Best Season Bracket Semifinals: Holsten vs. Smith

It’s time for the Pitcher’s Bracket final!

Yesterday we presented the Hitter’s Bracket final featuring the cases of Lyle Overbay and Paul Goldschmidt. Today we’ll take a look at the Pitcher’s Bracket final between Ryan Holsten and Cameron Smith. Later tonight we will announce the the semifinal winners and tomorrow’s head-to-head in the “Best Season Bracket” final. If you missed yesterday’s post on Overbay and Goldschmidt, go ahead and give it a read if you feel so inclined.

Below is the updated bracket as it appears entering the competition’s semifinals:

Now that we’ve gotten that all out of the way, here we go with the second half of our semifinal coverage!

Ryan Holsten (2001) vs. Cameron Smith (2015)

The Case For Ryan Holsten (2001):

Stat Line: 17 GP / 12 GS, 9–3, 2.53 ERA, 89.0 innings pitched, 60 K , 12 BB, 1.08 WHIP

Slotted as the #1 seed on the right side of the “Pitcher’s Bracket,” Holsten built one of the most impressive resumes in Osprey pitching history. The most notable piece of Holsten’s performance is the fact that he was able to maintain his dominance over such an extensive body of work — 89 innings. Unlike the cases against Dustin Nippert and Mike Belfiore from earlier in the bracket, there are no questions about Holsten’s sample size.

Holsten, who pitched in 17 games, logged a league-high 89.0 innings of work and maintained a 2.53 ERA across the duration. Holsten’s innings total, ERA and WHIP (1.08) were each Osprey records at the time. His ERA and WHIP are still the lowest in franchise history for any pitcher logging 85.0 innings or more. Holsten’s win total (9) still stands alone as the highest single-season total on O’s history.

During the 2001 season, Holsten finished in the top-10 of 8 pitching categories, 7 of which he placed in the top-5. Holsten finished the season ranked fourth in hits per 9 innings pitched (8.49); third in ERA (2.53); second in wins (9), WHIP (1.08) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5 to 1); and first in both innings pitched (89.0) and walks per 9 innings pitched (1.21).

Thanks in part to Holsten’s spectacular season, the 2001 Osprey boasted the best pitching staff in the Pioneer League by a relatively wide margin. As a team, they recorded the lowest ERA and allowed the second-fewest baserunners on the circuit. They did this against a league loaded with hitting talent where the league nightly average of 5.9 runs per game was the highest mark between 2001 and 2003.

Pretty impressive stuff.

The Case Against Ryan Holsten:

The two main arguments against Holsten’s case for moving on to the semifinals are his advanced age and his club’s falling short of a Pioneer League Championship.

Beginning with his age, Holsten dominated the rookie-level circuit at 22-years-old, making him almost two full years older than the average player in 2001. This is noteworthy because, unlike his teenage 2001 teammate and league MVP Jesus Cota, Holsten was taking advantage of hitters typically younger than him. While age has become a nagging weight dragging down the work of top performers, I think it’s a little bit less severe of a detractor for Holsten than others like Lyle Overbay and Austin Byler.

Holsten, who had played four years of college baseball before being drafted, wasn’t the kind of player that dominated collegiate competition from the beginning like Overbay and Byler were. Instead, Holsten played collegiately at Fairfield, a small school in the Northeast, and struggled through the first three years of his career. It wasn’t until his senior season in the spring of 2001 that Holsten enjoyed any semlance of collegiate success when he posted a 2.45 ERA improving on marks of 6.59 and 4.71 in the two years prior. What these college numbers tell us is that, despite his advanced age, Holsten really wasn’t all that developed for a 22-year-old and was probably at a more appropriate level for the Pioneer League than the typical 22-year-old. Perhaps this mitigating factor doesn’t hold up in your mental litigation of the matter, but it’s worth considering regardless.

The second half of the argument against Holsten is another that we’ve seen as a recurring theme in the “Best Season Ever” series. Despite being at the forefront of the most dominant pitching staff in the league and a member of the best regular-season team in Osprey history, Holsten finished his historic season on a losing note. The O’s inability to win the 2001 championship is an indictment on Holsten’s impact in the same way that it was on that of Jesus Cota.

All of that in mind, outside of the issues of age and playoff failure, the case against Ryan Holsten is rather thin. His extensive work and impressive results are well-suited to the possibility of his moving on.

The Case For Cameron Smith (2015):

Stat Line: 13 GP / 4 GS, 7–1, 1.68 ERA, 1 SV, 53.2 innings pitched, 62 SO, 7 BB, .190 OBA, 0.80 WHIP

Moving from Ryan Holsten to Cameron Smith, we are confronted by a similarly exceptional stat line, with Smith dominating the 2015 circuit en route to hoisting the league championship trophy.

Unlike Holsten in 2001, Smith fell just a few innings short of qualifying for the leaderboard in most of the major pitching categories.

While Holsten lead the Pioneer League in innings pitched, Smith was 3.1 innings short of standing atop numerous leaderboards. His 7 wins placed him second on the circuit behind only teammate Bo Takahashi and his 62 strikeouts were the fourth-most in the league. Had Smith met the minimum innings threshold, he likely would have led the Pioneer League in ERA (1.68), WHIP (0.80), hits per 9 innings pitched (6.04), strikeouts per 9 innings pitched (10.40), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (8.86).

Cameron Smith stares in for a sign during the 2015 Pioneer League season.

Of Smith’s 13 appearances during the regular season, the Texas Tech alum held the opposition to zero or one run 11 times, 7 times holding them scoreless. In his final 5 appearances of the 2015 season, Smith totaled 23.0 innings of work and allowed just 1 earned run (0.39 ERA), 8 total base hits, and 5 walks compared to 22 strikeouts.

According to O’s GM Jeff Griffin, Cameron Smith was the most dominant pitcher he’s ever seen in the Pioneer League, which is particularly impressive considering that he was taken in the 36th round and stands at only 5 feet 8 inches tall.

The Case Against Cameron Smith:

The two primary items that we might hold against Smith are his poor performance under the pressure of the Pioneer League playoffs and the relative weakness of offenses around the circuit in 2015.

Smith pitched twice in the 6-game playoff run the O’s enjoyed en route to claiming the Pioneer League Championship. Between his two outings, both starts, Smith pitched 11.0 innings, allowed 8 total runs (5 unearned), and lost both games. With the O’s looking to him as a major advantage in the postseason, Smith was unable to produce the results reflected on his regular-season resume. Despite his struggles, the Osprey were able to recover and eventually win the league title. Smith, however, left much to be desired in the process.

The second half of the argument against Smith centers around his dominance over a relatively weaker series of Pioneer League lineups than in previous years. In 2015 the league averaged 5.73 runs scored per game, which was the second-lowest mark in the window between 2011 and 2016. Over that span, only one season produced less offense than the 2015 season. Like Smith’s age being slightly above the league average, we don’t consider this to be a major limiting factor on Smith’s performance because run totals have been generally rising over the last few decades in the Pioneer League. In all, the case against Cameron Smith is rather thin and largely resides within his postseason performance.

We’ll announce the winners of each semifinal later today!

Don’t forget, the O’s home opener is just a few weeks away! Get your tickets to see the Osprey host Great Falls on Friday, June 23 at 7:05 pm! Tickets can be acquired by calling 406–543–3300, at MissoulaOsprey.com, or at the MSO Hub.

More To Come Soon,

Cooper