UH pitching has fallen off a cliff

Carter Henry pitching against Texas / Photo by Mario Puente

“The reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” ~Earl Weaver

That quote sums up UH baseball over the last 25 years but perhaps more so in the last decade. For the five years that Frank Anderson ran the pitching staff (2013-2017), the Cougars went 205-104 with a conference record of 69-49. In Todd Whitting’s 6 years without Frank (2011-12, 2018-2021), the team’s overall record is 140-159 with a conference record of 52-71.

101 games over .500 with Frank and 19 games under without him. Put another way, UH averaged a 41-21 record with Frank running the staff and 28-32 without him. In the four years since Frank departed for Tennessee, the Coogs are 95-92 and 35-41 in the AAC.

UH’s pitching philosophy has changed even more than the record since Frank left. The throw-strikes mantra under Frank has been replaced with a velocity-first mentality that has helped to decimate the program.

Todd Whitting hires Frank Anderson

The first couple of years of the Whitting era were awful on the mound but that changed when Frank Anderson agreed to become UH’s pitching coach. In this century, Frank has been one of the best, if not the best, pitching coaches in the country. Every stop of his career, he’s made his staff elite.  When Oklahoma State fired him as their head coach, UH hit the lottery when he chose to come here. At the time, I believed that he was one of the best assistant coaching hires UH has ever made in any sport. His results, and the results following his departure, have proven that to be true.

UH was near the bottom of most pitching categories when Frank came in. Under his direction, the UH pitching staff skyrocket over one hundred spots in every category in his first season; in 3 of these 5 categories, the staff improved over 150 spots. It was an overnight miracle.

Here are UH’s national rankings in major pitching categories since Todd Whitting took over the program:

 ERAWHIPK:BBH/9BB/9
2011140N/A265179160
2012228250147261219
2013*76894114534
2014*843172
2015*109103211
2016*22151
2017*15224933
20185326813063
201934331262992
2020149209152104201
2021158173186177173

Note: * indicates the years Frank Anderson was here. 2021 stats are from 5/26/21 – the day the season ended for UH.

“I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it.” ~Sandy Koufax

Frank demanded that his staff pound the zone, go right at the hitter to force him to make a play. Anderson had little tolerance for nibbling around the corners or walking guys. He hammered the philosophy that if you walked a guy then you weren’t really focused and unfocused players could not pitch for him.

In short, he held his guys accountable for every pitch. His players responded and UH jumped to the top of the national statistics in virtually every category. In his last four years at UH, the Cougar staff was in the top-20 nationally 16 out of 20 possible times in the 5 categories above. And UH was in the top-5 in 10 of 20 possible times.

And it all came down to throwing strikes.  Simple, right? He took over a team that was #219 in walks allowed per game and after one season, had them all the way to #34. For the next four years, the staff was never outside the top 11 in that stat. Frank taught his guys to focus on throwing strikes but was never focused on strikeouts. He dared hitters to put it in play.

After Frank

When Terry Rooney took over for Frank, the change in the staff’s performance was noticeable early on. In Rooney’s first season, UH’s spot among the nation’s elite was abdicated. He had enough holdovers from Anderson’s staff to be adequate but the decline was apparent. 

Houston’s entire pitching philosophy has changed in the last four seasons. Instead of trying to make hitters put it in play, pitchers now try to get hitters to miss. Rooney fixates on finding guys that throw hard. When UH PR highlights pitchers, it is usually about his velocity. Velo is cool but no one cares after a four-pitch walk. To be effective, pitchers don’t need to be worried about lighting up a radar gun. They need to be concentrate on throwing strikes.

Cameron Prayer / Photo by Mario Puente

The decline was easy to see on paper: UH’s numbers plummeted. In 2016, UH was in the top-5 in all five of the categories in the chart above. Five years later, the Coogs were 150th or worse in each. “Frank’s guys” are gone and UH’s pitching performance is back to where it started under Whitting. Compared to the 2016 team, the 2021 Cougars gave up nearly three earned runs more per game.

To be fair, the pitchers actually fared better late in the 2021 season but it was not enough to overcome a horrendous season on the mound. Meanwhile, Frank Anderson’s current staff at Tennessee is, to date, 7th in ERA, 5th in WHIP, 3rd in K:BB, and 4th in BB/9. He’s once again proven that his formula works.

Todd Whitting may have lost Frank but he did not have to lose the philosophy. He chose to make Terry Rooney the ‘head coach’ of the pitching staff and let him tinker with proven success. Instead of a top-5 staff, UH now has a bottom-half staff. Combined with awful hitting, UH is a shell of what it should be.

Next time, we put UH’s 2021 numbers into a historical perspective. Was 2021 the worst UH team of all time?
 

Read Part 1: UH baseball hits rock bottom
 

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