Is the Big Ten’s Top Starting Pitcher a Terp for the Second Year Running?

By Ben Harris

Taylor Bloom’s no joke. More aptly, he’s the punch line to a devastating trio of Maryland starters that may very well be the Big Ten’s best.

After all of 16 career starts, Bloom has emerged as a budding star and absolute workhorse for the Terps. The sophomore briefly pitched himself into the Friday spot in the rotation, making up for the lack of early season production from Mike Shawaryn.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 1.19.39 PM.pngEven a slight ankle injury that scratched him from a start against Purdue couldn’t derail Bloom’s torrid 2016 performance. Although Shawaryn has regained form somewhat and retained his Friday slot, Bloom, back pitching on Saturdays, hasn’t missed a beat.

After a second consecutive complete game Saturday against Illinois, the fifth in his last eight starts, Bloom lowered his ERA to a Big Ten-best 1.99 (39th in the NCAA among qualifying pitchers).

Breaking down the pitchers with the top 39 earned run averages in the country, Bloom, still a sophomore, falls into the minority. Twenty-five (64.1 percent) are upperclassmen. Despite his inexperience as a collegiate starter entering the season (five starts last year), only seven of them have thrown more innings than Bloom in 2016.

As a result of Bloom’s pitch-to-contact approach, his pitch count stays low and allows him to work deep into ballgames. The Crofton, Maryland native has now logged 81.1 inning this season, third most in the conference. The fact that he sits so high on the conference innings pitched leaderboard despite his missed start is a direct testament to just how much of an innings-eater he’s been. Fifteen pitchers in the Big Ten have thrown at least 68.2 innings, and Bloom is the only one to have done so in fewer than 12 appearances. Additionally, only four pitchers in the country thus far have bested Bloom’s five complete games.

A surgeon on the mound, armed not with a scalpel and a clamp but a fastball and disappearing changeup, Bloom has walked just six batters all year. That dearth of free passes has generated the third lowest walks allowed per nine innings (0.66) in the entirety of Division I baseball.

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Taylor Bloom makes his second start of the year against Rhode Island on February 27. (Maryland Baseball Network/Hannah Evans)

Although his 51 strikeouts are the fewest of Maryland’s three-headed monster (Brian Shaffer 54, Shawaryn 74), his diminished walk rates land his 8.5 K-BB ratio inside the nation’s top 10. When Bloom toes the slab, an astoundingly miniscule 1.85 percent of plate appearances end in a walk (six of 324).

Bloom first flashed his top of the rotation potential in the 2015 Los Angeles Regional clinching win, tossing six innings of one hit, one run ball against the nation’s top team, UCLA. Nearly one year later, he has continued to set down opponents with authority and maturity beyond his years.

The sophomore is making a strong case to become the first Terp to take home the conference Pitcher of the Year honor—no Maryland pitcher won the plaudit during the Terps’ time in the Atlantic Coast Conference (award was first presented in 2005). Along with his conference-best ERA, he is commonly found among the Big Ten pitching leaders.

The other main contenders for Big Ten Pitcher of the Year figure to be RHP Cody Sedlock (Illinois), whom the Terps faced last weekend, LHP Kyle Hart (Indiana), RHP Jack Anderson (Penn State) and LHP Cam Vieaux (Michigan St.).

Sedlock was stellar against the Terps, racking up seven strikeouts in a complete-game win. The junior leads the Big Ten in strikeouts with 97, a figure that’s tied for ninth in the nation. Hart leads the conference with 10 wins and sports a 3.18 ERA with a stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio of 61:14.

Anderson is the lone reliever among the contenders, but he’s certainly deserving of consideration nonetheless. The submariner established a new career saves record at Penn St. earlier this season, and has now tallied 11 on the year, tied for tops in the Big Ten. Anderson has struck out 40 in his conference-leading 25 appearances (tied with Chad Luenssman, Nebraska) to go along with a 1.35 ERA.

Vieaux is a southpaw the Terps are familiar with after facing him in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament last season. After being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 2015 MLB Draft, Vieaux elected to return to East Lansing, Michigan to post a 6-3 record with a 2.20 ERA. Like Bloom, Vieaux also limits the free passes, allowing just 14 walks compared to 67 strikeouts.

Bloom’s sophomore resurgence comes one season after Shawaryn would have taken home top conference honors had it not been for Illinois’ shutdown closer Tyler Jay. Here are last year’s Big Ten pitching leaders:

  1. Tyler Jay (ILL) – 5-2, 1.08 ERA, 66.2 innings, 76 Ks, seven BBs
  2. Mike Shawaryn (UMD) – 13-2, 1.71 ERA, 116 innings, 138 Ks, 29 BBs
  3. Kevin Duchene (ILL) – 11-2, 1.75 ERA, 102.2 innings, 88 Ks, 18 BBs
  4. Drasen Johnson (ILL) – 10-3, 2.01 ERA, 116.2 innings, 77 Ks, 17 BBs
  5. Rob McDonnell (ILL) – 7-2, 2.28 ERA, 75 innings, 70 Ks, 29 BBS

While Jay was undoubtedly the most dominant (albeit in a much smaller sample size due to his relief role), the third, fourth and fifth best pitchers in the conference comprised the Fighting Illini’s weekend rotation. An obvious advantage for Jay, he rarely had to enter a game against an offense hitting its stride, and more often than not, continued to mow down hitters just as the starters preceding him had done.

Last season—along with breaking the school’s all-time wins record—Shawaryn was named four-time Pitcher of the Week, an award Jay took home just once. A less-stable band of 10 Terps each threw between 27 and 63 innings, a patchwork effort compared to the steady stream of dominating starters Illinois called upon week in and week out. Shawaryn was the most trusted arm in head coach John Szefc’s arsenal last season—only one other pitcher, Brian Shaffer, made more than seven starts. Jay was yet another tool in the toolbox for a 50-10-1 Illini club that would have fared just fine without their dominating closer.

The Unicorn’s 138 strikeouts dwarfed the rest of the league, and his 10.71 K/9 bested Jay’s 10.26 K/9. The next best mark was 43 strikeouts fewer, posted by Michigan’s Brett Adcock.

 

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