Missouri kicks off their baseball season in a little over two weeks, which means it’s time to start some preseason coverage. To start off Rock M’s season preview series, we will begin by talking about how the weekend rotation seems to be shaping up.
There’s going to be some new blood in the weekend rotation for the Tigers in 2023. Spencer Miles was taken in last year’s MLB draft and Austin Marozas graduated, but the Tigers have done a decent job of acquiring talent from the transfer portal and developing in-house arms they feel can fill those voids from last year’s team.
The first arm to get to know is Chandler Murphy. The Arizona transfer will almost certainly get the ball for the Tigers on opening day and is going to have to be a workhorse in 2023 if the Tigers have any plans to end their postseason drought.
Murphy arrived in Columbia after spending the past three seasons as a mainstay in the perennially talented Arizona Wildcats pitching staff. Murphy’s best season came in 2021 in which he played an integral role on a Wildcats team that made it all the way to Omaha. In 20 appearances in 2021, including 8 starts, Murphy sported a 4.29 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and 62 Ks in 63 innings. His FIP and xFIP both backed up his raw statistical output at 4.15 and 3.95, respectively.
In 2022, Murphy regressed as he battled an arm injury that kept him out of fall practice, but his numbers were not as bad as they seem on the surface. In 13 appearances, Murphy made 9 starts, had a 9.73 ERA and 2.23 WHIP while striking out 15 batters in 28.2 innings. That 9.73 ERA looks ugly, but he had a 6.71 FIP and 5.35 xFIP indicating he was getting unlucky, frequently. The biggest concern from Murphy’s 2022 season was the regression of his control. His K-BB ration dipped from 2.57 in 2021 to 1.0 in 2022. If Murphy is going to be getting the ball on Friday nights for the Tigers, they’ll be hoping he can rediscover that control from 2021.
The good news is all reports are saying that Murphy is on a trajectory more in line with his 2021 self. D1 baseball reported he was sitting 93-94 mph during fall scrimmages and developed his changeup into a more reliable pitch to pair with his fastball and slider. His fastball has some cut to it, which should help him miss barrels, but his success will almost certainly come down to his ability to eliminate the control issues of 2022 and stay healthy. If he can do both of those things, the Tigers should have confidence going into their Friday night games week in, week out.
Here’s a look at a rather fantastic sequence from Murphy in fall ball in which he brushed a hitter back before putting him away with a sweeping slider off the plate.
The Setup: High cheese followed by putaway slider by @MizzouBaseball RHP Chandler Murphy. Up to 94 with a cutting FB, Arizona transfer showcasing 4 pitches in the zone in today's scrimmage vs @RedbirdBaseball @d1baseball @PBR_DraftHQ pic.twitter.com/c5gBkzLTnt— David Seifert (@DSeifertD1PBR) October 15, 2022
After Murphy, things are slightly more uncertain in the weekend rotation. Austin Troesser, Ian Lohse, and Tony Neubeck each will be hoping their name is on the lineup card come the first weekend of the season, but only two will get the call.
Troesser is probably the most likely of the three to get a weekend start to begin the year, and it’s no secret why – the man has an absolutely electric fastball. According to D1 Baseball, Troesser was sitting in the 95-96 range when they visited Missouri in the fall, and he touched 97. Oh, and just for good measure they made sure to add, “He has the look of someone who could touch triple digits at some point.”
Beyond just being a flamethrower, Troesser was successful in his limited outings last season for the Tigers. In 13 appearances, including 7 starts, Troesser managed an impressive 3.64 ERA and 1.42 WHIP while striking out 22 batters in 29.2 innings. Even more impressively, before he began dealing with a flexor strain, Troesser had a 1.92 ERA in 23.1 innings.
Despite having a very successful year last season, there is some reason for concern with Troesser. His 3.64 ERA was somewhat deceiving about his output on the mound in 2022. A 7.14 FIP and 4.95 xFIP make it clear that Troesser was the beneficiary of some good luck going his way. In no way does this mean that Troesser’s ERA will spike this season as he tries to assume a larger role, but the disparity is something that’s worth keeping an eye on as the Tigers try to find the right weekend rotation combination.
Before we move on to Lohse and Neubeck, take a look at this wipe-out slider Troesser pairs with his explosive heaters. There’s no doubt he has the stuff to put away hitters at the SEC level.
My assumption is that it will come down to Lohse and Neubeck for the final weekend rotation spot, but since there’s no clear-cut favorite from my understanding, I’m going to start with the guy who I personally would give the ball to – Neubeck.
As only a freshman last season, Neubeck quickly made a name for himself in CoMo by pitching his way into the rotation for Steve Bieser. He made 9 starts in 15 appearances with a 5.79 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, and 60 Ks in 51.1 innings. The numbers weren’t stellar, and neither was the FIP at 7.79, but the xFIP at 4.28 makes you look again.
Neubeck’s problem last season was clear as day; he couldn’t keep the ball in the ballpark. He commanded the zone well with a 2.0 K-BB ratio, but when he missed, he missed bad and was punished to the tune of 15 HRs. His 19.4% HR/Flyball rate was dreadful, but the good news for him is these issues are all fixable.
Neubeck excelled in the Appalachian Summer League, and D1 Baseball reported his secondary pitches have progressed significantly in the offseason. If he’s able to locate his secondary pitches to a degree that’s somewhat in the same realm of his fastball, you could see a massive leap from Neubeck this year.
Here’s a short clip of Neubeck demonstrating his command and painting the backdoor against Tennessee.
Now it’s time to talk about Ian Lohse. It might seem odd that I pegged Neubeck over him for the weekend rotation as I have been very clear that Lohse is my favorite arm on the staff over the past two years, but I have my reasons.
First, I think the role of the super reliever that comes in during high leverage situations and go multiple innings is more important than ever in modern baseball. Lohse has proven he can play that role almost perfectly. Second, Lohse has struggled with injuries in his two years on campus. Moving him from a reliever to a starter could cause more problems in the injury department, and having maybe your biggest weapon unhealthy for a third straight year is something I believe the Tigers should aim to avoid at all costs.
Nevertheless, it would be naïve to deny the excitement that could come from moving Lohse to the weekend rotation. His stuff is electric, and he has proven he can mow hitters down. The junior lefthander arrived in CoMo in 2021, and quickly made his name by posting a 3.27 ERA and 31 Ks in 22 innings before his season was cut short by Tommy John surgery. In 2022, Lohse came back from the surgery and clearly had to knock some rust off before settling in and posting a 3.98 ERA and 31Ks in 20.1 innings. His FIP was on the higher range at 5.08, and his xFIP wasn’t great either at 4.55. Considering he was coming back from TJ and had his season ended for hip surgery, I’m giving him a pass in that department.
This could be the first time Lohse is truly healthy in a Missouri jersey and the thought of that is truly exciting. His 3.3% HR/Flyball rate validates his ability to get soft contact and K/9 has exceed 12.5 both years he’s toed the rubber at Taylor Stadium. If Bieser elects to go with Lohse in the starting role, it could pay major dividends if it works, but knowing that he can also play the super reliever role makes sure that Lohse will be an integral part of the 2023 Missouri pitching rotation regardless of his role.
Stay tuned for more Mizzou baseball coverage over the next couple weeks before the season begins on February 17!