The Christian College Baseball All-Stars: Pitchers

In Monday afternoon’s post on Christian college alumni I observed that those schools seem to do surprisingly well — given their typically small sizes — at placing former students in professional sports. One sport in particular:

In fact, you could build at least a mediocre major league baseball roster with nothing but players who spent at least a year or two at a Christian college, with Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon (Southeastern University) and Royals super-utilityman Ben Zobrist (Olivet Nazarene and Dallas Baptist) forming a nice little nucleus for the club.

But then I wondered: is that actually true?

I could hardly pass up the chance to combine my interests in baseball and Christian higher education, so the last two days I spent more hours than I should have doing some research using the wonderful Baseball Reference website, which conveniently has players indexed by (among many other things) the colleges and universities they attended. And I think I’ve come up with a twenty-five man all-time roster that could be competitive.

CCCU LogoAs always on any post with “Christian college” in the title, I should start by conceding that the definition of that phrase is problematic. To keep things simple, I just went with the current membership of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU). That excludes Division I programs like Notre Dame, Baylor, and Pepperdine that have sent dozens of players to the majors (too easy), but it did require me to leave off some terrific players who attended church-related colleges that aren’t in the CCCU. As a Minnesota Twins fan, it was particularly hard to omit 283-game winner Jim Kaat (Hope College). But he’s as good a broadcaster as he was a pitcher, so we’ll hire him as the team’s color analyst.

And fortunately, pitching is the strength of this club. So let’s start there:

Starting Pitchers

1. Preacher Roe (RHP, Harding)

2. Shane Reynolds (RHP, Faulkner)

3. Tim Belcher (RHP, Mt. Vernon Nazarene)

4. Brandon Beachy (RHP, Indiana Wesleyan)

5. Mike Moore (RHP, Oral Roberts)

Preacher Roe
Elwin Charles “Preacher” Roe – Wikimedia

With Harding’s recent admission to the CCCU, we can build around a genuine #1 starter in Roe, who was a four-time All-Star for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Jackie Robinson era. (And this kind of team really should have a “Preacher” take the ball on opening day, especially one who went 22-3 in that ill-fated 1951 season.) He didn’t miss a lot of bats, but he outpitched his era (116 ERA+) and racked up a lifetime WAR of 35.1, second-highest of any Christian college alum.

(I’d love to add his Dodgers teammate Carl Erskine — but while Erskine returned to his home town in Indiana to coach what was then still Anderson College, I don’t think he actually attended the school. I’ll hire him as our pitching coach, working under manager Pat Casey, who finished his degree at George Fox while coaching there, then moved on to Oregon State, where he has won two College World Series.)

Reynolds and Belcher did most of their pitching in the Nineties. Reynolds picked up 103 of his 114 career wins with the Astros; Belcher had a strong start to his career with the Dodgers (e.g., going 12-6 as a rookie on the 1988 championship team with Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson) before becoming a journeyman with six other teams (best year: going 15-11 with a 126 ERA+ as a thirty-four year old with the ’96 Royals).

I’ve generally focused on overall careers, but with due respect to Justin Masterson (Bethel of Indiana), who had a couple of good years with the Indians, I’m going to fudge a bit and opt for Beachy. While his comeback from Tommy John surgery hasn’t gone well, the Beachy of 2011-2012 had an ERA just over three and struck out almost ten batters per nine innings, enlivening a group that doesn’t throw all that hard. (The next closest thing I’ve got to a flamethrower is Reynolds, with a respectable but not dazzling 7.0 K/9 rate.)

Then we’re down to a hard choice for the fifth spot in the rotation. It’s hard to go without a southpaw, but the three best left-handed options are underwhelming.

  • A Virginian from the deadball era, Nick Cullop (King) has a lifetime ERA of 2.76 (8% better than average even in that offensively-challenged era), but pitched only six seasons (two in the Federal League).
  • Clyde Wright (Carson-Newman) ended his career with exactly one hundred wins and was an All-Star with the Angels in 1970 — but had only one other above-average season and lost eleven more games than he won.
  • Sentimentally, I want to add Mark Redman, since he pitched well as a rookie with the last terrible Twins team before their 2000s resurgence. But only three of his ten seasons ended with a WAR higher than 2 — the standard for “starter.” (And does The Master’s College really have a baseball team?!?)

And then there’s Moore. He lost more often than he won (161-176) and was below the league ERA in nine of his fourteen seasons; and his best years (1989-1992) came with an Oakland A’s team that not only cheated but tormented my beloved Twins. Still, he’s far and away the winningest pitcher in this pool, and his lifetime 28.2 WAR is second only to Roe’s. I’ll take him, knowing that I can always turn things over to the real strength of the team…

Bullpen

Todd Worrell in 1987
Todd Worrell in 1987, presumably at some point before his Cardinals lost the World Series to my Twins – Creative Commons (Johnmaxmena)

Closers: Dan Quisenberry (RHP, Fresno Pacific), Todd Worrell (RHP, Biola)

Set-up Men: Tim Worrell (RHP, Biola), Steve Cishek (RHP, Carson-Newman)

Lefty specialists: J.C. Romero (LHP, Univ. of Mobile), Rex Brothers (LHP, Lipscomb)

Long reliever: Joe Beggs (RHP, Geneva)

I’d probably start with “Quiz” as my closer; he didn’t strike out too many of them (3.3 K/9), but his delivery baffled American League hitters for years as he racked up 244 saves with a 144 ERA+ and tiny 1.175 WHIP. But he’d be interchangeable with his I-70 rival, who actually earned eight more saves and missed far more bats (8.1 K/9).

I’d feel comfortable handing the ball to Tim’s brother in the 7th and 8th innings, but I suspect that the sinker/slider-throwing Cishek will show up in his fair share of high-leverage situations. After spending most of his young career toiling with the Marlins (and striking out a batter an inning), he seems World Series-bound now that he’s been traded to the Cardinals (allowing just one run in fifteen appearances so far).

No former CCCU student has pitched in more games than Buddy Groom (Univ. of Mary Hardin-Baylor), but #2 was a better pitcher: Romero made just under half of his 680 appearances with the Twins as they were piling up division titles in the 2000s and then won the World Series with the Phillies in 2008 (picking up two wins and allowing no runs and only two hits in his four appearances). As with Brandon Beachy, I’m picking Brothers for an earlier segment of his career, the three-year stretch with the Rockies (2011-2013) when he struck out over 11 batters per 9 innings.

Rounding out the staff is Beggs, who played in the 1940s, primarily with the Reds. Pitching to contact (about two strikeouts and two walks per nine), he had a sub-3.00 lifetime ERA (23% better than his era) and even picked up some MVP votes in 1940, when he went 12-3 with seven saves. (He also had a 2.32 ERA his one year as a starter — at age 35! — so I might call on him for a spot start or two.)

Tomorrow: the position players.


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