Sure, we all love home runs, but pitching is what wins championships. With the DII baseball championship quickly approaching, let's take a look at some of those pitchers
What makes a "filthy" pitcher, or at least, what was considered to be among DII baseball’s filthiest? Every pitcher has their own stuff, some are control artists, some are straight flamethrowers. Looking at strikeouts is an easy indicator, but what about those pitchers that don’t allow walks or hits, or even more impressively, runs.
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So when making this list, strikeouts were the starting point, but ERA, WHIP, and walk ratios were highly considered. Here are some of DII best pitchers, with some insights from each respective pitcher's coach. Keep in mind, if anyone knows how much talent there is in DII baseball, it's me. This isn't a comprehensive list of the absolute best pitchers, but a look at a few who have stuffed the stat sheets this season across the board.
Kade Bragg, LHP, Angelo State
Bragg is having an absolutely absurd season. Through 11 starts, he has a 0.27 ERA, a 0.87 WHIP and 88 strikeouts in 67.2 innings. He has picked up a win in each of those 11 starts and is undefeated on the season. Right now, his ERA is tied for the third lowest in DII history. Bragg hasn't allowed a run since March 18 (which was unearned), and the last earned run he allowed was March 11, five starts ago. He has also struck out at least nine batters in five of his 11 starts.
According to head coach Kevin Brooks, Bragg has an elite fastball, that has a ton of movement. "It's late and moves a lot," Brooks said. "I think what makes his stuff special is his attitude and presence on mound. He pitches with a lot of confidence and attacks hitters."
Chase Nowak, RHP, East Stroudsburg
Nowak, Brent Francisco, and Tom Reisinger are three very talented starting pitchers, all of which have propelled the Warriors into one of the top pitching staffs in the nation. Nowak has been high atop the leaderboards for most of the season, thus far recording a 2.39 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 64 innings pitched. Nowak isn't a pitcher that is going to overpower you at the plate, but he is a winner, not only matching his First-Team All-PSAC numbers from last year, but thus far, surpassing them.
"Chase is a special player who has the ability to locate his fastball, curveball, and changeup in any count," head coach John Kochmansky told me. "His ability to tunnel his pitches makes his changeup an effective strikeout pitch. Chase's poise and demeanor on the mound are also probably his most impressive attributes. He's been in bases loaded, nobody-out situations and he's been in two-out nobody on situations and you see the same pitcher on the mound in both."
Carson Kulina, RHP, Millersville
We can't have a list of top pitchers and not have one from one of the most dominating staffs in DII. The Marauders staff has been strong, but Kulina's numbers are among the best in DII baseball. He has a sharp 1.67 ERA and a low 1.02 WHIP. He also strikes out a hair over one per inning with 56 Ks in 54 innings while allowing zero home runs this season. In an age of launch angles and moonshots, that tells you most of what you need to know about his stuff.
"His stuff is well above average but it’s his ability to pitch that has made this season a special one for him," head coach Jon Shehan said. "He gets ahead of hitters, pitches in and out, up and down, mixes three pitches, can throw any pitch in any count, and controls the running game well, too. The team loves to play behind him because he is so consistent. We know what we are going to get every weekend — a mature, competitive outing. We know we have a chance to win every time he toes the rubber."
Riley O'Sullivan, RHP, Concordia (CA)
The Golden Eagles are 17-23 heading into their final regular-season series of the season. O'Sullivan has certainly been one of the highlights, ranking highly among DII pitchers. Both his 1.43 ERA and 0.92 WHIP are some of the best in the division and he is walking 0.95 batters per nine, a remarkable stat. He doesn't rely on his strikeouts alone (just 52 in 75.1 innings), but is a pitcher that comes at you and makes you uncomfortable in the box. He has a four-pitch mix, one which his head coach said is used in a variety of ways. The curveball, for example, gets O'Sullivan ahead, and then he'll put righties away with his slider/cutter hybrid or go with the changeup against lefties.
"What makes Riley’s stuff so special is his ability to command multiple pitches for strikes," head coach Joe Turgeon said. "When you can do that you force the hitters to swing or they will be in bad counts early in the at bat. As a starting pitcher, Riley has five complete games and has gone deeper into games because he forces the hitters to make decisions early in at bats to swing. So far he’s been able to keep the baseball away from the hitter's barrel by putting the baseball where he wants it. Riley also has a fire, almost like a mean streak and an ability to compete with an extreme focus when he is on the mound that you rarely see anymore. Obviously, his ability to pitch is good but his mind and heart is what I think makes his stuff great."
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Jon McCullough, RHP, Seton Hill
Sure are a lot of PSAC pitchers on this list. Makes you wonder how any of the batters get a hit. That's especially true for McCullough, who head coach March Marizzaldi told me earlier this season he was excited to have back in the rotation after missing 2022 with injury. As a freshman in 2021, McCullough was good, but this year, he has been sensational. His strikeouts per nine are down from that debut but everything else is among the top marks in the division. To date, he has pitched to a 1.83 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, has allowed just one home run and has a .194 batting average against.
"Jon’s fastball is probably his best pitch, in the 89-91 range, but it’s his command of all three pitches — fastball, slider and changeup — that make him so difficult to hit and score upon," Marizzaldi said. "He’s a ferocious competitor on the mound with big game experience. He’s also coming off a redshirt season in which he had Tommy John (surgery), so this comeback season had been very impressive for him."
Caleb Reyes, RHP, Cal Poly Pomona
I admittedly almost overlooked Reyes being on the opposite coast, but what a season he has put together. He is currently top five in ERA (1.32), WHIP (0.77) and has allowed just 1.32 walks per nine, a top-12 rank in DII baseball. He's also allowing a .174 batting average against making him one of the hardest pitchers to reach base against in the entire division and with a 6-1 record is a big part of the Broncos success.
"Caleb is a true competitor on the mound," said head coach Randy Betten. "His ability to locate his fastball to both sides of the plate along with his slider in any count make him hard to get consistent contact."
Jake Karaba, RHP, Lewis
As of April 26, Karaba leads DII baseball with a 16.62 strikeout per nine rate. He has struck out at least 11 batters in five of his eight starts. But Karaba is not all swing and miss. He currently sits at 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA and the second-best WHIP in DII baseball at 0.76. His fastball is his best weapon and it sits 90-94, but he also has a slider and splitter that all land for strikes. Per head coach Mike Vucsko, Karaba, "gets downhill exceptionally well and has plus extension making his stuff play harder than it is."
Karaba had a down 2022, but Vucsko thinks that is part of what makes Karaba special. "His mentality and work ethic is what sets him apart," Vucsko said. "He is the first to show up and last to leave. He had a phenomenal freshman year in 2021 and a rocky 2022, but the failure he had in 2022 has helped him so much deal with adversity."
Mitch Farris, LHP, Wingate
Farris is the first pitcher on our list that has a national championship under his belt. The two-way player can also hit, currently posting a career .315 batting average, 1.015 OPS and 14 home runs. But we aren't here to talk about his at bats, we're here to talk about him missing bats, and Farris does that very well. Farris is top-10 in DII baseball, striking out 118 batters in 80.0 innings, good for 13.28 per nine. His 0.65 WHIP is tops in the division and the 1.35 ERA isn't too shabby at all.
"Mitch's success stems from the fact that he pitches," head coach Jeff Gregory said. "He has four pitches that he throws for strikes and he throws a ton of strikes. He can command his fastball, slider, change and breaking ball. His best pitch is the changeup. He can throw each in any count. The ability to mix keeps offenses off balance and makes him difficult to hit."
Luke Short, LHP, St. Edward's
Short is one of the best strikeout artists in DII baseball. Heading into the weekend of April 28, Short is top 10 in DII with 13.26 strikeouts per nine, or 109 strikeouts in 74 innings. He also has a solid ERA of 2.43 and WHIP of 1.09. While the strikeouts were there last season, he has made great strides in cutting down his walks, down from 44 in 78.1 innings pitched to just 17 in 74 innings so far.
Unlike a lot of strikeout pitchers, Short doesn't rely on his fastball to strike hitters out. Head coach Bryan Faulds thinks his breaking ball and changeup are his best out pitches, and Short will throw them anywhere in the count. "He has a clean and efficient delivery with a consistent release point," Faulds said. "He attacks the zone with all four pitches — fastball, breaking ball, changeup and cutter — and he can locate all of his pitches to both sides of the plate. He also is very competitive and has the ability to rise to the occasion in all games and situations."
Zac Shoemaker, LHP, Pittsburg State
Shoemaker last pitched for MIAA rival Missouri Southern, and back in 2021, he had a solid season. This year, the lefty broke out and is one of DII's best. His ERA has headed in the wrong decision with a few high-scoring affairs of late, but he opened the season with eight consecutive starts allowing two runs or less. He does have a very solid 1.00 WHIP, 8-1 record with 12.57 strikeouts per nine to go with a very good 1.42 walks per nine.
According to Bob Fornelli, Shoemaker has two strikeout pitches with his fastball No. 1 and his changeup close behind. He describes him as a bulldog on the mound and a strike thrower who sits 89-93 with a fastball that runs.
Jeremy Adorno, RHP, Southern Arkansas
Adorno made quite the splash in DII baseball as a freshman last year. He went undefeated (a perfect 15-0) and struck out 136 in 114.2 innings as the Muleriders made it all the way to Cary. He proved to be human this season, actually losing the first two games of his career, but at 7-2 is still very good. Once again he is striking out people with frequency, striking out nearly 11 hitters per nine. His ERA is higher this year than his sparkling debut, partially because he's struggled a bit with the long ball this season, but the Muleriders aren't a top-10 team without him.
"His slider possesses a very high spin rate and has very sharp, late movement," head coach Justin Pettigrew told me. "Jeremy is comfortable locating his slider to any hitter in any count. Jeremy is a fierce competitor that uses a four pitch mix. His low-mid 90s fastball has good movement and life, his low-mid 80s slider has good bite, his low-mid 80s changeup has good depth, and he uses a curveball as a secondary breaking pitch that compliments his slider. His command to go along with his array of quality pitches is what makes Jeremy one of the best pitchers at our level."
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Kings of the K
Aaron Dona, RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas
Dona is currently third in DII baseball, striking out a whopping 14.16 per nine. He's also a workhorse: of his nine starts, three are complete games. Now, he doesn't have the best ERA in DII, but he does limit home runs (just two allowed this season). His head coach Jon Garvey thinks he's so effective because he doesn't have one go-to pitch to strike people out, but two: a fastball and slider.
"His slider shape, spin, and late break is hard for hitters to see and his ability to locate it is even tougher," Garvey said. "His fastball command is above average. He has ability to throw both pitches in any count. He has extreme confidence in his ability and his stuff."
Ryan Carmack, RHP, Illinois Springfield
Karamack makes this list as one of the top kings of the K in DII baseball. He strikes out 15.94 per nine, second most in the division. He's struggled limiting runs of late, but he has a very good .188 batting average against (one of the lowest marks among this list). But a guy that strikes out that many has to make the list, especially with a 90-93 mph "invisible" fastball.
“Ryan has electric stuff, and when he stays around the zone he is very difficult to time up," said head coach Ryan Copeland. "He has a high-spin fastball from a lower slot which creates a ton of late life. We’ve had quite a bit of arm talent the past few years, but I don’t think we’ve had a guy that can throw a fastball that seems invisible at times.”
Also watch these guys
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