Photo courtesy of USF Athletics
Coming into the 2020 season, South Florida had a young roster with a lot of uncertainty. There were several questions this team needed to answer. Could anyone in the order step up for big offensive losses? How would high profile freshmen like Jack Jasiak and Orion Kerkering do on the mound? Would 2019 injuries continue to affect the team?
The Bulls may have struggled mightily on offense, but it was having a good year on the mound. The biggest bright spot this season was the starting rotation. The weekend starting trio of Collin Sullivan, Jack Jasiak, and Carson Ragsdale was deadly. All three finished in the AAC’s top 10 for strikeouts among starting pitchers with at least four starts. Ragsdale ranked second in that category.
Ragsdale proved himself as a starter this year as he jumped from the Sunday spot to the Friday night role, but never got to make that Friday start due to the abrupt ending of the season. One of the major story lines from this year is how much better Ragsdale performed in a starting role compared to out of the bullpen. When comparing key stats from 2018 to 2020, there is a significant improvement.
2018 (26.1 IP): 3.38 ERA, 1.406 WHIP, 2.22 SO/W
2020 (19.0 IP): 2.84 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 5.29 SO/W
This is especially impressive considering Ragsdale missed the 2019 season after having Tommy John surgery. He’d never made a college start before this year. It would have been interesting to see if he could have kept this pace up once conference play started, but unfortunately, we’ll have to wait to see next year.
Another key story line this year was Jack Jasiak’s debut. As a freshman, Jasiak had a big impact, tallying 28 strikeouts to only five walks in his first four college appearances. He locked down the Saturday starting spot with a couple great performances. At the end of the season, he was ranked the No. 9 freshman starter in the country by D1Baseball.
One area where USF pitching excelled in was striking batters out. The Bulls led The American Conference in batters struck out with 201. All three starters recorded multiple games with nine or more strikeouts, including a 14-strikeout outing by Collin Sullivan. Key bullpen arms like Dylan Burns, and Orion Kerkering were also able to come in and get some key strikeouts. One of the most memorable moments from the season was when Burns came into a Sunday game against Marist with a 2-run lead, the bases loaded and no one out. Burns was able to get two quick strikeouts, then get out of the jam with a fly ball.
This was a pleasant surprise after a 2019 season that saw a multitude of pitching injuries. It was nice to see a healthier staff out there racking up punch-outs. Interestingly, USF not only stuck out more batters than the rest of the conference, it also struck out a lot more batters looking.
Other Pitching Metrics
Strikeouts are far from the only metric we should look at when analyzing pitching however. While USF was good at racking up strikeouts, it wasn’t so good at limiting hits. As a team, the Bulls allowed more hits than anyone else in the conference. They had the second highest ERA behind Cincinnati at 5.28. They also allowed the most home runs. While USF has the best strikeouts per nine innings (SO/9), it is also in the top three worst in hits per nine innings (H/9) and home runs per nine innings (HR/9).
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These metrics might be somewhat inflated by the series against Florida. In those games, Florida — the top team in the country — jumped on USF early and didn’t let up. There’s no doubt that a good chunk of the Bulls’ hits allowed and home runs allowed came from that series. Since the season only lasted 17 games, that series has a big impact on the overall stats. USF still gave up those hits and runs, but since we knew Florida was the better team even before the season began, one might say that series performance isn’t a good indicator of the team’s performance.
Defense was a strong aspect of USF’s game. The team had a fielding percentage of .979 — good for second in the AAC behind East Carolina’s .990. There is room for a bit of improvement here, but .979 at the college level is good. USF will definitely take second place in this category. Unfortunately, advanced analytics like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) aren’t available at the college level, so it’s hard to analyze defense deeper than fielding percentage.
Through 17 games of a shortened 2020 season, the Bulls clearly weren’t off to a hot start. There were bright spots on a young roster, but we’ll never get to find out what this team would’ve looked like at the end of the season. Fortunately, the team’s youth can work as a positive this offseason. The freshmen on the roster have now gotten to experience a few games of NCAA-level baseball. They know what they need to work on and will use this extended time off to do it. It’s possible we could see a lot better product on the field when baseball returns next spring.
This team isn’t too far away from turning the corner. We saw improvement towards the end of the season and if they can carry that momentum through the offseason, with the addition of another good recruiting class, they could do big things. It’s important to remember that we only got to see a small sample size of games, and a lot of them against potential College World Series teams.
Head coach Billy Mohl knows this teams struggles and has likely already gone to work on correcting them. With plenty of youth and potential, one can’t help but to be optimistic about the program’s future.