College baseball Kings of the K: The nation's most exciting strikeout artists
A hard-throwing strikeout pitcher is one of the more fun things to watch in baseball. Unlike the days of yesteryear when giants seemingly ruled the mound, the new age of “power pitchers’ come in all sizes and forms.
Here’s a look at some of the more unique strikeout artists 2017 has to offer.
The Babe Ruth of the ACC: Brendan McKay, LHP, Louisville
McKay is having one of the best all-around seasons in collegiate baseball. The 6-foot-2 junior leads in the ACC wth a .404 batting average. He also happens to be one of the finest pitchers in the land. Knowing how to control the zone on the mound helps improve his play at the plate every time he comes to bat.
"Being a pitcher, you know the strike zone a little bit more," McKay said. "When you're out there with a pretty tight strike zone, you know to force the pitcher over the plate a little bit more to give you a better chance of making solid contact and putting the ball in the gap somewhere."
Believe it or not, McKay's prowess at the plate may not be as impressive as his presence on the mound. The southpaw was on full display Thursday night in the series opener against Georgia Tech. He hurled eight shutout innings of 1-hit ball, walking just two and striking out eight. McKay now leads the ACC in ERA (1.19) and strikeouts (76), just under 13 strikeouts per nine.
"It feels good to start off the weekend like that with a quality start," McKay said. "It was just one of those days where you have everything working."
The 2015 and 2016 recipient of the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award, McKay is on pace to capture one more. He's done it behind a low-90s fastball and a well-commanded curveball with a changeup that is continuing to progress.
"In any count to get ahead I can throw a fastball, or even a curveball for a strike to start the guy off," McKay said. "From there I just move on through my arsenal, what you're feeling that day. Whatever my pitching coach is calling, I just trust whatever he's scouting and seeing. He's got a rhyme and a reason to what he's calling, so I trust that. If I got something in my mind that I want to throw in that count, I can shake it off and throw something I'm more confident in. I've probably shaken off less than ten times this whole season."
McKay seemingly allows the game to come to him, dictating each game as it unfolds. When he gets in his groove, it's best to watch out.
"I think it depends," McKay said on his mentality on the hill. "If you have a day where you are feeling great and hitting spots well, you may be a little more aggressive there."
It is remarkable in his own right that he has such command of the strike zone, despite not focusing all of his attention on the mound. It will be interesting come June to see what major league teams have in mind for McKay's future when he is drafted likely near the top of the first round.
"I initially want to try and do both as much as I can," McKay said. "If a team drafts me and says, 'you're going to be this, or you're going to be that,' I have really no preference. If somebody wants to give me a shot to play professional baseball, you're going to take it."
The little guy: J.B Bukauskas, RHP, North Carolina
When one thinks of power pitchers, they think of imposing figures on the mound. Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Nolan Ryan were as scary for an opposing batter to look at as they were exciting for a spectator to watch. They were all 6-foot-2 or taller.
That’s no the case with UNC’s Bukauskas, who stands at 6-foot-0 and 195 pounds. That hasn’t stopped him one bit from packing one of the biggest punches in Division I.
Bukauskas — armed with a mid-90s fastball and plus-slider — struck out 10 batters on Opening Day and has yet to relent. He reached a career milestone this season, sitting down his 200th batter via strikeout.
He has struck out 75 batters over 51 innings as the Friday night ace, a dazzling 13.24 strikeouts-per-nine. Both numbers find him among the top ten in the nation.
The reliever: Wyatt Marks, RHP, Louisiana
While the Ragin' Cajuns' ace Gunner Leger gets most of the national attention as a member of the Golden Spike Midseason Watch List, Marks has definitely left his, well, mark.
Last season, Marks made all his appearances out of the starting rotation. He went 5-7 in 15 starts, posting 4.50 ERA and striking out 80 over 76 innings. That is a very respectable 9.5 strikeouts-per-nine mark.
This season the Ragin’ Cajuns moved Marks to the bullpen and he has flourished in the role. While he is second on the team in saves (3) to Dylan Moore, he leads the team in strikeouts in just 38.1 innings out of the bullpen. He can thank his devastating slider and newfound fastball command for the spike in Ks.
Wyatt Marks takes over in 8th, uses just 1 fastball in 1-2-3 inning vs heart of CCU order. Here's my slider - good luck. 2 Ks. Great pitch.— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) April 8, 2017
Marks has rung up 60 batters via strikeout this season. That equates to 14.09 strikeouts-per-nine, which is second best in Division I.
The breakout star: Zac Lowther, LHP, Xavier
Ironically enough, Lowther leaves off the 'k' at the end of his name. Perhaps that's because he saves it for the box scores.
"You can thank my mom for that one," Lowther said, laughing.
Lowther had a solid sophomore season for the Musketeers in 2016, his first as a full-time starter. He finished 7-5 with a 3.09 ERA, but seemingly got by more on finesse than power. He struck out 84 batters over 102 innings, just 7.41 per nine.
"Over the summer I was able to find that my fastball worked really well," Lowther said. "I found out guys were able to swing and miss at it more than normal. I stuck to my strengths and kept doing what I know how.
"I usually use my fastball as the get-ahead pitch, but lately my curveball has been coming around, too. It's kind of 50-50 right now between fastball and curveball."
Enter 2017, and suddenly Lowther is among the best strikeout artists in the nation. The 6-foot-2, 235 pound southpaw is striking out 13.95 batters per nine innings, sitting down 62 over his first 45 innings of the season.
His transformation hasn't gone unnoticed. Baseball America named him one of their Top 100 draft prospects, the first Musketeer to ever merit that honor.
"I think that's really cool," Lowther said. "It's all come really fast, the experience of the whole ride through it has been really fun. The people around me have made it even better. It's a really cool honor to be the first for Xavier, but the coaches and everyone around me has helped get me where I'm at. It's nice to be able to share that with them."
Lowther may just be getting started. He has struck out at least 10 batters in each of his three starts, punching out 37 in those 19.1 innings. The lefty struck out 16 over eight perfect up and down frames his last time out.
"Just seeing that I can be successful against any type of hitter with what I have and not having to do extra has really played into that confidence," Lowther said. "Before, I tried to do more and ended up screwing myself over. Now I just stay relaxed and do what I trained for."
The Control Artist: David Peterson, LHP, Oregon
Imposing presence on the mound? Check.
Strikeout artist? Check.
Best command in DI? Check.
Peterson is a monster on the mound for the Ducks, standing at 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds. He is also fourth in the nation with 82 strikeouts, a 12.65 strikeout-per-nine rate. What separates the big lefty from his competitors is his command.
The Ducks ace has walked just four batters this season in 52 innings heading into this weekend's big series with Arizona. His 16.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio is best in the nation and is more than one better than the next closest opponent.
A 5-0 March, backed by a 0.50 ERA and a 57-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio earned Peterson NCBWA Pitcher of the Month honors. It will be fun to see what he has in store for his April encore.
MORE: DI All-Midseason team
The 19K man: JP Sears -- the 5-foot-11, junior left-hander from The Citadel -- is striking out 13.74 batters per nine innings. He hurled a 19 strikeout, 2-hit shutout on March 24th. Sears now leads the nation with 87 strikeouts after Thursday's 10-strikeout performance.
The fast riser: Joey Murray of Kent State is the only sophomore to find himself in the top ten of strikeouts-per-nine full of major-league ready juniors.
The rookie: USF freshman Shane McClanahan is leading all newcomers with 62 strikeouts in 45.1 innings, an impressive 12.22 per nine, landing the southpaw at No. 23 in the nation.
The Most Improved Strike Thrower Award: Casey Mize -- Auburn's sophomore right-hander -- led the Tigers with 59 strikeouts in 69 innings as a freshman. This season, he again leads the team in strikouts with 82 ... in just 58.2 innings.