LSU’s SEC midterm grades
How do the Tigers stack up through their first 15 conference contests?
The Tigers are 15 games into their SEC slate and have officially reached the midway point of their conference games.
What a difference a year makes?
At this time last year, LSU was 4-11 and struggling to keep its head above water in a difficult SEC.
In 2012, the Tigers have reversed that mark and are 11-4.
The SEC hasn’t gotten any easier, but the Bayou Bengals have risen to the challenge and become the hunters rather than the hunted once again in the conference they used to own.
Overall, LSU is about two thirds of the way through its regular season with a 31-7 record in all of its games, but if the NCAA Selection Committee taught the Tigers anything last season, it’s that the SEC slate is the real season that matters.
Therefore, now is the perfect time for me to give you guys my grades for the LSU baseball team halfway through SEC play.
After 15 more conference battles, I’ll give you my final grades.
Tiger hitting has been good in 2012. Not quite great. But what has been great is the clutch hitting the Tigers have had in 2012 that they didn’t have in 2011. LSU ranks near the top of the league in just about every major offensive category.
Batting average: 4th in all games (.302), 3rd in SEC games (.284)
Runs scored: 2nd in all games (259), 7th in SEC games (69)
Hits: 3rd in all games (383), 4th in SEC games (143)
RBIs: 2nd in all games (242), T-5th in SEC games (66)
Those numbers are very comparable to last year (and even worse than last year in some respects, believe it or not). At this point last year, LSU had been shut out two times. They’ve also been shut out twice so far this year. But the hitting has been there when it’s needed to be, and that’s where the clutch factor comes in. LSU’s batting average with runners in scoring position and late in games is off the charts. That’s made apparent by the fact that the Tigers have won all but one game in which they led after the seventh and/or eighth innings. They’re also 6-0 when tied after the seventh and 5-1 when tied after the eighth. Hitting has certainly been good enough to deserve an A, but not quite an A+.
SEC midterm hitting grade: A
Tremendous. With the exception of a brief hiccup in Gainesville when LSU committed six errors in the three-game series (but still found a way to win two-of-three from the then ranked No. 1 team in America), the Tigers have been sparkling in the field. Their .978 fielding percentage in all games ranks second in the league, and their .977 fielding percentage in SEC games ranks fourth in the conference. Errors have been at a minimum all season long. Apart from LSU’s six errors in three games at Florida, the Tigers have committed just seven errors in their remaining 12 league games. But apart from the lack of mistakes, the biggest feather in LSU’s cap defensively has been the improvement of Ty Ross behind the plate. Last year, he couldn’t throw anybody out as LSU gave up the SEC’s second-most stolen bases (65) and had the fewest runners thrown out (16). This year, LSU has given up the fourth fewest stolen bases (23) and the Tigers are middle of the pack in runners caught stealing (16). Give LSU an A that’s oh so close to being an A+.
SEC midterm defense grade: A
LSU entered the season with three sophomores in its starting rotation. Kevin Gausman and Ryan Eades have been tremendous, but Kurt McCune struggled. No worries, because freshman Aaron Nola has assumed McCune’s Sunday role, and McCune appears to be as good as he ever was in LSU’s bullpen. Amazingly, LSU’s pitching strikes more fear now than it did entering this season, and it was quite heralded then. LSU’s starters hold a fantastic 7-2 record in SEC games this season, and maybe even more impressive than that, only once in SEC play has a starting pitcher gone fewer than five innings. That was when Eades went just three and got rocked at Florida, but muscle soreness had as much to do with that as anything (and LSU came back to win the game anyway). In LSU’s sweep over then ranked No. 3 Arkansas, all three starting pitchers set a career-high in strikeouts.
Here are some stats that apply to both the starters and the relievers, which I’ll get to in a second.
Team ERA: 2nd in all games (2.96), 1st in SEC games (3.16)
Opposing batting average: 3rd in all games (.229), 1st in SEC games (.227)
Batters struck out: 1st in all games (338), 1st in SEC games (128)
Starting pitching has contributed to most of those statistics and has just been phenomenal, so I’m giving them an A+.
SEC midterm starting pitching grade: A+
One of the most overlooked Achilles’ heels for LSU in 2011 was its bullpen and not because of Matty Ott and Kevin Berry. They took the brunt of the blame for blowing games, but the fact of the matter was that LSU had no other reliable options in the pen, and Ott and Berry were stretched way too thin. Where the heck would they have been without those guys? But in 2012, there are no such problems thanks in large part to the efforts of new pitching coach Alan Dunn. As previously mentioned, only once this season has LSU lost a game when leading after the seventh and/or the eighth innings. That has more to do with the bullpen holding leads than anything else. Nick Goody has solidified himself as LSU’s closer with a 0.95 ERA and five saves this season, but he’s not the only one who’s been great. Joey Bourgeois, Chris Cotton, Brent Bonvillain and McCune have all been reliable and have given LSU head coach Paul Mainieri much more security in the back end of games. They’ve been so good, in fact, that the step back Berry has taken in 2012 has been completely overshadowed. Bullpen gets an A.
SEC midterm relief pitching grade: A
It doesn’t get much better than three A’s and one A+, and with a top-five ranking in every poll and even a No. 1 ranking in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll, anything less than an A+ overall for LSU’s season so far would be unfair. Winning five-of-six from Arkansas and Florida was just remarkable and unexpected for even the most cockeyed optimist fans. LSU has made TigerTown believe again. But remember, no national titles are handed out in April, and that’s always how this program should be and is judged. The higher you are, the farther you can potentially fall, so Mainieri and Co. have their work cut out for them to indeed make 2012 a year to remember. But with all of the facets of LSU’s game on point with just 15 SEC games to go in the regular season, there’s no reason to believe that LSU isn’t poised for a deep NCAA Tournament run.
SEC midterm overall grade: A+
Richard Fischer is Tiger Rag’s lead reporter for LSU Baseball. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.