As the Maryland Terrapins began the 2016 Fall World Series, familiar faces from the Terps’ recent years of success—Kevin Martir and Anthony Papio—looked at one another from across the field.
Now student assistant coaches, the two players who had combined to play more than 300 games for the Terps since 2013 found themselves as opposing managers for the annual split-squad scrimmage series, which is tied at one-game apiece.
Martir, who was drafted by the Houston Astros his junior year, returned to College Park, Md., this fall to finish his bachelor’s degree. Papio, who graduated in August of 2015 and played last season as a fifth-year senior, has remained on campus, finishing his graduate degree.
The former catcher expected to just work out with the team and help out, like he did last year. But Szefc approached him for a more official role. As for Papio, the former outfielder and all-time leader in games played knew he wanted to get into coaching once his playing days drew to a close.
“I kidded Papio…, 27 years ago, I did the same thing,” head coach John Szefc said. “I had one semester [at Drexel] I had to finish up, and I went back and coached and it worked for me.”
Szefc, who coached both players during the Terps’ back-to-back Super Regional seasons, who has been at the helm for the entirely of Martir’s Terrapin career and the majority of Papio’s, instilled lessons in his newest assistants.
“The biggest positive of playing under Szefc was that he was the same guy every day,” Papio said. “He stayed pretty cool throughout the whole game—never too high or too low. I think that’s something that both of us have tried to incorporate while we’re out here coaching.”
Martir, who was a vocal leader on the team during his three years, has taken note of the way Szefc communicates with his players.
When I was a player, I’d be able to scream and get on someone,” Martir said. “Now you have to direct the message you’re trying to tell the player in a different way—so that they can understand and not be mad at you or hate you for something you said.”
Martir’s playing experience behind the plate as a catcher—both at Maryland and in the Houston Astros organization he past two seasons—has helped him convey those messages to both position players and pitchers.
Ryan Selmer posted the above picture of him pitching to his new student assistant coach Kevin Martir to Instagram before the start of the Fall World Series.
“Being a catcher, you’re able to do both,” he said. “You can manage a pitching staff and tell guys about different approaches or anything like that. That’s why while I’m coaching, I’m calling a game—because I’ve been there.”
Szefc had complete confidence in his former players to get the job done as student assistant coaches.
“Personality-wise they’re a little different, but they’re also both pretty demanding too,” he said. “I think they both know how things should be done, so they’re not afraid to get the point across. What you have is two guys that are student assistant coaches, but Papio just finished playing, Martir’s still playing. Those guys know the game and they’re not afraid to open up their mouths and coach it.”
While playing under Szefc taught both student assistant coaches vital lessons, managing the Fall World Series has given both Martir and Papio a newfound respect for what their former coaches do on a day-to-day basis.
“The other day I was coaching third and other guys were missing signs,” Martir said. “[Associate head coach] Rob [Vaughn] was like, ‘well, welcome to my world. Guys are missing signs.’”
But as Martir explained, missed signs are just the beginning of the frustrations of being a manager.
“You can’t really control what’s going on—it’s out of our control,” he said. “While I’m back there I’m like, ‘damn, I want to go and put down a bunt’ but I can’t because I’m on the other side. It’s tough on us too because we can’t really do anything about it.”
Both Papio and Martir have had some fun throughout the process of leading their respective teams during the Fall World Series. The dugouts are loud and active during the game, which is no surprise considering each manager’s competitive nature. The antics continue off the field, with players posting pump-up message to Twitter and Instagram, and Martir sending Papio “a couple of emojis.” It’s clear what’s on the line—supreme bragging rights, for both the players and their former teammates turned coaches.
Getting jacked up to get ready to go get a sweep with Team APaps tomorrow @APapio13
Last season, the Terps went 30-27 en route to a Big Ten Tournament berth. However, Maryland fell in the semi-final to Iowa and was not selected to participate in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, after winning back-to-back NCAA Regionals.
While Maryland’s near .500 record may indicate that the Terps were rightfully left out of the postseason picture, a deeper analysis shows Maryland much more on the bubble. In 2016, Maryland’s non-conference schedule—featuring series at Alabama and Cal St. Fullerton, and a home series vs. Bryant—was the sixth-hardest in the nation. This led to Maryland finishing with an RPI of 60, good enough to squeak into the top-64. But, when factoring in automatic bids from conferences with weaker RPIs, it left the Terps on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in.
Let’s break down Maryland’s 56-game schedule for 2017.
In 2017, Maryland’s non-conference schedule figures to again be one of the toughest in the nation, featuring series at LSU and home against Bryant, in addition to two high-profile tournaments.
This is the continuation of a trend started last season when the Terps’ overall strength of schedule ranked 29th in the nation. No Big Ten team had a tougher schedule, and it was all thanks to Maryland’s arduous non-conference slate.
Maryland’s 2017 non-conference opponents averaged a record of 33-23 last year. For context, just 78 out of 300 teams in 2016 won more than 33 games—that’s the top quarter of division I baseball. These aren’t teams who put together 30-win seasons in weak conferences—eight went at least as far as NCAA Regionals last year.
Series and Tournaments:
The Terps hit the ground running to open their season, playing five of their first ten games against programs which finished in the top-10 in RPI last season. Maryland will spend opening weekend in Clearwater, Florida, facing Ball State, Alabama State (the four-seed in last year’s Tallahassee Region) and Louisville, the fifth-overall seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals, arguably the nation’s most talented team last season, hosted and won their NCAA Regional, tallying a 50-14 record en route to a top-two finish in RPI.
For the fourth time in the last five seasons, the Terps will travel early in the season to take on a high-profile SEC opponent. Exactly five years and one week after Szefc began his Maryland coaching career getting swept by the LSU in Baton Rouge, “The General” and his troops will return to Alex Box Stadium for an early test against the Tigers. LSU fell in last year’s Super Regional to the eventual College World Series champion, Coastal
Carolina, and finished ninth in the nation in RPI.
The following week, in their second tournament of the season, Maryland will play North Carolina State (38-22), Notre Dame and UMass-Lowell. The N.C. State Wolfpack, the toughest opponent of the three, finished 2016 with the eighth-best RPI in the NCAA, and also saw their season end at the hands of Chanticleers, one round before the Tigers.
The Terps welcome the Bryant Bulldogs to College Park for the second-straight year and third meeting in four years. The March series will reunite new Maryland pitching coach Ryan Fecteau with his former team. The Bulldogs had the best record in the nation last year (47-12, .796) but were eliminated by William & Mary, another of the Terps’ 2017 opponents, in the Charlottesville Regional.
Princeton, the four-seed in last year’s Lafayette Region, will travel to Maryland for the third straight odd-numbered year. The Terps handily swept both previous series, outscoring the Tigers 73-15 while tossing three shutouts.
Notable Midweek Matchups:
March 14, at North Carolina (6:00 p.m. ET)
March 21-22, at UNC-Wilmington (6:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. ET)
April 11, vs. West Virginia (4:00 p.m. ET)
March 7 and April 19, vs. William and Mary (both at 4:00 p.m. ET)
While Maryland’s final RPI will heavily emphasize non-conference results, the Terps will need to bolster their resume with positive results during conference play.
Over the past two seasons—Maryland’s first in the Big Ten—the Terps have played every Big Ten team at least once. That means no more surprises, and no more teams Szefc has never faced. Maryland begins its conference slate with three home games against Michigan, one of two 2017 conference opponents they did not face last year. The two teams have played four times during Szefc’s tenure as head coach—including the 2015 Big Ten Tournament Final—with the Terps winning just once. Maryland’s series against Michigan will mark the first time former Terps head coach Erik Bakich will return to College Park since leaving to become the Wolverines’ head coach in 2012.
Maryland begins April with two road series against Rutgers and Nebraska, followed by home series against Penn State and Michigan State. In 2016, Maryland dropped two crucial games to Rutgers to begin their penultimate series before salvaging a 6-0 win on Sunday to avoid a sweep. Under Szefc, Maryland is above .500 against the Cornhuskers (3-0), Nittany Lions (2-1) and Spartans (3-2).
To round out the conference schedule, the Terps will travel to Indiana and Illinois for the first time since joining the Big Ten, then host Northwestern at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium for what could be a crucial final conference series. Maryland is 16-15 under John Szefc against 2017 conference opponents and has beaten each one at least once. Overall, Szefc is 27-21 against the Big Ten.
What it Means:
To understand the impact the Big Ten move had on the Terps’ RPI and subsequent postseason hopes, you must compare 2012, the year before Szefc arrived, and 2015.
In 2012, still a member of the powerhouse ACC, the Terps went 32-24 with a 10-20 record in conference. Their strength of schedule? 22. Their RPI? 33.
Three years later, in 2015, Maryland posted a program-record 42 wins and a second consecutive trip to the Super Regionals. Their strength of schedule? 58. Their RPI? 31.
While the conference switch may indicate a negative impact on the Terps scheduling and postseason hopes, it merely shows how Maryland has adjusted. When in the ACC, the Terps could schedule a weaker non-conference schedule, knowing the ACC gauntlet would bolster their RPI and resume. Now in the Big Ten, Maryland, under the direction of Szefc, has done exactly what they need to do in consistently scheduling a difficult non-conference slate.
A strong showing in conference, combined with a respectable run in 16 games against out-of-conference, 2016 NCAA Tournament opponents, would put Maryland well within striking distance of a return to postseason play.
Down big in the late innings against Iowa, Head Coach John Szefc wanted to make sure every player on his roster got to experience Omaha. Not only did he want them to play in the final game of the season, but he wanted them to get a taste of the moment, because soon enough that moment will be theirs.
For many of the younger players their time had already come. The entire infield for the Terps this season was made up of underclassmen. In fact the only upperclassmen that were penciled into Szefc’s lineup this season were redshirt senior Anthony Papio, and juniors Nick Cieri and Madison Nickens.
Of the eight pitchers who toed the slab in the Terps final game, seven were underclassmen, with redshirt senior Rob Galligan representing the lone exception.
With eight players departing to the MLB draft last season, and a couple other mainstays graduating, for the Terps to make it back to the NCAA tournament the younger players were going to have to shoulder the load.
The operative word for the season was ‘inconsistent.’ The weekend rotation often dominated but there were times that the bullpen failed to match their efforts. There were games where the bats came alive and put up double digits in runs, and other games where solid contact was few and far between. While the Terps reached 30 wins for the fifth consecutive season, their results too lacked consistency. The Terps rattled off good wins against Alabama, Tennessee, Southesastern Louisiana, Cal State Fullerton, and a swept VCU. However each one of those quality wins could be countered with a bad loss, at the hands of Delaware (twice), Liberty, George Washington, and Rutgers (twice).
But 2017 means an extra year for so many young contributes to grow, a chance for an inexperienced team to morph into a veteran squad, and for inconsistent to turn into dominant.
Feature photo by Hannah Evans.
Sophomore Taylor Bloom vs Illinois 5/7/16. Photo by Hannah Evans/MBN
Freshman Hunter Parson vs George Washington 3/9/16. Photo by. Hannah Evans/MBN
The weekend rotation of Brian Shaffer, Taylor Bloom, and Hunter Parsons projects to be the best in the Big Ten. Shaffer and Bloom combined to toss eight complete games this season, both posted sub-3.00 ERAs, and both started more games than the number of walks they allowed. Meanwhile, Parsons showed a lot of promise as a freshmen. He earned Big Ten freshman of the week, after his seven innings of one run ball against James Madison on April 6. He followed it up with a spot start win against Purdue, where he allowed two earned runs in six innings, and a tough luck loss to West Virginia where he allowed one earned run in six innings of work.
On the offensive side of the ball this season two other freshmen led the charge, in Marty Costes and Nick Dunn.
Costes quickly established himself as the Terps everyday left fielder, despite playing only infield at Archbishop Curley, as a three sport athlete. He led the team with nine home runs, including moon shots at East Carolina and Cal State Fullerton, and his 37 RBI also led the team. Dunn started all 57 games at second base this season, and did a nice job to fill the large shoes of Brandon Lowe. Dunn led the team with a .296 batting average and 16 doubles. He also added 31 RBI, good for second on the squad.
While there are still roles to be filled in the bullpen and weekday rotation, the continuity that will exist in the starting lineup next season will provide much needed stability. Coupled with the weekend rotation, the Terps can once again set their sights on the 40 win mark that they achieved in 2014 and 2015.
Eclipsing that 40 win plateau would mean a return to the NCAA tournament. It could also mean that those players who were brought in at the end of the Big Ten Tournament just to ‘get some experience,’ are once again toeing the slab at TD Ameritrade Park, this time playing under the lights, in the College World Series.
That’s the classic response any ballplayer gives when asked about pitching or playing in the postseason. Sure, it is just another game, but the feelings and implications are much heavier than he is usually willing to admit.
An anxious stomachache in the morning. No appetite. Feeling sluggish throughout the day, waiting for your one moment later that night. Mentally exhausted before you even step on the mound.
You think about all the possibilities. You can’t help but let some negative thoughts float through your mind. “What if I don’t make it out of the first inning? What if I suck?” You think about your teammates and coaches, and how you don’t want to let them down. You think about how you don’t want to let down your school, city, and fans after they’ve supported you throughout the season.
The best way to underperform is to put too much stock into those thoughts. As an athlete, if you’re constantly filling your head with negativity, you’ll rarely get the results you want. If you want to have success when it matters most, you have to accept that you’re going to have negative thoughts, trust in your preparation and what got you there in the first place, and just play.
I learned this first hand playing in the ACC as a freshman at Maryland. I remember going into games knowing I was going to give up runs. I had absolutely no confidence in my ability. How could I possibly get anybody out on a consistent basis if I didn’t believe I could do it? Whether it’s in the middle of February during the first month of the college season or in June playing in Omaha, trusting your preparation and ability is the only thing that matters.
I never pitched in a postseason game at Maryland. I’m totally jealous of the groups that came after me who went to two Super Regionals and were a win away from Omaha. But I have pitched in postseason games and regular season games that had postseason implications during my time in professional baseball.
I’ve had success and I’ve been crushed.
You can’t help but let some negative thoughts float through your mind. “What if I don’t make it out of the first inning? What if I suck?” You think about your teammates and coaches, and how you don’t want to let them down. You think about how you don’t want to let down your school, city, and fans after they’ve supported you throughout the season.
The times that I had success I was bought into my plan of attack and 100-percent convinced I was going to dominate. And I did.
In my first professional season in 2013, I started the final game of the New York-Penn League Championship Series. I went into the game with the mindset that I was never going to pick up a baseball again. I remember warming up in the bullpen telling myself to leave everything out on the field. My pitches were crisper than they had been that whole summer. We eventually lost that game by one run but I had pitched well enough for our team to win. Regardless, there was no way a negative thought was going to effect my game.
Conversely, the times I was crushed I went into the game with some lingering doubt and a bloodbath of epic proportions ensued.
When I’ve failed in big situations it’s never been about how many fans were in the stadium. Or about how well the other team had been playing. Those factors—which sometimes get talked up—get drowned out in the fog of a highly competitive situation. It was about my own ability. I didn’t think I could execute a certain pitch in a certain situation and when I tried it got smoked for an extra base hit. Then, when I didn’t execute that pitch, it rolled over to the next at-bat. Slowly piling up until I was done for.
My last start of 2015 in Double-A Springfield is a perfect example. I started the second to last game of the regular season, a game if we won would most likely put us in the postseason. I gave up 6 runs in 1.2 innings, we lost, and we missed the postseason by a half a game. I let my negative thoughts get the best of me and I didn’t execute any of my pitches because I was scared they were going to get pummeled, which they did. My negative thoughts got the best of me.
Having success, whether its in the Big Ten Tournament, the NCAA Tournament, or the World Series is totally dependent on confidence. You’re there for a reason, now just live in the moment and play.
Jimmy Reed is a former Maryland Terrapins pitcher. The left-hander was drafted in the 6th round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and is now in his third season in the Cardinals’ organization.
The secret to Maryland’s second consecutive Big Ten Tournament appearance is, well, anything but a secret. A starting rotation comparable to any in the country features three top-notch arms. Their 2015 NCBWA first-team All American and 2016 preseason Golden Spikes watch list candidate, Mike Shawaryn, is their third-best pitcher. That’s the type of season it’s been for head coach John Szefc and his three-headed pitching rotation. Two sophomores, Brian Shaffer and Taylor Bloom, comprised the remaining two weekend slots. Each of Maryland’s three starters rank in the top 19 in ERA in the Big Ten, combining to allow just 89 earned runs in 279.2 innings, good for a 2.86 ERA.
Looking at Bill James’ Game Score, a metric that quantifies the effectiveness of any starting pitcher’s outing, we can see just how masterful these three aces have been when at their best.
Game Score calculates the overall dominance of a starter’s outing and is relatively simple as far as advanced statistics are concerned. Each pitcher begins with 50 points, and by weighting different measures such as earned runs allowed, outs recorded and strikeouts, a final score is given to encompass the entirety of a pitcher’s contributions in any given start. The full calculation and weighting can be seen to the right.
For reference, if we assign average stats to a “quality start”—six innings, three earned runs allowed and six hits, two walks, four strikeouts—that pitcher’s Game Score would remain 50. The following graphic breaks down the best start of the season for each of Maryland’s three aces according to Bill James’ Game Score.
On the heels of a 13-2 2015 season (1.71 ERA) that propelled the right-hander atop the school’s all-time wins leaderboard, it looked as if “The Unicorn” picked up right where he left off this spring. In the Terps’ home opener February 26 against Rhode Island, Shawaryn dazzled, facing the minimum over eight innings without allowing a hit after the first. Connor Foreman, the Rams’ only base runner on the day, reached base in the first and fourth innings.
After Foreman’s single in the first he was immediately erased on a 4-6-3 double play. Shawaryn started to roll beginning with the twin killing, putting the next 10 hitters in two-strike counts. When Foreman reached in the fourth on a hit by pitch, the following batter lined into a 6-3 double play. Shawaryn set down the next 13 hitters in a row to complete his afternoon.
The game marked just one of two starts on the year in which Shawaryn didn’t walk a batter (May 7 vs. Illinois) and didn’t surrender a run (April 23 vs. Purdue). In the latter, he tied his season-high Game Score of 85 in a 10-strikeout, three-hit performance.
The Terps needed every bit of Shawaryn’s dominance that Friday afternoon. Opposing him was Rhode Island’s Steve Moyers, who threw an eight-inning complete game allowing just one unearned run in Maryland’s 1-0 series opening win.
Average Game Score: 54.35 (lowest of all three starters)
Standard Deviation: 18.27 (highest of all three starters)
The best start of Bloom’s breakout sophomore season came on April 8 in game one of a double header against Ohio State. In the first Friday start of his career—stepping in for a struggling Shawaryn—Bloom took a perfect game into the sixth en route to a 90-pitch Greg Maddux complete game shutout. The nine-inning effort was good for his third on the year to that point. By season’s end, his five complete games led the Big Ten and tied for seventh in the nation. Other than Rutgers’ Howie Brey (four), no other pitcher in the conference had more than two.
At 1 hour and 42 minutes, the game was the shortest of Maryland’s season. Shawaryn’s start against Rhode Island was the second shortest (1:52).
At the regular season’s conclusion, he ranked third in the conference with 95 innings pitched despite a gimpy ankle scratching him from the Purdue series. Had he pitched and lasted his average of 7.1 innings, he would have finished with the most innings pitched in the conference.
Average Game Score: 59.23
Standard Deviation: 15.66 (lowest of all three starters)
With the Terps dropping the first two games against Rutgers in their second to last regular season series, Brian Shaffer got the ball on Sunday, brought his best stuff, and saved the season. Had Maryland lost that series final and been swept at home by the Scarlet Knights, they would have missed out on the Big Ten Tournament. (Maryland would have lost the head-to-head tiebreaker against Iowa, assuming the Terps still took two of three from Michigan State in the final weekend.)
Shaffer overpowered Rutgers with a career-high eight strikeouts and fell one short of a career-best with 12 groundball outs. Including an infield pop out, 21 of his 24 outs recorded didn’t leave the infield. He didn’t allow a hit through the first 3.1 innings, keeping Maryland in the game long enough for their feeble offense to break through against Rutgers’ starter and take full advantage of a weaker bullpen. The Terps broke a scoreless tie, putting up runs in the bottom of the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
Building off his breakout performance in last season’s Big Ten Tournament in which he snapped Illinois’ conference record 27-game winning streak, Shaffer emerged as a formidable weapon for Szefc worthy of pitching any day of the week, let alone as the Sunday starter. In six starts between March 13 and April 16, he lasted no fewer than seven innings and tossed consecutive complete games in his best 2015 Shawaryn impression (1.67 ERA, 0.82 WHIP).
In a crucial spot, Shaffer spun his best game of the season, topping his complete game shutout of No. 23 Cal State Fullerton in which he posted a Game Score of 80, the fifth highest for any starter this season.
Average Game Score: 59.5 (highest of all three starters)
Standard Deviation: 15.98
Interestingly, Shaffer didn’t hold the best per-start average in any of the categories that dictate Game Score, but averaged the highest Game Score per outing at 59.5 (Bloom 59.23, Shawaryn 54.35). His consistency at the back end of the rotation proved vital for the Terps who went 9-5 in games the sophomore started, and explains how, without having the best numbers in any of those six stat categories, his average Game Score was highest.
As further evidence of Shaffer’s reliability, the standard deviation of his Game Scores (15.98) was nearly identical to Bloom’s rotation-best 15.66.
Using the Game Score metric, Shaffer led all Maryland starters with seven outings that scored 60 or higher. Bloom had six. Bloom posted five Game Scores over 70, Shaffer had four, and Shawaryn just three. However, only Shaffer and Shawaryn had multiple starts scoring 80 or higher. Each starter had four outings that scored between 50-59. Both Shaffer and Bloom had just three starts with Game Scores under 50, compared to Shawaryn’s six, and Bloom was the only one without a Game Score below 30 on the season.
No Maryland starter’s Game Score was higher than Shawaryn’s two games of 85. He and Shaffer were the only two pitchers to post back-to-back starts that scored 78 or higher. Despite making just four starts on the year, freshman Hunter Parsons cracked the Terps’ top ten Game Scores, posting a 72 after a seven-inning, two-hit outing against James Madison for which he earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week plaudits.
**Update: This article covered the 2016 regular season. In the third game of the Big Ten Tournament, Brian Shaffer posted the most dominant start of the season for Maryland. In the 3-0 season-extending win over Indiana, he tossed a complete game shutout, striking out eight, walking none and allowing just two hits. He needed just 102 pitches to post a Game Score of 91, six points better than any performance from a Terp starter this season.**
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.
Even 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.
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.
#Terps Taylor Bloom stats (w/ B1G rank):
1.99 ERA (1st)
81.1 IP (3rd)
6 wins (T-4th)
19 earned runs (3rd)
6 BB (1st)
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:
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.
‘This feels normal,’ Tayler Stiles thinks, beginning to get loose in the bullpen. Then, he puts on his new mask, protecting his face, where he was hit with a line drive. ‘Oh, this feels great.’
After 316 days, two major surgeries and countless hours of rehab, Stiles is preparing to get back on the mound.
The Bowie, Md., native exits the bullpen and heads toward the hill for the top of the sixth inning, Maryland leading 10-7. It’s his first appearance of the season, coming on February 28, during the final game of a three-game series with Rhode Island.
The Terrapins are wearing their black jerseys with red numbers and gold trim. White pants with a lone black stripe down the leg; black stirrups with two red stripes divided by one gold band above an Under Armor logo. It’s the exact ones the Terps—and Stiles—donned less than 10 months earlier, the last time Stiles pitched in a game.
Upon hearing his name announced, the crowd rises to its feet and gives Stiles a standing ovation.
A FASTBALL LOW AND AWAY
It’s April 18, 2015, and Stiles is preparing to make his sixth start of the season. The then-sophomore southpaw had pitched his way into the weekend rotation and was set to make his third straight Saturday start.
“It was a fastball low and away,” Martir, now in the Houston Astros organization, said. “And he missed for ball one.”
Stiles caught the return throw from Martir and walked back up to the mound. In his usual routine, he leaned toward the plate to get the sign, the ball behind his back, rotating in his left hand, his glove resting on his right leg. Martir called for the same pitch— a fastball, low and away.
The southpaw came set, feet pointed toward first base, glove level with his chest. He went into his windup, and delivered. The ball exploded off Vaught’s bat straight back at Stiles, hitting him flush in the left side of his face.
“I throw the pitch, he hits the ball, next thing I know I’m on the ground,” Stiles said. “I’ve got this loud ringing in my head and the first thing I remember is, the only way I could get [the ringing] out of my head is if I yelled.”
The ball came off of Vaught’s bat at an estimated 100 mph, leaving no time for the left-hander to react.
With the stadium hushed, Stiles’ screams could be heard all around the ballpark as he writhed on the mound. The first one to him was the Terps’ former athletic trainer Alex Bazink.
“Instincts take over in the moment; you don’t really think about what’s happening,” Bazink, who is now an athletic trainer at Dickinson College, said. “It was a scary situation. Looking at [Kevin] Martir as I was running out I knew it was bad, and by the time I got out there he was already bleeding on the mound.”
Bazink went into emergency mode, calling an ambulance while trying keep Stiles upright, simultaneously working to stop the bleeding with towels.
Stiles, who maintained consciousness throughout the ordeal, initially thought he was blind—he couldn’t see out of his left eye. With his right eye, however, he saw everything.
“I could see all of it,” Stiles said. “I could see the blood on the towel, I could see the blood dripping down onto my jersey and I could see it dripping down on to the dirt on the mound. It was everywhere.”
FROM THE FIELD TO THE HOSPITAL
Tayler’s father, Brent, was in attendance, watching from his usual spot in the top row of the stands on the third base side with other parents.
“The initial thought was, ‘You’ve been hit. How many times have you been hit? You’re a pitcher, you always get hit, just get up,’” Brent Stiles said. “I was waiting for him to get up and it just didn’t happen.”
Brent was the only member of the Stiles family there that day. Christine Stiles, Tayler’s mother, was in Owings Mills, Md., watching Melanie—Tayler’s younger sister—play soccer in her high school game. It was on her way back—and to the Terps baseball game—that Christine heard what happened, listening to the game live on the Maryland Baseball Network while driving on the Beltway.
She repeatedly called Brent, who couldn’t pick up because he had gone down to the field to help Bazink, Martir and other Terps support and take care of Stiles. When Brent finally called back, it was a brief conversation.
‘I’m on the field with Tayler. He got hit in the face. The ambulance is coming.’
The two hung up, as Brent continued to help Tayler and Christine continued to make her way toward the field. They reconnected on the phone soon after, and Brent told Christine where the ambulance was headed.
As Christine drove toward the hospital, she stopped at a traffic light near College Park and watched as an ambulance sped by, crossing through the intersection in front of her. It was the ambulance carrying her son to MedStar Hospital. Christine turned and followed it.
PLAYING FOR TAYLER
Then-senior LHP Rob Galligan was tabbed to make the first start of his career in the series finale the next day. As he helped Stiles while the ambulance came, Terps pitching coach Jimmy Belanger came over, tapped him on the shoulder and told him to start warming up.
Before the game restarted, Galligan saw third baseman Jose Cuas shaken up, and the other infielders as well. He brought them all to the mound, where they embraced in a pseudo group hug.
“Who cares about the result, who cares what happens?” Galligan said to his teammates. “We’re playing for Tayler and we’re going to get this victory.”
Galligan was familiar with what Stiles was going through. Back when he was a sophomore in high school, he was hit in the face during a February batting practice. He fractured his nose in seven places, completely shattered his cheekbone and had a hole in his sinus. After facial reconstructive surgery, he went through rehab and returned to playing just a few months later. Galligan angered his doctor by refusing protective headgear—he didn’t want the reminder of what had happened.
“The second or minute you have that sense of doubt, or sense that urgency or fear, you can’t do anything,” he said.
Invigorated by his injured teammate, Galligan tossed six innings of one-run ball, striking out six, while the offense put up nine runs to win 9-5. It was not only Galligan’s first win of the season, but also the first win of his collegiate career.
“DO YOU EVEN WANT TO PLAY ANYMORE?”
At the hospital, doctors had determined that Stiles needed to wait for surgery due to excess blood behind his eye. He had shattered the orbital bones around his left eye and had broken his zygomatic bone (cheekbone) as well.
Just over a week after the injury, on April 27, Stiles underwent facial reconstructive surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. He received over 25 medical screws in his face and a plate stabilizing the bottom of his eye socket.
After the procedure, Stiles began asking Brent and the doctors when he’d be able to play again. By his math, he should be ready to go in June, should the Terps still be playing.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘do you even want to play anymore?’” Brent Stiles said. “It was never a doubt in his mind at all.”
Stiles wouldn’t have been the first one to hang up the spikes after an injury like his. Not only is the physical rehabilitation a tough process, but there’s a significant mental side to the recuperation as well. After getting hit in the face on the mound, how do you go back out there and pitch without the fear of it happening again in the back of your mind?
“I can’t even tell you how many people have told me ‘I don’t even know how you got back up on that mound,’” Stiles said. “That injury, that crazy event, is a one-in-a-million event. For it to happen to me again? My dad said if it happens to me again I’d have to play the lottery that day.”
He recognizes the effect his injury had on the people around him—teammates, coaches, family and even fans. Through it all, there was one reaction that stuck with him.
“There’s a kid, I don’t know his name; I don’t even know how he is,” Stiles recalls. “But someone told me he was at that game and to this day he still doesn’t pitch.”
He pauses and tries to fight back tears. The despair in his voice is clear.
“And that just sucks,” he says.
“I could see all of it. I could see the blood on the towel, I could see the blood dripping down onto my jersey and I could see it dripping down on to the dirt on the mound. It was everywhere.” – Tayler Stiles
Before Stiles could begin rehab, he needed to undergo more procedures to correct his vision—his eye hadn’t healed properly after the first surgery.
Stiles went to see ophthalmological specialists at the University of Maryland Eye Associates, whom diagnosed him with a macular hole in his retina, causing blurred and distorted vision. A month after his first surgery, Stiles underwent a non-invasive injection procedure as a means to correct his vision.
But, the issues persisted, so Stiles was faced with another major operation, a full vitrectomy. On June 3, Dr. Marena Patronas, the ophthalmologist, removed part of Stiles’ eye and repaired it, placing it back in its rightful place surrounded by a gas bubble that acts as a cast. For the procedure to work, Stiles was required to stay facedown for 12 straight days, thereby ensuring the bubble would remain in the proper place.
“All I could do was watch TV, eat, take showers and sleep,” Stiles said. “I took four showers a day because it was something to do.”
A few weeks later, Stiles was able to officially begin his rehab, lifting weights to regain lost muscle mass. He threw for the first time in the middle of the summer, tossing lightly with the Terps former strength and conditioning coach, Seth Diters. It was then that the two first began discussing protection for the upcoming season—the mask.
BEHIND THE MASK
On the mound against Rhode Island, Stiles wasn’t thinking about the batter or the game. His only thought was, ‘What are people going to think of this mask?’
The junior faced the top of the Rams’ lineup, starting with leadoff hitter Ryan Olmo. Stiles got Olmo to pop-out, and then retired the next two batters on a line-out and strikeout for a perfect frame.
The three outs alone did wonders for Stiles’ confidence, but redshirt freshman Andrew Bechtold helped as well.
“He came up to me inside the dugout and said, ‘Hey, guess what—the umpire just said you look like a bad ass out there with that mask on,’” Stiles said.
The mask may look familiar to some—it’s the same one worn by former NBA player Rip Hamilton for the entirety of his career and by Kobe Bryant for part of his career as well. In fact, Stiles’ mask comes from the same place, too.
In August, the junior approached Ron Ohringer, the Maryland Athletics head equipment manager, asking about protective gear for his face. The two decided that a field hockey or women’s lacrosse-like cage was too restrictive and heavy and other similar masks limited his peripheral vision. So, Ohringer contacted Jeremy Murray, the director of Michigan Hand and Sports Rehabilitation Center and founder of Murray Masks, and told him about Stiles’ situation. A few weeks later, Stiles was on his way to Michigan to have his face molded.
The mask itself, at first glance, looks like it belongs in some kind of Phantom of the Opera-Batman hybrid. It’s made of clear plastic, and was tested to withstand tremendous impact. Murray put the mask on a dummy in front of a pitching machine and cranked it up to 100 mph. After 50 baseballs were flung at the mask, it revealed no scratches, dents or other imperfections. According to Stiles, the mask is just shy of bulletproof.
He first wore it in competition during the Terps’ Fall World Series, a three-game intrasquad series. Stiles was cleared to play for the final game of the series, entering in the later innings. He was more excited to play again and throw his pitches than nervous for them to get hit back at him.
“No fear,” he said. “Not even a little bit. The only thing different [was] that I’m wearing a mask now. “
A look at Stiles’ shoulders tells the story of his personality and adversity.
On his right shoulder is a tattoo of a bulldog, snarling and growling down toward his bicep. In the bulldog’s teeth is a baseball, creeping out under the sleeve of his uniform on game days. ‘The Bulldog’ is a moniker for Stiles, one he’s had for several years.
“He’s always been the fighter; ‘The Bulldog,’” Christine Stiles said. “He’s always been the person who will come back from an adversarial moment.”
It’s the tattoo on his left shoulder that depicts the adversity. On a shadowy background is a skull, identical to the one in his post-surgery x-ray, complete with the 25-plus screws and plate. Underneath it is text that reads, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
His teammates and coaches worry about Stiles more than he worries about himself. They ask him where his mask is and remind him to wear it, even when Stiles is just sitting in the dugout. A few weeks after his first appearance, a batted ball hit Stiles in the shin. As head coach John Szefc and athletic trainer Sven Pearson came out of the dugout to check on him, Stiles waved them off, telling them if it wasn’t his face, he was going to be all right.
“It is still a little scary,” Christine Stiles said. “Every time the ball gets hit back up the middle it scares the hell out of me. Even if it’s another pitcher, too.”
The junior’s ordeal is far from over. He still regularly sees an ophthalmologist and had laser eye surgery last month. Next week, he’ll go back to University of Maryland Eye Associates for another procedure to relieve pressure that’s damaging his optic nerve.
“I can get through anything after this, and that’s a good thing to know,” Stiles said. “That I’ve gone through—I think—the hardest part of my life and I was 20 years old when it happened.”
The mask and his tattoos remain a constant reminder of his journey. He carries his experiences with him wherever he goes, whether it be to class, the gym, or the mound. The ordeal shapes the pitcher he is—aggressive and fearless, like a bulldog.