There is a popular argument in baseball discourse today. It goes something like this: Records and victories don’t reveal much, if anything, about a pitcher’s ability.
This played out most prominently in Major League Baseball last summer, when New York Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom won the National League’s Cy Young Award with just a 10-9 record. His 1.70 earned run average, 269-46 strikeout-walk ratio and various other metrics showed that deGrom was far better than his mediocre record.
But the argument also plays out on lower levels across the country, and it’s playing out in central New Jersey this spring, too. It specifically applies to the Sayreville War Memorial High School baseball team.
The Bombers’ top two pitchers, senior right-hander Christian Aich and junior right-hander Nick Lodzinski, have just a 3-5 record between them. But Aich has a 2.36 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 32.2 innings, while Lodzinski sports an 0.76 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 18.1 frames.
Both pitchers are thriving. They have just been the victims of some bad luck.
“Our pitching gives us a chance in every game,” said Sayreville coach Mike Novak.
Sayreville is only 8-10, but it is still in position to earn the No. 12 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament. And in that tournament, the Bombers could be dangerous.
“We feel good going into the postseason with the arms we put on the mound,” Novak said.
Aich is the club’s unquestioned ace. In 2017, he posted a 1.52 ERA in 23 innings. Last spring, he enjoyed a breakout campaign, going 7-2 with a 2.04 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 48 frames.
Those strong seasons earned Aich a chance to play collegiate baseball at Division 2 Pace University. So Novak expected another good year from his 6-3 right-hander, and that’s exactly what he has gotten.
“He plays year round and develops his body,” Novak said.
Lodzinski entered 2019 as Sayreville’s closer, and he thrived in that role early in the season, recording three saves.
“Tough moments don’t bother him,” Novak said.
But after a six-game losing streak in late April, Novak decided to start Lodzinski against Bishop George Ahr High School on April 25. In a 5-2 home victory, the junior pitched a complete game and allowed one earned run. He also struck out 11.
“When you don’t use a closer, you got to get him work,” Novak said. “And he threw well for us, so now he’s both.”
The junior is succeeding because he added a cut-fastball in the offseason. He never had a breaking pitch before this year. He tried all the other options, and couldn’t find a comfort zone.
“They just didn’t come off my hand right,” Lodzinski said.
Then, during an offseason throwing session, Lodzinski tried the cutter grip and launched the ball toward his catcher. The ball cut toward Lodzinski’s glove-hand side, just like it’s supposed to.
“It was natural,” he said.
This sounds a lot like former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera’s origin story. Lodzinski is not Rivera, who became baseball’s first ever unanimous Baseball Hall of Famer in January.
But the junior is hoping for some collegiate attention.
“Maybe D2 or D3,” he said. “I have to continue getting more strikeouts. I’m trying to reach as many as I can this year.”