Nitpicking the Hurried Mechanics of Arkansas’ Sensational Starting Rotation

Brady Tygart, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs LSU
photo credit: Baumology

As anti-climatic as winning an SEC weekend series but losing the third game tends to be, Arkansas baseball fans shouldn’t lose sight of how the first six weeks of the season have gone. Sitting atop the polls against what college baseball metrics guru Boyd’s World ranks as the fourth-most challenging schedule thus far is nothing to sneeze at and includes an SEC road series win. Those are hard to come by in the early season, as the home team has won 11 of 14 SEC series thus far.

Granted, the Hogs have played the two worst teams in the league to date, and will complete its SEC-opening Tigers circuit at home when they take on No. 8 LSU starting Friday at home. 

The Bayou Tigers have surprisingly won only two of six conference games so far, and may find themselves even further back in the standings after Sunday.

For sure, Dave Van Horn’s club did damage to Missouri and Auburn, with the latter being a potentially good team. The Auburn Tigers were ranked coming into last weekend’s series despite being swept on the road during the opening weekend at highly ranked Vandy. 

Even a casual college baseball fan knows Arkansas has reached the top by riding a remarkably talented and deep pitching staff. That is helped by having what many professional scouts label the top left-handed pitcher in the 2024 MLB Draft leading the charge in ace Hagen Smith. 

But it’s not just a one-man band like the 2021 season with Kevin Kopps. The current mix of guys developed within the program, blended with some key transfers, has provided Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs the good fortune of a lengthy list of reliable options.

Going into the season, Arkansas was considered to potentially have the top weekend rotation in the country, with Smith, right-hander Brady Tygart and former Texas Tech ace turned Sunday starter lefty Mason Molina.

Wake Forest, a College World Series semifinalist in 2023, was included in that conversation, with Tennessee transfer Chase Burns joining the team, lefty Josh Hartle and Michael Massey. Burns hasn’t disappointed and looks destined to be a top-five pick in this summer’s draft. Massey has also been very good with a sub-2.00 ERA. 

Hartle, who many believed to be a better pro prospect than Smith coming into the season, has struggled mightily.  He’s 4-1, but has an ERA over 7.00, and opponents are hitting over .300 off him. For comparison’s sake, Smith is 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA, and opponents are hitting a pitiful .116 off the Hogs’ ace.

In a nutshell, Smith has been remarkably good. Maybe even better than that. What’s been key is that Van Horn has managed his workload effectively thus far, given that Smith has found the strike zone more often than in the past two seasons. He’s even surprisingly succeeded in adding a pitch or two to the repertoire. If things stay on track, Smith should be locked and loaded for another Razorback run to Omaha.

So, can Smith stay on track to land him in the same conversation as past Razorback aces? A look back at Friday night stalwarts in the DVH era brings back some memories with Isaiah Campbell in 2019 (12-1, 2.31 ERA), 2018’s Blaine Knight (14-0, 2.80), 2013 Ryne Stanek (10-2, 1.39), 2011’s DJ Baxendale (10-2, 1.58) and 2007’s Nick Schmidt (11-3, 2.89), who like Smith was a strikeout machine from the left side.

But enough about Hagen Smith. He is getting all the well-deserved attention and accolades, including already being named SEC Pitcher of the Week twice and just about everyone’s National Pitcher of the Week after the stunning 17-strikeout performance against No. 2 Oregon State in Arlington.

Tygart’s Mechanical Issue

The key to the Razorbacks’ pursuit of the SEC West, then the SEC, then the College World Series will likely be decided after Smith starts his game. Juniors Brady Tygart and Mason Molina could and should be the difference makers, provided the Hogs can score enough runs, catch the ball and throw it around the field like Arkansas baseball teams typically do. The offense has been shaky thus far, seeming to do just enough most days, but that is a story for another day. 

The defense has looked solid for the most part. Other than some issues at third base in Arlington and some miscommunications on bunts and dribblers this past weekend, the defense has handled business. Of course, it helps when your pitching staff leads the nation in strikeouts, which don’t require much fielding. 

But back to the Hogs starting pitching. Tygart, who had a sensational season as the team’s closer his freshman year, has battled back from arm injuries that cost him a good chunk of last season and has filled the Saturday starter role beyond effectively. 

Before the back half of his start against Missouri and his entire outing against Auburn, he was nearly as unhittable as Smith. Tygart was dotting either side of the plate with a low 90s fastball while mixing two types of breaking pitches and a very effective new wrinkle…the change-up. 

Fans, though, have started to wonder what’s going on with Tygart after his last two appearances. Certainly, he hasn’t looked as sharp. From the first inning on, Auburn got the good part of the barrel on more pitches than we are used to seeing, and of course, the wildness. Nine walks in his last eight innings pitched is not the ratio anyone is looking for other than Razorback opponents. 

The good news is that Matt Hobbs is convinced the two of them can work it out quickly. Following the Auburn game, where he also served as interim head coach with Van Horn back in Fayetteville, Hobbs didn’t sound worried at all.

“I think that was the one thing you see from Brady, over-rotating on some of those pitches,” Hobbs said. “It pulls him into the other batter’s box. If you look at his misses, he’s either missing arm-side up or pulling the ball into the glove-side of the glove-side batter’s box.”

Adjustments in games can sometimes be challenging to correct. The emotions and adrenaline of the moment make it tough, and it depends on the mechanical issue at hand. Hobbs and Tygart tried to work through it Friday in Auburn, but eventually, Tygart was pulled after allowing a single, wild pitch and a walk in the fourth inning. 

By over-rotating, Hobbs is detailing why Tygart seemed to be “yanking” pitches into the left-hand hitter batter’s box repeatedly. Over-rotating can come from the pitcher’s lead arm (the one with the glove on it) clearing away from his body too early or his front hip opening up too soon, causing the throwing arm’s path to follow. Simply put, the timing of his pitching mechanics was out of sync and he struggled to get them back on time. 

So when you saw all those fastballs and curveballs consistently missing outside to the right-handed hitters, that was the issue. Once an issue like that starts happening, the pitcher loses his consistent release point and starts scattering pitches all over the place, including right down the middle of the plate. That’s bad news vs SEC-level hitters.

I suspect after a bullpen session with Hobbs, Tygart will be back to his old self and ready to attack the Tigers’ vaunted lineup in Arkansas vs LSU with his good-to-great stuff.

Molina as Arkansas’ Sunday Starter

Molina has also struggled with command in his last two outings, although less drastically than Tygart. He’s still walked seven in his last 10.1 innings pitched, but has been challenging to hit and has also racked up 14 strikeouts over those same number of innings. Effectively wild, as one may say. 

The deep counts will catch up with Molina, driving up the pitch count and getting him out of the game sooner. That’s not exactly what you want from your Sunday starter after your bullpen has been taxed Friday and Saturday. 

The series finale with Auburn was an excellent case in point as Auburn rallied against a little-used sophomore and two true freshmen on the road with a record-setting crowd in attendance. Those guys didn’t quite handle the moment as Auburn came back from down 5-1 to win 8-6. 

Molina also struggled with a mechanics issue over his last two outings, causing many of his pitches, namely fastballs, to miss high above the zone. This often comes from a timing issue similar to Tygart, where the pitcher’s body moves faster than his arm through the throwing path, causing him to rush through his delivery and compromising his release point. 

He finds it one pitch, then hurries his delivery and loses that release point again – back and forth while his pitch count escalates and free base runners litter the basepaths.

Pitchers that rush usually try to throw harder rather than stay within themselves. Molina doesn’t have an electric fastball like Smith or Tygart and relies on spotting pitches and mixing things up to be effective. I suspect he will also dial things back this weekend, and Hog fans and LSU will see Molina back to attacking opposing hitters more efficiently.

Looking Ahead to Arkansas vs LSU

To be clear, this is mostly nitpicking. There hasn’t been much to fret over regarding Arkansas’ pitching to date. But fans, coaches and players all know Tygart and Molina have a better version than we’ve seen these two weekends of SEC play. Things would have to go off the rails to start looking for another option. 

The 2024 weekend rotation is shaping up to rival the 2018 rotation of Blaine Knight, lefty Kasey Murphy 8-5, 3.20), and Isaiah Campbell (5-7, 4.26). Numbers outside Knight weren’t gaudy, but an excellent bullpen and a great college offense meant that team won. A lot. That is, of course, the Arkansas baseball team that famously came within a dropped pop-up of a national championship.

The 2013 rotation of the previously mentioned Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin (4-4, 1.79), and Randall Fant (6-1, 2.03) was also pretty salty, along with 2007’s Nick Schmidt, Jess Todd (9-3, 2.89) and Duke Welker (7-5, 3.59). 

Arkansas has sent out some super high-quality Friday night starters over time and Smith has a chance to be better than any of them. Combined with Tygart and Molina, I am not sure Arkansas has ever had an inventory of weekend starters with this level of firepower. The trick will be, can they stay healthy and continue to pitch at a high level against daunting SEC lineups? Then will their effectiveness carry over into the postseason? 

It’s too early to talk about any of that now, given that the Hogs are two weekends in with eight more to go. I suspect the focus is on continuing to dominate Friday nights and getting Tygart and Molina back on track starting this weekend. Pitching favors the Razorbacks. Offense goes to the Tigers. Rest assured, LSU will be hungry, as it has dropped both of its SEC series thus far, and the electric crowds this weekend will make for a heckuva atmosphere. 

As it should be for Arkansas vs LSU on the diamond. 

Flipping Tygart and Molina

Not long after this piece published, Dave Van Horn announced he was making a small tweak to his weekend rotation for the Arkansas vs LSU series. He flipped his two starters behind Hagen Smith, moving Mason Molina up to Game 2 on Friday and sliding Brady Tygart back to Game 3 on Saturday.

The reason he gave for making that move was so Tygart could get an extra day to “get right” before facing the Tigers. When asked if it had anything to do with his health, Van Horn said he is fine.

“Just let him rest a little bit,” Van Horn said. “Let him get everything straightened up and feel really good. Nothing wrong with him.”

Much like his pitching coach, Van Horn didn’t sound too concerned about Tygart’s recent uptick in walks and believes he’ll get the mechanics issue described above fixed.

“Oh, I feel great about Brady,” Van Horn said. “His stuff’s good. Competes hard. I think that he’s had a little bit of command issues with his fastball. He gets that straightened out, he’ll be good to go. So I have all the confidence in the world in him.”

How to Watch Arkansas vs LSU

Dates: Thursday-Saturday, March 28-30

Location: Baum-Walker Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)

TV/Stream: ESPN2 | SEC Network | SECN+

First Pitch

  • Thursday – 6 p.m. CT (ESPN2)
  • Friday – 7 p.m. CT (SEC Network)
  • Saturday – 2 p.m. CT (SECN+)


Brent Birch is a contributor to Best of Arkansas Sports who pitched for the Razorbacks from 1990-93 and is still on the UA’s all-time top 10 lists for games started and innings pitched.


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