Good pitching beats good hitting is one of the most common adages in baseball. But what happens when good pitching is derailed by injury and you have to remake your weekend rotation on the fly? That’s the issue LSU ran into in 2019.
Part of the reason why LSU was ranked so highly heading into 2019 was because its freshmen class was bringing in some really talented arms: Cole Henry, Landon Marceaux, Jaden Hill. All those pitchers ran into injuries of varying severity. Henry battled arm soreness which culminated in a pinched nerve in the Super Regional; Marceaux had some arm soreness too, and a pinch in his shoulder; Jaden Hill only threw for two weekends before missing the reset of 2019 with a shoulder injury.
AJ Labas was supposed to be an ace, too. He never set foot on the mound in 2019, missing the entirety of the season with a shoulder injury. Meanwhile Eric Walker spent 2019 working his way back from Tommy John surgery.
Starting pitching was supposed to be the strength of the 2019 Tigers, until the group turned into a MASH unit. The 2020 team, health permitting, has the potential to be the best starting rotation in America.
So. Cole Henry RHP, 4-2, 3.39 ERA, 58.1 innings, 78 Ks, 18 BBs
So. Landon Marceaux RHP, 5-2, 4.66 ERA, 58 innings, 43 Ks, 20 BBs
Rs. So. AJ Labas RHP, 6-2, 3.48 ERA, 54.1 innings, 32 Ks, 7 BBs (2018)
This piece will work a little bit differently as Paul Mainieri announced the rotation a few days ago. Henry being the Friday night guy isn’t a huge surprise, he’s the most talented pitcher on the staff. Henry is a draft-eligible sophomore so brace yourself for the idea of this being his last season in purple and gold, and it very well could be because he has great stuff. Henry has a fastball that consistently hits 93-95, possess a true 12-6 curve and has a changeup that sits in the 84-86 range.
If Henry’s secondary pitches are developing, and by all accounts they are, Henry is as good of a Friday night starter in America and will absolutely build upon his freshman season.
“I think obviously Cole Henry is going to be the big horse for us on Friday nights, and I think that gives us a chance against the top pitchers in our league,” Mainieri said. “He’s really just scratching the surface of his potential, I think he’s really got a chance to be a special guy.”
Marceaux being the Saturday starter isn’t a huge shock either, having started 14 games and throwing 58 innings last year. Marceaux changed his body over the offseason, dropping 15 pounds and the hope is that it will lead to an improvement in strength and stamina. Marceaux truly possesses four pitches: a four-seam fastball that hits 93, a two-seamer, a curve and a changeup. In the first 10 scrimmages of fall ball, Marceaux threw 7.2 innings and had a 1.17 ERA.
Labas being the Sunday guy a good sign that his health is blossoming. Labas showed promise in 2018, mainly serving as LSU’s midweek starter. He’s got three pitches, a low-90s fastball, a plus-changeup and a curveball possessing some serious bite. Labas probably has the best command of the staff. The great teams are the ones who have a legitimate third starting pitcher and if Labas is healthy, he can push LSU from regional host to a Top-8 seed.
So. Jaden Hill, RHP, 1-0, 1.80 ERA, 10 Innings 11 Ks, 3 BBs (two games)
Rs. JR Eric Walker, RHP, 5-4, 5.47 ERA, 72.1 Innings, 56 Ks, 32 BBs
LSU has a good problem to have: they have five guys who you could deem a starter. Henry and Marceaux seem to have starting spots locked up. Labas, health provided, probably sticks in the weekend rotation.
Who takes the mound as the midweek starter could vary from week to week. Hill has the better stuff, but Walker is more experienced. Walker was the leader in innings pitched despite battling back from his Tommy John. He doesn’t have the most electrifying stuff, but he was every bit as valuable getting LSU to the national championship series as Alex Lange and Jared Poche. In 2017, Walker was 2-1 with a 1.08 ERA in three postseaon starts. The experience on the biggest stage is probably why Walker is LSU’s midweek starter.
That said it’ll be hard not to give Jaden Hill a look. Hill was a top-100 prospect coming out of high school and has arguably the best stuff on the staff. We’ve only seen him throw twice for LSU, but it was a tantalizing two outings. Hill’s fastball stays in the mid-90s and he’s got swing-and-miss changeup. Reports say that his curveball has been improving and if he’s got a third fully formed third pitch then the Tigers may have to rethink its weekend rotation.