The magic number to win the SEC is 20. Generally 20 league wins will ensure you at least a share of the regular SEC Championship.
Since the SEC expanded in 1991 — adding Arkansas and South Carolina — the Gators have won the SEC seven times. In each of those seasons Florida won at least 20 games. It makes sense when you break it down. There are 10 conference series throughout the season, three games apiece. If you win 20 games that means, on average, you’re winning every weekend series, and thus the correlation between winning 20 games and being a conference champion.
But winning 20 conference games is hard. Just about every Friday starter in the SEC is a future big league pitcher, most Saturday guys as well. Sunday is the separator. After hard fought games the first two days of a series most teams are just trying to make it through the weekend throwing whatever arms they have available.
Before he became Florida’s Friday night guy and the 18th pick of the 2017 MLB Draft Alex Faedo served two years as Florida’s Sunday starter. Last year Jackson Kowar was tasked with being the Sunday starter. He posted a 12-1 record and Florida was 8-2 in series finales. The significance of having a stud on Sunday isn’t lost on O’Sullivan.
“The thing that stands out the most, we’ve had, and looking at the years we won the SEC and the years that we’ve won 45-plus games, it’s been that Sunday starter,” O’Sullivan said. “We just had the ability to just have more talent on Sundays. “That takes a little pressure off the first two guys. You know, one of those guys splits, and you win the majority – you win 80 percent of your games on Sundays, and you win a series. And right about 20, 21, 22 wins usually gets you the SEC Championship.”
This season Florida will throw sophomore Tyler Dyson on Sundays. People around the program and several scouts believe Dyson may even be the best pitching prospect the Gators have and the two weekend starters ahead of him this season are likely to be drafted in the first round this year. Baseball America has already rated Dyson as the top-pitching prospect for the 2019 MLB Draft.
“So I mean, you’re looking at a first-rounder going Sundays (three years in a row), and then obviously last year with Jackson, he moves up to Saturday. He’s a first-rounder,” O’Sullivan said.
This isn’t an accident. O’Sullivan and his coaching staff have placed a premium on arms and they‘ve been able to get talented pitchers to campus, develop them and help them move on to the next level. That has caused deficiencies in other areas at times. Casual and hardcore fans have been calling for O’Sullivan to hire a hitting coach, which would mean getting rid of Brad Weitzel or Craig Bell, two coaches that have been by O’Sullivan’s side since his first year at Florida. When it comes down to it, the scholarship limit in college baseball is what gives the sport parity but is a headache for coaches to manage.
Division I baseball programs only get 11.7 scholarships. No, that wasn’t a typo and, no, it does not make sense. They’re only allowed to have 27 players on scholarship, a full ride is basically non existent in college baseball. So do you want to have the best hitting team? Well, you might not have the arms then. Do you want to hit for power? Well, what does that do to your athleticism in the field? It’s a fine line to walk and O’Sullivan has made his decision.
“For us, what we’ve decided to do from the first day we got on board is, let’s really pitch. Let’s really defend,” he said of his philosophy. “Let’s take care of the middle of the diamond. Catcher, short, second, center. And let’s fill in with as many multiple-position guys as we possibly can. “
Florida may not slug with the likes of LSU or Texas A&M but they’re going to pitch. Baseball lifers will tell you that great pitching beats great hitting every day of the week. That’s what Florida has done
In his 11 years at Florida the Gators have won 68% (448-208) of their games and four SEC Championships. They’ve won their division five times, the SEC Tournament twice and a National Championship.
Every play in baseball starts with the ball in the pitcher’s hand. Nothing can happen until the pitcher releases the ball. That’s where O’Sullivan and the Gators focus their attention and it’s the driving force behind Florida’s success.
You can’t argue with his recipe.