TCU Baseball: Will The Real Closer Please Stand Up?

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Well, it’s official. Tonight, Jim Schlossnagle is going to start Erik Miller tonight against Stephen F. Austin. At first glance, it looks like he’s stealing a page out of the Texas Rangers’ playbook, trying to see if a closer can become a spot starter.

I, for one, am willing to call shenanigans on this.

I significantly doubt that Coach Schloss is looking for another starter. TCU has one of the best starting rotations, if not the best rotation, in all of college baseball.

Kyle Winkler, Matt Purke and Steven Maxwell are a dominating weekend lineup and Andrew Mitchell has blossomed into an amazing Tuesday pitcher. Throw Stefan Crichton somewhere in that mix, and you have five credible, talented pitchers that will get the job done – and done well.

Tonight will mark Miller’s second-ever start for the Horned Frogs. With five solid starting pitchers, and a definite need in the bullpen, why is Miller getting the start against the Lumberjacks?

Miller is not starting to find a way into the rotation. In all reality, Schlossnagle is most likely testing the waters to see whether Crichton or Mitchell will get the closing role instead of Miller, who has probably lost his job as closer. Follow the logic:

Miller has basically been given leadership of the bullpen since Day One of this season. As Schlossnagle said earlier this season, Miller was intended to be this season’s closer. However, in recent light of his performance, Miller has probably lost his closing job.

Miller is 0-4 on the season with a 5.17 era. He blew saves in big settings, including against the Cal-State Fullerton Titans, the Dallas Baptist Patriots and most infamously, the Houston Cougars.

In his blown save against the Cougars, Miller allowed three inherited runners and a three run lead. In only ten pitches, he allowed all three runners to score and gave up the game-winning run to the Cougars, effectively capping the 7-6 meltdown that coach Schlossnagle called TCU’s “worst loss in eight years”.

If that final blown save wasn’t convincing enough, consider the fact that Miller hasn’t pitched for the Horned Frogs since that loss.

In comparison, freshmen Crichton and Mitchell saw time out of the bullpen on Sunday, the final day of the series. I would not be surprised to see one of them pitch out of the ‘pen tonight as they will be likely auditioning for the available closing role.

A comparison of Crichton or Mitchell to Miller proves that Crichton and Mitchell are better pitchers than Miller.

On the season, Miller has given up 13 hits and nine runs in only 15 2/3 innings of work. In 18 1/3, Crichton has only allowed five runs and 15 hits, whereas Mitchell has allowed 16 hits and only three runs in 30 innings.

Crichton is holding opposing batters to a .214 batting average while Mitchell is maintaining a nasty .168 average. Miller? He’s giving up a .250 average, meaning one out of every four batters can expect to get a hit.

The stats have shown that Miller hasn’t been effective enough on a consistent basis to be the closer for this team. With him starting against Stephen F. Austin, it seems that the coaching staff for the Frogs have come to this conclusion as well. If they are holding auditions for the closing spot, and either Mitchell or Crichton will be filling it, who really deserves that spot?

From my perspective, it’s Crichton.

Crichton has something every clutch closer needs: a devastating fastball. He throws gas in the mid-to-low 90s, along with breaking pitches that effectively throw off batters. He finds the strike zone consistently and has maturity far beyond that of the average first year player.

Now, this is nothing to discredit Mitchell. Mitchell has all these qualities, and more, but Mitchell is the best Tuesday starter on this roster and in the NCAA. It would be an incredibly foolish move to take Mitchell out of the starting rotation at this point, only to have him play fireman for the rest of the season. Mitchell can throw deep into a game and it would be a waste to have him only throw one to three innings a night.

When the Frogs make it to Regionals, Super Regionals, then Omaha, Mitchell can migrate into the bullpen, likely as the closer, allowing Crichton to be the set-up man. When that happens, Crichton and Mitchell will be the most powerful 1-2 relief combination at the tournament. Until that time, Mitchell needs to stay as the Tuesday starter while Crichton deserves to be pitching that last out.

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