The starting rotation was supposed to be the backbone of the Seton Hall baseball team heading into this season. However, after 18 games, the top of the Pirates’ staff has been arguably their biggest disappointment thus far.
Last spring, SHU rode its stellar pitching staff to a 38-20 record and third place finish in the Big East. They were led by two dominant starting pitchers in Shane McCarthy, now a junior, and Cullen Dana, now a sophomore.
The duo both had an ERA under 3.00. Dana finished the season with a 2.75 ERA, just behind McCarthy’s 2.38 ERA. McCarthy also led the conference in innings pitched (102) and strikeouts (84). His stellar season earned him First Team All-Big East honors, while Dana made the Second Team. Zach Prendergast rounded out the starting rotation, finishing with a respectable ERA of 3.97.
The Pirates sit at 10-8, but they must improve vastly if they wish to make a run at a Big East Championship and NCAA Tournament bid. Specifically, the pitching staff needs to improve, as the team ERA sits at 4.26, more than a run higher than last year’s 3.21.
Surprisingly, the senior, Prendergast, has been the steady force in what has otherwise been a rough start for the Pirates’ pitching staff. Prendergast has built on his performance last year by leading the starters with a 3.72 ERA.
The main culprits of that inflated ERA are the ones you would least expect, McCarthy and Dana. Dana has a 4.05 ERA and his numbers pale in comparison to last year. The southpaw is allowing opponents to bat .238, normally a superb number for a pitcher. For Dana, however, that is a regression from his incredible mark of .201 last season. On the other hand, Dana has struck out 32 batters in 26.2 innings, a promising factor knowing he had just 66 strikeouts in 72 innings last season.
Although Dana has underperformed, there is no cause for concern. That might not be the case for McCarthy, who has stumbled out of the gate with a 7.56 ERA. While Dana has merely been unlucky, McCarthy has been struggling, turning the start of his season into the worst stretch of his collegiate career. For a pitcher usually known for his impeccable location, he has been uncharacteristically wild. Last year he had 84 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 102 innings. In 25 innings this year, he has only struck out 15 batters. More alarmingly, he has already issued 11 walks, already more than half of last year’s total. It is clear his location has betrayed him. Opposing hitters have also realized this and taken advantage, as they have hit a brutal .333 off him.
Despite taking on the loaded lineups of Florida or Michigan, it is vital to recall how high the expectations are for McCarthy after leading the Big East in ERA for two straight years. After all, he threw a perfect game as a sophomore last season. There certainly is no question of his capability to become one of the best in the country.
Prior to this past Sunday’s game against Lehigh, his ERA sat at 9.45 after four starts. Against a weaker Lehigh lineup this past Sunday, McCarthy started and gave up just two hits and threw five scoreless innings in the Pirate’s 3-0 win. His location struggles were still present, despite that, the performance was encouraging and gave him something to build on. The season is still young, meaning any concerns about McCarthy’s struggles will probably be mitigated in due time.
Andrew Lombardo can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Anlombardo8.