I know we're all a bit worried about the hitting. There's a real lack of true stars, and we will be relying pretty heavily on JUCO transfers and freshmen to pan out. It's not quite the ideal situation. I will point out that the team returns 6 or 7 starters from a team that finished 3rd in the SEC in runs scored. The other reason we might not need to panic just yet is that the pitching staff looks like it is sort of awesome.
I don't think LSU has ever had a three man rotation that looks this good. Sure, we've had one-two punches that might have been better, but LSU will trot out a guy who could start on Fridays for most teams on all three days of the weekend. There's a preseason All-American on the staff and then almost no drop off from there. It's a pretty great staff. It needs to be.
Kevin Gausman (So.) 3.51 ERA, 89.2 IP, 86/23 K/BB
Keith McCune (So.) 3.31 ERA, 89.2 IP, 68/25 K/BB
Ryan Eades (So.) 4.81 ERA, 43 IP, 31/18 K/BB
Kevin Gausman is a preseason All American and a likely 1st round draft pick in a few months. He's widely regarded as one of the best college pitching prospects in the nation, primarily due to his ability to hit 100 MPH on the radar gun. OK, he can't hit 100 consistently, but who can? Most teams in the Majors don't have a starter who can hit 100, but LSU does. He averaged nearly a strikeout an inning as a freshman, and he was simply dominant down the stretch. He posted an ERA of 1.17 in his last four starts, looking like a guy who has put things together and is ready to step up as an ace and possibly the best pitcher in the nation. As Gausman goes, so goes the Tigers.
It's not like McCune and Eades are chopped liver. McCune held down a spot in the rotation all last year, and was the team leader in wins and ERA. McCune doesn't overpower hitter, relying more on his slider. When we talk about up the middle defense, it's built for a guy like McCune, who wants hitters to put groundballs into play. Eades didn't get into the rotation until late in the year, going 3-0 down the stretch. He's also a power pitcher who tries to blow the ball by you. In the offseason, he went to Cape Cod and utterly dominated. He went 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA and was named Pitcher of the Year. Yeah, that's the #3 starter.
About the only drawback of this staff is that they are all righties. Once again, LSU lacks a dominant lefty. Oh well. Life isn't perfect. If you're gonna beat LSU, you better have a lefty heavy lineup.
Nick Rumbelow (So.) 5.19 ERA, 13 IP, 16/11 K/BB
Kevin Berry (Jr.) 3.14 ERA, 28.2 IP, 16/8 K/BB
Joe Broussard (So.) 5.19 ERA, 26 IP, 28/9 K/BB
Chris Cotton (Jr.)* 3.38 ERA, 13.1 IP, 14/2 K/BB
Kevin Berry had two saves last year, so I'm assuming he's the front runner for the closer's job. Broussard and Rumbelow have also been mentioned as candidates. Broussard had a sky high ERA, but his peripheral stats look great, so it could just be some bad hit luck. He has the ability to miss bats, and he doesn't walk a lot of hitters. Honestly, I like using a guy like that as Demouy/Coleman sort of relief ace. Let him come in the trouble spots, whenever they are, and get the outs. Then hand the ball off to Berry. As always, there's barely a lefty to be seen in the pen, so Cotton needs to step up. I'm still trying to figue out how he only pitched 13 innings last year on a lefty-starved staff. He needs to be able to come in and turn around those lefty lineups.
Then, we have a lot of new pitchers to sort through, including Joey Boooooooourgeois and Austin Nola's little brother. Cody Glenn was drafted in the 15th round, so he's got to have something, and he's another lefty. Goody and Bonvillain come over from JUCO to add some depth to the pen. This is an annual thing - add a bunch of arms and see who sticks. I'd expect Joey Boo to be the midweek starter.
This team will live and die by its pitching staff. The bullpen looks decent, if not overwhelming, but that rotation is nothing short of outstanding. The #3 pitcher is ranked as a top ten pitching prospect by Baseball America. It's a weird world we live in - LSU will rely on its pitching and defense to win games. Adjust your perception accordingly.