LSU's Baseball season has come to an end. The 2012 team will most likely be remembered as the one that lost to Stony Brook and that's very unfortunate because this team accomplished a hell of a lot this year. Prior to the season, my expectations for this group were to contend in the SEC and host a regional. They exceeded that. They won the conference outright and earned a National Seed. All in all, I believe that Coach Maineri accomplished more with this team than the talent would indicate possible, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
Throughout the season, I'm not sure I ever believed this was one that could win it all. It just didn't "seem" like a national championship team. Then they swept Arkansas, and I got pretty excited. After winning a road series against Florida, and then doing the same in Columbia, SC, I said "Hell, why not us?". After all, if our boys could win seven of nine games against teams who were ultimately Omaha bound, then they could do anything. Or so I thought. The Seawolves of Stony Brook brought us all back down to earth and exposed some of the weaknesses on this team that have been there all along.
When the new BBCOR bats were introduced to college baseball a year ago, we saw the scoring drop and the number of close games increase. In 2011, LSU learned the hard way that the inability to finish games strong from the mound would cost them. Pitching, especially from your bullpen, became even more important. The Tigers went just 4-7 in one-run games and blew several late leads. LSU was 13-17 in the SEC.
In 2012, Coach Maineri brought in Alan Dunn as his new pitching coach. Dunn did wonders with LSU's staff, and LSU's pitchers put the team in position to win a lot of ballgames. The bullpen was fantastic. Nick Goody was virtually unhittable for most of the year. And LSU's record in one run games jumped to 17-8. The SEC record jumped to 19-11.
As a whole, LSU's pitching staff in 2012 was one of the best I can ever remember at LSU.
Unfortunately, they shared the season with a lineup that was rather pedestrian and that was ultimately what prevented this group from reaching Omaha. LSU had some top shelf guys. Obviously, Rhymes and Katz were outstanding (even though Katz struck out far too often for a three hole hitter). Austin Nola had a very consistent, very underrated season. And Ty Ross as remarkably consistent as a run producer this year. A guy like Tyler Hanover, who does so many little things that don't show in the boxscore, can always play for my team too. But the rest of the lineup was, far too often, an easy out. Guys like Arby Fields, Jared Foster, Grant Dozar, and Alex Edward all bring value as depth players, but their production did not warrant an everyday spot in the lineup. At times this year, all four guys were regulars.
To top things off, Jacoby Jones had a season that wasn't horrible but can only be described as disappointing. Jones' batting average dropped 85 points from 2011 and his on base percentage dropped 87 points. He drove in fewer runs and struck out more. I've got no real good explanation for this.
Many have pointed fingers at hitting coach Javi Sanchez, and I think this criticism is justified. LSU can, and should, do better. At this point, I think we've seen enough to warrant a change there. While you don't want to make decisions based on a knee jerk reaction or a single weekend, it's grossly unacceptable that while needing just one more win to advance to the College World Series, your lineup produces a total of six hits in two games.
Others believe recruiting is the problem....that the talent simply isn't where it needs to be. New bats or not, if you compare the 2012 lineup to that of 2009, you'll be shocked at the disparity in overall talent:
That's a little bit of an apples to oranges comparison because we don't KNOW how good those guys would have been with the new bats, but we can make pretty good assumptions. Why doesn't LSU have that kind of talent anymore? First and foremost, Maineri has had a pretty crappy string of bad luck when it comes to the Major League Draft. Guys like Garin Cecchini, Jake Cave, Jonny Eiermann, or Lucas Leblanc would have made an enormous impact on the 2012 roster but all ended up signing pro contracts, some unexpectedly. The good news is that LSU caught some breaks in the draft this year and should have a nice influx of young hitters, starting with Alex Bregman.
I believe both recruiting and coaching are partially at fault.
Having said all of that....was it really that bad at the plate? LSU hit .291 as a team. That was good for fourth in the SEC and better than Florida (.281), who is absolutely loaded with top shelf talent. If you look at only conference games, LSU still ranks fourth in the conference. They also tied for fourth in the conference in home runs, so the power was in line with the rest of the conference too. My belief is that the hitting in LSU's lineup came from just a few guys and that too many innings and opportunities were squandered with spots in the lineup that were simply not competitive. Everyone in the lineup needs to be able to generate offense, and that was not the case for LSU this year.
I feel obligated to talk about LSU's baserunning. Paul Maineri is aggressive on the base paths. He always has been and probably always will be. He likes to force the opposition into making plays, and he'll take his chances. I like the approach, personally. When your team is offensively challenged, it makes even more sense. Having said that, you can still be aggressive while being smart. At times, I thought Maineri's decisions fell on the "reckless" side of the spectrum. But all in all, I won't complain too much about his approach.
Overall, I'm pretty proud of this team and what they accomplished this season. They had some huge wins, including two in the post season. They grinded out wins all season long, and I really wanted them to be rewarded with a trip to Omaha. Unfortunately, that won't be happening but the losses to a very good Stony Brook team do not diminish everything else this group has accomplished.
I believe it's officially football preseason now.......