One of the major reasons the Cougs were able to greatly surpass expectations this year was the emergence of Matt Way as a bonafide staff ace. Way went from a part-time starter last year to an all-Pac 10 performer this season. Time and time again, the lefty came through with great pitching performances that kept the Cougs in games and gave them the opportunity to make those trademark late-inning rallies just a little bit easier.
So how did a guy who started just five games last year with decent results turn into such a dominating performer? Well he gave up less runs of course. His ERA went from 4.01 down to a very pretty 2.49. So thats it, that's all we have to look at it. Matt Way is more awesome because he gives up less runs!
Well that is just a little too easy. To find out exactly where that one and a half run drop in ERA came from, we need to look at some slightly more advanced stats.
First, strikeout percentage (what's this?). Matt Way was significantly more proficient at striking guys out this year. He went from a not-too-shabby 21.5% last year to team-leading 27.2% this year. That's 5.7% less guys that even had the opportunity to put the ball in play to get a hit. For those of you that have ever watched baseball, you'll know that it is quite difficult to score runs without making contact (except of course that old sprint to first and make the turn to second when you walk trick in little league).
Second, BABIP (what the heck is that?). Less balls hit off of Way pitches landed safely for hits, to the tune of a 27 point drop (.322 to .295). For simplicity's sake, I'll break this down into two factors: luck and making better pitch locations. Luck involves things the pitcher can't control, like those little bloopers and seeing eye singles and how much ground the defense can actually cover to prevent them. Better pitch location (such as a fastball on the inside corner) can make it more difficult to make solid contact and get a hit. Better pitch location comes from more pinpoint control. I'm going to assume this was not the case for Mr. Way, since his walk percentage actually went up (6.6% to 7.4%).
So Matt Way was luckier this year that he was last year. I didn't watch the team last season at all, and I've only had the chance to see a live broadcast of this season's Cougs once (on a four inch screen), so I cannot say for sure that the Washington State defense can cover more ground that it did last year. However, I would be willing to bet that they do.
To further back up this argument, compare Way's FIP (what's this) from the last two years. While his raw ERA went from 4.01 to 2.49, his FIP only dropped from 4.20 to 3.87. So when we take out fielding as a factor, 2008 Matt Way does not look much different from 2009 Matt Way. That small drop can be attributed to his improvement in striking out batters.
Does this mean we should be less confident with Matt on the mound against Arkansas? Of course not. If anything, you should be more confident now that you are aware of these numbers. If Matt is having an off day, he has 8 eight guys around him that can pick up the slack by preventing those fly balls from dropping in the gap and those grounders from sneaking through the hole. If Matt is on his game, then the only thing the Cougs will have left to do is decide whether they like their hog cooked on the rotisserie or buried in the ground.