Army Baseball Preview: Pitching

Army kicks off their 2010 baseball season on February 19th against Dayton in North Carolina. The 2009 Army baseball made us proud and the 2010 squad is expected to be even better. This is the fourth segment of a five part series previewing the 2010 Army baseball team.

In the pro game, the adage is, pitching and defense win championships. The college game is a different animal. Most pitching staffs go 2 to 3 quality starters deep with a significant dropoff after that. This means that with a good offensive club, if you can either chase the starter early, or force him into a high pitch count, your offense will get a chance to make hay on the bullpen. This is one of the reasons pitch counts are generally higher for starters in college than the pros. The other being that college starters generally pitch once per week, affording more recovery time between starts.

There's an adage in college baseball, that if you want to see how good a team is, look at the 2nd baseman as he is usually the weakest link. If you want to see how good a pitching staff is, look at their #4. If the rotation remains unchanged from last year, Army's #4 would be 6'7" lefty, Joey Henshaw, who hums it up there as high as 94 mph…leaving readers of scouting reports with the common sentiment of…aww geez, that just ain't fair.

Expect a huge difference to the state of mind of Coach Joe Sottolano and how he might handle his staff going into this season. Last year, two sophomore starters, Kirk Porter and Joey Henshaw, started the year on the shelf recovering from injuries sustained during their freshman campaigns. Those circumstances left only Tyler Anderegg, a bevy of untested freshman and another recovering sophomore, Ben Gibbs, to shoulder significant starting and middle relief innings. At times it wasn't pretty.

This year, although the loss of Anderegg to graduation and Gibbs retirement from injury leaves a hole, things are in much better stead. Both Porter and Henshaw are 100%, along with the other pair of starters, Matt Fouch and Ben Koenigsfeld. On top of that, the bullpen boasts more depth than last year with both experience and promising newcomers. Let's look at how it all breaks down…

STARTERS

Matt Fouch, SR, LHP 7-5, 90 IP, 4.70 ERA, 93 H, 47 ER, 44 BB, 65 K, .270 BAA (batting avg. against)

Fouch was Army's #1 starter last year and shouldered the heaviest load with 90 innings pitched. His and Koenigsfeld's numbers suffered from the same enigma. When they were good, they were unhittable, but if they had a bad outing, it was a landslide. The good outings far outpaced the poor ones, but numbers can get run up pretty steeply, pretty quickly if it all goes south on you.

Fouch is usually 89-90 mph with his fastball, which he locates very well and has a nice tailing action. He has a good looking motion to the plate and hides the ball extremely well. His delivery is fluid and mechanics such that he can go deep into games before fatiguing. Matt's slider gets hitters out on their front foot and off balance as the fastball arm action is very deceiving to hitters. Look for both Fouch and Koenigsfeld to benefit greatly with Porter and Henshaw back to start the season. The bullpen has more arms and will be used less, thereby preventing overuse and late season fatiguing of the primary starters.

Being a lefthander, Fouch does a great job of holding runners at first and keeping them out of scoring position. Matt was voted the pre season toughest pitcher of the Patriot League last year by the coaches. There's a reason Sottolano gives the ball to Fouch on game one of every series. Fouch can take control of a game.

Ben Koenigsfeld, JR, RHP 8-4, 84.2 IP, 4.89 ERA, 85 H, 46 ER, 33 BB, 63 K, .259 BAA

Last years Patriot League Pitcher of The Year is a pitching coach's dream. He's tough, gritty, can throw three pitches for strikes, and is completely emotionless on the mound. He could be up 10 or down 10 but you'd never be able to guess by the way he comports himself.

He almost has to be, because "BK" is the type of pitcher that needs to find a groove and then settle into it. Plenty of his outings start very shaky, with serious reservations about whether he'll last past the 4th inning. Then you realize it's the 6th inning and Ben is on cruise control and hasn't been touched since early in the game. The scouting report on Koenigsfeld is try to get to him early. If you don't, he's more than likely going to slam the door on your offense by the third inning.

BK is a 90-92 mph guy with a good curve and a good slider and he's not afraid to throw any pitch in any count. Ben is probably the best pure fielder and purest athlete of all the pitchers also. He's a nothing flashy, get the job done kind of pitcher…but boy oh boy, does he get it done.

Kirk Porter (photo at right), JR, RHP 6-3, 60.1 IP, 4.18 ERA, 63 H, 28 ER, 25 BB, 40 K, .269 BAA

If there's a pitcher on the staff due for a breakout season, Porter is the guy. Slated as Coach Sottolano's opening day starter as a freshman, Kirk came up lame just days before the contest and only pitched 20 innings his freshman campaign. Rehabbing early into the 2009 season, it took awhile for Porter to find his stuff, starting the season at 1-2. From that point forward, with the exception of one start, Porter was brilliant, posting a 5-1 record the rest of the way. As it stands now, Porter is half way to setting a new career record for shutouts at Army with the equivalent of only one full season of innings pitched.

Last fall, Kirk was the clear standout of the staff. He brought his velocity back to 90-93 and his control was excellent. Until this season, Porter was basically a fastball, curveball pitcher (his curve is actually a slurve, slider/curve hybrid). While his fastball possesses excellent late life, it's that slurve that sends batters back to the dugout shaking their heads.

Reports from this winters workout indicate that Porter, under the guidance of new Army pitching coach Anthony DeCicco, has perfected a very good changeup and is now working a slider into his repertoire. At 6'5" and 230 lbs. Kirk may turn into the workhorse of the Army staff. Last year found him learning how to pitch to contact and letting his fielders back him up. This year, with the refound velocity, and new pitches, look for his strikeout numbers to be on the rise. If he can find that delicate balance, about when to strikeout and when to pitch to contact, he will be devastating on opposing hitters and be able to pitch deep into games.

Joey Henshaw, JR, LHP 1-1, 20.2 IP, 4.79 ERA, 16 H, 11 ER, 11 BB, 18 K, .211 BAA

No one, and I mean no one, thinks that they can face a 6'7", 260 lb. left handed pitcher that throws 94 mph, and confidently say, I think it'll be a good day at the plate.

The book on Joey Henshaw has barely been cracked open. He only began pitching his senior year in HS. He logged 27 innings his freshman year, and 21 innings last year…that's about a half a season of college experience. In pitching terms, this kids a babe in the woods.

In his very first start, opening day of his freshman year, Henshaw threw a gem in a 2-1 loss to #19 Louisiana Lafayette. Since that time, he's gone through some control issues, confidence issues, and injury setbacks…but what pitcher doesn't?

If you look at his measly .211 batting average against, that tells volumes about what opposing hitters think. They hate him. So the key, is that if Henshaw can keep from beating himself, you can't beat him. He's a very tough kid though. Last year he drew his 1st 2009 start vs. Lehigh after Army had pounded Lehigh 3 straight games in a row. 1st inning, he walks the bases loaded on the first three hitters. From that point forward, he was outstanding. Not only did he not allow a run to cross the plate that first inning, he went on to record 6 innings of 1 hit ball and didn't walk another batter.

Henshaw rested his world on his fastball, and in college, you need more. Joey's curve has improved dramatically over the course of last spring and fall and he'll be able to throw it with more confidence than ever this season. Simply put, there's not a pitcher on Army's staff that has more potential upside than Henshaw. With his downhill delivery and long reach towards the plate, the ball is on top of batters before they realize it.

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