Tennessee baseball waited their turn to become the school’s focal point during the latter portions of March, and with March Madness finishing up, Vols baseball is no longer in the rearview and are ready to take the country by storm.
They are the number one team in the nation. They are scoring an absurd 10 runs per game and have hit 79 home runs on the year, 10 more than the next closest. Frankly, this could very easily be a “Just how good is Tennessee’s offense” article given their team slash line on the season is .321/.439/.648/1.088. Yes, they do lead the country in on-base and slugging percentage, too. However, that is not why we’re here today. Today is all about pitching and how the Vols aren’t just beating teams, they’re taking their souls.
As a team, the Vols have been dominant. 31-1 speaks for itself (nobody else in the top 25 has fewer than five losses), but it’s the way they’ve gone about it on the mound that’s most impressive. Their 1.83 ERA in conference play thus far is a big reason for their success, so let’s take a look deeper into the numbers to illustrate just how dominant they’ve been.
Tennessee is 12-0 in conference play, the best start in SEC history. As you can see above, efficient is an understatement. They’re the best across the board, and not only is it not close in any category, they’re more than two runs better in ERA and a full run better in FIP (fielding independent pitching) than Arkansas, the next closest in both. The most impressive number here, however, is Tennessee’s strikeout rate minus walk rate. K%-BB% basically takes a team’s K% and BB% and simplifies it into one compact number to show both efficiency and dominance or the lack thereof.
There is nothing lacking here for the Vols. Tennessee’s K-BB% mark of 28.12% is higher than every other SEC team’s K% alone. It’s stupefying how good they’ve been, and it’s largely been on the back of some flat out filthiness from their weekend trio of starters: Chase Burns, Chase Dollander, and Drew Beam.
Overall, Tennessee ranks first in ERA, WHIP, K-percentage, BB-percentage, and strikeouts and walks per nine innings. As Anderson .Paak would say, that’s a clean sweep, and while we could break down each and every pitcher on the staff, we’d be here all day, so instead we’re going to look at the Vols’ three new faces who’ve become their three headed monster that has them on historic pace this season.
What more could you want from a freshman? Standing at 6-foot-4, 203 pounds, Beam has been a welcome stud to the Vols’ starting rotation, and his elite pitching has provided an almost unfair boost to the nation’s best staff. Slated to be the fourth man of the rotation, Blade Tidwell’s unfortunate injury forced Beam into a bigger role within the rotation, and he’s more than stepped up.
In eight starts, Beam has amassed 47.1 innings pitched and posted a staggering 1.14 ERA, good for sixth in the nation, and 0.528 WHIP, the best mark in the country, and somehow he’s been even better in SEC play. Since sliding in as the Vols’ Sunday starter, Beam has mowed down batters in conference play. In four starts, Beam has gone at least 6 innings in each of them, totaling 30.1 innings pitched. His ERA in SEC play sits at a smooth 0.89, his FIP at 2.84, and his WHIP is barely visible, sitting at 0.396. He’s been nearly untouchable, and these have been against some solid lineups.
Beam currently has a on-base average against of .135 against these four SEC teams. In his first start in conference play, Beam faced the worst hitting team in the SEC, South Carolina. They rank last in batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage, and Beam dominated them to the tune of 7.2 innings, 0 runs, one hit, three strikeouts, and no walks. Beam, who has yet to walk a batter in conference play, used this game to say he had arrived, but the competition certainly cranked up soon after.
Following a less than stellar Gamecock lineup, Beam was slated to face a powerful Ole Miss squad at Swayze Field, hoping to cap off a sweep of the then top ranked Rebels. Beam went out and tossed 7.1 innings of one-run ball, allowing just three baserunners and striking out six, solidifying the sweep as the Vols secured that number one ranking.
Beam would put together his masterpiece his following outing at Vanderbilt, tossing a complete game, two-hit shutout to sweep the Commodores. His most recent outing against Missouri showed that Beam is indeed human, issuing his first two “free” passes in conference play, plunking two batters. Beam was still stingy, allowing just two runs through 6.1 innings, setting a career high with seven strikeouts.
Beam’s ability to create soft contact (.138 baBIP against this season) has been his biggest key to success. The strikeout numbers may not blow you away from him, but his recent start and especially his stuff indicate that he’s more than ready to take that leap as well.
drew beam's first K of second inning pic.twitter.com/jC2EvC0Tu3— RockyTopTalk (@RockyTopTalk) April 10, 2022
A painted front door two-seamer for the K? Nasty stuff. Beam has rocket ship trajectory for the Vols.
Much like the Vols’ other two weekend starters, Beam and Chase Burns, Dollander has dominant. Aside from an early season struggle against Baylor, Dollander has only surrendered more than three runs one other time, against Missouri in his last start.
While Chase Burns possesses the team’s most dominant stuff from a starter, it’s Dollander who’s been the best strikeout man among the starting staff. Among the team’s starters, Dollander has the highest K-BB%, sitting at a tremendous 35.43%. The sophomore transfer from Georgia Southern has only walked eight batters in 45 innings and has struck out a team leading 70.
Among starters, Dollander’s 3.14 FIP is the best on the team, and his 0.822 WHIP ranks second on the team and eleventh in the nation. All three of Tennessee’s weekend starters rank within the top 30 in WHIP.
Dollander’s smooth arm action while possessing an effortless 96 two-seamer with nasty tail on it is a big reason he’s entered big time draft radar territory. His slider has late bite to it while also dropping 10 miles-per-hour off from the heater.
Just how nasty is his fastball?
Chase Dollander— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 3, 2022
73% strikes tonight too. pic.twitter.com/xNE8LatPrk
Front door, at 96, and then he can do this:
Chase Dollander, 96mph— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 3, 2022
5th K. pic.twitter.com/iRZVIp3eY1
Good grief. Pure filth. Dollander has run into issues with baserunners, so much so that Baylor stole seven bases on his elongated delivery in the first two innings against him, six of which in the first inning, manufacturing four runs on very little contact given up. Aside from that, however, he just simply doesn’t allow baserunners. Over his next four starts, he allowed just 19 baserunners over 24.1 innings of work. Hard to get stolen on when you can just mow them down.
Dollander’s response to struggles has also impressed. Following that four run first against Baylor, Dollander hunkered down and mowed through the Bears over the next two innings. In his last start against Missouri, he allowed back-to-back home runs with two outs in the first. Instead of getting flustered, Dollander once again calmed himself and allowed just two more runs over the next six innings, fanning 10 hitters.
Dollander has worked at least five innings in all but one start this year. He’s become an incredibly reliable second punch in the Vols’ gauntlet of a weekend rotation and has certainly improved his future beyond college.
The third and final head of Tennessee’s pitching King Ghidorah provides the lightning. Much like Beam and Dollander, Burns is also a new face. The hometown freshman from Gallatin, Tennessee, has become the first man an opponent stares down the barrel against on the weekends, and he has become a tone setter in every way. Burns is certainly the wildest of the three, but he makes batters look like they’d never picked up a bat until that day.
Burns doesn’t allow much hard contact despite his prototypical power pitcher arsenal of a 97+ fastball and a wipeout slider. The movement allows him to miss barrels as he’s allowed just seven extra base hits and only two homers in his 41.2 innings of work. His 1.51 ERA ranks within the top 20 nationally, his WHIP ranks inside the top 30, and his 3.49 FIP slots him between Dollander and Beam.
Like Dollander, Burns has gone at least five innings in all but one start this year. That lone exception was his most recent start against Missouri where weather played a big factor in his early hook. He’s yet to allow more than five hits or two runs in a game this season. Some true ace-level stuff there.
Walks have occasionally been an obstacle to climb, he’s walked four batters in a pair of starts, but even still, he’s never allowed it to hinder his dominance.
His best start this season came in Tennessee’s aforementioned sweep over Ole Miss in late March. The flame throwing frosh tossed seven scoreless, allowing just one run on a pair of hits. It’s the only time all season he didn’t issue a walk, and he struck out a season-high 11 batters.
Chase Burns, Overpowering 96mph Fastball. pic.twitter.com/4s7wiOVbtU— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 25, 2022
Overall, there isn’t a better weekend trio in all of college baseball, and right now, it’s not particularly close. Burns strikes fear into your heart when you see 99 around your eyes before swinging out of your shoes at a slider that ends up at your ankles. Dollander continues that gas and pairs it with incredible efficiency and great strikeout stuff. Beam is the last guy you want to see to end a nightmarish weekend because, much like his staff mates, he can rev it up there, but while you may make more contact against him, it’ll never be on the barrel, and before you know it, you’re 0-3 with three weak groundouts.
The three aces have combined for a 1.88 ERA this season, and all three have been listed on college baseball’s Golden Spikes Midseason Watchlist while Beam and Burns have been named to D1Baseball.com’s midseason All-America Team. Despite tripping up against Tennessee Tech, the Vols look to rebound this weekend against Alabama at home with their three-headed monster.