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Ole Miss baseball 2020 preview: The returning production on the mound might surprise you

There’s a good mix of experience and youth as well.

Josh McCoy-Ole Miss Athletics

Last month, we took a look at what the Rebels brought back from an offensive standpoint—more than you thought based on first glance—now it’s time for the pitchers.

Will Ethridge, the Friday night guy, is gone. Parker Caracci, the reliable long-time closer, is also gone. In all, the Rebels only have to replace half (51.1 percent) of their total innings from the 2019 season. The pitching staff will start off a lot closer to whole than their counterparts at the plate. This time I’ve used SEC only statistics, partially because some of the returnees struggled early in the season and because, when dealing with freshmen, their first couple performances are far less reliable than their final dozen or more opportunities.

Not losing a ton.

Ole Miss loses just 42.5 percent of all SEC innings from last season. Ethridge alone accounted for about one-fourth of those innings. If he returned, he’d be below Doug Nikhazy, Tyler Myers, and Austin Miller in conference earned run average.

Chew on that.

That’s not to say losing Ethridge isn’t a considerable loss, because losing a Friday guy always is, but you get the point. With that 57.5 percent returning stat line in mind, let’s see how things shake out.

The staff should continue to minimize damage.

Just 48.6 percent of last season’s hits allowed returned, and only 53 percent of total runs allowed. Solid numbers for sure. The best stat, much like it did for offensive production, is only 44.4 percent of 2019’s walks allowed return this season. Mostly as freshman, Myers, Nikhazy, Gunnar Hoglund, Max Cioffi, and Taylor Broadway were exceptional at forcing hitters to be aggressive at the plate with pinpoint control.

Much was made of Hoglund’s accuracy coming out of high school in Florida and he continued to flex in his first season in Oxford, allowing just 2.3 walks/per nine innings. Myers was even more difficult to crack, giving up just two walks total in 18.1 innings and just 51.7 percent of doubles return. But, that should be tempered by the 52.5 percent of home runs allowed that will be back on the roster. Of course, freshman and sophomores tend to make more mistakes and leave the ball up to good hitters, but that’s a number that should be somewhat encouraging to fans.

Avoid the long ball.

This staff’s need to keep the ball in the ballpark can’t be understated. With an offense that could start the season slow, low scoring games will be common and even one home run can be the difference in winning or losing a series. Even with the amount of home runs allowed by returnees, they still fare better in WHIP (1.31 to 1.35), batting average (.249 to .257), on-base percentage (.313 to .325) and OPS (.729 to .728).

Obviously they struggle in slugging (.403 compared to .400) due to the homers allowed, but these are great starting points. Mind you, Nikhazy was exceptional last year during SEC play. He could become an above average Friday starter despite his numbers regressing a little. That’s how great he was as a freshman last year.

Year of the Hog?

Hoglund will be counted on in a key role in the Saturday slot. And as you all know, no matter the outcome on Friday, Saturday is pivotal to winning a series and either maintaining or gaining momentum.

His numbers last season lagged behind his skill, but as he enters his second season, scouts are watching closely to see how much he may have improved. Just going off of the typical freshman to sophomore scale for highly-touted guys, I expect him to slash that WHIP from 1.34 down into the 1.10 range.

If Myers, Cioffi, and Miller can hold down the bullpen, add in Taylor Broadway and a whole bunch of newcomers, the back half of the staff could win the Rebels a lot of games.