LSU has been blessed with some amazing pitching talents over the past half decade. Kevin Gausman is just the latest guy to pass through the Box, and now Mainieri will have to find a replacement just as he did for Coleman and Ranaudo.
Last year, LSU had one of the best rotations going into the season it has ever had, and that was before the emergence of Aaron Nola. So as much as we will miss Gausman, there's plenty of talent on hand. McCune is a former Friday starter and now a bullpen hand. Cotton is a former walkon and now a bullpen ace. Unless Mrs. Nola has another kid, LSU will keep having to looking wherever it can to find its next ace. I think we'll be fine.
Aaron Nola (So.) 3.61 ERA, 89 K/7 BB, 89.2 IP
Ryan Eades (Jr.) 3.83 ERA, 63 K/28 BB, 94 IP
*Brent Bonvillain (Sr.) 3.49 ERA, 34 K/14 BB, 28.1 IP
On paper, this rotation isn't quite as good as last year's going into the season, but it's kind of hard to replace a guy like Kevin Gausman. However, at this time last yea, we had no idea Aaron Nola would be this good. He quickly muscled Kurt McCune out of the rotation due to McCune's ineffectiveness and his own performance. Nola's 89/7 K/BB ratio is downright absurd and screams unsustainable, but he's already established himself as the team's ace and Friday starter. Nola's got terrific control and a pretty decent sinkerball, which should help keep the ball in play and rely on the defense.
Ryan Eades has been a starter since late his freshman year, and while he's not quite as spectacular a pro prospect as Gausman was, he is still rated as one of the top pitching prospects in the nation. He dominated the Cape Cod League in 2011. He has a slight problem with control (15 HBP!), but he's been one of the team's most reliable performers, regardless of position.
Brent Bonvillain will get first crack at the third slot in the rotation (sort of), always a precarious place for an LSU pitcher to start the year. The February #3 starters have a poor track record in recent years of turning into the June #3 starter. Bonvillain has a leg up because he's an honest to God left handed starter, something this team has lacked. But is that Chris Cotton's music I hear?
3rd Starter/Closer/Bullpen Ace
*Chris Cotton (Sr.) 1.59 ERA, 40 K/7 BB, 45.1 IP
Mainieri announced this week in his press conference that Chris Cotton will be the third starter and the closer. I expect he will also be the setup man, long reliever, and responsible for ordering the keg for the postgame party. Clearly, Cotton is not going to start and close unless there is some rift in the space-time continuum, not to mention a slight alteration to the rulebook. But Mainieri is making it clear that he's a key cog.
Chris Cotton has gone from walk on to relief ace, and y'all know I'm a sucker for a story like that. Cotton also relies more on his massive curveball than any power, and I just like watching his curve break. He's actually never started for the Tigers, and that will almost certainly change at some point this season. What I expect is that Cotton will fill whatever hole this staff has. He's the first option for everything, though he'll probably settle in to the Chad Demouy/Jared Bradford/ Louis Coleman relief ace swingman role. There's just no telling what hole he's going to have to plug.
Nick Rumbelow (Jr.) 3.65 ERA, 34 K/14 BB, 24.2 IP
Joey Bourgeois (Sr.) 2.38 ERA, 37 K/14 BB, 34 IP
Will LaMarche (Jr.) JUCO transfer
Kurt McCune (Jr.) 4.04 ERA, 24 K/14 BB, 42.1 IP
Kevin Berry (Sr.) 3.09 ERA, 10 K/9 BB, 11.2 IP
*Cody Glenn (So.) 5.62 ERA, 16 K.6 BB, 16 IP
That is a deep pen, and that's before we get into the large number of incoming freshmen who will want to contribute. Rumbelow would have gotten the first shot at being the closer, but that's put on hold due to an oblique strain. He's on the shelf until early March, and likely won't be a shutdown guy until April. So Mainieiri has got to get creative, but there's a lot of options here. Joey BOOOOOOOOjwah returns for one last run, and he'll once again be a valuable swing man. He's like Daniel Bradshaw reincarnated, but that's the kind of pitcher every team needs. He can do just about anything. I'm the last member of the Kurt McCune fan club. His career has worked backwards, as he was a #1 starter as a freshman, and now he's a middle reliever and midweek starter. He's not being counted on returning to his freshman form, but it's not like his sophomore year was bad, it was just Nola was that great.
Honestly, I think McCune can either close or end up back in the rotation. The good news is, if he doesn't do either of these things, the team still has plenty of options. Anything he contributes is a bonus at this point. Glenn had a disappointing year last year, but he will get the first call out of the pen to hold off the incoming freshmen. As for the freshmen, your guess is as good as mine. Will LaMarche is a JUCO transfer who apparently throws the ball very hard. If you're looking for the stereotypical closer, it's him.
Last year, we went into the season thinking that LSU was going to be a pitching and defense team. While the pitching was good, it didn't quite live up to the hype. LSU finished fifth in runs allowed, mainly because it took awhile for everything to gel. The team did lead the SEC in runs scored, which none of us saw coming. It's actually conceivable for this year's offense to be even better.
The rotation is missing a proven third starter, but there are plenty of viable candidates. I'm not that worried about finding a guy to fill that role. The bullpen is deep and the lineup is young, but pretty stacked. And Chris Cotton is apparently going to fill every role possible. This team is not without holes, I'm primarily worried about centerfield and what happens if Mason Katz gets hurt, but this is one of the most balanced LSU teams in recent years.