LSU will host the Rice Owls at the new Alex Box Stadium for the super regionals. Rice came out of the loser's bracket to beat Kansas State twice and advance to the supers, outscoring the Wildcats 21-4 over the course of the double header, after losing to K-State in the winner's bracket game earlier in the series.
Rice presents an interesting challenge for the Tigers. Statistically, one can look at this team and see some outstanding players, but we wonder how they can be compared to an LSU team that played an SEC schedule. I don't like to be an SEC elitist, but the fact is that Conference USA does not have a whole lot of good baseball teams in it. There are a few (Southern Miss and East Carolina made the tournament.
So, one looks at the ERAs of the 3 starting pitchers we are likely to see (1.73, 2.05, and 3.45) and one is daunted, but what does it really mean? Mike Ojala's and Ryan Berry's ERAs are about 1 run lower than Coleman's and Ranaudo's, but what can we tell from that? Are they better than Coleman and Ranaudo? It's hard to say. we can tell you a little something about how rice is built, though.
Like LSU, Rice has two ace pitchers. Like LSU, both of their ace pitchers are righties. Strangely, their third-best starter ERA-wise actually leads the team in innings pitched, by a whole lot (94 innings pitched for Taylor Wall, versus 74.2 innings pitched for Ryan Berry). Of course, with all LSU opponents, we first look for the left-handed pitchers. Taylor Wall, who as mentioned leads the Owls in innings pitched, is a lefty with a 3.45 ERA.
Looking at Rice's starting pitchers, the strikeout-to-walk ratios don't really match up to Coleman's and Raunaudo's. Ojada has struck out 68 and walked 24 in 62.1 innings. Berry has struck out 62 and walked 15 in 74.2 innings pitched. Wall has struck out 77 and walked 37 in 94 innings pitched. Only Ojada appears to be a physically dominating pitcher, and his BAA is a modest .248 despite averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Berry hardly ever walks anyone (less than 2 per 9 innings) and has a BAA of only .185.
The pitchers' ERAs seem mostly to benefit from an astonishing lack of home runs and extra base hits. Each of the three starters has given up only 4 home runs on the season, and Ojada has given up only 7 doubles. I have no explanation for that.
Taylor Wall is the only pitcher who averages significantly more than 5 inning per appearance, which means that Rice will have to rely on the bullpen. While Rice's starters have very good ERAs, their bullpen is significantly more problematic for them. No bullpen arm has an ERA below 4.2 with more than 15 innings pitched. Rice's two most-used bullpen arms are both righties. Their most-used lefty is Matt Evers, whose ERA is above 6.0. Abel Gonzaes, who does double duty as an outfielder, is the only other lefty reliever.
This means that even if the starters are outstanding, if they can't make it past the 5th inning Rice will have problems.
Offensively, Rice has a good number of hitters with batting averages of over .300, led by third baseman Anthony Rendon, who is hitting .379 with 19 home runs and a slugging percentage of .690. He hits right-handed, and the lineup as a whole is righty-heavy, thoug4 they have two good hitters who are lefties: Chad Mozingo (.325/.390/.545) and Brock Holt (.345/.422/.538).
As a team, Rice hits a ton of home runs, at least compared to their competition. On the season, Rice has hit 65 home runs and have given up only 36. Their slugging percentage as a team is 112 points higher than their opponents'. This is a team that his righteously dominated its competition, even if that competition is a step below LSU's. In comparison, LSU's slugging percentage is 117 points higher than the competition's, without really dominating the competition in home runs quite as much as Rice has, though LSU has hit a lot more home runs than Rice has (92 vs. 65, while LSU has given up 64 home runs.
It should be a fun series. Rice has not stuck with consistent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday starters, but we should see Wall, Berry, and Ojala; just not in any particular order. Each pitcher will be tough to beat, but we have our own aces going for us, so it's game on soon.