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2017 LSU Baseball Preview: Starting Pitching

He’s baaaaaaaaaack.

Have you seen Rogue One yet? If you haven’t, you should. It’s a pretty damn good movie. It definitely puts the "War" in "Star Wars". However, the following paragraph probably won’t do much for you.

Alex Lange

JR RHP

2016: 17 GS, 111.2 IP, 3.79 ERA, .226 BAA, 2.55 K/BB (125/49), 47 ER

You know how in the final scene the rebels on the "diplomatic" ship are scrambling to get the plans for the Death Star to CGI Leia and the rebel actually with the plan gets caught in the tunnel? And then it goes black and there’s nothing but smoke punctuated by the unmistakable woosh and iconic red beam that can only mean one thing: names is about to be took and asses is about to be kicked.

Alex Lange is the baseball version of that. Sure, the last time we saw him, it wasn’t exactly as powerful as the first time we were exposed to him, but there’s no way that he wasn’t going to come back better than before.

Last year, Lange posted a solid K/BB of 2.55 and it was a bad year for him, down from the 2.84 mark he set his freshman year. His earned runs amount shot up from 37 to 47, mostly in part due to a rocky non-conference schedule. But Lange found his groove around the beginning of SEC play and then he was lights out until the end of the season, where he and the rest of the Tigers ran into the eventual national champions, Coastal Carolina. In his last game against the Chanticleers Lange’s pre-conference demons reappeared and he gave up six runs in five innings, all of them earned on seven hits. If you don’t think that hasn’t eaten up Alex Lange over the offseason, you must not be familiar with Alex Lange.

Lange is everything you want a pitcher to be: tall with a delivery that is nearly mechanical yet flowing and delivers overpowering material for batters. Lange can tie batters up with a devastating wipeout slider and he can also paint the black with a pounding fastball. He’s got stamina and he knows how to mix his pitches. In his two seasons at LSU, Lange has gone the distance twice each year, with the most notable coming against Cal State Fullerton in the 2015 College World Series.

Unless Paul Mainieri has a sudden change in rotational belief, Alex Lange will be your Friday night starter for the season and will anchor the weekend rotations.

Jared Poche’

SR LHP

2016: 17 GS (19 APP), 102 IP, 3.35 ERA, .272 BAA, 2.35 K/BB (87/37), 37 ER

But one ace isn’t enough to win a weekend series, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better compliment to Alex Lange than you would with Jared Poche’.

While solid contact against Lange in his top form is rare, Poche’ sort of encourages it. If Lange is LSU’s John Smoltz, Poche is their Greg Maddux. In 2016 Poche’ came out of his shell as a ground ball pitcher, showing a sharp increase in aptitude of what hitters like to swing at and what and where to throw in order to let the defense behind him record outs. Now that he’s had a year to work on his tradecraft, Poche’ may be poised to take a big step forward and become a true ace in his final season donning the purple and gold.

Of course, by nature ground ball pitchers will get got from time to time and allow a sizable amount of hits, the exact amount which depends on the defense behind him. If Poche’ is more or less the same pitcher he was last year LSU will still be in good standing, but they’ll want to keep their best bullpen arms on standby just in case. When they’re on, contact pitchers can expedite a game (Greg Maddux has a stat named after him: The Maddux, where a pitcher throws a complete game on less than 99 pitches) but more often than not a batter will burn them and they’ll get into jams which require some laboring to get out of unscathed. Of course, it’s easy to conserve bullpen arms when you’re pitching behind Alex Lange.

While in 2016 Poche’ showed signs of growing into a ground ball pitcher, he can still challenge a hitter, and is quite adept at it. Poche’ generally relies on locating his mid-90’s fastball to record outs, but he can also slow it down to produce results and has a mean 12-6 curve. He will be your Saturday starter.

So that’s a solid one-two to win weekend series, but in recent years LSU’s Achilles heel has been pitching beyond Lange and Poche. Who will step up and pick up the workload for a third starter? Some options:

Caleb Gilbert

SO RHP

2016: 5 GS (25 APP), 44.2 IP, 5.04 ERA, .313 BAA, 1.95 K/BB (43/22), 25 ER

Outside of the since-departed, Gilbert had the most starts out of the remaining 2016 staff and looks poised to take the next step and venture into the weekend rotation.

The Hoover native’s freshman year was marred by "welcome to the SEC moments", but two bright spots stood out as a testament to the young slinger’s mettle: the first coming in his debut as a starter against Arkansas where he went five innings allowing no runs on five hits. The second came against Florida in the SEC Tournament where the young freshman put on in his hometown, allowing one run on five hits in 5.2 innings of work against the staunch Gator lineup.

We’ve seen the promise of Gilbert and really the only question is how consistent can Gilbert be in a starting role? Mainieri would obviously do backflips off of the Alex Box Stadium awning if Gilbert can go five innings with no or one run allowed every week, but we all know that’s probably unlikely.

Gilbert throws hard, like really hard. That can easily come back to bite him, and at times it did in his first season. He can touch 95 on the gun, but with that speed comes with a lack of command. His slider is devastating, as long as it’s not hung up. If these issues were resolved, then LSU finally looks to have a coveted third starter.

But just in case...

Eric Walker

FR RHP

Taken from his LSU Sports dot net bio:

Paul Mainieri on Eric Walker:"Eric comes in as prepared as anyone in the class to be a starting pitcher."

Well, it seems like Paul has made up his mind on what role the freshman from Arlington will play in 2017. I think from the jump Gilbert will get the rock on Sunday and Walker will make his debut in a midweek at some point, but if Gilbert falters and Walker impresses, the switch will be made with a quickness.

Walker finished his career at Arlington-Martin High School with 295 strikeouts in three seasons as a starter. Averaging nearly 100 strikeouts a year is pretty damn swell. In 2016 he posted a 1.24 ERA, up from the .85 from his junior year. Yeah, his junior year was pretty stupid: 113 K’s and 12 complete games (TWELVE COMPLETE GAMES). By that benchmark, his senior season was lazy: 95 strikeouts, and three 13+ strikeout games. Yawn.

Of course, if all else falters LSU can call on the silent protector of LSU baseball, the watchful guardian of Alex Box Stadium/Skip Bertman Field, the ever-alert...

"Taco" Bell Anderson

RS-SR L/RHP

Yes, LSU can always light the "TBA" signal in the sky, and then the Bullpen Voltron known as Taco Bell Anderson can eat midweek innings through a flurry of pitching changes and playing to matchups. I believe Paul’s personal record is 14 pitchers in a game, and that is a grand amount for relieving taxed bullpen arms by spreading the workload.