If there is one consistent criticism I have had of the baseball team it is this: our left handed relief pitching sucks. Look, the LOOGY (left handed one out only guy) is the most overrated role in baseball, the creation for which Tony LaRussa will surely go to baseball hell. Still, you need to have SOME left handed relief pitching. And LSU hasn't got one. Considering we can't really hit left handers either, the southpaw is the albatross of the 2009 Tigers.
So it was really cool to see Chad Jones on the mound yesterday. I hate to use this phrase, but it was the kind of outside the box thinking this problem needs. It took Mainieri a long time to reach this point which I also like, as it shows that he didn't panic at any point this year. The bullpen has been lousy, but as I've pointed out two weeks ago, it hasn't cost us any games. Yet. With our glut of outfielders (more on this in a second), it makes sense to see if he can turn one of the team's strengths to address it's weaknesses. If this was a pro team, we'd swing a trade of an outfielder for a pitcher, but the NCAA would probably frown on that tact.
Even better, the moved worked. Chad Jones, believe it or not, was actually recruited as both a pitcher and outfielder, and he can reportedly hit 92 on the gun. And Richard is right that his scant scouting report probably worked in his favor. Often managerial moves are graded on the simple criteria of "did it work?" which isn't always the best way to evaluate a coach. I mean, sometimes bad ideas work out and good ideas blow up in your face. This was a good calculated risk with the added bonus of actually working out.
The question is how do you use Jones moving forward? His bat is too potent to leave in the bullpen, but we desperately need a lefty in the pen. How Mainieri manages this might be the difference of winning a national title. I simply do not envy his job right now. This is going to be difficult to get Jones in as both a hitter and a pitcher without absurd moves. Get ready for some double switches.
As happy as I am with Mainieri for experimenting with Jones in the bullpen, I now point out that part of the problem with Jones in the outfield is of Mainieri's own making. We pointed out when spring practice ended that finding a spot for Jones in the crowded outfield would be rather difficult. Mainieri has responded by actually shrinking the available positions. Now, there are three players (Mahtook, Jones, Landry) sharing one position. All so Austin Nola can play short.
Hanover for Helenihi at third I understood. I feel bad for Helenihi, but them's the breaks sometimes. But I don't get Nola for LeMaheiu at short. Nola is a better defensive player, but not by leaps and bounds. LeMaheiu is a pretty good defensive player in his own right. And the offensive difference between the two is massive.
Knowing that LeMahieu's bat is too important to leave on the bench, he gets shifted to second base. Now, here things just get silly. Schimpf is one of very best hitters AND is a terrific defensive second baseman. There's no way he's riding the pine. But instead of shifting him to third and putting Hanover on the bench (or not putting Nola in for the marginal defensive upgrade), Schimpf gets punted to left field.
There's already two "unbenchable" players in the outfield: Mitchell and Dean. OK, you could sit Mitchell against lefties, but almost Landry and Jones are even more helpless against lefties than Mitchell is. Dean carries a glove for the sake of appearances only, so this does allow him to settle into his natural position: DH. Which leaves Jones, Landry, and Mahtook fighting for the last outfield slot. Essentially, Mainieri has benched a Chad Jones/Mike Mahtook platoon (which would be some kind of awesome) in favor of Austin Nola. I don't get that. The defensive upgrade is slight and the offensive downgrade is huge.
Nola's gonna be a great player for us. I look forward to several years of his play. But it's not his time yet. Mainieri is solving a problem (infield defense) that this team didn't have while making a problem he does have (a glut of outfielders) worse.
According to Boyd World, LSU is #17 in the RPI. That doesn't bode well for our quest for a national seed at first glance, but I'm not too worried. There is no way the NCAA will not give the SEC regular season champ a national seed. So LSU needs to make sure it is the regular season champ. That easy, huh?
Playing Arkansas in Fayetteville next weekend will go a long way to determining the West Division champ. We still have Florida at home after that, and then hopefully an easy series against State to wrap things up, but really it will be a nearly impossible task to win the West without taking two of three from the Razorbacks. Even if LSU went 5-1 in the next two series, we would still need Arkansas to go at best 3-3. So time to take care of business. This is a huge series this weekend.
I'm not saying win this weekend and we get a national seed, but I do think failing to take the series this weekend makes a national seed a very unlikely event. Winning puts us in a terrific position to earn a seed. Barring a total collapse, I think we've got a 1-seed in our regional wrapped up.
Let the scoreboard watching begin.