LSU is hitting 212/282/280 in SEC play. Up until Sunday's 7-run output in a loss, LSU had not scored more than four runs in an SEC game all season. In technical terms, this offense sucks.
The blame for this offensive ineptitude has been scattered and unfocused. Paul Manieri made Alex Bregman unavailable to the press, giving his star shortstop a chance to quietly work on his game. This move only intensified the criticism of Bregman, as if he is the cause of the offensive woes.
Bregman's not exactly ripping the cover off the ball, and he's mired in a deep slump concluding with an entire weekend without a hit. However, Bregman is still hitting 291/390/379 on the year. Not quite last year's output, but not quite the reason for LSU's woes. But still, star players get a disproportionate amount of blame when things go wrong, as that's part of the gig.
While we're looking at disappointing returning starters, the entire top three in the lineup is struggling to some degree. Mark Laird is hitting 274/382/321 and Sean McMullen is hitting 265/333/469. Again, neither of those lines is terrible, though Laird is definitely bordering on it, but it is far short of what you want out of you're the first three hitters in the order.
I'm also not the biggest proponent of lineup construction in the world, as even the worst lineup won't cost you that many runs over the course of the year, but the idea of hitting McMullen in the leadoff spot is trying my lack of faith in the importance of lineups.
McMullen has the second highest slugging percentage on the team among players with at least 40 at bats (which excludes freshman Jake Fraley) and the lowest on-base percentage of anyone with at least 40 at bats. McMullen has 14 extra base hits, more than anyone else on the team by such a wide margin that he would still rank first if you combined the extra base hits from the second and third place guys (tied with Scivicque and Bregman who each have 7 to combine for 14). Nothing about McMullen says "leadoff hitter", especially his low OBP. He'd be far more valuable to the team in the fifth or sixth slot.
The frustrating thing here is that while the top three have struggled, LSU has found some supplemental bats on the bench. Kade Scivicque is hitting 372/455/523 and has the cleanup spot on hammer lock. Christian Ibarra's only hitting 268, but he's got an OBP of 424. Conner Hale is hitting 309/346/340 which is at least adequate for a back of the order guy. Andrew Stevenson has emerged as an obvious contender for the leadoff spot. He is hitting 333/385/432 and has 5 steals to go with it. It's amazing to me that he hasn't gotten the gig. I'll caution that Jake Fraley's 435/500/783 is likely illusory, as its only been 23 at bats, but at least he's giving us the hope that there's a way to improve this offense. The bad news is that this team has hit 212/282/280, and Fraley's line is part of that.
This is the part where I complain about the bunting.
Look, I get it. LSU is trying to adjust their offense to one that can score runs in Omaha, which has a ballpark that eats home runs alive. If LSU is to win the title, it needs to learn how to manufacture runs. That's all well and good, but it doesn't do a damn bit of good if you never make the postseason, much less Omaha. LSU plays in an extreme hitter's park, and needs to score some runs in the regular season.
It's not just that Mainieri has called for 29 sacrifices. It's who is being asked to lay it down. OK, he's not as crazy as to ask Bregman and Scivicque, his three-four hitters, to lay down many bunts (each has one), but he is asking his best on base threats to do it. Outside of Bregman and Scivicque, the two highest OBP's on the team belong to Stevenson and Ibarra. Those two have 11 of the team's 29 sac bunts. Mainieri isn't just throwing away outs, he's having the guys least likely to get out do it.
The problem gets more pronounced in SEC play. LSU has had 91 base runners in 9 games. Take away the 3 home runs, 9 doubles, and 1 triple, and the Tigers have gotten a guy to first base 78 times. That's not a whole lot, and 8 times, just over 10% of the time, Maineiri calls for a sac bunt.
But that's not the worst case scenario. Despite ranking at the bottom of the SEC in baserunners, LSU ranks first in double plays. LSU has grounded into 12 double plays in SEC play in just 70 opportunities. That's 17.1% of the time. Heck, LSU only gets a hit in 21.2% of their at bats. LSU is almost as likely to hit into a double play, given a chance, than get a hit. Not an RBI, not an extra base hit, just a hit of any kind.
That's an aggressively terrible offense. Some solutions just involve patience. Bregman's either going to turn it around or he isn't, and LSU can't win if he doesn't. All of our eggs are in that basket, and pretty much every team needs its best player to hit well. Not much Mainieri can do about that except to help him work through this slump.*
*The media blackout didn't help. It's not like fear of microphones has caused the slump. If anything, it brings more attention to it.
Other solutions have already been implemented. Foster, Chinea, and Robertson have all been terrible at the plate, and seen their playing time reduced accordingly. Chinea's still going to get playing time because Scivicque can't squat behind the plate every game, but having a defense first catcher get playing time isn't the worst thing in the world. Robertson's not a lost cause, but Hale seems to have taken the second base job. Foster has almost certainly lost his job to Fraley.
I understand that Mainieri isn't going to simply stop bunting, but it would be nice if he didn't ask Ibarra and Stevenson to do it so much. Maybe ask Laird to do it some more. He would have some more chances if there was actually a runner on first more often. How hard is it to put Stevenson in the leadoff spot, move McMullen to the five hole followed by Ibarra. And maybe put the struggling Moore in the eight or the nine slot.
The pieces of a good offense are right there, Mainieri just needs to put them all together.