Friday, January 30, 2004

Rice Owls Big Three 

Two great articles on the Rice triumvarate of Jeff Niemann (17-0, 1.70 ERA in 2003), Wade Townsend (11-2, 2.20), and Philip Humber (11-3, 3.30) as they aspire to the claim of greatest college pitching trio of all time.

Baseball America publishes an article from Brian McTaggert, who covers the Owls for the Houston chronicle. This tells each player's story, and includes snippets from interviews with all three and Coach Wayne Graham.

The three are projected to be first round picks after this season, and all three could go in the Top 5!

“It’s pretty exciting for all of us,” Humber says. “Not just the draft part of it, but we do want to be the greatest rotation in the history of college baseball. I felt like all four of us (including junior righthander Josh Baker, who went 8-0) want to do that, and it’s something we can achieve. I don’t think we’ve achieved it yet.”

But if they come anywhere close to the numbers they posted last year, it would be hard to deny them. Niemann went 17-0, 1.70 with 156 strikeouts in 119 innings. Townsend was 11-2, 2.20 with five saves and 164 strikeouts in 137 innings. Humber went 11-3, 3.30 with 138 strikeouts in 128 innings.

“Last year was a good year, but we all learned from last year and all have grown,” Niemann says. “Hopefully we can perform at a high level this year. To the outside that might be crazy, but we’re all learning and constantly trying to get better. We want to build on last year.”

Thomas Ayers at BallparkAnalysis.com saw the article and wrote "The New Big Three", which compares the Rice trio to other successful college pitching trios, and to examine how the trio might fare in the major leagues. It is not the most thorough article in the world, but its interesting to see the stats of the Rice three next to others that were considered great. Ayers concludes his article with...

First of all, I know there is no such thing as a pitching prospect, and that predicting pitchers is a high-risk activity, but I was still suprised to see some of the huge failure rates, especially when you have multiple pitchers involved. I know this selection is somewhat biased by the fact we are looking at great pitching trios, and not individual pitchers themselves, but still I was suprised to see only 8 of 33 (if we discount the 3 from the 2000 South Carolina class) managed to finish their careers with adjusted ERAs better than the league average. If you define that as "success", then even some of the best college pitching tandems have a success rate below 25%. Also, 10 of the 33 had adjusted ERAs below 50 or never pitched in the majors, which you could certainly define as an outright failure.

Obviously, Clemens is the best pitcher of the 33 looked at, and is the only one to reach a consistant all-star status. However, if you want to look at a class that is balanced throughout in which all members acheived success, than the 1968 Trojans, who I wasn't even overly impressed with when I first looked at them, are probably the best of the bunch. Well, possbily the 1989 Louisiana State group is the best, depending on how much weight you want to give to longevity. I know I'm going to extremely simply things here but you are basically debating between 4,000 innnings of 106 ERA+ or 2,000 innings of 116 ERA+. These are definately the two most balanced classes, and I'd argue in favour of the Louisiana State one, come to think about it, trusting my ability to find average, or near-average, pitching through cheap means.

It's tough to say what the future holds for the Rice Trio. I can't tell you what they need to do to become the best college pitching trip ever, as I don't follow college baseball enough to know different divisions and schedules, and I think that would have to be considered in one's evaluation to some degree. Based on the stats here, and all the pitchers should improve, or at least stay the same, they are better than, or match up equally well, to any of the trios listed. I do encourage you, if you are in the area, to go take a look at any of these three pitchers. I'd certainly jump at the chance. I do think that all three will be drafted in the first round, and the first half of the first round if they all have reasonably successful years, and will become the first set of three pitcher college teammates to do that.

Looking at the above it seems improbable that all three will go onto successful careers in the major leagues, but its quite possible that they all will at least get a cup of coffee in the major leagues, barring injury. I don't forsee them becoming the Trojans of 1978, and I think at least one, and I might guess two, of them will go onto have a successful big league careers, but I couldn't tell you which one at this point. A large part of determing that probably lies with projectability and mechanics, neither of which I have immediate access to, nor great knowledge of. That decision is what people getting paid a lot more money than me, and with more time on their hands, have as their job. And hey, I was really high on Bobby Bradley a few years ago, so what do I know?

In other words, enjoy watching these three while you can. They may not end up major leaguers, but they may put in a second dominating season for your defending NCAA Champion Rice Owls!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?