SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It’s a new era of Oregon State baseball. But there is still a lot of the previous era around, too.
Sunday afternoon at Surprise Stadium, the Beavers upped their record to 2-1 with a 5-1 win over Gonzaga under new head coach Mitch Canham, a former OSU catcher and minor-league manager. Canham knows what has worked at OSU through three national championship runs under Coach Pat Casey, because he was there for two of those championships.
But the new coach is mixing in some cutting-edge stuff, too. Or perhaps you haven’t heard about the Dam Analytics Squad, which has become an integral part of the program? Oregon State is compiling statistics that most professional baseball teams are using now, analyzing many parts of the game that can’t be measured without high-tech equipment and the expertise to use it properly.
“Brad Brown currently runs our Dam squad,” Canham said. “We have five other analytics managers as well. They do a great job collecting data and presenting it to us so we can use it and help our guys develop.”
It’s possible, for instance, to measure the spin rate on pitches, launch angle and exit velocity on batted balls and all sorts of other things that can make you dizzy if you don’t know how to use it.
“We measure quite a few things,” Canham said. “It can all be noise. You just have to know how to use it, how to deliver it. But it’s used specifically for helping our pitchers have better stuff and understand their abilities better. And for our offensive guys to understand what they hit really well, (and) command the strike zone.”
Those are the type of stats that have led to the use of more curveballs and more focus on home runs in the major leagues. Can we expect the Beavers to go deep a little more often this season?
“Obviously, you swing at good pitches and you’re on time, it comes off hotter,” Canham said. “So as long as we do a good job at swinging at ‘our’ pitches, and leaving the bad ones alone, those kinds of things will happen more often.”
Canham hasn’t totally sold out to analytics. Like most college coaches, he’ll still call for a sacrifice bunt once in a while. And he isn’t going to generalize about strategy or how his team is going to play.
“There’s a blend,” he said. “You have to understand that analytics can be very useful and it also goes to, do guys know how to deliver it to them? Because you can know all these numbers but unless you know how to communicate them, they don’t do any good. And they can actually create more noise.”
After Sunday’s win, Canham said, “I feel great. We’re constantly getting after it and learning. Guys are getting a chance to get out there and compete and are doing it together.”
The Beavers used outstanding pitching to beat the ‘Zags Sunday. Starter Jake Pfennigs allowed just one run on five hits over the first five innings and then freshman left-hander Cooper Hjerpe picked up a big-time, four-inning save, allowing no hits, one walk and striking out five.
“It’s exciting to see Hjerpe go out as a freshman and pound the zone,” Canham said. “He has great stuff and he’s in the (strike) zone all day.”
The Beavers are very young, with a pitching rotation that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.
But it’s a good bet the program will continue to attract quality players from, well, all over the world.
Freshman Micah McDowell has started and batted leadoff in each of the team’s games this season and has hit safely in all three. And he hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
How in the world does a centerfielder from Nova Scotia end up in Corvallis, Oregon?
Well, it goes back to what went on in the past. This operation has been going on for a while and that doesn't go unnoticed.
“The Beaver family has a large reach and people all around the world are paying attention to our program and to what ‘Case’ (Pat Casey) and everyone has built over the years,” Canham said. “There’s a lot of tradition and people want to be a part of something special -- and that’s what we have here.”