Texas’ top line pitchers key part of 2021 success

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Strong pitching is a hallmark of successful Texas baseball teams, and 2021’s squad is no different. Carrying a No. 2 ranking from D1Baseball entering the Big 12 Tournament, the top line of the Longhorn pitching staff has been critical in constantly putting Texas in position to win games.

The staff head coach David Pierce and assistant coach Sean Allen oversee includes Big 12 pitcher of the year Ty Madden, first-team All-Big 12 honoree Tristan Stevens, 2020 freshman All-American Pete Hansen, 6-foot-5 Cole Quintanilla and his dominant 0.82 WHIP, and Big 12 All-Freshman team members Tanner Witt and Aaron Nixon.

Pair the performance Texas’ top six pitchers have turned in week in and week out with the team’s Big 12-leading .980 fielding percentage, and opponents are batting a paltry .203 against that top group. Against the entire Texas staff, opponents aren’t faring much better at just .218.

“It’s fun to watch first of all because when you have pitchers go out there and make the opposing team earn what they get, the defense likes it, which makes them better,” Pierce said Tuesday. “It’s just a much more advanced quality pace, I guess. When you see our guys just attack the zone, trust their stuff, and trust their defense, just gives you opportunity. You know that we’re going to catch the ball and know that the other team is going to have to earn it.”

As a team, the Longhorns rank second nationally in ERA with a 2.65 mark, seventh in hits allowed per nine innings at 7.16, and fifth in WHIP with a 1.16. But the work of the top six, with stats listed below, may be the most significant factor behind Texas’ 40-13 record.

Ty Madden
6-3, 13 starts — 2.55 ERA — 1.07 WHIP — 81.1 IP — 29 BB — 98 K — Opp. BA .201

Tristan Stevens
8-3, 13 starts – 3.13 ERA – 1.07 WHIP – 83.1 IP – 15 BB – 61 K – Opp. BA .234

Pete Hansen
7-1, 11 starts (15 app.) – 1.80 ERA – 0.99 WHIP – 70.0 IP – 21 BB – 50 K – Opp. BA .195

Cole Quintanilla
4-0, 20 app. – 1.61 ERA – 0.82 WHIP – 28.0 IP – 7 BB – 29 K – Opp. BA .168

Tanner Witt
3-0, 22 app. – 2.21 ERA – 1.18 WHIP – 40.2 IP – 19 BB – 58 K – Opp. BA .197

Aaron Nixon
3-2, 21 app. – 2.45 ERA – 1.01 WHIP – 25.2 IP – 5 BB – 27 K – Opp. BA .223

Madden’s overpowering arsenal garnered the Big 12 pitcher of the year award, Texas’ first since Taylor Jungmann in 2011. Stevens allowed just nine walks in conference play. Hansen worked his way into the weekend and continued to excel as he did on Tuesdays.

The relief staff of Witt, Quintanilla, and Nixon are a combined 10-2 and have accounted for 10 of the team’s 12 saves in 2021. They’ve proven to be part of a group the team can rely on to retire hitters when they take the mound.

“I think mentally they’re right to where we put ourselves in those big-time situations, and I’ve got a feeling that they’re going to perform in those as well,” Madden said about Texas’ top hurlers.

As Texas enters the postseason beginning with Wednesday’s Big 12 Tournament, pitching depth becomes more and more important. Few teams have the depth Texas’ has on the mound, but that doesn’t mean the Longhorns aren’t always looking for more.

After moving out of the Sunday starter spot, Kolby Kubichek could be used as the team’s fourth starter or he could be brought in to relieve. Lucas Gordon and Palmer Wenzel ranked behind Witt, Nixon, and Quintanilla in appearances. Gordon, a left-hander, could be Texas’ lefty specialist. Palmer, a side-armer, has the potential to be a change of pace for opposing hitters.

But Kubichek struggled enough to be moved from the Sunday starter spot, Gordon may be limited as a lefty specialist, and Wenzel has struggled during the year with opponents hitting .278 against him. There isn’t a clear No. 7 for the Longhorns.

Few teams have that problem. Most are worried about No. 3, let alone No. 5. It speaks to Texas’ staff and what they’ve done throughout the 2021 season. Their goals extend into the postseason, specifically the Big 12 Tournament ahead of them.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence right now and a lot of good team chemistry,” Madden said. “We’ve got high hopes for this week, and we want both championships just because it feels like pure domination if you win the regular season and the tournament. We’re looking forward to get going.”