Stanford Baseball Cuts Down on Walks, off to 7-5 Start

Stanford's survived a brutal gauntlet of the nation's best teams, and throwing strikes has made all the difference.

Don’t let the 7-5 record fool you: Heading into the two-week-long winter quarter finals break, Stanford baseball, the sleeping giant of the Pac-12, looks very much poised to break out of its slumber in a big way after outperforming expectations by a mile through the toughest stretch of its non-conference season.


Let’s put it frankly: This team wasn’t supposed to be good this year.


Coming off of one of the worst seasons in program history, the Cardinal were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 this season and will be without two of their projected top starters – Cal Quantrill and John Hochstatter – until April at the earliest.


Legendary head coach Mark Marquess, known for his hyper-aggressive non-conference scheduling, even said himself at Bay Area Media Day this year that he “might have overdone it” this season by scheduling three consecutive ranked teams to start his season, including the defending College World Series runner-up, No. 2 Vanderbilt.


And yet, 12 games in, this season has been full of plenty of positive surprises for the Cardinal.


The hitting has been spotty, but that’s to be expected after having faced three ranked powerhouse programs. Freshmen Nico Hoerner (second base) and Brandon Wulff (right field) haven’t shown many growing pains in adjusting to college-level pitching. Strikeouts are down across the board. Walks are up.


But it’s been the pitching that has truly propped this team up through non-conference play.


Even in Quantrill’s absence, freshman Tristan Beck looks every bit like an ace that could be the front man of the Cardinal’s rotation for years to come. The tall righty has great command of all of his pitches and has the confidence to go off-speed in any count, and his catcher, Bryce Carter, has lauded him for his maturity on the mound beyond his years.


While Beck and his fellow starters – Chris Castellanos, Brett Hanewich, Andrew Summerville and Kris Bubic – have Stanford fans significantly less worried about the starting rotation’s depth and talent before Quantrill’s and Hochstatter’s eventual returns, the true story of the season has been the dramatic turnaround of a bullpen that only a year ago might very well have been the weakest point of the team.




Last season, a very injured Stanford pitching staff struggled to a 4.45 ERA (second-worst in the conference) and dealt 281 walks, tops in the Pac-12 by a wide margin. While Hanewich had more than his fair share of control issues, the walk numbers were particularly ugly in the bullpen:



Innings pitched




Gabe Cramer





Chris Viall





Logan James (L)





Tyler Thorne





Colton Hock





Keith Weisenberg






I think walks are contagious, and as we knew from last year, games get slowed down,” Hock said. “Our games were three and a half hours, and if you slow the game down, your defense starts sitting back on its heels and that’s when errors start happening. The game’s longer. Everyone gets tired.”


Carter, who spent the majority of his 31 starts behind the plate last season, said that he and the pitchers were trying to be too “cute” on the corners, almost trying to pitch around hitters instead of trusting their stuff and challenging them.


Combating that was one of the primary focuses of the offseason for pitching coach Rusty Filter, who re-established the importance of pounding the zone with the low fastball and challenging hitters.


“Once we all establish the low fastball, everyone’s been able to build off that,” Hock said. “I think that’s just the difference this year.


According to Thorne, Filter went the whole nine yards – fly-ball/ground-ball charts, pitching charts, pitch heights in bullpen sessions, pitch heights in flat-ground sessions – all the while being in his pitchers’ ears about making sure, first and foremost, that they were aggressively attacking the bottom of the zone.


And after just one offseason of work, to call the absurd difference between this season and last “night and day” wouldn’t even come close to doing it justice.



Innings pitched




Colton Hock





Tyler Thorne





Chris Viall





Keith Weisenberg






As a whole, the K/BB ratio of Stanford’s primary relievers is up from a horrendous 1.16 last season to 2.47 this year. Even when they’re falling behind and working in deep counts this season, they’ve attacked the zone and battled back.


“Just trusting your stuff is one thing,” Thorne said. “Viall’s a guy that can go out there and pound fastballs, but me and Colton, we just try to be consistent with our off-speed and get ahead with our fastballs to get to those other pitches.


“A lot of it’s just having the mentality of, ‘Here it is, hit it. Good luck.’”


Moreover, it’s clear that their stuff is good enough this year to challenge the best hitters in the nation. Vanderbilt came to The Farm leading the nation in runs scored, having scored more than 10 runs in four of its eight games and never having scored fewer than six in a game.


Against Stanford, the high-flying Commodores scored 1, 4 and 5.


The Cardinal will certainly take it, especially against one of the most potent lineups in the nation.


The starting rotation has also done its part, going deep into ballgames and leading by example in the control department as well (the starters have combined for 57 strikeouts and just 15 walks).


Both Thorne and Hock repeated the refrain that “walks are contagious” in their interviews – but luckily, this year, there hasn’t been a patient zero to start the outbreak.


“When we’re starting off the first two weekends and the starters are giving up no walks or one walk, that’s more of a thing that leads to less walks in the bullpen because we feel like we have to follow them up and it’s just a contagious thing where if anything, we’re going to go right after guys and we’re not going to try to pitch around them.”


It’s impossible to argue with the results: Stanford fields a 2.31 team ERA, second in the conference (and remember, the Cardinal did this against three ranked teams). Stanford’s 32 team walks are second-best in the Pac-12 behind Arizona’s 31. The Cardinal’s 99 strikeouts are also second in the conference behind just Oregon’s 111.


And given those results, the coaching staff has made it clear that it’s willing to stick with its relievers for lengthier outings this season and trust them to work out of jams more often.


Three-inning or four-inning outings have become the norm for Hock, Thorne and Viall, the workhorses, meaning that not only are they dominating opponents; they’re also keeping their counterparts well-rested by only requiring Stanford to pitch two or three guys in any given game.


All offseason, the trio prepared to throw maybe 15 pitches in any given game, working one or two innings of late relief – much like their ideal role last season.


Against Texas two Thursdays ago, Hock threw 94.


This expanded role is something that has surprised the relievers themselves just as much as it has Stanford’s fans, but they’re certainly not complaining.


“They’re just trusting us more to go out there and do our thing,” Thorne said. “In the past, they’ve let us go out there and pitch until failure, but we failed a lot more than we have this year.”


And as the old saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


“I think as long as we can continue to prove to them that we can throw strikes and we can complement that with an off-speed, they’ll always give us an opportunity,” Hock said. “We couldn’t ask for more as players and I’m sure they couldn’t ask for more as coaches, either.”


“I respect them for letting us have that,” Thorne added.

The Bootleg Top Stories