Welcome to “Out of The Box,” SEC Country’s weekly LSU baseball column with LSU beat writer Nick Suss. In this edition, we get ready for the SEC Tournament, wonder if anyone will ever pitch to Greg Deichmann again, break down what’s gotten into Michael Papierski and more. Batter up!
Anyone can single out Greg Deichmann, Alex Lange and Kramer Robertson as important to the LSU baseball team. But for the Tigers to make a run in the SEC Tournament this week, they’ll need a team effort.
So, with that in mind, here are three players who need to show out significantly for the Tigers.
1. 1B Nick Coomes
If last weekend was any indication, opponents aren’t going to pitch to Greg Deichmann (more on this later). Unless Paul Mainieri shakes up the lineup, this means a lot of pressure for Coomes, the man who hits behind Deichmann. He’ll always be swinging with men on base, and he’ll have to provide the thump that Deichmann normally would.
2. P Todd Peterson
Mainieri stretched out Peterson (3-1, 3.98 ERA) to be his fourth starter last week versus Northwestern State, letting Peterson throw 5 innings of 1-run baseball. Doing that against Northwestern State is one thing. But if Peterson has to work as LSU’s fourth starter this week, it’ll likely be in a semifinal, or possibly the SEC Championship. How’s that for pressure for a freshman with 3 starts to his name?
3. P Nick Bush
In all likelihood, Bush will be LSU’s only left-handed bullpen arm this week, unless Mainieri decides to keep Blair Frederick active. If this is Bush’s fate, he’ll probably have to appear multiple times throughout the week to neutralize right-handed power hitters as a platoon splitter in key situations. Zack Hess and Hunter Newman might be LSU’s late-inning aces, but Bush might be LSU’s most situationally-important reliever.
Have someone else in mind who might be the X-factor in the SEC Tournament? Let us know in the comments below.
Should Greg Deichmann even bother bringing his bat?
Mississippi State walked Deichmann a whopping 10 times last weekend. The strategy didn’t particularly work; LSU scored 25 runs over a three-game sweep.
But Deichmann only represented 2 of those runs. And, perhaps more importantly from Mississippi State’s perspective, he only drove in 3 of them, 1 off a bases-loaded walk.
As great as Deichmann has been this year — and he’s been indisputably great — his batting average is still only .320. To walk a guy 10 times in 15 plate appearances is a bit irrational unless he’s batting .667, which no one is, or is Barry Bonds. But this is going to be an approach opponents use on LSU throughout the postseason, if for no other reason than to challenge Coomes, Josh Smith and Beau Jordan.
Might Mainieri move up Deichmann in the lineup to protect him with someone like Kramer Robertson or Antoine Duplantis behind him? Probably not. The three men at the top of the LSU lineup have a special kind of chemistry together. After all, they scored 10 of LSU’s 25 runs versus Mississippi State. They know what they’re doing.
For now, Mainieri seems content to count on the middle third of his lineup to produce behind Deichmann. Especially when he’s found himself a second clean-up hitter in the eight hole.
What’s gotten into Michael Papierski?
As of Cinco de Mayo, LSU catcher Michael Papierski was batting .235 for the year. Ten games later, Papierski is hitting .255 and commands LSU’s third-highest OPS, behind only Deichmann and Robertson.
So is there a grand difference in approach that’s elevated Papierski from a man banished to the eight hole to a man feasting from the eight hole? It doesn’t look like it. What’s more likely is that Papierski is finally hitting the way he should’ve been all along.
As I wrote three weeks ago (right before Papierski started raking, mind you), Papierski had a bizarrely difficult time scoring runs early in the year despite his outstanding on-base percentage. One week later, I wrote about LSU’s impressive batting average on balls in play, something that results from the Tigers’ low strikeout rate.
Well, let’s synthesize those two thoughts together. For those of you who need a refresher, your batting average on balls in play (BAbip) is calculated as your batting average if strikeouts and home runs didn’t count as at-bats. So, since Papierski has LSU’s highest strikeout rate, striking out in 27 percent of his at-bats this season, and second-highest home run rate, his BAbip is sure to look good.
For perspective, LSU’s team BAbip this season is .363. Despite his high strikeout rate, Papierski’s BAbip prior to his 10-game streak was down at .324, 11 percent lower than team average. Over this streak, however, Papierski’s BAbip has increased to .377 for the season, thanks to an impressive .409 BAbip in the streak.
The two trends most directly associated with increases in BAbip are thought to be defense and luck. And other than fielding percentage, which isn’t a great metric of determining defensive quality, there isn’t much defensive analysis available for college baseball. So this brings up the question no one wants to ask: Is Papierski lucky or good?
The first answer is obvious: Who cares? He’s getting the job done.
But beyond that, it’s all about sustainability. If he has been getting lucky, there’s no reason to suspect that luck will run dry. Past luck is not a predictor of future luck, or a lack thereof. Plus, whatever value you put on confidence has to have some sort of an influence here.
Do I think Papierski is going to get hits 41 percent of the time he puts the ball in play throughout the postseason? No. That’s not likely. But will he revert to his soft-hitting .235 self? I’d say that’s just as unlikely.
Your weekly LSU baseball power rankings update
Despite his frenzied pace, Papierski won’t be cracking our top 5 this week. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any movement. Here’s where we stand in the rankings, heading into the SEC Tournament.
No. 5: RP Hunter Newman (Last week: No. 4)
Hess has been the fireman for LSU as of late, but Newman is still the hose. Opponents are hitting a paltry .197 versus the senior right-hander this season, and he’s allowed just 2 earned runs on the year. Take saves for what they mean (not much), but his 9 this year have been pretty valuable, especially since 6 have come in SEC play.
No. 4: 2B Cole Freeman (Last week: No. 5)
Freeman had a bit of a resurgence versus Mississippi State, logging 5 hits, 4 walks and 3 runs scored in the series. The spike boosted Freeman back to LSU’s lead in batting average (.329) and on-base percentage (.437) on the year. Despite his team lead in times on base, Freeman is somehow fourth in runs scored, potentially because of his team-high 14 sacrifice hits and 2 sacrifice flies.
No. 3: SS Kramer Robertson (Last week: No. 3)
Robertson’s 67 runs scored lead the SEC and his .889 OPS ranks second among Tigers. Sure, maybe Robertson’s batting average isn’t where it’s supposed to be. But his 32 walks and 15 doubles make up for that in the on-base and slugging percentage departments.
No. 2: SP Alex Lange (Last week: No. 2)
This is the closest I’ve come to pulling the trigger and putting Lange at No. 1 all season. He’s been filthy as of late, keeping opponents off the scoreboard with his devastating curveball and his electric heater. Still, Lange’s most impressive feat is the way he works out of danger. Opponents are 0-for-17 against him with the bases loaded this season with 1 walk and 12 strikeouts.
No. 1: RF Greg Deichmann (Last week: No. 1)
When you’re not given the chance to hit, it’s hard to hit home runs. But Deichmann is so much more than a home run hitter. He managed to go 2-for-5 with 10 walks versus Mississippi State last week, taking what was given to him. His 1.048 OPS isn’t what it was a couple of weeks ago, but it’s still outstanding. And, if a pitcher ever makes a mistake against him, you know where that ball will end up.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
The LSU baseball team will start its SEC Tournament journey Wednesday against either Texas A&M or Missouri. The game will begin approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of the early game, which will begin at 9:30 a.m. CT. For a full look at the SEC Tournament bracket, click here.
Lange likely will start Game 1 for LSU on five days rest. If Lange and LSU win Wednesday, they’ll face either Kentucky, Vanderbilt or South Carolina at 4:30 p.m. CT Thursday. If the Tigers lose Wednesday, they’ll face one of those three teams at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
All games this week will be broadcast on the SEC Network and streamed through WatchESPN.
Thank you for reading this edition of Out of the Box. Be sure to check back next Monday and every Monday for more LSU baseball news.