Who’s Winning The Battle?
College Baseball Pitchers Have Hurled 53 No-Hitters On All Levels in 2023 Season
DALLAS – In a year where booming bats seem to be the order of the day (and night), amazingly there have been 53 no-hitters fired by pitchers in the 2023 season through games of April 5, on all collegiate levels from junior college to Power Five conferences.
Research by National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and ESPN statistician and historian Barry Allen seems to indicate that pitchers may be gaining the upper hand after a yo-yo era on offense of 20-25 years, when college baseball went from loaded bats for “Gorilla Ball” to wide strike zones and strategy-oriented contests in the early 21st Century.
Allen’s findings also include as many as 40 no-hitters in the last five full seasons of the college game (discounting the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic), though the hitters have had their days in such games as a 27-2 road win last season by Tennessee at Mississippi State and a 26-3 thumping of the same Bulldogs by Vanderbilt last month.
Some longtime observers also have noted that the strike zone may be shrinking in 2023, in such hallowed leagues as the Southeastern Conference, but others have specified the no-no’s and several pitching gems in the early going as examples that the mound folks may still have the advantage in certain situations.
The strike zone theory is the result of Mississippi State and several other pitching staffs averaging unheard-of numbers, such as six walks per nine innings and more earned runs than surrendered in recent campaigns.
Also, by comparison, on college baseball’s biggest stage in Omaha, there have been only two no-hitters in the 75 NCAA Men’s College World Series since 1947 (2020 cancelled by COVID) and the resulting 1,000-plus contests, with 44 other MCWS games recorded as one-hitters or two-hitters, via NCAA research.
The two gems were by Texas right-hander Jim Ehrler in 1950, against then-Eastern power the Tufts Jumbos, and in 1960, by Oklahoma State’s Jim Wixson against North Carolina. Interestingly the score in each game was 7-0, and they were not perfect contests.
The last one-hitter was Mississippi State’s Will Bednar and Landon Sims combining for a 9-0 win over Vanderbilt in the 2021 Championship Series finale. The last two-hitter was LSU’s Alex Lange and Zack Hess combining for a 3-1 win over Oregon State in 2017.
So, which theorists are correct: those assuming that pitchers are gaining the upper hand, or the experts who purport that hitters are finding the mound guys fair game for dozens of runs? Could the reasons be the 20-second pitch count or sometimes “floating” strike zones (and remember, the defensive shift is still legal in the college ranks, unlike the pros).
Only time and intra-conference games will tell, as the 2023 outing comes to a semi-unbelievable halfway point for most teams (except those in the colder regions of the nation, prompting many to wonder how North Dakota State baseball and others in the region can compete with 27 inches of snow blanketing the Fargo, ND area at midweek).
One trend is certain: the early, three-game sweeps of Week One of conference clashes quickly have faded into the sunset.
After more than 20 starts of 3-0 in circuit play in NCAA Division 1 this year, the standings are becoming clogged with 5-2 and 4-3 entries, but a few schools have asserted their horsepower in conference skirmishes.
Wake Forest is ranked as high as No. 2 nationally, after destroying Atlantic Coast Conference opponents to the tune of 10-2 in 12 games. Oklahoma State is 6-3 to lead the No. 4 Ratings Percentage Index-ranked Big 12 Conference, while Vanderbilt (9-0), South Carolina (8-1), and upstart Kentucky (8-1) are dominating the early SEC worksheet that also sees consensus #1 LSU at 6-3.
Indiana and Michigan (both 5-1 in the Big Ten) are off to the starts that have distinguished these two powerhouse programs over the last 10-15 years, while USC is playing like Trojans teams of old, with a 9-3 beginning in the rugged Pac-12 Conference.
Some others making hay nationally with eyes on May conference tourneys and automatic NCAA postseason berths are Sam Houston State (10-2 in the Western Athletic), Grambling (8-1 in the Southwestern Athletic), Old Dominion and Coastal Carolina (both 7-2 in the Sun Belt), Morehead State and Southeast Missouri (5-1 apiece in the Ohio Valley), and Ball State (10-2 in the Mid-American).
Granted, most of the intra-conference races are two weeks (or more) away from midway marks, but a key 3-0 sweep in games over league weekends can go a long way toward high seeds in conference jousts next month, before NCAA Selection Monday on May 29.
No-hitters or 20-hitters, the college batters will be taking their hacks and trying their best to nullify some of the top performances by flamethrowers in all college and JUCO activity this season.
Trivia Questions taken from the COLLEGE BASEBALL CENTRAL LIBRARY (answers below):
Today’s Bo’s Baseball Bites talks about only two no-hitters ever thrown in the Men’s College World Series, and interestingly, there’ve also been only two teams who’ve ever left no (0) runners on base (LOB) in an MCWS game. Michigan did it in a 4-0 win over Stanford in 1953, but who’s pulled off that feat in the last 20 years?
And conversely, the most ever LOB in an MCWS game usually happens in extra innings, with several teams stranding 17-19 throughout 11-14 innings. Two teams, though, have left 17 on in just 9 innings, Springfield in a 7-1 loss to Oklahoma in 1951, and what second team in the last 20 years?
A total of 13 pitchers over the years have won four games in the MCWS, and a total of 8 have lost three games. But, only one has won five, and only one has lost four. Obviously, their teams spent some time in Omaha during their careers to accrue that many decisions, but who are they and for whom did they pitch?
Bo Carter is the Executive Director of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and is a long time professional in sports media and information. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and has plied his trade in the Southeastern Conference, the Southwest Conference, and the Big 12 Conference. In addition to his NCBWA duties, he also serves as a consultant and columnist for the National Football Foundation. Follow the NCBWA, which produces ranking polls for D1, D2, and D3, as well as naming All America teams at both the D1 and D2 levels and the Dick Howser Trophy (presented each year in Omaha at the Men’s College World Series) at @NCBWA. And, if you’re a college baseball fan, you don’t have to be media to be a member, check them out at ncbwa.com and join today!
1. Kent State, unfortunately in a 4-1 loss to South Carolina in 2012. Five teams have had just 1 LOB, the most recent being Mississippi State in a 12-2 win over North Carolina in 2018.
2. Florida State, in a 7-5 loss to Miami in 2008.
3. Matt Price (5), South Carolina 2010-12; and Ben McDonald (4) LSU, 1987-89.