2017 Iowa Baseball Review: The Pitchers

By Jeremy Karll on June 14, 2017 at 10:35 am
Nick Gallagher in action

@UIBaseball

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No one knew what to expect from Iowa's pitching staff on a given night. Nick Gallagher and Ryan Erickson gave Iowa two consistent starters, but the Hawkeyes were still searching for a third weekend starter and midweek starter all season. Plus, the bullpen started the season allowing nine earned runs in one inning. The offense had to carry Iowa for most of the season, as a result.

In the postseason, the bullpen and starting pitching carried the Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes' weakness turned into their strength. Iowa pitched a shutout against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament and allowed three runs in each of its first two regional games. 

Nick Gallagher (JR)

2017: Nick Gallagher entered the season as Iowa’s ace, but his Friday starts became even more important after the loss of C.J. Eldred. Over 15 starts and one appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game, Gallagher led the Hawkeyes in innings pitched (95.2), strikeouts (87) and wins (8-2 record). He also threw eight quality starts, including allowing just seven runs over seven starts and 43.1 innings from late March to early May. It led to Gallagher making the All-Big Ten Second Team. However, Gallagher seemed to deal with arm fatigue late in the season as a result of throwing 32.2 innings more than in 2016. It showed as Gallagher’s ERA went from 2.59 to 3.48 over his last two starts and one relief appearance – 12.1 IP, 13 ER, 9.49 ERA. Even with his rough end to the season, Gallagher gave Iowa a chance to win every time he took the mound, as seen by Iowa going 11-4 in his starts.

2018 Prognosis: Gallagher was ranked No. 340 on Baseball America’s Top-500 Big Board, so there is a good chance he will be drafted. It would be a huge loss for the Hawkeyes if Gallagher skips his senior season to turn pro. If Gallagher comes back, he will have a chance to be one of the Big Ten’s best starting pitchers for a second straight season. Also, he’s in line to etch his name into the record books. Gallagher needs nine wins to tie the school record of 25 wins, would be fifth in innings pitched with 80 more innings, and is 83 strikeouts away from the strikeout school record. The Iowa City West product has a chance to go down as one of the best pitchers in Iowa history.

EDIT: Gallagher got drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 16th round and he's going to take their offer, so he won't be returning to Iowa. 

Ryan Erickson (SR)

2017: The former walk-on originally came to the University of Iowa as a traditional student before joining the team in 2015. In 2017, Ryan Erickson started in the bullpen before ending the season with 12 straight starts. For a team looking to replace its original No. 2 starter, Erickson couldn’t have been any better. He allowed two or fewer earned runs in 10 of his 12 starts and ended the season with a 3.00 ERA over 75 innings pitched. He only struck out 48 batters to 32 walks, but he didn’t let teams score. Also, Erickson started Iowa’s regional opener against Houston after pitching the best game of his career in the Big Ten Tournament against Nebraska. In two postseason starts, Erickson allowed two earned runs over 12.2 innings. He gave Iowa stability in its rotation and that can’t be ignored when looking at Iowa's success in 2017.

2018 Prognosis: Erickson is a senior so he won’t be back next year. There is a chance a team picks him late in the draft, but it’s not a guarantee. Replacing him will be hard, but it’s also why Gallagher returning is so important.

Drake Robison (SR)

2017: I wasn’t confident when Rick Heller announced Drake Robison as Iowa's starter in the Big Ten Championship Game against Northwestern. Up to that point, Robison had a 6.70 ERA and had given up eight earned runs over his past four innings pitched. Then Robison threw a seven-inning gem against the Wildcats, following it by allowing four earned runs over five innings against Houston. Robison was in and out of the rotation the entire season, allowing at least one earned run in 10 of 12 outings that lasted at least two innings. Therefore, having him give Iowa two really good starts in the postseason was unbelievable. It wasn’t a great season overall, but Robison stepped up when it mattered the most.

2018 Prognosis: Robison is a senior, so he won't be back in 2018. Even though he didn't have the best numbers, he ate innings for the Hawkeyes as his 59 innings pitched were third-most on the team.

Zach Daniels (SO)

2017: Zach Daniels was a mixed bag for Iowa. After being a two-way player as a freshman in 2016, he started the season as the team’s closer but quickly lost the job when he allowed four earned runs over 0.2 innings in the season opener against South Florida. However, he allowed just four earned runs over his next 19 innings. As we saw in the postseason, Daniels’ fastball was electric but wild. He loaded the bases multiple times, yet still averaged a team-best 9.84 K/9 this season. Daniels is one of Iowa’s best bullpen arms when he can locate his pitches, but he also gets Iowa into a lot of jams.

2018 Prognosis: Daniels will be back next year and might get another shot at the closer job with Josh Martsching graduating. I expect his usage rate to still be very high, as his 50.1 innings pitched led all pitchers without a start, but consistency is key. He has the talent and fastball to be one of the Big Ten’s top closers, but a 1.590 WHIP and opponents hitting .293 against him won’t cut it.

Josh Martsching (SR)

2017: Josh Martsching was quietly the anchor to Iowa’s bullpen the entire season. Then in the Big Ten Tournament, he broke out by shutting out Minnesota for 5.2 innings. In the postseason, he allowed only two earned runs in 11.2 innings (1.54 ERA), but sadly the two runs came in Iowa’s elimination game loss to Houston. Still, Martsching allowed one or fewer runs in 27 of his 29 starts for a team-best 2.54 ERA. He also struck out 46 batters to just 10 walks and opponents only hit .215 against him. Iowa’s bullpen struggled this season, but Martsching was as consistent as anyone in the conference. Also, his 154 pitches in three postseason games are as many as his previous eight appearances, so Martsching gave Iowa everything.

2018 Prognosis: Martsching was a senior in 2017, so he wouldn't be back in 2018 anyway. He also hung up his glove on his baseball career and retired after the season.

Cole McDonald (SO)

2017: Even though Cole McDonald’s 6.96 ERA and 1.735 WHIP are disappointing, Heller stuck with him as a weekend starter for most of the season. McDonald made 11 starts and 13 appearances in 2017, which is only one fewer start than Erickson. He only lasted more than three innings three times, only had a game ERA under 4.00 three times, and opponents hit .319 off of him. At the start of the season, McDonald allowed three earned runs over 6.1 innings against Bucknell and one earned run over five innings against Kansas State in back-to-back starts. There’s clear potential there, but consistency remains elusive.

2018 Prognosis: Iowa will be searching for a No. 3 starter next year, too, and McDonald will probably be given another chance. He has made 19 starts in his first two seasons and Heller did not shy away from starting him this season. I’m not sure if he’ll ever be a consistent rotation arm, but his 39 strikeouts in 42.2 innings suggest he might be a solid bullpen arm that can be used situationally rather than trying to get 3-4 innings from him.

Elijah Wood (JR)

2017: Elijah Wood is best known for having the same name as the actor in The Lord of the Rings, but he made seven starts for the Hawkeyes this season. The JUCO transfer had a pretty good year, recording a 5.26 ERA over 39.1 innings. However, his 5.26 ERA was inflated by two bad outing at the end of the year – 4.1 IP, 11 ER, 22.86 ERA (!) against Ohio State and Minnesota. His ERA was 2.93 before those outings. Also, in-between those outings, Wood allowed three earned runs over 7.1 innings against Illinois. He only pitched more than three innings three times this season, but an ERA around 3.00 for most of the season is exceptional for a JUCO transfer’s first year.

2018 Prognosis: Lasting three or fewer innings in all but three appearances, and not throwing 60-plus pitches until his final five appearances means Wood could become Iowa’s midweek starter in 2018. That would likely give Iowa a few solid innings before Heller likes to give his bullpen some work before the weekend.

Nick Nelsen (JR)

2017: In Nick Nelsen’s first season at Iowa, he didn’t record a win and had a 6.35 ERA. For the most part, Heller used Nelsen situationally. Nelsen surpassed one inning in just nine of his 26 appearances, including recording no outs twice. Despite opponents hitting .316 against him, his ERA is hurt by one bad outing. If you take away his five earned runs allowed in one inning against Rutgers, Nelsen had a 4.94 ERA. Not great, but still over a run better because of one outing.

2018 Prognosis: Nelsen will be back next year and Heller will likely use him in the same way. Locating his pitches better so opponents don’t hit over .300 against him is of course the biggest change he needs to make. It would be huge for Iowa if Nelsen can consistently come in, get a couple of batters out and hand things off to the next reliever.

Kyle Shimp (RS FR)

2017: Kyle Shimp was exceptional for most of the year before burning out to end the season, which included a nearly one-month absence because of mono. He had a 1.17 ERA in the beginning of May, but it jumped up to 3.18 by the end of the season. Shimp allowed eight earned runs over his final 13 innings (5.54 ERA). Still, Shimp didn’t let the pressure get to him in the postseason, as he allowed two earned runs in eight innings (2.25 ERA). That includes just one earned run in three innings against Minnesota before Martsching took over. It led to Shimp being named to Collegiate Baseball's Freshman All-American Team.

2018 Prognosis: It seems that Shimp’s redshirt year paid off. He’s someone Heller can use for multiple innings or as a situational guy. That said, 23 walks and six wild pitches are a lot in 28.1 innings. Opponents only hit .186 against him, so working on his command could turn him into a shutdown set-up man or closer in the future. The future is bright for the freshman.

Shane Ritter (SO)

2017: Shane Ritter opened the season as Iowa’s No. 3 starter but was replaced after allowing three earned runs in one inning against South Florida. His struggles continued at the start of the season, but he got much better as the year went on. He allowed nine of his 16 runs in his first five appearances and 7.1 innings (11.05 ERA) before owning a 3.20 ERA over his final 17 appearances. Ritter also recorded five saves. He did not pitch in the NCAA Regional.

2018 Prognosis: Ritter’s usage went down at the end of the season – four appearances, 3.1 IP in his last 15 games. But Iowa will lose a couple of bullpen arms next season and Ritter could be in contention for regaining the closer role. I’d expect him to get his ERA around 3.00 again and to break his two-year streak of 27 innings pitched.

Sammy Lizarraga (SO)

2017: Sammy Lizarraga’s increased role came with mixed results. He pitched four shutout innings against Minnesota in the BTT, threw six shutout innings in April, and struck out 16 batters in 19 innings. But he also had a 1.842 WHIP and opponents hit .345 against him. While not always consistent, Iowa still had a deep bullpen and that led to Lizarraga being overlooked and appearing in just 11 games.

2018 Prognosis: Lizarraga pitched 11.1 innings as a freshman in 2016 and 19 innings as a sophomore in 2017. His role should continue to get bigger in 2018. He won’t be a top option out of the bullpen, but 20-to-25 innings isn’t out of the question.

Grant Judkins (FR)

2017: Grant Judkins cemented himself as the team’s DH throughout the postseason, but he was a two-way player for most of the year. He made 10 appearances and five midweek starts, recording a 7.59 ERA and 1.782 WHIP. Judkins’ best starts came against Loras College (3 IP, 0 ER), Lehigh (4 IP, 1 ER) and Bradley (3 IP, 1 ER). Just like most freshman, Judkins was also hit hard a couple of times. Northern Illinois scored five runs in three innings and Kansas State scored four runs in one inning against him. His last appearance came against Omaha at the end of May, but he made just two appearances in April.

2018 Prognosis: Judkins showed some potential as a freshman pitcher, but his emergence at DH likely means we won’t be seeing him on the mound as much. Just like Zach Daniels, I expect Heller to end Judkins’ two-way playing as a sophomore and have him focus on one or the other.

C.J. Eldred (RS JR)

2017: C.J. Eldred entered the season as Iowa’s No. 2 starter after a 3.43 ERA over 94.1 innings in 2016. After pitching a six-inning gem to start the season, Eldred’s season ended because of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. Imagine this Iowa team with a starting rotation of Gallagher, Erickson and Eldred -- that could have been something really excellent. 

2018 Prognosis: Assuming Eldred comes back 100 percent, doesn’t feel the impact of his surgery, and Gallagher returns, Iowa should have another daunting one-two punch in 2018.

Sam Norman (SR)

2017: Sam Norman is the older brother of Iowa outfielder Ben Norman. He didn’t allow a run in 3.2 innings, striking out four and walking two. That was the only action of his career.

2018 Prognosis: Norman graduated, but maybe he’ll be in the stands watching his younger brother.

Grant Leonard (FR)

2017: Grant Leonard allowed one earned run in one inning against Villanova and threw a shutout inning against Milwaukee.

2018 Prognosis: Leonard only pitched in two games so it’s hard to tell much. Although, he will probably have a bigger role next season.

Did not appear in a game: Derek Lieurance (SO), Kole Kampen (FR), Nick Allegeyer (JR), Cole Pennock (FR)

NEXT: The hitting!

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