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2019 LSU Baseball Preview: The Pitchers

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The arms are the strength of the team

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-LSU vs Oregon State
He’s back!
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 baseball season never really got off the ground, as injuries derailed the train before it even got to the station. The team lost its best pitcher to offseason surgery in Eric Walker, and arguably the team’s best position player, Josh Smith, managed just 16 at bats before losing his season to injury.

LSU won just 39 games, which is what counts as a down year around these parts, before getting sent off to Corvalis in the opening weekend to get hammered into submission by the eventual national champions, Oregon St. That’s the bad news.

The good news is LSU lost very little production and it gets back Walker and Smith. In addition, talented newcomers supplement the roster everywhere, particularly at last year’s greatest weakness, the rotation. This year, the rotation looks like the team’s strength and it is part of the reason LSU is a popular pick to win the national title by the national media.

Usually, we start this thing with the lineup but let’s flip things around this season, as the pitching staff is supposed to take center stage. If LSU is going to live up to the preseason hype, the pitchers are going to have to live up to the billing.

ROTATION

RHP Zack Hess (Jr) 5.05 ERA, 92.2 IP, 107/49 K/BB

RHP Eric Walker (So) 3.48 ERA, 95.2 IP, 78/23 K/BB (2017 stats)

RHP Landon Marceaux (Fr) 1.26 ERA, 49.2 IP, 76/5 K/BB (High school)

I’m not saying Landon Marceaux is a savior, but he shows up on campus as one of the most hyped pitching prospects in LSU history, and that is saying something. He has a four-pitch repertoire already, and he has big game experience, leading the U18 USA team to the World Cup title. According to LSU PR, he has allowed 0 runs in over 20 innings of spring and fall ball. He is supposed to be every bit of the real deal and if he lives up to the hype, is immediately the team’s best pitcher. Even if we dial it back to more reasonable levels, he should be a reliable weekend starter.

Hess had a hard luck season last year in which he had good peripheral numbers, but it seemed every time a bat found contact, the ball found space. Still, guys who strike out batters at a rate of over one an inning tend to find success. I think that ERA is going to plummet and he’s more the pitcher who dominated than 2017 than struggled in 2018. Having help around him should do wonders for his confidence, though he is the Friday starter and will be The Guy.

Eric Walker is the huge wild card. He missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery thanks to an injury suffered in the College World Series in 2017. He’s been shut down for a year and half, so he didn’t have to rush his recovery. Walker was never a power pitcher and won’t hit 90 on the gun, but relies instead on the sneaky movement of his changeup. If he still has that movement, LSU has the best Sunday starter in the SEC. If not, then comes the scramble.

CLOSER/RELIEF ACE

RHP Todd Peterson (Jr) 4.40 ERA, 47 IP, 38/11 K/BB

RHP Ma’Khail Hilliard (So) 3.79 ERA, 76 IP, 70/31 K/BB

Peterson wrestled the closer job away from Bain by the end of last season, finishing the season with 6 saves. He’s a veteran arm that Mainieri likes to rely on, and he has a strictly defined role. He needs to live up to the faith the staff is putting on him. Hilliard, on the other hand, was a rotation guy last season, but shoulder soreness in the regionals ended his year and shut him down for the fall. He would like to contend for a rotation slot, but I think he’s more likely to fill the Relief Ace role, coming in whenever there is danger and logging however many innings LSU needs to bridge to the endgame.

BULLPEN

RHP Matthew Beck (Jr) 3.67 ERA, 34.1 IP, 45/23 K/BB

RHP Caleb Gilbert (Sr) 5.58, 61.1, 42/20

RHP Trent Veitmeier (So) 4.91, 22.0, 19/13

RHP Devin Fontenot (So) 6.18, 39.1, 44/15

RHP Clay Moffit (Sr) 8.49, 11.2, 12/7

LHP Easton McMurray (Fr)

I didn’t list the freshmen because we never know which guys will become contributors with making the leap in competition, but Jaden Hill and Cole Henry were potential MLB draft guys who made it to campus, so they will likely get a chance to audition for a starting job either by starting midweek or playing a big part in the pen. I did list Easton McMurray not because he is more promising than the other freshmen, but because he is literally the only left-handed pitcher on the roster. That should guarantee that he at least gets a look for matchup purposes.

Of the returning pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched, Fontenot threatens to have the largest role. He had a miserable ERA last season, but that K/BB ratio promises a turnaround on that front. Caleb Gilbert is an unspectacular pitcher, but he’s a program guy who has filled pretty much any role the team has asked of him. He started 11 games last season and if he starts that many this year, things have probably gone awry with the season, but let’s be honest, he’s the kind of guy who is going to end up starting in the postseason when our staff gets wrecked by the demands of the schedule. I look forward to his workman-like two run, six inning performance in the SEC tournament already.

The bullpen isn’t quite as loaded as the starting rotation, but there’s a nice mix of veteran arms and promising newcomers to put together a bullpen to go with Hilliard and Peterson, the aces of the bullpen.

NEXT UP: The hitters