The LSU baseball team completed its regular season last weekend with a series finale win over South Carolina. The two victories this past weekend gave LSU its highest win total in conference play since 2001 with 19.
In part one we take a look at the LSU pitchers used in SEC play. The pitching staff, led by Kevin Gausman, Chris Cotton and Nick Goody, dominated the SEC’s pitching stats. The Tigers finished third in team ERA (3.62), fourth in opponents batting average (.253), second in walks issued with 74 (2.46 BBPG) and they led the conference in strikeouts with 256 (8.63 KPB).
The staff helped the LSU offense that could only muster 4.63 runs per game to limit their opponents to only 3.66 earned runs per game. With the offense unable to drive in insurance runs the strength of the pitching staff was shown in one –run games. LSU finished with a 12-5 record in one-run games. Even when the game needed extra innings, the Tiger bullpen showed tremendous poise earning a 3-1 record (two of the wins were on the road).
Let’s take a look at the starters final stats.
Because of the numbers above, Kevin Gausman has a lot of post-season recognition coming his way. If not for Mississippi State’s Chris Stratton he could have won SEC-pitcher of the year, but Stratton had an amazing year. Gausman finished second in the SEC in innings pitched, second in strikeouts (one behind Stratton), but did strike out the most batters looking (24). What is more impressive is that Gausman’s last two started he pitched a complete game.
After Gausman the other two starters were pedestrian at best. Ryan Eades and Aaron Nola started SEC play on fire, but cooled as the season went along. Both ERA’s are too high when compared to the LSU offense and both gave up the same amount of hits as Gausman in 20-fewer innings pitched.
Eades did show as if he was turning it around last weekend at South Carolina as we went 5.1 innings, struck out six and only allowed one earned run. In his previous 13 innings of work, Eades allowed 11 runs and only struck out three.
Nola replaced Kurt McCune as the Sunday starter on the weekend rotation. Nola came out of the gate red hot and looked like a sure-fire ace in the future for the Tigers, but he hit a snag mid-way through conference play. Nola’s biggest problem is he continues to leave too many pitches over the middle of the plate; proof of this is his SEC low four walks. He did finish with a nice strikeouts per nine innings at 7.76 and many of those were of the strikeout looking variety. Nola finished second in the conference in strikeouts looking.
The problem with Nola and Eades is that the conference seems to have them scouted fairly well. The only thing keeping them afloat is how good their stuff is, which is something we overlook. Nola throws too many strikes, so teams are not going to take as many pitches as they normally would. Eades is the opposite of Nola, he doesn’t have an out-pitch, so teams are going to take a lot of pitches forcing him to groove a few over the plate.
Not trying to bash the other two starters, but their numbers does not look as bad thanks to its bullpen. After Gausman is there any question who the next arm on the team is this year? It has to be Chris Cotton, who may not earn All-SEC honors but should. Cotton, along with closer Nick Goody who finished second in the conference in saves with seven, helped put together a start line that rivals Gausman’s productions. Don’t believe me take a look. (Editor Note: I removed Kevin Berry from this comparison…)
The great production is largely due to the core of the bullpen. Along with Cotton, Brent Bonvillain and Joey Bourgeois have provided the middle inning relief left after the struggled of Nola and Eades. Nick Rumbelow and Joe Broussard have both been used in roles ranging from setup to spot relieves and neither has allowed a run to score in 11.1 innings of work combined.
For more stats, let’s look at the chart…
The stats speak for themselves, but there are a few questions moving into post-season play. For starters, the amounts of games in fewer days are going to take its toll on the starters. Will Paul Mainieri use Kurt McCune as the fourth starter like he did against Florida, or will he give a hot arm like Joe Broussard the nod? If McCune is replace, what do you do with him moving forward? Also is Nick Goody a one inning-only pitcher, or will Mainieri give him a chance to show he can be utilized if necessary in larger roles.
I bring up these questions because LSU can not solely rely on the starting pitching to advance deep in the NCAAs, but it will take a collective effort and creative one to navigate onto Omaha and further.