The complaint is often heard among Arizona softball fans: the ace is being asked to pitch too much. How will she have anything left when the postseason comes? The question has been asked almost every season. Whether that’s a legitimate complaint or not, it can’t be made this season.
With the pitching depth the Wildcats have enjoyed, senior ace Taylor McQuillin enters Super Regionals having pitched 46.2 fewer innings this year than last. The new question is how much that influences her effectiveness as Arizona tries to return to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2010.
When Arizona left for Westwood to compete in the Super Regionals against UCLA last season, McQuillin had already thrown 228 innings. Due to both depth and the number of run-rule games Arizona has won this season, she enters this weekend’s matchup with Ole Miss having thrown only 181.1 innings, roughly a 22 percent decrease.
“I definitely think that their bodies are more rested,” Arizona pitching coach Taryne Mowatt said about effects of reduced innings on McQuillin and Alyssa Denham. “I also think that they kind of cherished the innings that they did get. They knew they were going to pitch a lot and pitch the bulk of the innings. But every time they were put into a game and they had those innings that weekend, it made it a little bit more special because it wasn’t just ‘Oh, another inning.’ It was, ‘Okay, these are my innings for the weekend and I need to take care of business here.’”
How do the IP numbers compare to past Arizona staffs?
McQuillin’s 181.1 innings account for the lowest total for the No. 1 pitcher on the Arizona staff since 2015 when Michelle Floyd threw 180.2. That was a very different season, though. Rather than having a full complement of pitchers who could get it done in the circle, the Wildcats simply used their No. 2 pitcher more than usual in 2015.
In the last three years, the No. 2 pitcher has thrown 98, 106 and 114 innings through the end of Regionals. In 2015, No. 2 pitcher Trish Parks pitched 125.2 innings prior to the Super Regionals.
The 2015 staff also had a considerably higher ERA of 4.34 with Floyd’s 3.62 being the only one below 4.00. Compare that to the 2019 staff, which has an ERA of 1.61 as a group.
The lowest ERA on this year’s team is the 0.48 put up by both Hanah Bowen and Marissa Schuld in limited innings; McQuillin has a career-best 1.54 going into her final home games of the season. Only one member of the 2019 staff has an ERA over 2.00, and she has pitched less than 10 full innings all season. In other words, the 2015 staff was an outlier that used the No. 1 pitcher less simply because they didn’t have a dominant ace.
Has the lighter workload made a difference?
What do the numbers say?
McQuillin’s ERA has certainly dropped. Last season, she gave up 1.68 runs per seven innings. Her stats this year reflect an improvement of just over eight percent.
However, McQuillin has seen a drop every year, as should be expected as a pitcher develops. The drop from her sophomore to her junior campaign was 12.5 percent. Between her freshman to sophomore seasons, she improved her ERA by over 40 percent.
Her strikeout rates have remained fairly constant throughout her career, hovering around 30 percent since her sophomore season. Similarly, her walk rates have remained steady, hanging around seven percent over all four seasons.
What has improved this season is the number of home runs per game that opponents have hit off of her. Going into the Super Regionals last year, opponents had already deposited 20 of McQuillin’s pitches over the fence. That’s a rate of .63 homers per seven innings. So far this season, she has allowed just 13 long balls—a rate of .49 per seven innings. The drop amounts to a 22 percent decrease for Arizona’s ace.
McQuillin thinks the improved depth has helped this season, but she doesn’t think it’s a physical difference and she’s doesn’t think it’s just about her. Instead, the change is an emotional and mental one that affects the entire team.
“I think the big difference between this year and last year is our team’s confidence and our team’s energy level throughout every game that we play, and especially coming from our bench,” she said. “They’ve been a tremendous help this postseason so far, and especially the last weekend we played in conference at UCLA. They’re really motivating, really helpful and they push us to be better on and off the field.”
Whatever the cause of their improved results, McQuillin and the rest of the staff will need to continue drawing on it if they hope to get to the program’s first Women’s College World Series in nine years.