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2016 LSU Baseball Season Preview: Starting Pitching

Our preview of the 2016 Tigers starts with the most important position, the biggest guarantee and the biggest question mark.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Before we start, I'm going to come out and level with you: Jake Latz's injury and the transfer of Jake Godfrey completely changes the complexion of the starting rotation and once again LSU will be forced to scramble and put together a third starter for the second year in a row, a chink in the armor last season that lead to the Tigers' downfall in Omaha. With that said, here's what we know about this year's rotation:

#35 Alex Lange (SO, RHP)

2015: 114 IP, 1.97 ERA, .212 BAA, 2.85 K/BB (131:46)

Into April and May last season it was nice knowing that, barring the offense evaporating or a historically bad defensive game, LSU was pretty much locked into at least 1 win every weekend. There was a slight learning curve, but Alex Lange basically picked up where Aaron Nola left off on Friday nights and only got stronger as the weather heated up when the Tigers played through the postseason. That statline being posted by a true freshman playing in the SEC is reason enough to get excited for the season.

The only visible downside, outside of the ever present threat of injury, is the fact that once again, LSU will be relying on Lange to basically pin down a win by himself once a weekend. And it doesn't matter if you have David Price on the rubber, asking that for 5 months is asking an awful lot. Hopefully Lange has the stuff to run the gauntlet, because the run support will not be as gushing as it was last year.

#16 Jared Poche (JR, LHP)

2015: 109.1 IP, 3.05 ERA, .248 BAA, 2.88 K/BB (72:25)

The veteran of the rotation, Poche was demoted to Saturdays in favor of Lange in mid-April. Playing more of a contact "frustrate them to death" Greg Maddux like type pitcher, the lefty is a nice compliment to Lange's overpowering right arm. However, a contact pitcher is only as good as the defense behind him, and seven out of the eight defensive positions will feature a first year starter.

The main knock I had against Poche wasn't his pitching style, delivery, or even the pitches themselves, but rather the selection. To me, Poche guessed wrong a lot of the time, but an equal amount of time was finding one pitch and sticking to it for too long. Last year he had the mask of the Tiger bats to bail him out from time to time, a luxury he likely won't have this year.

Another thing to consider was his fielding gaff against TCU in the College World Series opener that opened the floodgates for a four run onslaught against the Tigers. How, if at all, will it affect him this season?

#?? ?????? ???? (??, ???)

2015: ??.? IP, ?.?? ERA, .??? BAA, ?.?? K/BB (??:??)

As mentioned above, the Latz injury and Godfrey transfer changes everything by forcing everything to remain the same. Once more, it Paul Mainieri will try to fit a round peg in a square hole on Sundays. I can't know for certain, but if the season started right now, if I had to name a third starter, I would personally go with...

#18 Austin Bain (SO, RHP)

2015: 54.2 IP, 3.95 ERA, .216 BAA, 2.43 K/BB (56:23)

With Godfrey gone, Austin Bain and Kyle Bouman are the only pitchers on the roster left who started more than three game last year, and Bain looks much more preferable on the bump. A lot of Bain's first college stat line smells like freshman spirit, razor bumps and all, but he looked promising enough to be given an honest shot at being the third starter. Far from overpowering, Bain still needs more time to develop his pitches, but is at a point where he can hold his own for 4-5 innings. The first month of the year will be huge for the whole team, but for Bain especially. It's huge for Bain to try and get at least five or six innings against the Sacramento States and Fordhams of LSU's early season non-conference schedule, because Bama comes calling on March 18th and a trip to College Station follows, and this season it's possible Bain will be handed a lot of rubber games.

#27 John Valek III (SR, LHP)

2015: 99.2 IP, 3.25 ERA, .232 BAA, 2.38 K/BB (62:26)

The wild card in this situation is John Valek, a transfer from Akron who is eligible because they discontinued their baseball program.  And this isn't some random bullpen arm, Valek was the Zips' Friday night starter and was a first team MAC All-Conference player. If there's anybody who starts on Sunday over Bain, it will be Valek because of pure experience alone. His stat line shows it, but Valek is not privy to towering strikeout numbers, he relies on stringing pitches together and the defense to finish outs for him.

#44 Riley Smith (JR, RHP)

2015: 79 IP, 2.96 ERA, .267 BAA, 2.65 K/BB (85:32)

A transfer from San Jacinto Junior College, Smith started 15 games on SJJC's run to the JUCO World Series last year. Smith is a fastball pitcher who's topped out at 93 and works it with a masterful command. I don't make bets on such things, but I would not be shocked if Smith got the call in Beaumont for LSU's first midweek of the season against Lamar if not whoever doesn't pitch on the previous Sunday against Cincinnati. Losing Latz is terrible news for the whole team, but if anybody has something to gain for it, then it's Smith.