2011 Seminoles Baseball Preview

The 2011 season will mark the beginning of a new era in collegiate baseball.  As cliché as that sounds it is absolutely true, with the implementation of the safer bats offense is expected to take a big downturn.  While everyone has their theories it really is difficult to gauge just how big of an impact it will have.  This issue was touched briefly in an article earlier this week, Gearing up for FSU Baseball.

The below article will do its best to assess the offense and pitching for the upcoming season.  The performance numbers you will see below refer strictly to ACC games only.  Why?  The true measure of just how good a player is should be measured against similar competition. 

Offense

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What do we take away from this?  Well the 2008 offense was monumental, one of the best in school history so a decline in 2009 was expected.  What is startling is the drop from 2009 to 2010, over 30 points in OBP and 20 points in SLG.  One possible theory is that offenses all over the conference are down.  As this next table will show that is not the case.

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For the most part ACC averages have stayed the same year over year and in some categories even increased.  So I’ll ask the question again, why has FSU been declining in offensive production over the past few years?  

The answer is quite simple, the level of talent being recruited to Florida State and put on the field is not what it used to be.  For the 2nd year in a row FSU’s recruiting class has not been ranked in the top 25, the last time they were ranked was 2009 when they checked in at 24.  This is not brought to light in order to point out the poor job coaches have done recruiting over the past few years but to give you an understanding of why our offense has suffered and why you could expect the offense to continue to suffer. 

The Florida State Seminoles lost only two offensive starters from last year.  The first being All-American CF Tyler Holt who was probably one of the top 5 all around players in FSU history over the last twenty years.  The second was SS Stephen Cardullo who was probably one of the worst 5 or 10 position players in the ACC last year. 

That leaves 7 returning starters, inside we will preview those players as well as other possible contributors.

Catcher: The 2010 season saw a catching platoon of Rafael Lopez and Parker Brunelle.  Florida State was extremely spoiled by the likes of Buster Posey and in no way could expect anything close to what he did but the production FSU saw was terrible.  The two catchers combined for a .222/.319/.374 slash line.  2011 doesn’t project to me much better for this position, the only other option would be Stephen McGee and despite his last name I don’t see him surpassing either senior on the depth chart. 

First Base: Jayce Boyd started 28 of 30 ACC games last year here and barring any injury I would expect him to start all 30 this season.  In his freshman season Boyd posted a slash of .275/.339/.471, those are very respectable numbers and watching him play last year it is obvious that he is going to be a super star in years to come.  An area of improvement I am really looking for from him is his BB/K rate, he was below league average last year but with maturity and playing time I expect that number as well as the rest of his performance to improve. 

Second Base:  Despite starting the season injured Devon Travis finished as the every day second basemen.  This is a point of contention with me because I felt he was not the best player to fill this role.  Justin Gonzalez is a better all around player with much more potential but coaches apparently felt that playing him one year at 2B and then moving him to SS after Cardullo left was not in the best interest of the team.  Travis is not a bad player by any means but he was not a highly touted prospect and has a low ceiling.  Last year he was at the bottom of the lineup and unless he can improve his .318 OBP significantly that is where he should stay.

Third Base:  No brainer here.  Sherman Johnson was my 2010 breakout player of the year and he did not disappoint.  In his sophomore season Johnson posted a slash of .345/.438/.464 with an above average BB/K rate of 0.64.  Sherman also did an excellent job at 3B showing range and a strong arm.  He has earned the right to be the everyday starter at third in 2011 and I think he would be an ideal leadoff hitter to replace Holt.  I do believe Johnson’s was aided by the use of metal bats and don’t expect him to display the same power this year, but with his ability to take a lot of pitches and get on base he will prove to again be one of the Noles best hitters.

Shortstop: It was said above that Stephen Cardullo was one of the worst players in the conference last year and with a .221/.317/.377 slash it’s pretty easy to see why.  Justin Gonzalez started 2010 at second base on borrowed time waiting for Travis to heal and upon his return he was rewarded with only a spot start or a pinch at-bat here or there. So it is unfair to look at Justin Gonzalez’s performance last year and say that he wouldn’t have been a better fit (please google the "Jeremy Giambi effect" for reasons why).  Gonzalez is a talented kid with a lot of upside, with everyday playing time he could be an above average player, if he struggles freshman Sean O’Brien could see playing time.

Right Field:  This was the one position going into 2010 that was truly up for grabs but James Ramsey started from day one and never relinquished his spot.  Taiwan Easterling may be a better talent but the role of a manager in college baseball is not to necessarily develop talent but to play the best player.  Ramsey’s solid performance never gave Martin a chance to try out anyone else.  In ACC play Ramsey posted a .257/.392/.535 slash with an OPS 3rd only to Holt and McGee and a BB/K rate 2nd to only Holt. 

Center Field:  Replacing a guy with a slash line of .342/.469/.739 is damn near impossible and in no way can FSU expect to do that going in to 2011.  However there will be a familiar face manning CF in Mike McGee.  I really like McGee and applaud him for coming back his senior season but he is the one player that I think will suffer the most from the change in bats.  MLB scouts wanted him strictly as a pitcher because they believed that his hitting prowess was so greatly aided from a metal bat.  Hopes are that McGee can continue to have a good eye at the plate (0.77 BB/K rate) and be a key contributor in 2011.  One other note of importance is the downgrade in fielding, while McGee is not a terrible outfielder he is no where near the tremendous fielder that Tyler Holt was.

Left Field:  If you were to ask me at the end of the 2010 season who was going to be the starting left field for 2011 Stuart Tapley probably wouldn’t have been at the top of the list.  As much as I cringe at the idea of him patrolling left field I do think his bat is needed in the lineup.  Tapley did regress his junior year but still managed to post a very respectable slash of .282/.417/.471.  Hopes are that he has got in somewhat respectable physical condition and can return to his sophomore form which would be a very pleasant surprise for the Noles.

Designated Hitter:  Expect to see a new face in the DH spot for 2011, as freshman Eric Arce is an extremely talented kid out of Lakeland who was expected to go high in the draft but due to some off the field incidents fell to later rounds.  Reports are that Arce is hitting well in practice and while I tend to shrug off most practice reports it is safe to say that this kid is the real deal.  If he can post numbers similar to what Boyd did his freshman year be very happy and excited about his future at Florida State.

Coach Martin did not vary from his starting lineup too much last year and I wouldn’t expect 2011 to be very different.  Possible players you could see spot start during the week include senior Robby Stahl and JUCO transfers Wil Breton and Seth Miller.  While I think this is a lineup that can be competitive in the ACC I do not feel that this is a lineup that can compete for a National Title.  Again it is important to reiterate that the talent current talent level is no where near that of 10 – 15 years ago. 

Lastly I'll leave you with what I would like to see our lineup look like knowing full well it will not happen.

  1. Johnson – L
  2. Ramsey – L
  3. McGee – R
  4. Boyd – R
  5. Arce – L
  6. Tapley – R
  7. Lopez/Brunelle – L/S
  8. Travis - R
  9. Gonzalez - R

Pitching

The 2011 Florida State pitching staff is really something difficult to wrap your mind around.  There are so many unknowns going into this year due to the aforementioned change is bats and the inexperience that fills up this staff.  So let’s jump right into the stats and see what they tell us.

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What do we take from this?  Is FSU lacking prize pitching recruits? Is FSU not developing the pitching they have?  Is pitching regressing at a whole not only at FSU but throughout the conference?  The below table will give us some more insight.

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The average baseball fan will look at ERA and think to themselves that pitching has declined in the league.  While ERA has some value it distorts the true effectiveness of a staff.  As you continue down the table and look at the more advanced ratios and statistics you can notice that they have been pretty consistent year over year. 

What is troubling is that FSU has been declining year over year and finishing last year with a league average pitching staff.  This should raise a huge red flag because Florida State SHOULD NOT be average at anything in regards to ACC baseball.  Rather than lament the FSU’s pitching woes (there will be plenty of that in the future) lets see who the Seminoles lost last year and who is on this years staff and just how the might contribute in 2011.

For the first time since 2003 Florida State had a pitcher drafted in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft.  John Gast (6th round) and Geoff Parker (9th round) opted to go pro rather than return for another season and after last year you cannot blame them.  Despite having dismal seasons on the mound the one thing that these two pitchers did do was pitch innings, they combined to throw 25% of Florida State’s total innings (both in ACC and overall play).  That means FSU will look towards unproven pitchers to carry the load left by players no longer on the team. 

THE KNOWNS:

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Two returning pitchers that are going to carry a lot of the load and Sean Gilmartin and Brian Busch.  As you can see last year’s performance were ones that these two pitchers would like to forget.  Sean Gilmartin was shelled last year after an All American freshman campaign and Brian Busch was back and forth between a starterr and a reliever.  These two are going to be the Friday and Saturday starters to start the year and if FSU expects to compete they have to pitch better than 2010.  Mike McGee is expected to be the closer this year but there are rumors that he might not keep that role for one reason or another.  He can be effective in the right situation, if all he needs is 3 outs then he would be my go to guy.

THE UP AND COMERS:

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Sitz, Benincasa and Scantling are all possible Sunday starters, weekday starters or long relievers.  At this point there is not one that stands out from the other and it will be a lot of trial and era (pun intended) the first month of the season before FSU heads into ACC play. 

THE OTHERS:

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Outside of Everett none of the above pitchers played a significant role and that probably won’t change for 2011.  Look for Everett to pitch in the same role as last year and do not expect much time from Buckley or Scott.

THE UNKNOWNS:
Evan Geist - L - (FR) A left-handed pitcher that throws in the upper 80's
.  Relief pitching opportunities during non conference games.
Brandon Johnson - L (FR) Younger brother of Sherman Johnson, another possible bullpen arm.

Peter Miller – R – (FR) Can thrown in the low 90’s but not with consistency, played against terrible competition in high school.  Not sure how much he can contribute in college.

Gage Smith - R – (RSFR) – Side-arm pitcher out of the bullpen

David Trexler – R – (SO) High 80’s projected to contribute out of the bullpen

Gary Merians – R – (JUCO Transfer) – Competing for the Sunday starting position.  Keep in mind that really good JUCO players don’t  transfer to college, the go to the MLB.
Connor Nolan – L – (JUCO Transfer) Still recovering from Tommy John, unsure how much if any he can contribute this season.
Adam Simmons – R – (JUCO Transfer) Would be really surprised if he saw any time.

Jack Posey – R -  (RSJR)  Moving on…

After digesting just how much inexperience is on this staff how comfortable do you feel about the pitching improving, maintaining or declining? 

PREDICTIONS: 

I initially predicted this team to finish with a conference record at 16-14 (give or take a game) but I have since backed off that and gone with 18-12 (give or take a game).  The main reason for this was not having to play Georgia Tech this year.  Florida State will be competitive but I think this team lacks the talent and experience to carry them to back to back ACC titles and another trip to the College World Series.

NEXT UP:

Florida State opens up their 2011 season in Tallahassee against Virginia Military Academy on Friday.  VMI is no match for the Noles and all 3 games should be laughers.

For a complete listing of the season schedule click here and for a complete television schedule click here.

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