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How does Arizona softball stack up with the Pac-12’s elite?

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The Wildcats face three of the top four teams in the Pac-12 over the final month of the season. How do they stack up?

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Arizona softball has had a sterling opening to Pac-12 play. Not just wins, but blow-outs. Complete domination of opponents on the way to a 12-0 conference record that has them in sole possession of first place.

Even the breaks away from league play have been exhibitions of superiority. In between playing Pac-12 opponents, the No. 8 Wildcats have controlled match-ups with UTEP and Grand Canyon. Those two series added five more wins to Arizona’s 35-7 record.

Since opening conference play on March 15 against Oregon, the Wildcats have gone 17-0. Nine of those victories came by the run rule, as Arizona has defeated opponents by a cumulative score of 139-14. The Wildcats have been victorious over Pac-12 opponents by a combined score of 114-11.

But the time has come to face the teeth of the conference. Although they played a very competitive non-conference slate, the Wildcats opened league play with four of the bottom five teams in the Pac-12. Their first four conference opponents are a combined 13-35 in league play.

With the back-loaded conference schedule, Arizona will face only one team with a losing record for the rest of the season. California is ninth in the nine-team league with a conference record of 1-13 and an overall record of 22-21. The rest of Arizona’s schedule has a combined record of 99-15.

Note that the tables included in the rest of this article are best viewed on a computer, but they are included only as reference. The article summarizes the data in the tables.

The view from outside the dugout

The rest of the country is taking notice, too. Including Arizona, the Pac-12 has three of the top 10 teams in Division I softball. Stanford crept into the ESPN poll last week, giving the league five teams either ranked or receiving votes in the polls.

UCLA is ranked second in all three major polls, and has the No. 3 RPI in the country. Washington sits at No. 2 in the RPI. Both the ESPN and USA Today polls place the Huskies third, while Softball America has them at No. 7. Stanford comes in at No. 24 in ESPN’s top 25, while they are atop the “others receiving votes” list for USA Today. RPI places the Cardinal at No. 26.

UCLA and Washington were expected to be this good. They were picked to finish one-two in the preseason poll, with the Wildcats expected to follow them in third. Stanford, however, was not.

The Cardinal were picked eighth, reflecting the years of mediocrity the program has produced. Stanford finished 24-31 last season. They haven’t finished above .500 since 2014, when they had a final record of 30-25. Even that year they were 5-19 in the Pac-12.

Stanford last finished above .500 in the conference in 2013, going 39-21 overall and 13-11 in league play to earn a berth in the postseason. That year finished a run stretching back to 1998 when the Cardinal made regionals every season, reaching the Women’s College World Series in 2001 and 2004.

The transfer bug that hit Oregon and ASU were expected to damage the conference this season. In some respects they have, but they’ve also given teams like Stanford an opportunity to step into the void.

What the pitching numbers say

Diving into the pitching and hitting numbers paints a promising picture of the Wildcats. While the offense is getting the most attention thanks to nine hits per game, the pitchers are more than holding their own.

When stacked up against the other three teams in the conference’s top four, the Wildcats’ staff is as good or better than two of them and there’s an argument to be made that they are better than UCLA.

When compared to the other teams in the top four, Arizona has five of the top 10 pitchers on the four staffs. Hanah Bowen leads the entire group of 17 pitchers with a .5454 WHIP. She is second in the group in ERA with a 0.55, trailing only teammate Marissa Schuld.

Bowen is tied with UCLA’s Rachel Garcia and Megan Faraimo with a seven percent walk rate, a number that is good enough for second among the 17 pitchers. She puts less than one batter on base via the walk per seven innings. However, she has only pitched 25.2 innings over two starts and six relief appearances, so her sample size requires caveats.

Four of the remaining five pitchers on the Arizona pitching staff follow in quick succession when compared to the rest of the best in the conference. Their WHIP ranks from fifth through eighth among the 17 pitchers.

Taylor McQuillin is the strongest all-around starter for the Wildcats, as expected. Over 125.1 innings, she has put together a WHIP of .766 to go along with her 1.28 ERA. That WHIP is fifth among the pitchers of the top four teams, while the ERA ranks sixth. Notably, she is the only pitcher on the staff to have thrown over 100 innings this year.

McQuillin has a walk rate of 10 percent, tying her for sixth in the group with three other pitchers, including teammate Vanessa Foreman. Walks are the Achilles heels of every member of the Arizona staff not named Schuld or Bowen, but McQuillin fares better than most of the staff.

McQuillin is also fourth among the group in strikeouts with 157, trailing the Huskies’ Taran Alvelo with a whopping 194, Garcia with 174 and Washington’s Gabbie Plain with 162. Her strikeout rate of 59 percent is fifth, behind those three players and teammate Bowen.

Gina Snyder has put together a nice senior season. Coming just behind McQuillin, she has a WHIP of .9042, placing her sixth in the group of 17 pitchers. Her ERA of 2.01 is tenth.

However, despite making five starts and three relief appearances, Snyder has only pitched 24.1 innings due to several run-rule victories. The highlight of her season was likely her four-hit victory over then-No. 1 Florida State, which the Wildcats won in five innings. None of her outings have gone more than five innings, and only four have gone four or more.

Snyder’s challenge comes with her walk rate. Her WHIP stays fairly low because few batters get hits off her. Her batting average against is just .146. However, she is tied with the fourth-highest walk rate in the group, issuing free passes to 19 percent of the batters she has faced. Extrapolated to a standard seven-inning game, her .41 walks per inning amount to 2.88 walks per game.

The free passes are an even bigger concern when her four hit batters are added to the walks. The hits by pitches is second on the team behind only McQuillin. However, McQuillin has pitched in over five times as many innings as Snyder and only hit one more batter. In total, Snyder has put 14 batters on base due to control issues in just 24.1 innings.

However, as with Bowen, Snyder’s relatively small number of innings pitched makes evaluating her more difficult. A larger sample size might make the walks and HBP less significant or it might verify that this is a bigger issue for Snyder than for most of the pitchers on the league’s best teams.

Marissa Schuld follows Snyder, putting together the seventh-best WHIP (.9543) in the group. An ERA of .48 and a walk rate of five percent have her atop the group in both stats. The problem of small sample size is even more pronounced with her, though, as she has just 14.2 innings pitched in her two starts and three relief appearances. She has also primarily faced the easier teams on the Wildcats’ difficult schedule.

Immediately behind Schuld is Arizona’s other primary starter, Alyssa Denham. In 63.2 innings, Denham has posted a WHIP of .9895 and an ERA of 1.87, which are eighth and seventh in the group, respectively.

Like Snyder, Denham has been done in by the walks this season. She is tied for the seventh-highest walk rate on the top Pac-12 teams at 18 percent. Walking more than 2.6 batters per seven innings is a risky proposition, especially when the tougher teams roll into town.

Denham has pitched in several games that ended by the run rule, but she’s pitched in more low-scoring games against the schedule’s better competition than anyone except McQuillin. With the closer margins of victory, an ill-timed walk is more likely to come back to haunt the team.

For Foreman, the year has been a struggle in the circle, but that’s not surprising for a freshman. She has gotten more innings than is typical of Arizona freshman pitchers, so she can take her experience and build on it for the future. Like fellow freshman Schuld, she’s unlikely to see much time in the circle down the stretch with so many experienced pitchers ahead of her.

When considering the pitching staffs of the best four teams in the Pac-12, the Wildcats’ primary pitchers all rank in the top half. The problem for the Wildcats when facing UCLA and Washington is that those teams have more dominant starters, while Arizona has more depth in the staff.

The Bruins will be running out two starters who rank in the top five by just about any statistical measure. Washington has one, as does Arizona. However, all three of UCLA and Washington’s top starters rank higher than the Wildcats’ best starter.

Arizona’s top-ranking pitchers in most statistical categories are relievers and spot starters. Their results may be anomalous due to sample size and the competition levels they have pitched against over the course of the season.

Ranking individual pitchers on the Pac-12’s top four teams

Player Team GS APP BF IP CG Saves Hits ER Total Runs BB BB/7 inn BB% HBP WP WHIP ERA SO SO/IP SO% 2B 3B HR SF SH BAA W L Win %
Player Team GS APP BF IP CG Saves Hits ER Total Runs BB BB/7 inn BB% HBP WP WHIP ERA SO SO/IP SO% 2B 3B HR SF SH BAA W L Win %
Bowen, Hanah AZ 2 8 43 25.67 2 2 11 2 2 3 0.82 0.07 3 0 0.5454 0.55 26 1.01 0.60 2 0 2 0 0 0.126 3 0 1.00
Faraimo, Megan UCLA 14 17 166 83.33 9 0 42 14 19 12 1.01 0.07 5 0 0.6480 1.18 106 1.27 0.64 6 1 5 0 1 0.140 12 2 0.86
Plain, Gabbie WASH 18 25 256 121.33 11 3 59 19 23 25 1.44 0.10 5 4 0.6923 1.10 162 1.34 0.63 9 1 8 1 4 0.138 15 1 0.94
Garcia, Rachel UCLA 12 19 272 107.33 11 2 60 10 16 19 1.24 0.07 18 3 0.7360 0.65 171 1.59 0.63 13 1 3 1 3 0.157 17 0 1.00
McQuillin, Taylor AZ 18 22 264 125.33 17 0 69 23 33 27 1.51 0.10 5 6 0.7660 1.28 157 1.25 0.59 15 3 7 0 6 0.155 15 5 0.75
Snyder, Gina AZ 5 8 53 24.33 2 0 12 7 8 10 2.88 0.19 4 0 0.9042 2.01 26 1.07 0.49 0 0 4 1 0 0.146 4 0 1.00
Schuld, Marissa AZ 2 5 22 14.67 0 0 13 1 1 1 0.48 0.05 0 0 0.9543 0.48 8 0.55 0.36 0 0 0 0 0 0.232 2 0 1.00
Denham, Alyssa AZ 13 13 135 63.67 5 0 39 17 21 24 2.64 0.18 1 2 0.9895 1.87 71 1.12 0.53 4 0 8 0 0 0.170 8 2 0.80
Alvelo, Taran WASH 17 26 351 130.33 12 1 99 36 41 34 1.83 0.10 15 5 1.0205 1.93 194 1.49 0.55 17 1 7 2 7 0.204 18 4 0.82
Pancino, Kiana STAN 1 24 103 47.67 0 8 31 15 17 18 2.64 0.17 5 1 1.0279 2.20 39 0.82 0.38 2 4 5 4 6 0.193 7 0 1.00
Azevedo, Holly UCLA 13 17 123 58.33 5 0 44 20 22 18 2.16 0.15 5 2 1.0629 2.40 54 0.93 0.44 6 1 7 0 2 0.197 8 0 1.00
Lee, Carolyn STAN 20 21 223 106 5 0 95 35 45 21 1.39 0.09 8 5 1.0943 2.31 86 0.81 0.39 18 0 8 4 9 0.235 10 3 0.77
Moore, Pat WASH 6 7 60 28.33 23 4 23 8 12 11 2.72 0.18 1 3 1.2001 1.98 21 0.74 0.35 3 0 2 0 4 0.221 2 1 0.67
Foreman, Vanessa AZ 2 4 21 9.33 0 0 10 5 6 2 1.50 0.10 2 0 1.2862 3.75 6 0.64 0.29 1 0 1 0 1 0.270 1 0 1.00
Dwyer, Maddy STAN 16 19 176 82.67 4 1 79 29 38 29 2.46 0.16 8 2 1.3064 2.46 50 0.60 0.28 12 1 3 0 10 0.251 11 4 0.73
Bauer, Nikki STAN 0 4 16 9.33 0 0 11 5 5 3 2.25 0.19 1 0 1.5005 3.75 1 0.11 0.06 2 0 1 0 0 0.282 2 0 1.00
Millar, Molly STAN 0 3 10 3.67 0 0 4 4 4 2 3.81 0.20 0 0 1.6349 7.63 4 1.09 0.40 1 0 1 0 0 0.267 0 0 0.00
Ranked by WHIP

When it comes to breaking down complete staffs, Arizona is helped a great deal by the depth of its staff. As a staff, the Wildcats have the second-best WHIP among the Pac-12’s top four teams. That does give the team some options should a starter struggle. The problem will be overcoming the UCLA staff, whose three pitchers are all elite.

Ranking the pitching staffs of the top 4 teams in the PAC-12

Pac-12 Standing Rank/RPI Team GP IP CG SV Hits ER Runs BB BB/7 INN HBP WP WHIP ERA SO SO/7 INN 2B 3B HR HR/7 INN BAA W L Win %
Pac-12 Standing Rank/RPI Team GP IP CG SV Hits ER Runs BB BB/7 INN HBP WP WHIP ERA SO SO/7 INN 2B 3B HR HR/7 INN BAA W L Win %
2 2/3 UCLA 39 253.00 25 2 146 44 57 49 1.36 28 5 0.7708 1.22 331 9.16 25 3 15 0.06 0.162 37 2 0.95
1 7/7 Arizona 42 263.00 26 2 154 55 74 67 1.78 15 8 0.8403 1.46 294 7.83 22 3 22 0.08 0.165 35 7 0.83
3 3/2 Washington 41 280.00 24 4 181 63 76 70 1.75 21 12 0.8964 1.58 377 9.43 29 2 17 0.06 0.178 35 6 0.85
4 RV/26 Stanford 37 249.33 9 9 220 88 109 73 2.05 22 8 1.1751 2.47 180 5.05 35 5 18 0.07 0.236 30 7 0.81
Listed in order by WHIP. The national rankings reflect the USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll and the NCAA’s official RPI.

What the hitting numbers say

Considering that UCLA has the best pitching staff in the conference, and Washington rivals Arizona, how do the Wildcats overcome that and maintain their position in the conference? Against most teams, the answer is hitting, hitting and more hitting. Against UCLA, the numbers say that there may not be an answer.

At the top of the conference, UCLA and Arizona are far and away the best offensive teams. The Bruins score 7.41 runs per game and the Wildcats are just behind at 7.31. No other team among the top four scores even six. Stanford comes closest at 5.57 runs per game.

The Wildcats have received a lot of attention for the number of home runs hit by their line-up. Arizona is No. 1 in college softball with 1.93 home runs per game. The team has four players with over 10 home runs. Jessie Harper is tied for the NCAA home run lead, although in one more game than Mississippi State’s Mia Davidson.

The problem is that UCLA is very good at limiting home runs. Among the top four teams, UCLA is number one in fewest home runs allowed with 15 in 39 games played. Compare that to the Arizona pitching staff, which has given up 22 in just three more games.

What the Wildcats have in their favor is a strong all-around offense. Arizona is the only team in the top four of the Pac-12 that has an OPS of over 1.000. In addition to hitting more home runs per game than the other four, they also take more walks per game than anyone but Stanford. They have more hits per game than anyone but UCLA.

Ranking the offenses of the Pac-12’s top four teams

Pac-12 Standing Rank Team GP AB BA SLG% OBP OPS BB BB/Gm HBP SO SF 1B 2B 3B HR HR/Gm TB Hits Hits/Gm Runs Runs/Gm RBI RBI/GM
Pac-12 Standing Rank Team GP AB BA SLG% OBP OPS BB BB/Gm HBP SO SF 1B 2B 3B HR HR/Gm TB Hits Hits/Gm Runs Runs/Gm RBI RBI/GM
2 2/3 UCLA 39 1057 0.347 0.555 0.422 0.978 129 3.31 18 150 13 248 63 11 45 1.15 587 367 9.41 289 7.41 268 6.87
1 7/7 Arizona 42 1114 0.339 0.626 0.421 1.046 147 3.50 16 186 9 228 62 7 81 1.93 697 378 9.00 307 7.31 289 6.88
4 RV/26 Stanford 37 951 0.300 0.469 0.397 0.866 131 3.54 28 136 9 189 53 21 22 0.59 446 285 7.70 206 5.57 173 4.68
3 3/2 Washington 41 1078 0.292 0.429 0.382 0.812 142 3.46 20 182 8 236 42 5 32 0.78 463 315 7.68 211 5.15 187 4.56
Listed in order according to runs per game. The national rankings reflect the USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll and the NCAA’s official RPI.

What will it take to stay on top?

The Wildcats are a complete team. They will need to continue to prove that over the final month of the season. It won’t be as easy to overcome an off night in the circle by out-hitting the opponent, as it has been against the rest of the conference. An Arizona pitcher having her “B-game” against UCLA, Washington or Stanford will likely mean a loss.

The same is true of the offense. The Arizona pitching staff is deep and talented. However, the expected starters have not produced the kind of numbers that their counterparts at UCLA and Washington have. They need the run support.

Against teams the caliber of UCLA, Washington and Stanford, the offense has provided a total of 32 runs over 11 games. Only the Florida State game won with Snyder in the circle featured the kind of offensive production that is currently getting national attention for Arizona.

Against the kind of teams they will need to defeat to get back to Oklahoma City or win a title, the Wildcat offense has been considerably less robust. Not surprisingly, those are the teams that have handed Arizona their losses.

The last time Arizona faced a team in the top 30 of the RPI was Mar. 10 against Florida State. That was the day they finished up a 1-2 series loss to the defending national champs. While they certainly proved they could compete against the best that weekend, they weren’t quite able to get over the hump.

Beginning this weekend, the Wildcats will have the chance to show that the successes of the last month haven’t just been fueled by a relatively weak Pac-12 schedule. The opportunity to show that they can, in fact, defeat the best teams in the country will present itself again. Arizona will need all parts of their game producing at the same time if they hope to do that and finally end their WCWS drought.