It is time once again for our weekly “Ask Mike” segment where our veteran analyst Mike Irwin answers your questions about Arkansas Athletics.
We’re going to start off with several baseball questions.
Q. BloodRedHog wants to know: At this point in the season, before the college world series, how good is this Arkansas team? Is this the best team DVH has had?
A. It could be but there’s still a lot of baseball to be played. No Arkansas team and only one other SEC team has gone 22-8 in league play. Only one other SEC team has won all 10 conference series and this team has played the toughest schedule of any Arkansas team ever. I’m not sure if any other Arkansas baseball team has been ranked number one. This one has been for most of the season. But….the 2018 Hogs came within one out of winning the College World Series and ultimately it’s what you do in Omaha that matters most. I’ll answer your question in a few weeks.
Q. Austin.Hogfan asks: So did you read into DVH pre-Florida interview that he was a little perturbed with all the love that Florida’s baseball team continues to receive and he really badly wanted to beat them this weekend….which we did!
A. Maybe a little frustrated but he should be used to it. Arkansas is having one of the best seasons of any SEC baseball team ever and while yes, they are getting publicity on the SEC network, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida are getting just as much or maybe more. I explained this last week. Arkansas is a smallest TV market in the SEC. The SEC Network plays to its viewers. I will say that since Arkansas was won the SEC I do see the Razorbacks getting more air time and more respect on the SEC Network. It’s almost like a lot of those people thought that eventually Arkansas would fall back and Tennessee or Vandy would win the league. When it didn’t happen no we see a lot of, Wow Arkansas is really good and here are all the reasons why.
Q. Superhog1959 says: Our starting pitchers have been inconsistent. Kopps has been the stopper and the difference in many games. Do you think Kopps in another situation, where we had better or more consistent starters, would be a starter himself? Could he be a starter next year?
A. No. Kopps is a closer who can pitch in two games for five and six innings a weekend. As such he’s more valuable than a starter because he can get you wins AND saves. Right now he’s 10-0 with 8 saves. That’s 18 games where he heavily influenced the outcome. As far as next year, he’s a fifth year player already. There’s no way he’s coming back next year. With the season he’s having he’s in great shape for the Major League draft.
Q. HawgHeadWithCheese says: As someone who has always listened to all the major UofA sports on the radio I rarely get to watch our athletes compete. As such, I am very curious as to where you think Kevin Kopps ranks on the all time pitchers list here at Arkansas.
A. Well, Phil Elson is a really good play by play announcer but I have to believe that it’s hard to to do justice to what Kopps does without seeing it in person. The thing that amazes me is that SEC teams do such a great job of scouting opponents I figured late in the season that hitters would start to adjust to him. Figure him out. What I see, game after game, is batters doing the same thing. Swinging at air. Kopps twists them into knots. I keep hearing all these analysts try to explain it and I don’t think they know. They can’t even agree on what he’s throwing. It’s a cutter. No it’s a slider. Wait, it’s a cut-slider. When you cover college baseball as long as I have there’s not too many things that I haven’t see before but I’ve never seen anything like Kopps.
Q. T.L. Slaten is ranting. He says: I’m tired of all these complaints about our pitching. What’s wrong with these people? So we don’t have three traditional weekend starters? Who cares? We haven’t lost a series all season and we didn’t do that with hitting alone.
A. It has to do with two things. This team does not have an established three-man rotation. Lately not even an established two-man rotation. Also at various times the bullpen has been shaky in at least one of the games.
The good news is, Wicklander has remained very good on Fridays and there’s enough good that arms beyond that, that DVH can go with his gut instinct for games two and three. The same is true with is bullpen. If one of them gets in trouble DVH can quickly adjust with another reliever. It’s working or this team would not stay number one. Plus, in the last two weeks the pitching has gotten better. DVH used 12 different pitchers against Florida and Arkansas won all three games. Those 12 gave up a combined 7 runs. That’s 2.3 runs per game facing a top 10 team. You don’t do that with a pitching problem.
Q. NashWPS18 asks: Do you rest Kopps for the SEC tournament or give him very little work?
A. DVH says Kopps will pitch but not as much as we normally see. I’m guessing that he will go no more than three innings total. DVH said after Saturday’s game that most coaches believe it’s a mistake to completely rest key pitchers during conference tournament week. Sometimes those pitchers end up not sharp for regional play. I don’t think DVH will go out of his way to win the SEC tournament but we’re gonna see the top five or six pitchers in a limited role with maybe six others pitching more than normal depending on how many games Arkansas plays. For that reason I don’t see Arkansas winning the SEC tournament but I didn’t see the Hogs winning game three against Florida either. This team is so used to winning I’d never count it out no matter who Van Horn throws or how much he adjusts his lineup by using backup players to rest his starters.
Q. @mousetown wants to know: What did Costeiu say to Florida’s home run hitter? The ump got involved. Florida’s coach got mad. I heard DVH was mad. Was there bad blood between the Hogs and Gators?
A. You didn’t have to be a lip reader to tell what he said. After the strikeout he said, “Sit the blank down” and he pointed to the dugout. You’re right. The ump got on him. DVH got on him and it looked like Kevin O’ Sullivan tried to get the ump to remove Costeiu from the game. Which would not have mattered, by the way, because he was not going to pitch beyond the one inning he’d just thrown. I think Costeiu got a little excited striking out the national home run leader which was actually not that big of a deal since almost everybody he faced stuck him out. I’d say Matt Hobbs did a really good job of scouting Jud Fabian.
Q. ArkansasRedNeck says: I liked the story you wrote on pinch hitter Charlie Welch. It’s always nice when out of state kids come in with as much passion to be Razorbacks as those who grew up here.
A. Pretty unusual for a south Florida high school player to come all the way to a Razorback camp hoping to get Arkansas coaches to notice him. It didn’t work for Welch. He was a decent catcher but his hitting wasn’t all that great. DVH did not offer him and he ended up committed to South Carolina. They then had a coaching change and the next head coach didn’t want him so he went to Pepperdine for a year and started as a freshman. He hit for power but his batting average was low.
He went back to a junior college in Florida and was off to a great start when COVID hit. Last summer, when college baseball teams were shut down, Welch played in a summer league in Texas. That’s where he ran into DVH a second time. He still wanted to be a Hog.
Van Horn watched him and the kid hit several home runs with a wooden bat. So this time Welch got an offer but he was warned that Arkansas’ lineup was full for 2021 and he might not play much until he 2022 season. Welch came anyway and settled into his role as a pinch hitter. He sort of quietly put together some amazing numbers, hitting over .400 with multiple home runs, doubles and RBI.
DVH likes him because he’s really good at hitting left handed pitchers. Opposing coaches bring in a lefty and Van Horn goes and gets Welch.
After this past weekend he’s become a celebrity. The Baum-Walker crowd loves him after that walkoff win on Friday that gave Arkansas the SEC championship.
I have a feeling that we’re going to hear a lot more about Charlie Welch for the rest of this year and next year.
Q. Semper_a_Hog says: I’d like to see the SEC award an overall athletic program champions’ trophy, one that recognizes the combined quality of a university’s athletic programs. It’s obvious who the trophy would go to this year! I’m really impressed with the job that the whole department has done.
A. There is a national award for overall athletic success within a program. It’s called the Directors Cup as a nod to the athletic directors at successful schools. Arkansas has never won it mainly because points are awarded for each sport and Arkansas doesn’t compete in as many sports as some schools. Still Arkansas is usually in the top 20 and should finish very high this year. If they did this in the SEC I think Arkansas would be a runaway winner.
Q. Terry Anderson wants to know: Did Sam Pittman just get a new contract? He’s only been here a year. Why the new contract?
A. He didn’t get a new contract. They added a year back to it because of COVID.
Hunter Yurachek called it a restart. So it’s like he just signed his contract last week. The money’s the same. The bonus perks are the same. The length of the contract is the same.
Q. Lanny says: Most Hog fans hate the Longhorns but they are from Arkansas. You are from Texas. What’s your beef with UT?
A. With me it started when I was about 12 years old. I’d save my lawn mowing money during the summers and buy tickets to Texas Tech games along with my best friend who’s dad was a farmer. He liked Tech but he was a big Arkansas fan. We could not afford sideline seats so we sat visitors section, Most of the opposing fans were fine. The Razorback fans were extremely knowledgeable and easy to get along with. The Texas fans were the opposite. Very arrogant. Made fun of Lubbock. Popped off about farmers. I grew around farmer so it really made me mad.
I’m not around Texas fans much these days but I don’t think anything has changed. Here is a sample of what was posted on the UT message board “Surley Horns” last week about playing Arkansas in September.
Vick Mackey wrote: The UT/Arkansas rivalry was way before my time. My grandpa has stories of when Texas played them. Two questions:
1. Is Fayetteville a craphole?
2. Why did they leave the SWC before it disbanded?
Walden Ponderer answers him.
1. Fayetteville is worse than a craphole.
2. They left the SWC because they are inbred yokels.
Some guy who calls himself ‘stache says: Fayetteville’s a decent town. The rest of the region stinks. It’s basically one giant conglomerate of suburbs. Chains and strip mall galore. Some people like that, I think it’s awful.
Hobbs thinks Fayetteville is cool but hates the Razorbacks. He says: Got nothing bad to say about the town itself and actually like it quite a bit. That said, to hell with Arkansas football (and basketball – despised seeing their drooling hordes at SWC tourney at Reunion aka Barnhill South). When I was a kid, we hated those jerks almost as much as OU.
Finally Butch Had Not is mad because younger UT fans don’t hate Arkansas enough. He says: The hate for those jackasses should be 10x what it currently is. It’s like a majority of the current fan base never knew we were in the same conference and it was a pretty heated rivalry. Now it’s just fat Belima jokes. (he misspelled Bielema)
So, in conclusion, it sounds like it’s going to be fun watching Arkansas beat those guys this coming season.