Welcome to “Out of The Box,” SEC Country’s weekly LSU baseball column with LSU beat writer Nick Suss. Today we compare Eric Walker to some recent LSU greats, put the freshmen in context, take on a goliath and more. Batter up!
Eric Walker: As good as advertised
No one is supposed to pitch like a senior when he’s a freshman. No one. But Eric Walker is doing just that 9 starts into his college career. And with it, he is rapidly joining the list of recent LSU baseball greats who came before him.
Walker is currently 5-0 with a 2.48 ERA. He has struck out 52 batters with 12 walks, opponents are hitting .210 off him and he has the best ERA in an LSU rotation that has 2 future MLB starters in front of him.
This got me to thinking: The Paul Mainieri era at LSU has churned out quite a few dominant starters, all of whom took the mound plenty in their first years in Baton Rouge. So, how does Walker’s debut stack up against some former and future first-round draft picks? Pretty well, actually.
|Pitcher (Year)||Record Thru 9 Starts||ERA Thru 9 Starts|
|Kevin Gausman (2011)||2-4||4.39|
|Aaron Nola (2012)||5-1||3.74|
|Jared Poché (2014)||6-2||2.54|
|Alex Lange (2015)||7-0||1.40|
|Eric Walker (2017)||5-0||2.48|
In the who’s who of modern LSU starting pitchers, Walker holds his own pretty well. And it’s worth noting that Nola and Poché made a handful of their starts in the midweek as freshmen, so those 2 struggled more against objectively inferior competition.
Of course, Lange is still the gold standard. His freshman season (12-0, 1.97 ERA, 10.34 K/9) was a showcase of dominance unlike LSU is likely to see again. But Walker’s bottom line is every bit as good as Lange’s was. The Tigers are 7-2 in Walker’s starts this year, with the 2 losses coming on blown holds and saves by relievers in the ninth inning.
Does this make Walker the next Alex Lange or better than Nola? No. Stats are stats and they can be interpreted however you want. But it’s worth noting that Walker’s success, especially over the last 3 weeks, has put him in the rarefied position among these legends. And now there’s a target on his back.
Let’s see how he sustains this now that teams know they’re going against an ace in training. That’ll be the true mark of his prowess.
LSU freshmen: In context
Eric Walker isn’t the only LSU freshman baseball player excelling. Third baseman Josh Smith has shown out with flashy defense, 29 RBI and 17 walks, both of which rank third on the team. Zach Watson has hit safely in 11 straight games and reached base in 23 straight games, dating back to the last time he didn’t start. Zack Hess has been strong, posting a 3-0 record and a 3.34 ERA in 32.1 innings. And Matthew Beck has quietly been untouchable, having allowed four hits and one earned run in 15 innings pitched.
Just for some perspective on how valuable freshmen have been to this veteran LSU baseball team, here’s a percentage-by-percentage breakdown of how productive LSU’s youngsters have been in 2017.
- 376 at-bats (30 percent)
- 108 hits (29.2 percent)
- 65 runs scored (25.6 percent)
- 66 RBI (28 percent)
- 28 extra-base hits (26.9 percent)
- 58 walks + hit-by-pitches (29 percent)
- .287 batting average (Team BA: .295)
- 135.2 inning pitched (41.2 percent)
- 42 earned runs (32.8 percent)
- 131 strikeouts (38 percent)
- 98 hits allowed (35.8 percent)
- 2.79 ERA (Team ERA: 3.49)
The answer? A lot. Freshmen have meant a lot. A lot.
After winning 3 of 4 games over Louisiana-Lafayette and Ole Miss last week, the Tigers moved up or stayed steady in every major poll, though their RPI took a slight hit. Here’s where the LSU baseball team stands 37 games into the season.
- Baseball America Top 25: No. 9 (Last week: No. 9)
- Perfect Game Top 25: No. 10 (Last week: No. 12)
- D1 Baseball Top 25: No. 9 (Last week: No. 9)
- RPI: No. 17 (Last week: N0. 15)
Using RPI as a unifying measure, here’s where LSU stands among SEC teams at the midpoint of its SEC schedule.
- Kentucky (No. 7)
- Florida (No. 12)
- Mississippi State (No. 16)
- LSU (No. 17)
- Arkansas (No. 18)
- South Carolina (No. 22)
- Vanderbilt (No. 24)
- Auburn (No. 28)
- Texas A&M (No. 33)
- Ole Miss (No. 38)
- Tennessee (No. 49)
- Missouri (No. 53)
- Georgia (No. 104)
- Alabama (No. 174)
Speaking of SEC competition…
A case for baseball over football
The LSU baseball team might have its most important series of the season this weekend. The Tigers face off against Kentucky, arguably and logically the SEC’s best team, for a 3-game set in Lexington starting Friday, with much more than bragging rights on the line.
Kentucky has the SEC East’s best record at 10-5, has the same overall record as LSU at 25-12 and are an impressive 16-2 at home, the fewest home losses of any team in the conference. The Wildcats are led by an offense still hitting above .300 — the only team in the SEC to be doing so – as well as 282 runs and a .413 on-base percentage, both of which also lead the SEC.
That’s not to paint Kentucky’s pitching staff as a weak point. The Wildcats have a team ERA of 3.49, identical to LSU’s mark, and are striking out more than a batter per inning.
As mentioned previously, Kentucky leads the SEC in RPI thanks to an incredible strength of schedule that includes nonconference meetings against No. 2 Louisville and No. 4 North Carolina, as well as the heart of the SEC.
Obviously, LSU’s series against Kentucky will run opposite the LSU football team’s spring game on Saturday. Saturday’s game starts at 5:30 p.m. CT, which means the later innings will be played concurrent to the spring bonanza. I’m not telling to not watch the spring game. Football is fun, after all.
But don’t lose sight of the game that actually matters, and perhaps the series that could cement LSU as a true contender for an SEC title and the College World Series.
Your weekly LSU baseball power rankings
Four more games, 3 more wins, and not too much movement in this week’s LSU baseball player power rankings. Let’s take a look, shall we?
No. 5: SP Jared Poché (Last week: No. 4)
Oh, how the greats have fallen. Poché started this year with a commanding lead on the rankings, but he’s slipped a bit of late, as his ERA has risen to 2.67. That said, his ERA is still only 2.67. That’s worth a spot on the rankings.
No. 4: OF Zach Watson (Last week: No. 5)
When you reach base 23 games in a row, you move up on the list. Until a team can figure out how to keep the guy off the base paths for a full game, I don’t see him going anywhere. And that’s not to mention his .479 slugging percentage, which is the second best on the team.
No. 3: SP Eric Walker (Last week: N0. 3)
I was tempted to move up Walker to No. 2 after another dominant outing on Saturday, but he’s too consistent to argue a rise. That said, Walker’s 0.97 WHIP and .210 batting average against deserve to be celebrated. So No. 3 it is.
No. 2: 2B Cole Freeman (Last week: No. 2)
Just as I considered moving Walker up, I considered dropping Freeman down after a subpar weekend at the plate. But his defense cemented him here, as he made 3 game-saving defensive plays Saturday, including this one where he jumped about half his height to record the 27th out.
WALK OFF WEB GEM!!
Cole Freeman gets up for an #SCTop10 last out for LSU!
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) April 15, 2017
No. 1: RF Greg Deichmann (Last week: No. 1)
Deichmann has overtaken Freeman as LSU’s leader in batting average at .345, he’s overtaken Kramer Robertson for the extra-base hits lead with 21, he’s inching closer to the on-base percentage lead at .422 and he’s still slugging an outrageous .669.
So yes, Deichmann and his 12 home runs, 43 RBI and 48 hits (all team highs) are No. 1 on the countdown again. Sorry if sameness is boring. But you can’t dock a guy for being a beast.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
The Tigers take on Lamar on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. CT from Alex Box Stadium. The game will be available for stream through WatchESPN and will be broadcast on radio on 98.1 FM Baton Rouge and the LSU Sports Radio Network.
Thanks for reading “Out of The Box.” Come back next Monday for more LSU baseball news.