FISCHER: Outside the Box
Rhymes on pace for historic 2012 season
It is not uncommon to see ridiculous batting averages in early April.
After all, the Major League Baseball season is just getting underway and there are sure to be several players who start 5-for-10 or maybe even 10-for-20.
But April comes and the college baseball season has officially spanned its third month on the calendar, and early season exploits have typically been long swept away due to the law of averages. You can only stay hot for so long, right?
However, that may not apply to LSU outfielder Raph Rhymes.
The junior is hitting a blistering .491 through 28 games this season as the Tigers have reached the midway point of their 56-game slate.
What’s scary is that he appears to be getting hotter as the season progresses, which also means he’s been feasting off talented SEC pitching. The model of consistency is 17-for-32 in nine conference games so far this season, and he is also riding a nine-game hitting streak following the Arkansas series. Seven of the games in that streak have come against SEC opponents.
So now that Rhymes is deep enough into his 2012 campaign to know that his numbers are more than the results of just a hot streak, it’s beginning to be fair to compare his statistics to those of the best individual seasons in LSU history and wonder, ‘Can Rhymes finish with one of the best offensive seasons in LSU history?’
Needless to say, there have been some tremendous seasons in the rich annals of LSU baseball history. But Rhymes is on pace to best many of them.
The junior’s .491 batting average places him in prime position to earn LSU’s all-time crown in that category. The single-season record is .410 by Russ Johnson in 1994. With half a season to go, Rhymes obviously has his work cut out for him to reach that mark, but at close to .500, he’ll just have to hit a shade over .300 the rest of the way to set the record. I’ve got a pretty good feeling he’ll be able to do that.
As for total hits, Rhymes is at 53 through 28 games this year. LSU’s all-time record is held by Brandon Larson with 110 hits in 1997. Rhymes will have to keep up a heavy pace and LSU will have to advance deep into the postseason for Rhymes to challenge this mark, but it must also be noted that Larson had 289 at-bats that season. With the intentional passes Rhymes is beginning to rack up, he will likely barely surpass 200 at-bats.
Those are likely the only all-time marks Rhymes has a chance to break this season, but comparing hitters today to hitters of yester-year is simply an apples-to-oranges comparison. The pitching in the Southeastern Conference (and college baseball in general, for that matter) is better, and the new bats have completely changed the game in favor of pitching and defense - placing the accomplishments of Rhymes in 2012 in even higher regard.
As the cleanup hitter, one would think Rhymes should have far more than 34 RBIs through the first half of the regular season. But Tigers have struggled to get on base in front of him at times, keeping that number down. LSU’s all-time mark is 118 RBIs by Larson, also in 1997. No chance for Rhymes here, but that was Gorilla Ball. This is now.
Rhymes has just six doubles and one home run so far this season, placing him in no position what-so-ever to catch Brad Hawpe (36 doubles in 2000) and Brandon Larson (40 in you guessed it, 1997). But again, that was Gorilla Ball. This is now.
The Tigers as a team smacked 131, 188 and 157 home runs in 1996, 1997 and 1998 - the greatest three-year stretch in the history of the program. In the past three seasons, LSU has hit 78 (old bats), 34 (new bats) and 15 through 28 games this year (new bats, of course).
Clearly, it’s a new day in college baseball and for Rhymes to do what he’s doing in today’s game is simply remarkable. Whether he finishes the season as hot as he’s started it, Rhymes’ 2012 campaign will be one to remember, so let’s enjoy the ride.
Assistant Editor Richard Fischer is Tiger Rag’s lead reporter on LSU baseball. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.