Big Ten Conference Recap: Illinois Pitching

After looking at the Michigan State pitching staff on Monday, I will now look at the remaining teams in the conference alphabetically. We’ll kick it off with the Fighting Illini.

Illinois was middle-of-the-pack in the Big Ten with 347 runs allowed on the season. However, that’s where the good news ends. As a team, they struck out the second fewest hitters as judged by their strikeout percentage (K/total batters faced) at just 12.5% while having the fourth highest walk and hit-by-pitch percentage as well. The likely cause for Illinois finishing fifth in the Big Ten in runs allowed is the league’s lowest BABIP against — just .329 which puts them about 5% below the league average of .345 — and in a sample of 2000 batters faced, that becomes a substantial amount of hits.

Below is the Illini’s individual pitching raw data:

Name K% BB% K-BB% BABIP dERA Pitches TBF
Anderson, John 0.173 0.125 0.048 0.284 7.34 361 104
Barrett, Billy 0.052 0.172 -0.121 0.244 9.58 198 58
Braun, Wes 0.144 0.111 0.033 0.354 5.08 309 90
Chmielewski, Nick 0.158 0.105 0.053 0.538 4.14 67 19
de la Torriente, B. 0.100 0.108 -0.009 0.333 7.38 750 231
Johnson, Kevin 0.156 0.118 0.038 0.313 5.71 1146 340
Kimes, Corey 0.102 0.170 -0.068 0.359 6.22 298 88
Libby, Tanner 0.125 0.146 -0.021 0.257 5.17 166 48
Manson, Kevin 0.072 0.077 -0.004 0.321 7.02 736 235
Milroy, Matt 0.142 0.184 -0.043 0.396 7.12 501 141
Roberts, Bryan 0.246 0.102 0.144 0.289 3.04 415 118
Sterk, Mike 0.064 0.072 -0.008 0.295 6.03 391 125
Strack, Will 0.148 0.148 0.000 0.340 6.80 767 223
Zerrusen, Lee 0.101 0.141 -0.039 0.356 7.79 1022 306

K% – Strikeout Percentage (K/total batters faced)
BB% – Walks and Hit Batter Percentage (BB+HBP/TBF)
K-BB% – Difference between K% and BB%
BABIP – Batting Average on Balls In Play
dERA – A college-tailored defense-independent ERA Replicator
Pitches – An estimated pitch count total (Also from Boyd’s World)
TBF – Total Batters Faced

Some things we can take away from this table is that looking at Nick Chmielewski, Tanner Libby, and Billy Barrett’s numbers aren’t really worth looking at. So there won’t be much said about them, unfortunately, in this post.

Now, some of this data adjusted against the conference average:

Name K+ BB+ K-BB+ BABIP+ dERA+
Anderson, John 111 91 114 110 70
Barrett, Billy 33 50 -287 122 30
Braun, Wes 93 103 79 88 110
Chmielewski, Nick 101 108 125 29 126
de la Torriente, B. 64 106 -21 94 69
Johnson, Kevin 100 98 91 101 99
Kimes, Corey 66 52 -162 86 90
Libby, Tanner 80 73 -50 118 108
Manson, Kevin 46 133 -10 98 75
Milroy, Matt 91 40 -101 74 74
Roberts, Bryan 158 112 343 108 146
Sterk, Mike 41 137 -19 106 93
Strack, Will 95 71 0 92 79
Zerrusen, Lee 65 78 -93 87 62

The Starters

The Illini’s starting rotation consisted of Kevin Johnson (13 starts), Lee Zrrusen (11 starts), Will Strack (9 starts), Kevin Manson (7 starts), and Matt Milroy (7 starts). The remaining starts were made up by a combination of Brian de la Torriente, Billy Barrett and Tanner Libby.

  • Kevin Johnson was exactly league average in strikeouts and basically league average in walk/hit-by-pitch percentage. His Perfect Game bio lists his fastball hitting 90, and Illinois giving him the bulk of the starts as a freshman definitely says a lot about his talent. This article talking about Illinois recruits from May 2009 notes that Johnson also possesses a “tight slurve” and hinted that he could win a weekend rotation spot — clearly he did. There’s a lot to like about a freshman that steps in and posts league-average K and BB rates. He’s one to keep an eye on as he appears to have room to fill out with broad shoulders.
  • Lee Zerrusen had the second most starts among Illini pitchers. The Junior will be back next year; hopefully he finds some more strikeouts, too. Zerrusen struggled to generate swings and misses as his 10.1% K-rate was about 35% worse than league average. You don’t have to be a math whizz to know that that is not good. Especially when you supplement it with a well below-average BB+HBP-rate as well. Given that he’ll be a senior in 2011, Zerrusen will likely get the Saturday spot (just my pure speculation), but will possibly be out-performed by someone like…
  • Will Strack. The soon-to-be Junior struck out a slightly-below-average 14.8% of batters, but that’s still about 4% more than Zerrusen. Unfortunately, Strack also struggled with walks/HBP’s, leading to a BB+ rate nearly 30% worse than league average.
  • Kevin Manson is a behemoth of a man (6-foot-7, 230-pounds) that got 7 starts in 2010. Unfortunately, as is the common theme with the Illini, he couldn’t make hitters swing and miss. Only Mike Sterk posted a lower K-rate on the Illinois roster (minimum 100 batters faced) than Manson’s 7.2% K-rate. He walked more batters than he struck out (17 to 12) and if you add in his 6 HBP’s, it gets kind of ugly. As a senior in 2010, Illinois will have to replace a mid-week starter, but replacing Manson’s production shouldn’t be too difficult.
  • Matt Milroy came in with the same class that contained Kevin Johnson, and Milroy picked up 7 starts and 11 overall appearances. He K’d 14.2% of batters (91K+) but he had problems with walks and HBP’s (26 total; 18.4% BB rate). However, as just a freshman with a body-type that could fill in to add more velocity. Milroy was taken with the 27th pick of the 35th round (1098th overall) by the Boston Red Sox but did not sign. The article I linked to in the blurb on Kevin Johnson says Milroy has “four plus-pitches” but the way “plus” is thrown around about pitchers of all levels, I wouldn’t put much stock in it. This article from Perfect Game has a glowing, yet short, paragraph on Milroy saying he was hitting 90 MPH, while showing a hard, downward-breaking curveball and a true, 82 MPH slider to go with it. There are a lot of things to like about Milroy and I can see him stepping into the back end of that weekend rotation for the Illini if Strack or Zerrusen struggle too much.

The Relievers

  • Bryan Roberts was the Illini closer, picking up 9 saves and 27.2 IP over 21 outings. His 24.6% K-rate was far-and-away the best on the roster (min. 100 batters faced) and he was also above average with only a 10.2% BB+HBP rate (good for 110 BB+). Roberts has very good command and moved to the bullpen for his sophomore season in 2010 after being a starter as a freshman. He’ll almost assuredly be the man at the back of Illini games, though there’s a chance with his experience of starting that he could slide into the weekend rotation if need be. I’d put money on his relieving again, though.
  • The only other reliever worth mentioning is John Anderson as he K’d 17.3% of the 103 batters he faced. He struggled with BB/HBP’s posting a BB+ of just 91. He’ll be a senior in 2011 and probably the teams’ second bullet out of the ‘pen.

Illinois is going to need the young pitchers of Johnson, Manson, Milroy and Roberts to carry the pitching staff to a more respectable finish in 2011. Granted if the results are middle-of-the-pack ranking in runs allowed are in store for 2011, they should relish that. However, I think there’s a good chance that their pitching could let them down in the K’s don’t go up and the free bases don’t go down.

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