LSU baseball has “problems” right now. What they need are “solutions”. Shortly before Tuesday’s game vs Tulane, I asked Adam and Poseur their thoughts on a variety of “issues” that currently nag the Tiger baseball team. As I dared ask questions about a team right before they had a game, they went out and made some of us look silly, or more specifically, Papierski made me look silly for questioning his ability. Clearly he was motivated by this future criticism. Just keep that in mind as we share our thoughts on LSU Baseball.
*turns cap around, sits backwards on folding chair*
Ok guys, let's rap
The annual "OMG LSU lost we suck fire Javi" talk got here early this season with the UNO sweep and the weekend losses in Houston and Florida. Let's ignore the crazy for a moment and get down to the real discussion: Does LSU still look like an Omaha team to you?
Adam Henderson: No, LSU is not an Omaha team. At least not now.
LSU is easily a top eight team in terms of talent and can easily turn it on with the flip of the switch, we saw that much on Sunday. LSU is a really, really good team but I haven't seen enough of them to pencil them into Omaha.
As stupid and reactionary as some of them are, there comes a time where we need to validate [THE WEBSITE THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED]’s concerns as real concerns rooted in some degree of fact.
It's easy to say "Florida, TCU, and Texas Tech are really good teams, you can't expect wins against them every time" because that's correct. They are all quality clubs hovering either at or almost at the same level LSU is. But for LSU to be 1-4 against those teams with Lange and Poché losing twice is slightly troubling for me. See here's the thing with me: it's not the end of the world to lose these games in February and March, it's actually a blessing to get such quality games under your belt early, but to get to Omaha you've got to beat a team that's like Texas Tech in a Super Regional: at or slightly below your level. And then it gets so much harder once you actually make Omaha. If you take those two weekends and pretend it's a postseason format, LSU is eliminated twice.
And yes, baseball is all about getting hot at the right time, 2008 tells us that more than anything, but to be completely frank LSU should really be above that given the immense talent well that it has. I'm not saying that they should be dropping 20 runs on Florida, but to be completely silenced by arms that Auburn figured out pretty easily? It's frustrating. Hoping for consistency in baseball is an exercise in futility, but given the 1-2 punch of Alex Freaking Lange and Jared Poché with a lineup like LSU has and saying "well if they catch fire at the right time" is incredibly underwhelming.
But who knows? Maybe Sunday's rally was the wake-up call this team needs to catch up to the talent level and hang at a consistent level. A win against rivals Tulane [Edit: oops...]and a skidding Texas A&M team can be the start of a huge run for LSU. It's only the halfway mark of the regular season and those losses were not very damaging to LSU.
Poseur: As of this exact moment, no. This team isn't an Omaha team. But before we all run around like chickens with our heads cut off, let's throw in a gigantic caveat: I don't think it matters. The goal is not to look like an Omaha team in March, but in June. Yes, there's a great 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, particularly if you're not that concerned about Lange finding his stride, but this is a pretty young lineup. We're relying on a lot of freshmen, and freshmen need time to get their feet under them.
Look, right now Auburn and Arkansas are leading the SEC West. Auburn was picked last in the West and Arkansas to finish 5th. Are they suddenly great Omaha-bound teams? Or is it just really early and perhaps we shouldn't read too much into early season results? Probably somewhere in between the two, but it's not like LSU is far off from where it wants to be. The Tigers are still well-positioned near the top of the SEC and ranked in the top 10 nationally. The bump from Super Regional team and Omaha bound is a matter of a good draw, getting hot at the right time, luck, making a few tweaks, or any combination of the previous.
I feel like Kevin Bacon in Animal House, but everything is fine. Remain calm.
PK: There's no real way to sugar coat this. Pap is having issues behind the plate. Yes, he blocks balls well and is adept at preventing tragedy when he can't stop a wild pitch, but he's not an everyday catcher, his .217 at the plate is the worst of LSU's 8 regulars, and worst of all, people are running on LSU. The Tigers are tied for 2nd worst in the SEC in stolen bases against, highlighted by 10 successful attempts by Florida this past weekend, the most the Gators have had in a weekend since 2010. Do we keep riding Pap or is it time to try Coomes for a full weekend?
PS: Yeah, he's been awful behind the plate, but so has Romero. Romero is hitting 200/286/240 in 25 AB, and whatever magic he had last season seems to have left him. I would like to see Romero get some more reps to maybe turn it around, but let's be clear: the backup to Papierski is hitting even worse than he is, which sort of limits your options.
I also could not disagree more about his defense. Yes, LSU has allowed 25 stolen bases, 2nd worst in the SEC. This totally ignores LSU is 1st in the conference in caught stealing, with FIFTEEN. If you are throwing out 15 of 40 base stealers, you are winning the war on the bases. Let them attempt those steals, on balance, LSU is benefiting. If you're throwing out 37.5% of base stealers, you give the hat tip to the catchers, not criticize the performance (runners against Pap himself are 19 of 31 for 38.7% throw out rate). Throw in just 3 passed balls, near the bottom of the SEC, I've got no issues with Pap's defense. He can continue to don the tools of ignorance until Romero's bat turns around.
AH: Michael Papierski is by far one of the best defensive catchers LSU's had since I've been actively watching them play. The wild pitches have been a problem, but Papierski has only been credited with two passed balls all season. His offense is behind but he's never been called an offensive starter. He's fine. Abandoning him for some wild pitches and a slump at the plate will only turn a manageable problem into a complete wild card.
PK: I have a list here of LSU pitchers who have thrown over 19 innings this season. Guess where Alex Lange's ERA ranks? 5th of 5. Is the book out on LSU's ace?
PS: There is no book. He gave up 6 runs in 1.2 innings against TCU with an umpire squeezing the zone on him, forcing him to throw down the middle to an explosive offense. He had a bad outing against Georgia, allowing 8 runs in 4.1 innings, leaving with a 9-8 lead. Those two outings account for 6 IP and 14 ER. Outside of that, Lange has thrown 27 IP for 1 ER. He had a bad outing. Let it go. He's earned the benefit of the doubt.
AH: Lange is fine. He's had off games against TCU and Georgia, but both time he responded by pitching eight innings against Wichita State and Florida, allowing only eight hits and one run, striking out 16 and walking one. Obviously he can't have those kinds of outings in the postseason, but he has time to iron out any kinks he may have before any of that happens.
PK: LSU's bullpen has been damaged through no fault of it's own, but we're starting to see some trustworthy guys emerge from the triage. Gilbert has taken well to the closing role, Beck has been a pleasant surprise, and Hess might just be moving away from the mid-week role soon (though he is starting vs Tulane). If Newman comes back soon, and it looks like he is, do you think LSU's relief arms are still a liability?
PS: What looked like it could be a disaster has really come through for the Tigers. I'm reluctant to say everything is fixed and don't worry about it, and Newman isn't healthy until he gets guys out consistently... but man, they have made some big outs. Take Lange's outing against Georgia, three relievers came in to combine for 4.2 IP and 1 run. The Sunday comeback against Florida doesn't happen without the pen going 4.2 IP and allowing 1 unearned run. They don't just have good numbers, they have big numbers in clutch situations. We'll see how that plays out going forward, but I'm not totally sold.
AH: Coming into the season, we knew what we were getting with LSU's veteran arms, while the question was the youth on the squad. The new guys have picked up for the veterans who went down with an injury, and a silver lining in the Newman and Norman injuries is that when Newman comes back, then the players like Beck and Peterson move down and to the left a spot on the quick dial list. We all know the woes that have befallen LSU in the postseason in terms of a third or fourth starter, but that added experience for the younger guys could come up large for LSU in the right situation.
PK: LSU is batting .309 as a team, 2nd in the SEC. LSU is in a 3 way tie in the league for the least amount of stirkeouts. The Tigers are in the upper echelon in hits and runs scored. But the Tigers have stranded 213 runners, averaging more than 8 a game. I don’t want to read too much into the struggles vs UF's elite pitching, but it feels like this lineup is 1 or 2 tweaks away from being truly great. Any Ideas?
PS: Yes, LSU has left a lot of runners on. Here's the solution: Do nothing. Leaving runners on is a function of having a lot of runners on base, and it usually sorts itself out as the season goes on. I'm not going to panic over one series, particularly against a great staff. LSU ranks 2nd in average, but 3rd in OBP and 4th in slugging. We don't run ourselves out of many innings, and don't hit into too many double plays. And right now, Mainieri fields an order with eight guys getting on base at .398 or better. Don't panic. Stay the course. He's tinkered with the lineup a lot, let's keep on with the one that has worked... though it wouldn't hurt to get Romero going again.
Jake Slaughter, Zach Watson, and Josh Smith are all freshmen, you have to let them grow into their roles. Brennan Breaux is a sophomore getting his first taste of meaningful action. And that means they need to fail sometimes. It's part of learning. Better to fail in March than June. Let the kids play, and let them learn. Unfortunately, that means they occasionally have three strikeouts with the tying run on second base in the ninth, never once putting pressure on the defense to make a play. Watson, Slaughter, and Breaux failed to come through in the clutch, but their coach showed faith in them. That pays off in the long run.
AH: I think the runners left on base is a byproduct of the veterans of the lineup reaching and the freshman getting caught with the briefcase full of cash. They haven't been bad, not by a longshot, but they just haven't been as good as the veterans. Hard to keep pace with the guy who flirted with .500 for a long time, the guy who set the LSU single game hit record, and the guy who set the LSU single game doubles record, you know?