The LSU offense is broken. It's one thing to struggle against a legitimately great team like Texas A&M, but the Tigers followed up this weekend's drought with a 7-1 loss to Tulane. Tulane. This marks the first time Tulane has won a game in the new Alex Box Stadium, which I guess was bound to happen, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.
LSU has now scored six runs in its past four games, and that's after an SEC opening series against Alabama in which the Tigers scored 0, 3, and then 7 runs. There was that 8-run outburst against Lafayette, but largely, since conference play began, the hits have dried up.
This always brings up the standard complaint of the offense: clutch hitting. Wherever an offense is struggling to score runs, there are fans of that team diligently tracking the number of runners left on base.
But LSU's problem is not that it can't get hits in the clutch, LSU's problem is that it can't get hits, period.
LSU is hitting, as a team, 295/381/426. That isn't horrible, but when you stack it up against the rest of the SEC, you can see the problem. LSU ranks 7th in batting average, 10th in OBP, and 9th in slugging. So, if you rank in the bottom half of the conference in getting on base and hitting with power, is it any surprise the team ranks 11th in runs scored?
LSU's problem isn't in getting baserunners home, it's getting baserunners in the first place. LSU has only earned 101 walks and 23 HBP on the season, for a total of 124 free passes. The average SEC team earned 141.4. Over 24 games, that's nearly a baserunner a game that LSU is missing out on.
This isn't to say that clutch hitting isn't a problem either. LSU has stranded double digits on the bases in four of the past seven games. The Tigers stranded 28 runners on base in the Alabama series and 27 against A&M. That's, um, not good.
What we have here is two compounding problems, the second exacerbating the first. LSU doesn't get enough runners on, leading to fewer at bats and scoring opportunities. And the few scoring opportunities LSU gets, they are squandering. Low on base coupled with a low slugging percentage is a recipe for disaster.
So, that's the bad news. The good news is, the season is young and so is this team. What challenge lies before Paul Mainieri is figuring out the best use of his roster. He needs to figure out who is simply slumping, and who just can't adjust to the SEC caliber of play.
That's the biggest concern. Mainieri has not really shown a propensity for shuffling his lineup. Seven players have started at least 20 of the 24 games, and Papierski has started 18. That pretty much leaves the rest of the roster fighting over one lineup slot, when instead, the entire lineup should be up for grabs.
Of those eight locked in starters, six of them have an OBP of 400 or lower. It's worth at least looking at all of them:
Beau Jordan is hitting 341/400/447. He probably shouldn't be hitting in the cleanup slot due to his lack of power. We need more than one home run out of that slot, but he definitely has earned his starting gig.
Cole Freeman is hitting 313/385/363. He is also tearing up the basepaths at a 14/17 rate. He's the perfect guy to have in the back of the order. No complaints if this is your ninth hitter.
Greg Deichmann hits 308/337/526. He's one of only two players on the team with a slugging over 500, but at what a cost. He leads the team in strikeouts (13) and he has only 4 walks all year. LSU is desperate for power right now, so it's near impossible to bench him, but that OBP is bordering on unplayable. He's an anchor in the lineup.
Because twins are weird, Bryce Jordan has the same exact OBP as his brother: 290/400/377. The difference here is that his peripherals are far worse. He's giving up 50 points of average and seventy points of slugging to his brother. He strikes out a lot, and his OBP is driven by his ability to draw HBP, not walks. Only Deichmann walks less among regular starters. Yet he's a middle of the order hitter.
Kramer Robertson's primary role is in the field. 274/384/379 is not going to impress anybody, but as long as he providing great defense, he's carrying his weight.
Michael Papierski can make the same defensive argument, as his caught stealing rate for opposing runners is at 37.5%. He's killing it. But he's been a disaster at the plate, hitting 246/347/369. That means LSU is carrying, essentially, two worthless bats in its lineup. And while Robertson is the only real option at short, there is a viable option behind the plate. Jordan Romero is hitting 325/451/600 in 40 at bats. He's tied with Deichmann for the team lead in homers, in half of the at bats. But Maineiri can't seem to find a spot in the lineup for him.
Rule of thumb, when the hitting is a problem, find a spot for the guy slugging 600.
The problem here is that no one on the bench is really pushing those guys for playing time. O'Neal Lochridge is essentially a poor man's Greg Deichmann, so you could just trade the Adam Dunn clone for another version. Chris Reid and Brody Woford have 57 at bats between them, and just 21 total bases. Neither cracks 400 in slugging, much less in OBP. Bryce Adams only has 3 hits in 16 at bats, but at least he has 7 total bases, so he has shown some glimpse of power.
There doesn't seem to be any answers. Jordan Romero is not a panacea that will cure all ills. He clearly needs to be in the lineup more, but he's not going to radically transform a team that doesn't have a single hitter in the top 15 in the SEC in any of the slash stats.
The kids need to grow up. And they need to do it now. Or else this season is going to get away from Mainieri faster than you can say "growing pains."