Seth Simmons of Winston-Salem is the grandson of Mount Airy residents Bill and Luveina Simmons and Evelyn Nowlin. On March 19, the 5-foot-9 righthander recorded his 24th save for East Carolina University.
As of Monday, ECU was leading all Division I teams in earned run average at 1.67, just ahead of Texas A&M and UCLA. Seth has been a big part of that, keeping runners from scoring while racking up strikeouts.
The senior is on pace to set another career mark for highest strikeout ratio.
For his first three seasons, Seth was striking out more than one batter per inning. Figured out over a nine-inning game, his career average was 10.82 strikeouts per game — better than MLB legend Randy Johnson. That ranked him third all-time behind 10.93 K’s by Hal Baird and Greg Bunn.
This season, Simmons has been even better. As of this week, he had racked up 20 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings (a whopping 14.2 average), which has lifted him into first place for his career.
By comparison, Trevor Hoffman has the highest strikeout ratio of any relief pitcher in MLB history at 9.36 (minimum 1,000 innings).
According to ECU’s stats, Seth has appeared in 12 games and hasn’t allowed a single runner to score. And not just runners scoring on hits, he hasn’t allowed a runner home on a wild pitch, passed ball or fielding error.
He has given up only four hits with opponents batting an atrocious .100 average against him. Some strikeout pitchers are wild, but Simmons has only walked six batters in 12 innings. That gives him a stellar 3.3-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks.
Even before this remarkable season, Simmons was on the short list of college baseball’s best closers.
In February, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association named him one of 45 relief pitchers on the watch list for its Stopper of the Year award to be announced June 18.
At the end of the regular season, the NCBWA will narrow down the 45 players to five finalists.
Breaking ECU’s career saves mark might help get him more national attention for making the finals.
It is pretty commonplace in pro baseball to see a reliever get 30 saves in a year. That is almost impossible in college ball.
Not only are the seasons drastically shorter, but saves are only given out in close games. If a team is talented and wins by large margins, no save is given out.
Simmons saved nine games in both his sophomore and junior years, which are tied for the fourth-most in school history. Despite being nearly unhittable this year, his 12 appearances have only resulted in four save opportunities, and he capitalized on them all. His latest save gave him 24 for his career, passing Cory Scott (1999-2000).
Simmons said he primarily uses three pitches. He has a fastball that is consistently 88 to 92 mph and has hit 94 before. Then he has two variations of his slider. One is a hard slider in the low- to mid-80s that breaks left away from righthanded hitters and in on the handle of lefties. The second he says is more of a “slurve” in that it is slower (mid- to upper 70s) and drops off like some guys’ curveballs.
The two sliders are his best options for getting batters out, he said.
“The slider is my go-to pitch,” he said. “At any point in time, I can throw it and get guys out.”
Simmons was pretty good for his first three years, but his numbers this season are spectacular. Asked about the change, he said it has a lot to do with his mental approach before and during games.
He felt like he didn’t perform as well as a junior as he did his sophomore season. He had to earn the starter’s job as a sophomore and was worried about losing his spot. Maybe last year he took it a little bit for granted. So this season, he is trying to make sure he takes advantage of every opportunity.
The pitching coach, too, has worked with him on improving his thoughts during games.
The coach said that no one at the plate is as good as the man on the mound, and Simmons has latched on to that philosophy.
Rather than thinking “I don’t want to miss with this fastball,” he is thinking “I’m going to make this pitch.”
Before this season, Simmons said he had been contacted by scouts from the Rangers, Braves, A’s and some other teams, but during the season they usually leave players alone. Right now, he said he is just worrying about playing well.
If a major-league team drafts him, he said he would be happy to sign a contract and go wherever they want him to go in the minor leagues.
His parents, Suzanne and Randy Simmons, are just proud of all he has accomplished.