Ohio State's pitching staff heads into the final weekend of the regular season limping to the finish line.
Junior right-hander Josh Dezse, Ohio State's closer in 2011 and 2012, will not have pitched an inning for the second consecutive year. A preseason UCL injury nixed comeback plans after the two-way player missed all of last season due to a stress reaction in his back forcing surgery and a medical-redshirt.
Freshman right-hander Adam Niemeyer's career was off to a promising start, an eight-strikeout 4.1-inning scoreless outing against Oregon enticing dreams of what is to come. But the relief appearance in Eugene was Niemeyer's last game, he too was hit with an UCL injury and needed season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Junior left-hander pitcher Ryan Riga missed four weeks in the middle of the Big Ten season, a sore shoulder knocking him out of the Ohio State rotation. Riga will not pitch this weekend, hoping more rest will have him back to form for the Big Ten Tournament. The southpaw's last two outs have seen Iowa and Michigan combine for 14 runs, 10 earned, in nine innings, eight walks issued.
There too is the tragic development of freshman left-hander Zach Farmer being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, prematurely ending his season and playing career indefinitely.
That Ohio State carries a 3.50 ERA into the final three games of their season is remarkable with how the club has been hindered by health. As the team has relied upon players stepping up and taking on roles greater than imagine, none have excelled as much as freshman left-hander pitcher Tanner Tully. Not only has Tully helped solidify Ohio State's rotation, the freshman ace has performed in a way that merits Big Ten Pitcher of the Year discussion.
Nearing the end of his debut season, the product of Elkhart, Ind. leads the Big Ten with a 1.79 ERA. In 80.1 innings pitched, Tully has surrendered 26 runs, 16 earned, off 73 walks, a minuscule six walks with 42 strikeouts. Limiting the opposition to a .241 average, Tully sports a 6-2 record over the 14 games appeared in which include nine starts.
In addition to his Big Ten-leading ERA, Tully ranks second in the nation in walks allowed per nine innings at .67 and is tenth in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 7.0.
The ERA and unfathomable ability to not issue walks makes Tully's first season incredible. But is it enough to warrant the Big Ten's to pitching honor?
There are is one candidate in particular that Tully will be up against in who takes home the honor, Indiana senior left-hander Joey DeNato.
DeNato has the narrative. DeNatio is the ace on an Indiana club ranked by some publications as a top ten team. The Hoosiers are coming off of a 2013 season which ended in the College World Series, a trip with DeNato throwing a shutout game against Louisville, a "gritty" 136-pitch effort. DeNato was picked by Baseball America as the preseason Big Ten Pitcher of the Year as Indiana was expected to, and has indeed, defend their Big Ten championship.
As Indiana heads into another postseason where they will host an NCAA Tournament regional, this season DeNato became IU's all-time leader in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts. The four-year starter embodies the collegiate student-athlete and will leave Bloomington the program's most storied pitcher.
But is he the Big Ten's best pitcher this year?
DeNato is 11-1 on the season as Indiana concludes their season hosting Minnesota. The left-hander has a 1.91 ERA in 84.2 innings pitched. Opponents are batting .245 off the Hoosier, drawing 33 walks against 61 strikeouts.
Side-by-side here are how DeNato and Tully rank
ERA- Tully (1.79 to 1.91)
Innings pitched- DeNato (84.2 to 80.1)
Complete games- Tully (1 to 0)
Hits allowed per nine innings- DeNato (7.75 to 8.17)
Walks per nine innings- Tully (.67 to 3.35)
Walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP)- Tully (.98 to 1.25)
Strikeouts per nine innings- DeNato (6.48 to 4.75)
Opponents average- Tully (.241 to .245)
Opponents slugging- Tully (.280 to .315)
Extra-base hits allowed- Tully (303 at-bats, seven doubles, one triple, one home run to DeNato's 298 at-bats, 12 doubles, four home runs.)
Wins- DeNato (11-1 to 6-2)
DeNato bests Tully in hits allowed and strikeouts per nine innings, Tully has the edge in every category. Except wins.
DeNato's 11-1 record to Tully's 6-2 mark is hard for the eye to overlook. But should a team stat, and while a pitcher receives a decision it's highly dependent on what his team does, carry much weight in determining a top individual? Indiana has scored 321 runs in their 52 games, an average of 6.17 a game. Ohio State produces an average of 4.83 runs, 257 runs in 53 games. With greater run support, DeNato has a greater chance at earning a win.
Examining the Big Ten season solely, DeNato is 7-0 with a 1.90 ERA in 47.1 innings, 42 hits against with 19 walks and 34 strikeouts. Tully is 3-2 with a 2.06 ERA in 52.1 innings, has conceded 48 hits with four walks and 26 strikeouts. DeNato has the better numbers, but he has the luxury of not pitching against his own lineup, the Hoosiers lead the Big Ten with a .330 average, .501 slugging and .393 on-base percentage.
Looking specifically at common Big Ten opponents, here is how the two have fared.
DeNato: W, 5.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 5 SO
Tully: W, 9 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO
DeNato: W, 6 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO
Tully: W, 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO
DeNato: W, 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 SO
Tully: ND, 7 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 SO
DeNato: W, 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO
Tully: L, 8 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 7 SO
DeNato: W, 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 7 SO
Tully: ND, 7 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO
DeNato: 5-0, 32.1 IP, 26 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 14 BB, 25 SO, 1.67 ERA, WHIP 1.237
Tully: 2-1, 38 IP, 35 H, 10 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 20 SO, 1.42 ERA, WHIP 1.00
The same holds true from their season as a whole. DeNato has fewer hits per nine, more strikeouts and a better record, but Tully bests in ERA, walks, WHIP, strike-to-walk ration.
Tully has been every bit the equal, if not superior to DeNato. DeNato deserves praise for what he has done in a Crimson and Cream uniform, and will likely receive the Pitcher of the Year honor as a great pitcher on a great team. But Tully has done enough to merit the discussion among coaches. And give them a headache knowing he'll be around for at least two more years.