At the end of last weekend, the questions about the offense has started to creep up. LSU lost an out-of-conference series to a fairly pedestrian Appalachian St. squad. That wasn't really the bad news -- teams get upset all of the time in baseball. The bad news was that LSU only scored one run in the last two games, including a nineteen inning scoreless stretch.
For a team with very real offensive question marks, the ASU series looked like all of the worst fears come true. Something needed to be done, and quickly. Unfortunately, LSU's bench didn't seem to be brimming with answers, so Mainieiri couldn't make wholesale changes in his lineup, but he knew he had to make changes of some sort.
One of the big problems with last season's offense was the incredible lack of depth. Despite getting almost no production from nearly half of the lineup, Mainieri kept sending the same guys out there in the hopes the slumps would end. They didn't.
A team's bench is built during this first month. Guys get action and a coach finds out what he has. The failure to find what he had past those top ten or eleven guys was a huge failing last season. To give Mainieri credit, he is the sort of guy who learns from his mistakes. So how did he respond this year?
Well, he only made one major substitution - Jackson Slaid went to the bench and Chris Sciambra won some playing time. Slaid hasn't exactly been burning things up, but he was benched for perhaps one of the few guys on the team hitting worse. Even after the Dartmouth series, Sciambra's hitting 100/182/200, whih is pretty awful.
What it did was allow him to switch some positions around and let guys stop worrying about their gloves. OK, it let JaCoby Jones stop go back to his position last season - second base. Jones has been pretty good in the outfield defensively, but his promised offensive improvement has not occurred. Maybe, by putting him back in his native position, it will spark his bat out of its slump. It's not an awful idea, and Jones is still stealing bases. Sciambra can ably man centerfield and Yocom gets shifted to DH where he gets another chance to work through his offensive woes. If he ever figures them out, maybe Jones can go back to center. By Sunday, Slaid was back in the lineup as a DH, so I'm not holding my breath.
It's not like Mainieri made radical changes, but he made some moves, and looking at the boxscore, they seemed to work. He also kept an eye on the longterm development of his freshmen. It was about as good of a lineup decision as you can expect. Given that he only replaced one guy, he did make fullscale changes in the batting order. But is dropping Nola from 5th to 6th really going to do anything? Probably not. That's re-arranging the deck chairs, but it makes the beat reporters happy.
Now that we're 12 games into the season, we can start to draw some conclusions from the stats. Though we can agree that Mason Katz is going to come back to earth at some point. He's hitting 500/596/950, which is just silly. All you can do there is just hope he doesn't cool of too much.
Fourteen players have gotten a start. Additionally, Powell and Didier have each appeared in half of LSU's games, which shows that Mainieri is comfortable using those two as pinch hitters. It's nice to have a pair of differently handed pinch hitters to use in a game. Alex Edward still hasn't appeared in a game and we could use his power bat. That means that LSU's bench goes 17 deep.
Of course, this is still a Paul Mainieri team, and he's still going to ride his starters hard. Seven guys have made double digit starts, and four have started all 12 games. Fortunately, those four have clearly been the four best hitters on the team. He's relying on the right guys as his core. Katz, Rhymes, Nola, and Hanover are the team's top four in batting average, OBP, and slugging. In fact, they are the only four regular starters with an OBP above 400 and all of them have a slugging above 500 save Nola (he's at 487).
I was preaching balance in the preseason, but it does not appear that is the case. He's got a core of four guys who can flat out rake, and one guy who is currently hitting like Babe Ruth on steroids and with an aluminum bat.
He's not spreading out the hitters, he's loading them up 3-6 in the order and playing for the big inning. In the highest scoring inning of each game this weekend, those four all figured prominently in the inning. The move largely worked. Hey, if Sciambra keeps scuttling along and Ross falls back to earth, that's life. They bring positives with their gloves, as does Jones.
LSU is going to live and die by the middle of the order, and it's up the middle defense. Let everyone else fight over for what little playing time there is left.