FSU Baseball’s Elite Offense, Awful Starting Pitching and Series Preview with Miami

A lot has happened since the last full article about FSU Baseball was written so let’s get everyone up to date.  The Seminoles lost a weekend series to the North Carolina Tarheels almost 3 weekends ago, all games were tightly contested with UNC winning the Sunday games snapping Florida State’s 25 game Sunday winning streak.  The following Tuesday the Noles continued their dominance over rival Florida Gators by beating them and winning the yearly series 3-1 and moved to 7-2 against them over the past two years.   The Noles then traveled to Blacksburg to take on a poor Virginia Tech where they won the weekends series despite losing the Friday opener 2-1. 

The Seminoles then returned home for a weekday series against Florida Gulf Coast that they won easily 13-2 and 6-4.  Then last weekend FSU hosted and swept the Duke Blue Devils which included an excellent start by Ace Sean Gilmartin.  The junior lefty pitched what might have been his most dominating start in his career at FSU.  He went 8 innings, giving up only 1 run on 3 hits (2 singles and a bloop double).  Gilmartin finished the night with a career high 13 strikeouts and went to a 3-ball count on only 1 of 29 batters faced.

The Seminoles currently sit at 14-7 in ACC play and have a 3 game lead over division rival Clemson Tigers with 9 games left to play.  The Seminoles are ranked anywhere from 8 to 12 depending on which poll you look at and have a RPI of 7 with an outside shot at a national seed.  Inside we will take a look at just how great the offense has been this season, just how terrible starting pitching has been and how the rest of the season plays out.

The Seminoles Dynamic Offense on a National Level

There is a lot of time spent on criticizing just how bad some of the FSU coaches are but the Noles are truly blessed to have Mike Martin, Jr. on this staff.  There is no debating that the talent at FSU has dwindled over the past few years but Meat continues to have one of the best lineups in the conference and the country.

The following charts show where FSU ranks in OPS in the NCAA.  On-Base plus Slugging is chosen because the ability of a player/team to both get on base and to hit for power are two important hitting skills that correlate to more run scoring. 

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The first chart shows where FSU is ranked in all of college baseball, only the top 25 teams are shown for brevity reasons.  You will notice that the Noles share the top 10 with the likes of Dallas Baptist and Georgia St., two teams that just slide in at the Top 100 RPI and generally have inflated stats due to feasting off of inferior opponents or playing in ridiculously hitter friendly ball parks.

The second chart shows where FSU is ranked amongst the top 25 teams in the current RPI standings.  While still having its flaws it gives you a more accurate portrayal of just how good the Noles offense is.  The Seminoles have one of the most prolific offenses in the country, leading GT by more than .20 points and the Top 25 average by more than .65 points.  The Florida State offense is crushing the national average in performance categories that matter the most which is the driving factor to the success of the team so far in 2011.

Dominating the ACC Offensively

The Atlantic Coast Conference is year in and year out 1 of the top 3 conferences in all of college baseball sending many teams to the postseason and producing many elite prospects to the draft.  That being the case, judging FSU against it’s conference foes is probably the best barometer of how they measure up on a national level and one would think that if they are truly elite they will rise to the top of their conference.

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Florida State again is one of the best offenses in the conference which translates to one of the best in the country.  The Noles are the only team with an on-base percentage over .400 and continue to slug at good pace putting their OPS almost .100 points higher the league average.  I have seen it said many times that Nole hitters need to take the bat off their damn should and swing, well that is the exact opposite of what they should be doing.  For as long as I can remember Florida State has been an extremely patient team as evident by their walks, they currently lead the nation in walks and have done so 2 of the past 3 years.  They walk a ridiculously high 15.5% of the time which also leads all of baseball.  So if you want a team to hit for power and be on base a lot you are going to have to live with them striking out with some frequency.

Burying the LOB Horse

For those of you who follow my Twitter feed you will notice from time to time that I comment on the number of runners the Noles left on base (LOB) in a given night.  I do this because fans tend to freak out when they look at a box score and see a number higher than 10.  This is mainly done this when FSU loses or scores a low amount of runs but a comment is rarely made when the Noles put 14 runs on the board and leave 12 runners stranded.  The problem with looking just at LOB by itself is it is a counting number and just like most counting numbers it doesn't paint the clear picture that a percentage does.  But if you insist looking at LOB I would advise you to read the following article.  It does a great job of showing why leaving runners isn't a bad thing.  The below graph gives evidence why.

 

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The pie charts above make it pretty evident that leaving runners on base equates to winning.  So the next time you see a double digit number at the end of a box score don't freak out, teams that leave low numbers of runners on base have offenses like Wake Forest, Maryland and Duke.

Another way we can measure how effective a team is at plating base runners is a formula that I simplified for this article.  You simply take all of the runners on base who scored and divide that by the total runners on base.  Statistically it looks like this (R - HR)/(H + BB + HBP - HR), below is where FSU ranks amongst the rest of the nation.

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If you had to find an area where you would like to see the FSU offense improve this would be it.  As you can see the Noles plate their baserunners at about a 40% clip which isn't too bad.

Noles Pitching Staff Looking Good on the Surface

If you follow Florida State baseball you should know that the Noles pitching has been the reason they fail to win in the post season.  It as also been well documented that the pitching has been on a steady decline over the past few years in both recruitment and development.  The most popular statistical measure when it comes to pitching is Earned Run Average (ERA) but as statistical analysis has advanced it is no longer the best measure of a pitcher or a staff.  The below chart depicts where Florida State ranks in strikeouts per walks (K:BB), the reason this stat is important is because it breaks pitching down to its most basic components.  An elite staff excels at getting batters out without putting the ball in play (strikeouts) AND keeping players off the bases without putting the ball in play (walks).

 

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Given the fact that there are 292 DI college baseball team pitching is overall not that good and to have a good staff is really something special and not that common.  A lot of good teams have one shutdown ace, very few teams have two solid starters who will someday be high draft picks and it's extremely rare to have 3 starters who give your team a chance of winning every start.  Looking at the top 25 schools in K:BB you will notice that there are a lot of big name schools from power conferences with a spattering of lesser names that play in lowly conferences and dominate poor hitting.  The fact that FSU falls out of the top 50 should be a concern because a school with their resources has no business being that far down on the list.

I am not saying that the Seminoles need to rank in the top 10 in every stat to be successful, the less than stellar 2010 staff pitched well enough to earn a College World Series appearance.  But to be competitive at that level you need to have a staff comprised of pitchers who you can rely on and as the below chart will depict the Noles don't rank so high within the Top 25 RPI teams in most pitching categories.

 

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So when we are talking about the best overall teams in the country FSU does not fare well with regards to pitching.  Is that acceptable for a team like FSU?  If you look back at College World Series winners over the last decade the majority of them had above average pitching staffs which is something that FSU is lacked over the better part of the last 3 years.

Hide your Kids, this is UGLY!

I stated it earlier that it takes good starting pitching to be considered a good or elite pitching team.  Outside of the Friday starter Florida State starting pitching has been beyond terrible.  The following table might come as a surprise, it might not but when it comes to weekend starters the Noles have some serious holes to fill if they expect to ever make a legitimate shot at title.

 

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The first thing you should notice is that only North Carolina State has had less innings pitched out of their starters.  The second and most damning is that the Seminoles are no where near league average in any statistic except winning percentage and as you can see the only reason they are is the last column on the right.  The Noles offense caries this dreadful starting staff on its back by scoring the most runs out of any team on both Saturday and Sunday.  Not only is this a problem for this year but for future years as Florida State loses it's only proven starter and has absolutely no one it can depend on to start for next year and beyond.

What Lies Ahead for the Noles

The Seminoles currently sit at 31-10 overall and 14-7 in the ACC (I predicted 29-12 (14-7)) with 14 games left (9 ACC) left.  Earlier I said that Florida State had an outside chance of making a national seed and according to Boyd's World they need to finish 9-5 to finish with an RPI of 8.  Now this isn't an exact science and a high RPI doesn't guarantee a national seed, especially when you have the 4th best record in your own conference.  Florida State has probably its toughest stretch of baseball ahead as all 4 remaining series are against teams with an RPI of 50 or better and finishing with a 9-5 would be quite the accomplishment.  Given the way this offense is playing I think that they are capable of doing it but in the end I don't think they earn a national seed. 

Miami Hurricanes Preview

The Canes had a rough start to the season starting 5-8 overall with an extremely anemic offense.  But since the ACC play began they have been one of the best teams in the country on both sides of the ball.  They currently sit at 15-5 in the conference with 3 of those losses coming at the hands of Georgia Tech.

 

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Miami doesn't have the power that the Noles do but outside of that they do everything almost as well as the Noles.  Players to watch for the Canes include Sophomore Nathan Melendres (.351/.395/.581) and Junior Harold Martinez (.370/.459/.411)  The Seminoles need a healthy Rafael Lopez in order to slow down an excellent base stealing squad lead by Zeke DeVoss who is 16-19 in conference play and 26-32 overall.

Florida State is lead by their best hitter James Ramsey (.361/.439/.554) and Mike McGee (.314/.443/.571) The Noles will also welcome Rafael Lopez (.316/.481/.491) back to the starting lineup after being sidelined with lower back issues and are happy to see that Stuart Tapley (.200/.325/.286) might have finally played his way out of the lineup.

Pitching Probables:

Friday, April 29, 2011 - Miami, FL - 7:00 PM

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The Canes seem to have found a solid Friday starter in Freshman Bryan Radziewski but the edge for this game undoubtedly goes to the Noles and Junior Sean Gilmartin who is pitching even better than he did his in his freshman campaign.

Saturday, April 30, 2011 - Miami, FL - 7:00 PM

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Junior Hunter Scantling makes his 3rd Saturday start in a row, fans hope he can bring some stability to a dreadful weekend rotation.  Sophomore Eric Whaley has looked impressive thus far and if he can continue to pitch strong the Noles will have their hand's full.

Sunday, May 1, 2011 - Miami, FL - 1:00 PM

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Senior Mike McGee becomes the 7th different pitcher to make a weekend start.  He has only pitched 12 innings all season and primarily in a closer role,  it is pretty obvious to those who have seen him pitch is that he isn't the same as he was last year or in his sophomore season.  The Canes have another young pitcher who has been impressive, Sophomore EJ Encinosa has pitched well all season and is a big reason that Miami has only lost on Sunday twice all year.

The Noles pitching strengths have been the bullpen, for the Canes that is not the case.  If Florida State can get to a starter early they should feel good about their chances of winning because Miami's bullpen has been less than superb.  This would be a great series win for the Noles but given the way their pitching has gone I would give the edge to Miami.

Follow along this weekend as all games are televised on CSS and Go Noles!

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