Hagen Smith Falls Victim to Sport’s Most Overrated Stat + More from Game 1 Win vs Florida

Hagen Smith, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Florida
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas may have picked up the win, but an archaic stat robbed Hagen Smith from having a ‘W’ next to his name on Friday’s box score.

The left-hander turned in yet another gem for the No. 2 Razorbacks, giving up just two hits and no earned runs in their 2-1 series-opening barnburner over Florida at Baum-Walker Stadium.

An unearned run, though, led to him earning a no decision. The Gators (21-20, 8-11 SEC) managed to tie the game at 1-1 in the seventh thanks to an error charged by Ben McLaughlin and that was the score when he was replaced by Gabe Gaeckle.

It is yet another example of why a pitcher’s win-loss record is the most overrated statistic in sports, as it is heavily influenced by things out of his control, like his teammates’ defense and their production at the plate. On Friday, both of those areas hurt Smith, who now has a no decision in arguably his two best starts of the year.

He might not have been quite as good as he was against Oregon State on Feb. 23, when he had 17 strikeouts in six shutout innings and didn’t get the win, but the Bullard, Texas, native was still dominant for Arkansas (36-6, 15-4).

Only four Gators reached base — via two hits, a walk and a HBP — and he struck out 11 in seven innings. The last part of that stat line is the most important, as it marked the first time he worked past the sixth this season and matched his career high set against Southeastern Louisiana and LSU during his freshman year in 2022.

Even though Smith threw 96 pitches, Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said he probably could have gone longer, but he’s playing the long game. Still just 20 years old, the Razorbacks are hopeful Smith will be pitching deep into June, plus he has a promising pro career ahead of him as the top pitching prospect in this summer’s MLB Draft.

“I didn’t feel like his stuff went away at all,” Van Horn said. “He was still throwing great in the seventh. If he’s 23 years old and it’s 85 degrees, you probably just let him go. He gave us all we wanted and more, really.”

Smith came out firing, too. Each of his first three pitches were clocked at 100 mph and it was legitimate triple-digit velocity. Not only did the scoreboard radar gun flash up 100, but so did TrackMan, the system used by the UA for metrics like that.

The first of those fastball blew past Florida leadoff man Ty Evans for a swing and miss, but he smoked the next one back up the middle for a single.

“The ball was jumping out of his hand,” Van Horn said. “The first pitch of the game, triple digits up there, is kind of amazing. He threw it by the hitter, and then the second pitch the hitter cheated a little bit and really got after it.”

Superstar Jac Caglianone jumped on Smith’s next 100 mph heater and lined it to center, but Ty Wilmsmeyer managed to make a diving catch after initially misreading it off the bat. That was a big play because the Gators ended up getting two of their first three batters on base, as Colby Shelton was plunked in a full count.

Florida was officially in business with two runners on base and only one out as fans were still filing into the ballpark.

“I just felt a little off with my rhythm with the first few hitters,” Smith said. “I made good pitches. They just made good swings on it. Me and (catcher Hudson White) talked about what they were doing, like their approach at the plate. We made some adjustments at the end of the game.”

Those adjustments seemed to happen much sooner than the end of the game. Smith got Tyler Shelnut to look at strike three to start a stretch of 17 consecutive Gators retired.

It wasn’t until a leadoff walk by Shelton in the seventh inning that a Florida player got on base again, as Smith mixed in a few quick groundouts with his usual strikeouts to keep his pitch count low.

“He was really good tonight,” Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He had command of all his pitches. As soon as we started hitting some of his fastballs early in the first inning, he immediately flipped the switch and went off speed early in the count and then was finishing us with fastballs.”

Florida did scratch the aforementioned unearned run across with him on the mound in the seventh, but Smith ended his day by striking out Jaylen Guy to strand the go-ahead run in scoring position.

With the 11 strikeouts against the Gators, Smith surpassed Matt Carnes (301) for second on the UA’s all-time list with 310 and now trails only Nick Schmidt (345).

He is also up to 111 strikeouts this season, which is already tied for 10th on the school’s single-season list with three regular-season weekends remaining.

Smith now has a 1.35 ERA and 0.82 WHIP this season, while holding opponents to a minuscule .130 batting average.

“I just think when Hagen’s on and he’s mixing, he’s as good as anybody I’ve ever had,” Van Horn said.

Eventful Seventh Inning

The error that cost Hagen Smith a win on the stat sheet was part of a wild top of the seventh.

It started with a leadoff walk by Colby Shelton, as Smith briefly lost his control. The Gators tried to bunt him into scoring position and Tyler Shelnut laid down a beauty toward third.

Jared Sprague-Lott fielded it and fired to first, but his throw hit Shelnut and prevented Ben McLaughlin from catching it to complete the out. Making matters worse, no one was covering third, so Shelton took an extra base.

For a moment, it seemed like Florida would have runners on the corners with no outs. However, home plate umpire Clint Fagan immediately called runner’s interference because Shelnut was inside the first base line. Kevin O’Sullivan challenged the play, but it was confirmed after replay.

Not only was Shelnut out, but Shelton had to go all the way back to first.

“That to me was the turning point of the game,” O’Sullivan said. “We talked about the 45-foot line. You have to stay within the lane. We’ve talked about it and it is something that the umpires look for. It is a reviewable play. I’ll have to see it, but I am sure they got it right. You have to stay in the lane – that’s the bottom line.”

Sure enough, Luke Heyman followed with a double. It would have easily scored a run if the bunt had been successful, but instead put runners on second and third. It also set the stage for one of the more impressive defensive plays of the season.

Cade Kurland hit a chopper to third that looked like it might get a run home, but Sprague-Lott charged, fielded it barehanded and fired home to get Shelton at the plate.

“Knew they had the tying run on third, knew he was going on contact,” Sprague-Lott said. “As soon as the ball hit the dirt, I wanted to make a play on it. That was kind of the only play I had, I wanted to help Hagen out.”

The excitement from that play was quickly erased, though. Smith had Kurland picked off at first during the next at bat, but he managed to get into a rundown and McLaughlin eventually threw behind Shelton at third with hopes of getting him.

His throw got by Sprague-Lott, enabling Shelton to score and make it 1-1. McLaughlin was charged with the error, but it appeared to be a ball that should have been caught.

On the very next pitch, Smith struck out Jaylen Guy to end the inning. Had the pickoff not happened, no run would have scored. Arkansas might have been better off just running Kurland back to first, but Van Horn was okay with how the sequence unfolded – minus the error, of course.

“The only thing that he could have done was run at him as hard as he can and give it up, make a tag, but our focus there is not to let him score,” Van Horn said. “We handled the ball, we just didn’t catch that ball. I mean, hindsight’s 20/20. I thought we did a pretty good job with it. But we just didn’t finish it.”

Limited Offensive Production (Again)

For those who’ve watched Arkansas all year, Friday night felt oddly familiar. That’s because the offense has been up and down quite a bit and struggled to drive in runs.

In the series opener against Florida, which has the worst team ERA in the SEC (6.25), the Razorbacks mustered only three total hits and went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

Luckily for them, two of those hits were critical to them scoring their two runs.

After a 10-pitch at bat by Peyton Holt ended with a fly out, Ryder Helfrick delivered the first blow by crushing a 2-0 pitch into the Hog Pen for a 387-foot blast with two outs in the second inning.

It was a bit interesting to see the freshman in the lineup as Arkansas’ designated hitter because he entered the day just 7 for 47 (.149) in his young career, but Van Horn said he – and hitting coach Nate Thompson – liked what they had seen from him against left-handed pitchers.

“Coach Thompson and I talked about it in my office today,” Van Horn said. “What I do a lot of times, I write a lineup down in pencil, and then I’ll have Coach write one, just to see how close we are. We both had Helfrick DHing tonight, which it ended up paying off obviously.”

The other key hit was in the eighth. Peyton Stovall followed Ty Wilmsmeyer’s one-out walk with a single and the speedy Wilmsmeyer went first to third. It was a tough night for Stovall, as he struck out his first three times up, but Van Horn said his hit was the biggest of the night.

Florida had just tied it up in the seventh and it put a runner on third with less than two outs, setting up what proved to be the game-winning sacrifice fly by Jared Sprague-Lott. It wasn’t a very deep fly ball – just 256 feet – but the throw home was up the line and Wilmsmeyer scored easily with his speed.

“I was trying to get ready for the next moment to contribute to the team,” Sprague-Lott said in his postgame radio interview with Bubba Carpenter. “I wanted a fastball and put it in the air somewhere. I know Ty has wheels and just wanted to let him go.”

Don’t Poke the Bear

At one point during the eighth inning, a small group of Arkansas baseball fans started an “overrated” chant during Jac Caglianone’s fourth at bat of the night.

That was probably ill-advised because, in an 0-2 count, he roped a single to left-center that put the go-ahead run on third. The Razorbacks are probably lucky that’s all he did, as Gabe Gaeckle grooved a fastball right down the middle against one of the top power hitters in the country who entered the weekend second nationally with 25 home runs.

Up until that point, Caglianone — who also owned a .410 batting average — was 0 for 3, but that was a tad misleading.

He jumped on a first-pitch 100 mph fastball his first time up and lined it into center, but Ty Wilmsmeyer made a diving catch after initially misreading it.

The next time Hagen Smith faced him, Caglianone fouled off a 2-2 pitch before crushing a ground ball right into the shift. Playing where the second baseman would normally be, Jared Sprague-Lott fielded what Dave Van Horn described in his in-game SECN+ interview as the hardest hit grounder he’d ever seen. It had an exit velocity of 115 mph. For context, the hardest hit ball by an Arkansas player this season was Wehiwa Aloy’s home run against McNeese State, which left the bat at 114 mph.

“It kind of found me,” Sprague-Lott said. “I didn’t really go to it. It just popped in my glove. It was smoked for sure.”

Smith had him down 0-2 in the sixth, but Caglianone once again hit a ground ball into the shift that Sprague-Lott fielded cleanly.

Much like No. 2 prospect Travis Bazzana from Oregon State, the No. 3 prospect in the 2024 MLB Draft according to MLB Pipeline went 0 for 3 against Smith. Unlike Bazzana, who struck out three times, Caglianone put the ball in play each time, including two hard-hit balls.

Even though Smith is the best strikeout pitcher in the country and threatening the single-season DI record for strikeouts per nine innings, Caglianone is one of the toughest hitters to strike out, with only 14 in 195 plate appearances this season.

“He’s probably one of the best hitters in the country, if not the best,” Smith said. “It’s always fun facing guys like that. Just trying to throw your best stuff against them.”

Florida Starter’s Misleading ERA

When Arkansas baseball fans saw who Florida announced as its Friday night starter, they probably relaxed a little bit. After all, left-hander Pierce Coppola had an 18.00 ERA.

Given some context, though, they might not have been as shocked by what unfolded at the start of the game, as the redshirt sophomore retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced with six strikeouts. The only blemish before a leadoff walk in the fourth, which was the last batter he faced because he reached his pitch count, was Ryder Helfrick’s solo home run.

Now back to the ERA: Coppola had thrown only three innings before Friday. Sure, he got knocked around by South Carolina and Vanderbilt, which inflated his ERA, but that’s not necessarily indicative of his potential.

Ranked as the No. 50 overall recruit in the Class of 2021 by Perfect Game, he is a big, 6-foot-8 lefty who, as Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan told Dave Van Horn on Thursday, has the potential to be a bonafide Friday night SEC starter next year.

It’s just taken a while for him to even sniff his potential because of multiple injuries. Coppola was named the Sunday starter as a freshman in 2022, but made only one start before being sidelined the rest of the year with a back injury.

The left-hander also missed the entire 2023 season because of a shoulder injury, which he didn’t fully recover from until midway through this season. When he finally started against South Carolina on April 13, it had been 783 days since he had been on the mound in a real game.

“He’s a star,” Van Horn said. “He was pitching 91-92 and then all of a sudden bang, he throws one 95. You’re kind of going, ‘Wow. He’s got something in there.’ … He changed speeds, he’s got a good arm and he’s throwing the ball downhill with big-time tilt.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

With a high chance of rain and thunderstorms all day Sunday, the Arkansas vs Florida series will conclude with a doubleheader beginning at noon CT Saturday. The finale will start 45 minutes following the conclusion of the first game.

Both teams have named only one starting pitcher. Right-hander Brady Tygart (4-1, 2.64 ERA) will get the ball first for the Razorbacks, but with left-hander Mason Molina sidelined because of a twisted ankle, they are leaving Game 3 as TBA.

Sophomore right-hander Ben Bybee (2-0, 5.84) and freshman left-hander Colin Fisher (6-1, 2.67) seem to be the most likely options, as they’ve started all of the midweek games this season.

The Gators originally had two-way sensation and left-hander Jac Caglianone slated to start Game 3, but Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after Friday’s game that they weren’t sure which game he’d start and that it could come down to what the weather looks like.

It’s unclear who would start the other game for Florida, as it has started three other pitchers in SEC play this season: right-handers Brandon Neely (1-2, 6.81) and Liam Peterson (1-4, 7.41) and left-hander Cade Fisher (2-2, 6.64).

The first game of the doubleheader will be televised on ESPN2, while the nightcap will be available by streaming only on SEC Network-Plus.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • The announced attendance for Game 1 of the Arkansas vs Florida series was 10,551.
  • The game was originally scheduled to start at 7 p.m. CT, but got moved up an hour because of the threat of rain. It was then pushed back 15 minutes to 6:15 so the field could be prepped.
  • Because of the time change, the game started on SEC Network-Plus and was supposed to flip to the actual SEC Network at the conclusion of the Auburn-Ole Miss game. Despite the battle of the conference’s two worst softball teams starting at 5 p.m., it went 11 innings and somehow lasted four hours, meaning it actually went longer than the Arkansas-Florida baseball game that started an hour and 15 minutes later.
  • With the win, the Razorbacks extended their home winning streak to 26 games. That is one shy of matching the school record of 27, which spanned the 1984 and 1985 seasons at old George Cole Field.
  • According to a UA spokesperson, there were 12 scouts from nine different MLB teams in attendance for the Arkansas vs Florida matchup.
  • Freshman Gabe Gaeckle relieved Hagen Smith and threw two scoreless innings to earn the win and improve to 3-2 with a 2.60 ERA in 27 2/3 innings. He started the eighth inning, but worked his way into trouble by loading the bases, but got out of it unscathed by getting a pop out by Tyler Shelnut.
  • Shortstop Wehiwa Aloy went 0 for 4, ending what had been a 31-game on-base streak.
  • As expected, Jared Sprague-Lott was back in the lineup as the starting third baseman. He actually hit in the 2-hole for the first time this season and has now hit in every spot in the order except leadoff and the 9-hole.

Arkansas vs Florida Highlights (Game 1)

YouTube video

Postgame Interviews

YouTube video

Arkansas vs Florida Box Score (Game 1)


More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS…

Facebook Comments