By Ben Harris
Just one week ago, the Terps watched their pitching coach Jim Belanger pack up and head to Lexington, Kentucky to take the same position for the Kentucky Wildcats.
But in a small college town of 21,000 in east Rhode Island, one man caught the eye of the burgeoning Maryland program. To fill the void in John Scefz’s coaching personnel, Maryland tapped Bryant University pitching coach Ryan Fecteau, who in six years led perennially dominant Bulldog pitching staffs.
Bryant hired Fecteau in 2011 after an impressive three-year stretch as a summer ball manager in Virginia. In 2010, the last of his three seasons in the Valley Baseball League, his club won their second straight league championship as he added a Coach of the Year award to his mantle.
From 2011-2016 under Fecteau’s supervision, Bryant’s pitchers separated themselves from the rest of their mid-major NEC competition, ranking atop the conference’s statistical leaderboards year in and year out. Only four times in that span did an NEC team post an ERA under 3.10. Each was a Fecteau-led Bulldog staff, and they stand as the four lowest team ERAs in the NEC since 2003.
In those six years, the Bulldogs’ team ERA averaged a run-and-a-half less than the rest of the league—it was never within 0.80 of the league average in any season, and was twice more than two full runs lower.
This season was no different, as Bryant’s NCAA-best .797 winning percentage was powered largely by their shutdown pitching staff that led the NEC in nearly every measurable way. They allowed 72 fewer runs than any other team, struck out 77 more batters than the next best staff and allowed the fewest extra base hits. Their opposing batting average (.241), slugging percentage (.321), WHIP (1.32) and ERA (3.09) were all best in the conference. The next best conference ERA was 4.36.
Joining the staff of new head coach Steve Owens in 2011, Fecteau’s inherited pitching staff posted the third best ERA and allowed the fewest hits in the conference while finishing in second in strikeouts. That’s an impressive start for a first time college pitching coach. But in the following five seasons as the maestro of Bryant’s impressive rotation and bullpen, he proved that quick start was no fluke.
After his first season, the Bulldogs finished with the conference’s best WHIP every year and the lowest ERA in the NEC all but once (2015, second). Bryant was the only mid-major with an ERA in the top 25 in the nation for three years running between 2012-2014 and, in that span, their ERA ranked 17, 10 and 21 in the country. In 2013 and 2014, they finished in the top 15 in the NCAA in WHIP as well.
Such sustained dominance left in its wake a trail of honors: three of six NEC Pitcher of the Year awards made their way to Smithfield, Rhode Island. From 2011-2016, five of 12 First Team All-NEC starting pitchers were Bryant Bulldogs. So were two of the six relievers. All in all, nearly 40 percent of pitchers selected to the All-NEC First Team during Fecteau’s tenure wore Bryant black and gold.
Even amid some conference reshuffling in the NEC, Fecteau’s staffs performed better against conference opponents every season.
Fecteau’s starters thrived deep in games, eating innings and pitching efficiently just as Maryland’s rotation did in 2016. In the last three years the Bulldogs have thrown 26 complete games. The other six teams in the NEC have combined for 50 in that time, averaging 2.78 per season. Bryant has averaged nearly nine complete games per season since 2014.
Terrapin starters went the distance 11 times this year, almost one in every five games, accounting for nearly a third of the entire Big Ten’s complete games. The next best Big Ten club compiled just six complete games.
In College Park, Taylor Bloom tied for eighth in the NCAA with five complete game efforts in 2016, while Brian Shaffer and Mike Shawaryn each pitched in three of their own. From the get go, the Bloom and Shaffer’s longevity will provide Fecteau with a solid foundation with which to begin working.
His staff’s in-game performance is only the beginning of what Fecteau brings to the table. At Bryant, he shuttled pitchers through the program and into the minor leagues at a rate the school had never experienced. In three seasons between 2013-2015, Fecteau sent six pitchers to the majors, one more than the five players (only two pitchers) that Bryant saw drafted in their first 41 years of existence.
He coached Kevin McAvoy, the highest drafted player in program history (2014, fourth round) for his entire three-year college career. He mentored James Karinchak, a 2015 Freshman All-American. Under his watchful guidance, Bulldog pitchers have etched their names atop the program’s record books in career wins, ERA, strikeouts and shutouts, while also posting single-season bests for ERA, punchouts and complete games. Of the program’s top 10 career innings leaders, Fecteau coached nine of them. And over 30 percent of all NEC Pitcher of the Week awards (26 of 83) since 2011 have been awarded to Bryant hurlers.
The program has won five straight NEC championships, and, since jumping up into the Division I ranks in 2009, has made NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons. By any measure, Ryan Fecteau’s impact on Bryan success has been immense, and the Terps look to have filled an unexpected hole with a diamond in the rough.