The American Athletic Conference featured a number of strong pitching staffs in 2016. In fact, five different teams had sub-.4.00 ERAs, including the Cincinnati Bearcats, who put together a mark of 3.69 as a team. UC starters played a large role in pitching the team to success and it should once again in 2017.
All that pitching strength would not have been possible without staff ace Andrew Zellner. The 6’3” 191-pound right-hander pitched so well last year he was selected as a 2016 All-AAC First-Teamer and was a possible candidate to be drafted.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen... yet. If the senior puts together another season like he did last year, he’ll undoubtedly get his name called in June.
Zellner pitched to a 2.32 ERA in 15 starts and also hurled a pair of complete game shutouts, two of four full nine innings contests he carried alone. All those innings piled up, leading him to 108 2⁄3 innings of total work, easily the most on the team. He was not an overly strong strikeout pitcher, with only 66 punchouts, but he allowed only a .231 opponent batting average by hammering the lower portions of the zone to induce weak contact. The highlight of Zellner’s junior campaign was a seven-game stretch mid-way through the season. During that period, he tossed 53 2⁄3 innings and allowed only five runs, throwing three complete games and striking out 37.
If UC just had Zellner it would be in pretty good shape. Lucky for the Bearcats, they have more than just one ace-quality pitcher. Left-hander J.T. Perez was the Saturday starter and a great one at that. He kept his ERA to 2.97 during the season, scattering 30 earned runs across 91 innings of work. His opponent batting average was a bit high (.272) and, like Zellner, he didn’t strike out a ton of people (58) so the UC defense needs to be strong behind him. They weren’t always last season, as Perez allowed 11 unearned runs.
After Zellner and Perez, the Bearcats have a diverse set of arms that can fill in on Sundays and during the week. David Orndorff made 12 starts last season and went 3-4 with a 3.57 ERA, usually slotting in on Sundays. However, junior A.J. Olasz (2-6, 4.15 ERA, 32 strikeouts, 43 1⁄3 innings) and sophomore A.J. Kullman (4-3, 3.20 ERA, 33 strikeouts, 56 1⁄3 innings) are both capable of putting together five or six solid innings .
If any of the four stumble, or Ty Neal needs to give somebody a rest, there are a few more arms who made a start or two last season, namely Cam Alldred, who had two starts but a 16.20 ERA. In all likelihood those spot starters will be relegated to the bullpen, as will any new arms as the Bearcats ride out their stout and surprisingly deep rotation.