We live in an age of baseball analytics, meaning acronyms like WAR (wins above replacement), BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and wOBA (weighted on-base average) have become part of the sport’s vernacular.
Call LSU coach Paul Mainieri old fashion if you like, but he still places a great deal of importance on an acronym that modern sabermetricians have tried to devalue: RBI.
“We’ve become such a metric-based sport,” Mainieri said. “Maybe I’m just a dinosaur, but I like guys that drive in runs. That’s what we need. We need someone who is going to be an RBI machine for us and be a clutch hitter.”
Run production is the No. 1 thing Mainieri is looking for from the three first basemen who have received playing time through the first seven games of the season.
Lefty-swinging Cade Beloso has been the top performer in that regard. Beloso hit a walk-off three-run homer in his first collegiate start, and he’s 5-for-12 with five RBI in five games (three starts).
Right-handed Drew Bianco has also started three games, but he hasn’t been as productive. He’s 2-for-12 with a solo home run and three RBI.
Gavin Dugas, another right-handed option, made an impression Sunday in his first collegiate start. Dugas drove in a run with a clutch two-out single and drew two walks. He’s 3-for-5 with two RBI in his young career.
Whoever hits is going to get at-bats in the long run, but the coach wanted to be clear he’s not making decisions on a daily basis based on how a player fared the day before.
“I don’t want them to think ‘Gosh, if I have a great game I play the next day,’” Mainieri said. “If a guy gets three hits you probably should sit him the next day because the chances of him getting three hits the next day is pretty slim. A lot of it will depend on who we’re facing.”
Beloso and Dugas have the lead in forming a quasi-platoon at this point, but don’t expect any hard-and-fast decisions to be made at the first base position.
Mainieri likes to keep a position or two fluid in order to get multiple players at-bats, and first base is one of the few positions in the current lineup without an everyday starter. It’s tough to count of players coming off the bench if they’re not given at least occasional playing time.
“I don’t know if it’s every going to be etched in concrete, especially with the option of going right-handed (or) left-handed,” Mainieri said. “Plus my philosophy is liking to keep more guys involved so they’re ready to go.”
First base is the most offense-intensive position on the field and is the one infield position where teams often try to get by with a marginal defender. All three of LSU’s freshmen have had their share of issues handling the position defensively.
Bianco has committed two errors in three starts and Beloso has one. Both have had issues corralling popups — fly-ball communication has been a team-wide issue to this point — including Beloso colliding with Landon Marceaux on Saturday night. Dugas couldn’t make a routine scoop on a low throw Sunday.
“I’d like to see them get better. Let’s just put it that way,” Mainieri said. “It’s a luxury if you have a really good first baseman. Talk to people who played back then and they’ll tell you Eddy Furniss was no Gold Glover, but he mashed … We don’t really have a great defensive first baseman anyway. I’m just trying to make them all serviceable.”