Welcome to “Out of The Box,” SEC Country’s weekly LSU baseball column with LSU beat writer Nick Suss. Today we get ready for the home stretch, prepare for the best hitter in the SEC, check in with Antoine and much more. Batter up!
What are the chances?
The LSU baseball team has a chance to win the SEC regular season title this weekend. An outside chance, but a chance nonetheless.
Per a convenient quirk in scheduling, this weekend shapes up to be a de facto SEC semifinal weekend, with the four teams with the best records in the conference facing off against each other on the last weekend of the regular season. LSU (35-17, 18-9 SEC) travels to Starkville, Miss. to take on Mississippi State (33-19, 17-10 SEC) and Florida (38-14, 19-8 SEC) hosts Kentucky (36-16, 18-9 SEC) with both series having massive SEC title implications.
Unfortunately for LSU, there’s really only one way the Tigers can win the SEC title outright. Given that both Kentucky and Florida took two out of three games versus LSU, and that Florida has a one-game advantage over the Tigers, the only true way for LSU to win the conference is to sweep Mississippi State and for Kentucky to beat Florida twice. If that happens, the conference will look like this:
|4||Miss. St/Ark||10-13 losses|
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. LSU doesn’t need to win the SEC to have a successful weekend. All it needs to do is win the series.
Winning two out of three over Mississippi State would ensure LSU the SEC West crown, giving the Tigers a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament and making the road to a postseason title even easier. Though winning the regular season title is a more direct indicator of team talent and ability, winning in the postseason is a surefire way to boost your national seeding and, potentially, boost LSU into the realm of being a national seed.
But, again, don’t get too far ahead of yourselves. Because LSU has quite the test this weekend.
Meet Brent Rooker
Mississippi State has one of the best offenses in the SEC. The Bulldogs rank third in the conference in batting average (.285) and hits (506) but eighth in runs scored (300). As a team, Mississippi State is impressive. But as an individual, Mississippi State’s standout is otherworldly.
Outfielder and first baseman Brent Rooker is putting on an absolute laser show this year, leading the SEC in batting average (.400), RBI (68), home runs (20), slugging percentage (.879) and on-base percentage (.508). His 25 doubles, as well as his .879 slugging percentage, lead the nation.
So, is there a hole in his game? Not particularly. He’s disciplined at the plate walking almost as often as he strikes out (36 walks to 40 strikeouts). You can’t shift against him because of his speed – his 17 stolen bases rank second in the SEC.
Honestly, the best approach is probably to treat Rooker the way LSU’s opponents have treated Greg Deichmann this year: Only pitch to him when you absolutely need to.
None of Rooker’s teammates have a slugging percentage within 350 points of him. Mississippi State’s next-best slugger, redshirt senior Cody Brown, is slugging .506, 42 percent lower than Rooker. After Brown, the Bulldogs only have two other players slugging north of .400.
Forget cowardice. We’re talking intelligence. The man is averaging a hit four out of every 10 at-bats and 63 percent of his hits go for extra bases. Don’t pitch to the guy. If you’re going to make the game boring, at least do it for the sake of winning.
Updating the formula
A couple of weeks ago in a previous “Out of The Box” column, I advocated the use of a new stat. Modeled after Regional Qualifying Score, a statistic used in college gymnastics to eliminate outliers and determine the best teams based on the diversity of their successes, I’ve been calling the stat “RQS ERA.”
But today, I’m going to unveil a fuller version of the formula, complete with a new name. The way the stat works is simple: Instead of calculating ERA by using every game a pitcher has thrown, drop the outliers and only average together five of the best starts. For the most part, we’re sticking to the gym RQS formula.
- Single out a pitcher’s four best starts away from home
- Take a pitcher’s next four best starts, regardless of location (min. 6 IP)
- Drop the best and worst start by effect on season ERA
- Average the six remaining starts together
- You have found my new stat Peak ERA
Peak ERA works for college baseball because of the smaller number of starts a pitcher makes in a season. For MLB pitchers, the number of starts used would have to be significantly bigger. But, for now, this is a stat the weeds out pitchers who have had one or two poor outings and rewards pitchers who consistently show out.
Here’s how Peak ERA rewards LSU’s three starting pitchers:
|Pitcher||Actual ERA||Peak ERA||Difference|
Unsurprisingly, Eric Walker gets the biggest boost of any LSU baseball pitcher this season, thanks to his outlier-independent consistency. Walker has made 10 starts this year where he allowed three earned runs or fewer, out of 13 total starts. Lange, still LSU’s best pitcher, can say that about 11 of his starts, and Poché can say it about nine.
Poché’s biggest weakness in the metric is his poor road ERA this season. Away from home, Poché has allowed 19 runs in 23 innings pitched for an ERA of 7.43. And therein lies one of the beauties of Peak ERA: It requires pitchers be consistent no matter the venue.
Expect more of these calculations next week as the season comes to a close, as I try to refine the formula further and determine which SEC pitchers have the best Peak ERA this season.
Your weekly LSU baseball power rankings update
Who has been LSU’s best baseball player this season? Let’s take a look in our weekly power rankings roundup.
No. 5: 2B Cole Freeman (Last week: No. 2)
The lowest Freeman has been on the rankings this year, the senior falls as his batting average and on-base percentage do. That said, Freeman’s .423 OBP still leads the team.
No. 4: RP Hunter Newman (Last week: NR)
LSU’s most consistent and reliable bullpen arm in 2017, Newman still holds a sub-1.00 ERA at 0.93. And, despite missing time with an injury earlier in the year, he leads LSU in relief outings with 19 and, of course, saves with eight.
No. 3: SS Kramer Robertson (Last week: No. 3)
Robertson hasn’t had the same year in 2017 that he had in 2016. But he’s still tied atop the SEC lead in runs scored with 59 and is one of just three LSU batters with a slugging percentage and on-base percentage above .400.
No. 2: SP Alex Lange (Last week: No. 4)
No one has ping-ponged up and down this list more than Lange this year, but he’s back at his rightful spot in the top 2. Lange is the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week after spinning a complete game shutout versus Auburn Thursday night and his 100:28 strikeout-to-walk ratio is just unfair.
No. 1: RF Greg Deichmann (Last week: No. 1)
The Auburn series was rough on Deichmann, who went 1-for-10 with a walk, but that wasn’t enough to knock him from his perch with 16 home runs, 58 RBI and a .617 slugging percentage. It’ll probably take another complete game shutout from Lange to even challenge Deichmann for the crown.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
The LSU baseball team will host Northwestern State Tuesday night for the Tigers’ final home game of the regular season. The game is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. CT and will be streamed live on WatchESPN and the Watch ESPN App for mobile users.