Sports potm

Alexandra Marshall '16 talks pitching, statistics and teamwork

Alexandra Marshall ’16 is lights-out pitching personified. In 29 appearances (23 as starter) this year, she has an enviable 18-8 record with a miserly 1.00 earned run average (ERA) with 198 strikeouts in 154.2 innings pitched. She has 14 complete game shutouts to her credit in this season alone and holds the record for most strikeouts in program history, with 515 Ks to her name.

Despite her individual brilliance, she credits her coach for creating a program where there is great camaraderie among teammates, something she says helps get the best out of her.

For someone who has won multiple accolades as a softball pitcher, she appeared remarkably humble, replying, “There are so many good batters in our conference,” when asked who she considered her strongest opponent.

Yet there is not a scintilla of hesitation when it comes to having confidence in her pitches. “I do the best I can to throw the hardest I can every time I pitch,” she says.

Marshall talks about scouting opponents, reliance on data, battling type I diabetes, and reveals her favorite pitcher and the baseball team she roots for in this interview with The Tech.

The Tech: You have managed a remarkable 14 complete-game shutouts this season with an earned run average (ERA) of 1.0 and have eclipsed 500 strikeouts to become the all-time leader in strikeouts in program history. Congratulations! What makes you such a great pitcher?

Alexandra Marshall: It starts with the hard work and dedication [off the field]. But [in the end] it is all about the team. When we play as a team, we play the best. Our coaches have developed this program so we can play together as a team and have fun together.

The Tech: You were a pitcher in high school. Then in the first couple of years at MIT you both pitched and batted. Now you are a full time pitcher. How did that transition come about?

Marshall: It was a decision the coach and I made together. We realized that I was going to be pitching a lot this year so I wanted to focus my energy on that.

The Tech: How was the high school pitcher version of you different from what you are now?

Marshall: I think it is mental toughness. That has changed. Here I know that I have to attack hitters that have the potential to hit more homeruns.

The Tech: In terms of pitch execution, what are your strengths?

Marshall: I throw pretty hard and have a lot of movement on my pitches. I am a lefty so [my pitches are] coming from a different perspective to the batter.

The Tech: How many types of pitches do you throw?

Marshall: Let’s see … fast, change, curve, screw, rise, drop … so, six!

The Tech: Which is your go-to pitch?

Marshall: The screw.

The Tech: You often play double-headers so you are facing the same hitter multiple times in a game and then in multiple games in a day. How do you outfox them with such consistency?

Marshall: It is probably a good question for the assistant coach who calls the pitches. She really tries to mix the pitches, keep the batters on their toes. That is why I have six different pitches. I can use my full arsenal.

The Tech: Which was your most satisfying performance this season?

Marshall: The double-header against Springfield. I felt really strong that time. I had 22 strikeouts in two games. Both were tight games so I knew my team was relying on me to get the job done and it worked out!

The Tech: You lost in the NCAA regional finals to Tufts last year. But this year, you beat Tufts for the first time in program history. What was that like?

Marshall: It was a great feeling. We knew they were a very strong team. They had won the national championships for the past three years. We came out firing and were ready to go.

The Tech: Who is the most difficult batter that you go up against?

Marshall: There are so many strong batters in our conference. I will say that I tend to do better against power hitters than soft slappers.

The Tech: How much information in terms of batting statistics is made available to you or you personally care about?

Marshall: I actually do a lot of scouting personally. I look at the statistics of the teams we go up against for example batting averages. We also have data from the games we played against certain teams in the past. So for those we look at pitches they hit and the ones they did not.

The Tech: Is there any particular statistical metric that you think is a powerful predictor for success?

Marshall: Not really. Statistics are hard in that they measure success or failure over the course of a season. In the middle of a game, it often comes down to one pitch or one at-bat. So probability is a one or a zero at that moment.

The Tech: You are an applied math major. Do you believe in data more or have more faith in the process of scouting?

Marshall: Pre-game I certainly do. I look at all the statistics. But once I am on the field it all goes away. Every batter [I face] I try hard to get out.

The Tech: You are graduating in a couple of weeks. What are your career plans?

Marshall: I am going to be working at Willis Towers Watson as an actuarial assistant.

The Tech: What is your goal for this season?

Marshall: I think the ultimate goal is to make it to the Word Series which consists of the final eight teams in the NCAA tournament. I certainly think we have the potential but we really have to be on our game though.

The Tech: You have emerged as one of key figures of your team. In a team sport, you excel individually at a very high level. What is that like for you and what is that like for your teammates?

Marshall: I certainly like the pressure and the responsibility. [It is] like I got your back and I am going to pull you through this game if you need. It is also knowing that the team has my back as well and that allows me to do well. We have such a great relationship on and off the field that if I don’t come through on a day, nothing is going to happen. It is just a game in the end. We all support each other that way.

The Tech: With the competitiveness that you have, is it sometimes hard to accept that in the end it is just a game?

Marshall: Some losses are going to sting. Some losses are going to hurt. But I love this game so much that I know there is always going to be another game, another opportunity.

The Tech: You have spoken about your battle with Type I diabetes before. You once said, “With diabetes you never get a break, you can never take a day off. It’s a full time job.”

“Diabetes may complicate my life but it doesn’t control it.” Would you like to comment on how that affects your life as a student-athlete?

Marshall: I have lived with that the disease for a while now. It is very much a part of my life. It makes things that much more difficult. When I step on the field, I try to not let it have any effect. In some ways being active actually helps manage the disease. On the other hand if your blood sugar is off in certain moment it can affect you physically, so I try to not let that happen.

The Tech: What do you like doing off the field when you are not busy with p-sets and classes?

Marshall: I like statistics and watching baseball. I root for the Mets. They have a lot of hard throwers. My favorite pitcher is Noah Syndergaard.

The Tech: You are the hard-throwing type of pitcher. Do you see yourself in that mould? In a tough spot on a 3-2 count do you back yourself to blow a fastball by the hitter?

Marshall: Yeah. I do my best to throw as hard as I can every single pitch.

The Tech: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. We wish you all the best for the rest of the season!

Marshall: Thanks!

Editor’s note: This interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.