Standardizing College Statistics: Evaluating Pitchers

An attempt to standardize College Baseball Statistics

Welcome to Part 4 of the Standardizing College Statistics Series! If you have not read the previous 3 parts of the series, make sure to check them out. You can read the Introduction, differences between conferences, & 2024 season update all here. Let’s take a look at how to utilize this information to evaluate pitchers!


Standardizing College Statistics: Evaluating Pitching

As the previous posts in this series outline, college baseball is the Wild, Wild West right now. Home runs and offensive production are up in Division 1 baseball, which makes evaluating college offensive prospects difficult. The premise of the series was to find a way to quantify how hitters perform in the year they play in. Similar to OPS+ at the MLB level, it is weighted on a scale of 100 being average. The main factor is based off taking the “average” numbers for the given season, and calculating how much better a player was vs the average. This creates a much better way to evaluate a prospect instead of just looking at stat line, especially in the power department. As the bats and balls have changed in college baseball, it doesn’t only impact position players, it also impacts evaluating pitching prospects.

Significant ERA Changes

Since 2018, offensive numbers have taken a massive leap. When it comes to evaluate a hitter’s true power potential, no longer can we just simply look at how many home runs they hit. Over the last two seasons, we have seen Jac Caglianone break the BBCOR home run record, just to have Charlie Condon break it again this season. It is not normal for record books to be rewritten on a yearly basis. The changes have been significant since the 2018 season. Let’s look at a updated averages across college baseball with the regular season concluded.

Yearly Offensive Stats

A 55-point jump in slugging percentage, and a 41-point jump in ISO are significant. This completely changes how to value, and evaluate, any college player. If numbers are up across the board, we need to adjust how we view production. This does not only impact offensive stats, it also majorly dictates the players who are responsible for the runs scored, pitchers. Let’s take a look at how much ERA’s have changed over the last few seasons.

Yearly ERA

With the increase in offensive production, there is a direct correlation with an increase in runs scored. This year across the board an average pitcher in college baseball is pitching to a 6.14 ERA. The average! For the sake of comparison, the average ERA in the PCL, Triple-A Pacific Coast League, was 5.69 ERA. For those that do not know, the PCL is a notorious hitter-friendly league due to parks at elevation, dry desert air, and warm weather. College baseball’s run-scoring environment is more friendly for hitters than the PCL. That is insane to think about, but it brings to question how that changes the evaluation of pitchers.

Evaluating Pitchers in this Environment

Over the last two seasons, we have seen some of the best seasons for pitchers in college baseball. In 2023, Paul Skenes and Rhett Lowder dominated the competition. And in 2024, top prospects Chase Burns and Hagen Smith have been otherworldly. They have put up historic numbers in any season, but then adding the context of how productive they were in the years they have pitched in, it becomes even more insane. Let’s take a look at how much better their ERA was than the average in the season they pitched in. 100 yERA is the average.

Yearly Adjusted ERA

With 100 being average, we can see that each pitcher is leaps and bounds better than their peers. They have been able to dominate in the run scoring environment they played in. It is very easy to see why each of these pitchers have, or seemingly will, have immediate success at the next level. They are limiting runs at an elite rate in a run-scoring environment that is more extreme than the PCL. Let’s look at how they compare to past seasons.

yERA by the Years

Clarke Schmidt was dominant in limited innings in the SEC in 2017, but we can see that his 1.34 ERA is technically less productive than Hagen Smith’s 1.52 this season. That is due to the average ERA in 2017 being 4.96 compared to this season’s 6.14. Stephen Schoch in 2018 pitched to an impressive 1.72 ERA, which by ERA alone is comparable to Skenes’ 1.69 ERA. But when we factor in the year each of them pitched in Skenes was 73 percent more productive. How Skenes and Smith dominated their opposition is even more impressive considering the year they did it in.

The only factor within yERA is just ERA adjusted to the average ERA in the year they are pitching in. The reality is a 1.52 ERA in 2024 is “more productive” than a 1.34 ERA in 2018. This realization completely changes how impressive Skenes, Lowder, Smith, and Burns have all been over the last two seasons.

Where’s the Value?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that guys like Smith and Burns are dominant college pitchers. All this analysis does is emphasize that they are generationally good. But people want information like this to find value within the margins, right? Let’s dive into where to find that.

The main reason Smith and Burns have been so dominant is because of their elite ability to generate swing and miss. You cannot be impacted by the juiced baseballs if nobody can put balls in play. All three of Skenes, Burns, and Smith had elite swing and miss during the selected seasons, which was a main piece in their impressive production.

K% by Year

The reality is this creates a gap in ERA across college baseball. There are the elite swing and miss pitchers, who are naturally going to dominate the sport because of their ability to limit contact. Then there are some pitchers who generate swing and miss, but because it is not at an elite rate (>45%), they naturally have more balls put in play. This causes their ERA numbers to be inflated because they let up more contact, which means more chances of being impacted by the environment. These same pitchers who “struggle” in college baseball, get into pro ball and see their stock rise. A great example of this is Chase Dollander and Hurston Waldrep, who have both seen their success immediately in pro ball.

Pro vs. College Comparison

Both Dollander and Waldrep were 2023 first-round picks, so we are not exactly identifying “diamonds in the rough” here. But the reality is, both entered the draft coming off years in which they regressed. There were split camps about both of their ability to have success in pro ball. And both have seen immediate improvements just by getting out of the run scoring environment that is college baseball. There were command concerns about both of them, but those have not changed much. Dollander walked 3.05 per 9 in college last season, and that has increased to 4.13 per 9 in pro ball. Waldrep walked 5.03 per 9 in college, but has improved his BB/9 to 3.79. All of this is to say the biggest adjustment was just leaving the homer friendly environment of college baseball.

If we can assume that home runs are going to decrease when getting into pro ball, I wanted to identify some draft prospects that we are collectively most likely too low on because of their struggles limiting the long ball. The criteria I used for this was yERA >100, approximately a 30% K rate, sub 12% BB rate, and a HR/9 > 1. To me this showcases good enough swing and miss to dominate at the next level, enough of an ability to throw strikes, and seemingly inflated stats due to the long ball this season.

2024 Draft Prospect Comparison

I compared all of these pitchers to the 2023 versions of Waldrep and Dollander. We already know that home runs will decrease at the next level, and all of these pitchers give up more than 1 home run per outing. Let’s unpack this.

First, Ben Hess has the stuff to dominate, what does he look like if the home runs (and walks) improve at the next level? There is some risk there, but the underlying metrics bring some optimism. Carter Holton is very intriguing showing both swing and miss stuff, while also not walking a lot of hitters. Assuming those home runs go down at the next level, the stuff is there to be very productive. Khal Stephen insert heart eye emoji. That’s a good profile if the home runs do not come down, but if they do? Someone is getting a ton of value.

All of these 2024 pitching prospects posses the skills to be valuable prospects at the next level. They all showcase plus stuff and solid command, but on the surface their ERAs are not dominant. Well when we consider the run scoring environment that they play in they are all above average starting pitchers, even with ERAs in the 5’s. When we take that into consideration, then utilize the other evaluation tools we have, you are able to paint a better picture of each pitchers potential.


The top end of college pitching is better than ever. Paul Skenes showcased elite stuff in college that allowed him to already make his MLB debut (in dominant fashion). Rhett Lowder was historically good at Wake Forest, and will be knocking on the Cincinnati Reds‘ rotation shortly. Hagen Smith and Chase Burns will have their name called early this July, and will most likely sky rocket through the MiLB. Those arms are the easiest to identify. But there seems to be a significant gap from the top tier to the rest of the pack.

While those guys are more dominant and have better stuff, they are just better equipped to survive in the era of college baseball we are in. There are many other arms that are massively impacted by the environment, but still showcase abilities to be valuable prospects. Being able to look behind the curtain of simply ERA allows us to see some potential names who will rise when getting out of the hitter haven that is college baseball.

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photo by John Korduner/ Icon Sportswire

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