On June 20th, 2011, a young, relatively unknown freshman took the mound for the Tar Heels in Omaha. Facing a talented Texas team, Carolina’s ace threw a complete game shutout with 5 strikeouts, eliminating Texas from the College World Series. UNC was excited for his future and two more seasons of the dominant lefty. Who was that freshman? Kent Emanuel. The story was very different when Emanuel took the mound on Sunday, allowing five earned runs and six hits in just 2.2 innings. After being so dominant for most of his Carolina Baseball tenure, Kent Emanuel seems to have had his powers zapped like in Monster Jam. What happened to the ACC pitcher of the year and the 74th overall pick in the MLB draft? Here are a few theories.
One of the adjustments college pitchers have to make as they join big league clubs is the amount of rest they receive. College pitchers normally get seven days rest, pitching on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday every week for their teams. Professional pitchers, faced with a longer schedule and usually playing seven days a weeks, get only 5 days of rest as a starter between starts. That adjustment can be one of the hardest on both a pitcher’s arm and routine. One theory for Kent Emanuel’s struggles would be the post season run for the Heels and his starting and relief outings knocked him out of his routine. In his last six appearances since May 23rd, his last great outing, Emanuel has had an average of 4.8 days of rest between outings. That is a lot less than he is normally used too, and the lack of rest could have thrown the lefty into a funk.
Another theory for Kent Emanuel’s struggles could be the MLB Draft. Emanuel was selected by the Houston Astros as the first pick in the third round of the draft on June 7th. He did pitch the day after that going just two and a third innings with four earned runs. The Major League draft is a nerve racking experience for any baseball player, and it could have distracted Emanuel from preparations from his start. However, the draft doesn’t deserve much of the blame for his struggles because the draft would effect both UNC and South Carolina players, and after being drafted on the 7th, he should have been able to relax more for his start the next day and pitch well with that off his chest.
The final theory for Emanuel’s poor pitching is his high pitch counts in the last month. Since June 1st, the lefty has thrown 325 pitches in only 15 innings, nearly 22 pitches per inning. In comparison, in Emanuel’s last great start on May 23rd versus Miami, he threw just 96 pitches in eight innings for a rate of 12 pitches per inning, almost half the rate he has thrown since June 1st. Not only are those pitch counts high, but the number of strikes those pitches are is also trending in a negative direction. In the Regionals and Super Regionals, Emanuel threw 57.1% of his pitches for strikes. Remember that awesome start in the CWS Emanuel had in 2011? He had a 66.6% strike rate in that game.
Overall, Kent Emanuel has struggled greatly in the last month on the mound for the Diamond Heels. In what could be his final season at UNC, the Tar Heel faithful are left wondering what happened, and what could have been, if Emanuel had been able to pitch better in the last month.