Michael McGreevy used to swear by the Bull Durham credo that baseball is a “simple game.”
“You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball,” the script said. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”
But there aren’t many rainouts at UC Santa Barbara, nor is there anything simple about the analytics the Gaucho coaches employ when they teach pitching.
McGreevy, now in his third season with the team, has come a long way since his arrival from San Clemente High School in the fall of 2018. The 6-foot-4 righthander was named Big West Conference Pitcher of the Week after throwing his first Gaucho shutout on Friday.
“It was a whole other level for me because we had none of that in high school,” McGreevy said of computer analytics that UCSB employs. “My whole pitching philosophy was just, ‘Throw strikes, get guys out.’ That’s it. Not, ‘Oh, we can make your fastball do this and your slider do that even better.’
“The first couple of weeks of learning all those things really bothered me.”
UCSB coach Andrew Checketts had recruited McGreevy as both a pitcher and a shortstop.
“He’s a good enough athlete that if he was only a position player, he probably would’ve figured out a way to be a starting position player,” he said. “He was a plus-plus defender … a plus-shortstop. Actions, athletic, really good hands.
“We’re not going to do anything with him now because he’s so valuable on the mound to risk an injury.”
That athleticism also gave McGreevy a good feel for pitching. It made him question why Checketts would try to dissect his pitching with computer data.
“Checks does such a great job of it, he’s such a good teacher of that, and he was like, ‘Hey, it could be better … It could be better,’” McGreevy said. “That really bothered me because I was like, ‘I’m throwing strikes, what am I doing wrong? I can’t seem to get it.’
“It took my mentor my freshman year, Chris Lincoln, to calm me down and go, ‘Look, I know it’s frustrating. Just listen and absorb as much of the stuff as you can because these guys are geniuses and they know what they’re doing. And if you can still get all of that, you’ll be that much better of a pitcher.’
“Since then, I’ve taken in the whole analytics approach and everything has gotten a lot better.”
McGreevy served as UCSB’s top reliever in 2019, getting six saves while posting a win-loss record of 5-1 and an earned run average of 1.94. He was converted into a starter for last year’s COVID-abbreviated season, going 2-0 with a 0.99 ERA.
He was looking for even better things this season, adding 15 pounds of muscle. His velocity reached 96 mph during the fall workouts.
“Last year, he was 89-91, flash a 92 here, a 93 there,” Checketts said. “His average fastball was in the 90 mph range. This year, his average fastball has been around the 93 mph range.”
But there was a double edge to the sword of his firmer fastball when opponents locked into the pitch at the start of the season.
“It looked like he was just trying to overpower people,” Checketts said. “He was throwing it in there, but the quality of the strikes wasn’t great early. Maybe he was overthrowing a bit, in love with the new velocity and trying to throw it by guys’ bats.
“He’s located much better the last couple of outings.”
He allowed just three hits and no walks in Friday’s shutout at Hawaii. He struck out 10 batters to match his career high, set previously on March 20 at Cal State Fullerton.
McGreevy’s pitching has helped the Gauchos (18-8, 9-3 Big West Conference) win seven of their last eight games. They’ve moved within one game of first-place UC Irvine (16-9, 10-2) entering this weekend’s four-game series with Cal State Northridge and up to No. 25 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll.
McGreevy leads the Big West in strikeouts with 51 and is second in wins to teammate Rodney Boone, having posted a 4-0 record so far this season. He’s also fifth in the conference in earned run average (2.42) and ranks 12th nationally in strikeout-to-walk ratio (51-to-5).
His command rivals that of Shane Bieber, the Cleveland Indians’ Cy Young Award winner who struck out 109 and walked just 16 during UCSB’s College World Series season of 2016.
“Shane tried to shake off an intentional walk when he was here,” Checketts said with a laugh. “He used to shake off pitch-outs and intentional walks. He didn’t like to walk guys.
“McGreevy, he’s a strike-thrower. His velo is down a tick but part of that is just that he’s a little bit finer with his pitches. I think that’s who he is and what he should be.”
He operates at such a fast tempo that Checketts usually doesn’t call his pitches.
“It takes too long — he’s out there waiting and waiting and waiting,” he said. “I felt I should jump in there and help him against Fullerton about mid-game. But this last game, I think called maybe one pitch, and it got hit.
“He is a fast-paced, up-tempo guy, and a ground-ball guy. The guys like playing defense behind him.”
McGreevy complements his fastball with a wicked slider, and he uses his curveball as “a little bit more of an early count, show-me pitch.” He’s also starting to throw a changeup.
“He actually threw six of them last weekend, I think, which is a new record,” Checketts said.
There’s enough room for improvement, he added, for McGreevy to reach the same big-league stage as Bieber.
“He’s got the tools and the profile to do it,” he said. “He’s big and physical and hard-throwing. He’s a strike-thrower. Athletic. There’s projection still left on his body. We saw that with Bieber when he kept getting better when he left.
“I think it’s unfair to compare anybody to Bieber … But I think people can dream on McGreevy a little bit.”