbers against everyone else, as well. Of the Classic City Canines’ nineteen remaining games, seventeen are against out-of-state opponents Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Western Carolina, and Winthrop. None of those seven squads are ranked above 72nd nationally in runs, and only two of them ranked in the top 100 in the country in that category. We’ll find out down the stretch whether opposing batters have been making Georgia pitchers look bad or whether Georgia pitchers have been making opposing batters look good.

Go ‘Dawgs!