After detailing the position players in Part 1 of my Baseball Preview, I'll now take a look at the pitching staff. Last year's national champion, South Carolina, provides the model for this year's LSU team. South Carolina hit under .300 as a team and had just three regulars hit over .300 for the season. LSU had five. However, the Gamecocks team ERA for the season was 2.45. LSU's team ERA was 4.41. Will LSU's staff be good enough to shave two runs off their ERA? Maybe....maybe not. But I also do not expect them to hit for under .300 as a team either. But the Gamecocks proved that if you dominate on the mound, you can do great things as a team...even if you don't hit a ton.
As mentioned yesterday, the pitching staff looks to be the strength of this team. LSU finished 2011 with three true freshmen starting on the weekends. They gained valuable experience. Now, all three guys return to form what should be one of the more formidable starting staffs in the SEC, if not college baseball.
LSU's biggest weakness in 2011 was their bullpen, and the good news is that LSU has a lot of impressive new arms that should help them close out games.
Kevin Gausman (5-6, 3.51 ERA, 89.2 IP 86 K 23 BB): Gausman (pictured above) came to LSU as a big-time prospect and did not disappoint as a freshman. From the get-go, Gausman always had tremendous stuff. He is a hard throwing power pitcher, and that was evident from the first weekend. However, it took Gausman a while to learn how to pitch at this level. But, he finally got it. Over his last seven starts, Gausman's ERA was 2.05 and he allowed just 36 hits in 52.2 IP. In short, he was outstanding, and the expectation is that those performances carry over into 2012. He'll have some increased pressure this year as the team's ace and Friday night starter, but I suspect he'll handle it well. I think back to the kind of improvement that Anthony Ranaudo made from 2008 to 2009, and I would not be surprised if Gausman's improvement was similar.
Kurt McCune (7-3, 3.31 ERA, 89.2 IP 68 K 25 BB): While Gausman andEades came in as the more hyped prospects, McCune found himself in LSU's weekend rotation and soon became the Friday night starter. He handled this role extremely well as evidenced by his numbers. McCune doesn't have the stuff that someone like Gausman has, but he really competes and battles on the mound. That attitude rubs off on the rest of the team. It looks like McCune will assume the Sunday role to start the season. To have a sophomore coming off a freshman season like McCune had as your Sunday starter is quite a luxury.
Ryan Eades (4-1, 4,81 ERA, 43 IP 31 K 18 BB): Eades suffered an arm injury during his senior year in high school and was unable to properly prepare for the 2011 LSU season. He played in spots and was finally able to start later in the year. His play was spotty, but you could certainly see glimpses of what made him so highly regarded out of high school. He finally put it all together in the summer, when he dominated the Cape Cod League. Eades was named Pitcher Of The Year and went 3-0 with a 0.84 ERA, allowing just 19 hits in 32.2 innings. He seems ready to really break out in 2012.
Cody Glenn: Glenn is a big 6'4" left hander who was drafted in the 15th round by Toronto but elected to come to LSU. His fastball can go above 90 and he reportedly throws a nasty slider too. It souns like Glenn will start the season as the mid week starter who can also throw some bullpen innings on the weekend. It has been a long time since LSU has had a consistent mid-week starter that was effective. If one of the three weekend starters should falter or go down to injury, Glenn would seemingly be the one to step in. I expect Glenn to have a nice freshman season, much like Gausman andMcCune had a year ago. He'll get better as the season progresses.
Aaron Nola: Nola, the younger brother of Austin Nola, was one of the top prospects in LSU's recruiting class. He was drafted in the 22nd round by Toronto, and LSU is glad to have him on campus. I suspect that Nola will settle into a role of being one of the top guys out of the pen. If needed, Nola can provide long relief on the weekends and spell a starter that was having an off day. He could be a candidate for the closer role, but I think LSU wants him to eat up as many relief innings as possible. He could also start some midweek games on weeks where LSU plays twice during the week, especially early in the season.
Nick Rumbelow (2-0, 4.85 ERA, 14 IP 16 K 11 BB): Rumbelow played sparingly as a freshman in 2011, but did show flashes of really great stuff. He excelled over the summer in the Prospects League where he struck out 60 batters in 51 innings, including 14 in one start. He also had a very strong fall and enters the season as the favorite to be LSU's closer.
Nick Goody: Goody comes to LSU after an incredible season in the Junior College ranks, where he was named a JUCO All-American. He threw 84 innings and struck out 113 with an ERA of 1.29. Again....113 strikeouts in 84 innings. After being drafted in the 22nd round by the Yankees, he instead came to LSU with the purpose of becoming the team's closer. I suspect that both Goody andRumbelow will have opportunities to record saves, and that will both will play huge roles in helping LSU close out games.
Kevin Berry (3-1, 3.14 ERA, 28.2 IP 16 K 8 BB): Berry is a solid pitcher, though not a hard thrower. At times, he has showed a wicked curve ball that can confuse hitters. He was asked to be LSU's closer at times last year, and he was ill-suited for that role. It did not work out. I see Berry as a situational reliever that can use his off-speed pitches to help LSU get out of jams...kind of a Paul Bertuccini type. I forsee him being much more effective when he's in a role that suits him.
Chris Cotton (0-0, 3.38 ERA, 13.1 IP 14 K 2 BB): Just like Berry, I see Cotton as a situational reliever, but from the left isde. Cotton has proven pretty reliable over his first two seasons, though his playing time does not reflect that. He doesn't throw hard but seems to get people out regardless.
Joey Bourgeois (4-1, 6.68 ERA 60.2 IP 48 K 31 BB): Bourgeois missed all of last season due to injury and those stats are from 2010. Keep in mind that the old bats were used in 2010, but Borgeois still struggled with control and got knocked around for most of the year. But he does throw hard and he does have experience. Other than the occasional mid-week game, I do not see him starting for LSU but he could develop into a nice option out of the pen this year.
Joe Broussard (0-1, 5.19 ERA, 26 IP 28 K 9 BB): Broussard had some really nice outings as a true freshman in 2011, but had some poor ones too. He has good stuff, as evidenced by his 28 Ks in 26 innings but needs to be more consistent. So many players improve after their first year that I'm encouraged Broussard can do the same and become an effective arm out of the pen for the Tigers this year.
I'm not going to go through every pitcher on the staff. Heading into the season, the above guys are expected to be the key contributors. However, a year ago nobody expected Kurt McCune to be much of a contributor and he ended up throwing more innings than anyone else on the team.
Braden Strickland, Aaron Johnson, Brent Bonvillain, Christian Trent, Carson Baranik and Michael Reed will also look to earn innings. Strickland, Johnson, Bonvillain, Trent andBaranik are all newcomers who have promising skills.
Baranik was recently arrested for a DUI and was suspended from the team. So I doubt we'll see him early in the season, if at all. However, he was not dismissed from the team, so he's a name to remember for the future. He throws very hard and was drafted...he can help LSU's program if he steers clear of trouble.
In 2010, LSU's pitching staff was a total disaster, especially with Ranaudo's injury. Last year, things were much improved...but the stars were young and still learning and they lacked depth. This year, they look to take the next step towards being really, REALLY good.