Prior to the 2013 season Florida State lost a first rounder and ACC Player of the Year, a sixth rounder who was the team's second best hitter, another All-American with the best arm on the team and two other infielders drafted in the top 20 rounds of the amateur draft who lead the team in walks and doubles. Also of note all of these position players were superb fielders, solid base runners and team leaders. As the season approached Florida State would find out that their Preseason All-American pitcher would be shelved for the season. Then, only five games into the season an injury would cost the Noles their starting shortstop and team captain for the season.
So two weeks into the season Florida State had a brand new infield, a brand new outfield, one remaining weekend starter in the rotation and were still in search for a closer. Knowing all of that I am sure every fan would have predicted this team to be ranked in the top 10 in every major poll, atop the Atlantic Division and have a remarkable 27-6 record. Reasonable expectations would have probably been somewhere between the two seasons that rivals Miami and Florida are having but that's not the case and once again the Noles are positioning them self for a successful postseason run. Again this can be contributed to one of the all-time great college coaches who consistently puts his teams in position to win forty plus games every single season.
Given the current results lets look at the process of how Florida State got to be 27-6 and see how probable it is for the Noles to finish how they started. First off you have to look at the strength of oopponents that FSU has faced thus far and according to Boyd's World they are currently have the 85 toughest schedule. Playing opponents like Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami and Florida in the last month have helped immensely in boosting that SOS and with only five of the six season losses coming against those teams that means the Noles are taking care of business elsewhere.
The stretch run for the Noles is obviously not going to be a cake walk and that starts this weekend with vastly improved Duke and then a Virginia team who has been much better than initially expected. A disappointing but still dangerous NC State team is still on the schedule and a series against Clemson, who is only one game back in the division, ends the regular season. If the Noles can win two of those four series and and not have more than one or two unexpected losses there is no reason to believe that a national seed is out of the realm of possibility. But do the Seminoles have what it takes to achieve those results, lets take a look at what has occurred already this season and see if it is sustainable for the remaining twenty-two games.
Lets first take a look at the pitchers who have worked out of a starting role in both the weekend and weekdays. There was a lot of uncertainty after the news that Saturday starter Mike Compton was going to be lost for the entire season. Senior Scott Sitz who was scheduled to be the Sunday starter filled the role that the right freshman started in all of 2012 and Peter Miller was named the Sunday guy with Luke Weaver being the weekday regular. It took half the season to realize that certain pitchers were not performing in the current roles and it appears now that the Noles are in better position thanks in part to some of the recent changes.
Without a doubt Luke Weaver has the best stuff on the team and not surprisingly has pitched the best so far this season. Part of his success has to do with facing lesser opponents on weekdays as opposed to conference foes on weekends but with a low H/9 and a ridiculous strikeout to walk ratio he is primed to have continued success despite facing tougher hitters and the pressure of now being the ace on the staff. Scott Sitz started the season right where he left off in last year's College World Series, pitching extremely well and giving the Seminoles an excellent chance of winning every time he pitches. Is Sitz as good as his minuscule ERA? Of course not, but he has had to pitch through the most adversity as it seems every time he pitches the defense seems to take a day off. In his 47 innings of work opponents have score 20 runs but only 3 have been earned. Extending innings obviously takes a toll but Sitz does have a higher than normal H/9 which would suggest that he could not pitch with the same effectiveness that he did in the first half. For the second year in a row now Florida State has two strong starters that give them a solid chance of winning every single series they play in.
We've seen this before, Friday ace, freshman All-American pitcher, huge expectations for a second season and then an inexplicable sophomore slump. Now I am not say Brandon Leibrandt is the next Sean Gilmartin but I do believe that his true pitching level is somewhere in between how he is performing now and the high level we saw him at last season. The Noles can only hope that he finds that level before the start of the postseason or a move out of the weekend rotation could happen. I'm not really sure how Peter Miller started the season in the Sunday role but it was pretty obvious, pretty quickly that this was a position that he could not handle. He just does not have the makeup to pitch against high quality opponents and if he can flourish as a Tuesday starter like he did against UF he can be very valuable. Billy Strode has not pitched all that much in a starting role to warrant any serviceable judgement, he hasn't pitched poorly which means if another pitching role becomes available later in the season he should be a viable candidate to fill that void. All in all the pitching staff has been extremely solid this year and helped the Noles win many games, with the Mike Bell now in his second season it is good to know that pitching is once again a strength of Florida State baseball.
Starting Pitching: B
Florida State is back to having a reasonable sized pitching staff of 14 with strong contribution from 10 of those players. This is a refreshing change as now the Noles don't have to carry a lot of dead weight hoping and praying they can find one guy who can throw strikes. With a solid mix of left handers and right handers the Seminoles have had a lot of success so far this season and that is important because Mike Martin has a warranted reputation of being really quick to pull a starter at the earliest signs of trouble.
Junior College transfer Robby Coles battled out others and has flourished in the closer role, once again fans can be comfortable when he takes the mound with the lead. Holtman and Gage Smith are inning eaters and appear to be the most trusted guys out of the bullpen and are on pace to see more valuable innings as the season wears on. From time to time Holtman gets himself in trouble with walks but has limited the damage with a low hit rate while Smith has done a wonderful job this season of keep the ball down in the zone making him very difficult to hit.
Johnson, a lefty and Winston, a righty are the other two middle relievers that the staff feels comfortable sending out there in pretty much any situation. Winston has looked electric out there at times, reaching 94 MPH and completely overpowering pitchers while Johnson goes about his business and is a very effective lefthander. Given the recent experience of playing a Miami team who has an atrocious bullpen and seeing other opponents who have difficulty finding guys who can get outs the Noles relief staff is a very valuable commodity. There is no reason to believe that this group cant carry the team deep into the postseason.
Relief Pitching: A-
Every year there are a handful of guys who see little to no work for one reason or another. More times then not they leave the team the next season or sometime further down the road. Weaver is obviously no longer pitching as a reliever but I do believe we will see more of Strode on the weekend. The rest are players that I wouldn't bank on seeing in any type of high leverage situation if at all.
Fans should be extremely pleased with the way the Seminoles pitching staff has shaped up this season and should be encouraged by the potential it has to finish out the season. I still think there is a possibility that there will be some more shuffling around before the postseason but I feel this group could be better than the one that helped carry the 2012 team to Omaha.
Overall Pitching: B
Stop me if you have heard this before, Florida State once again has one of the best offenses in the country. It would be very difficult for this squad though to put up the numbers that the 2012 team did but that have done a phenomenal job of playing baseball the Seminoles way. As cliche as that might sound its true, FSU has a proven offensive strategy that works from the lowest levels all the way up to the major leagues.
Offensively Jose Brizeula is a machine and puts up the numbers you need out of a corner infielder, a good balance of plate discipline and power makes him the Noles best hitter. Shortstop Gio Alfonzo has some big shoes to fill with the lost of Justin Gonzalez and struggled mightily to begin the season but with more plate appearances has started putting better contact on the ball and he doesn't strikeout much at all so by the end of the season he could be a really tough out at the bottom of the lineup. Normally you wonder why a .238 hitter with absolutely no power is in the everyday lineup but 2B John Sansone gets on base 43% of the time, there isn't a team in America that wouldn't take that. Sansone is young and will hopefully develop into a better hitter but he plays good enough defense to play everyday.
In his second year John Nogowski just isn't getting it done, striking out nearly twice as many times as he has walked and hitting for very little power is a good way to play yourself out of the lineup. That has happened to an extent has he has lost at-bats to Casey Smit but with the lack of right handed hitters on this team he is needed whenever a left-hander takes the mound. Which leads to the option of a full-time platoon situation at first as Smit has shown that he can produce given his limited number of at bats.
Not sure how the Stephen McGee was left off this list but he is without a doubt the Seminoles best player and I tweeted the other day that he might up being better than his brother Mike when his career at FSU is finally over. The reasoning behind this is that Stephen plays such a valuable position and he plays it very well and plays it every day. Finding his power this season while maintaining plate discipline has made him a huge weapon in the middle of the lineup. This was the toughest group for me to grade because Brizuela is really playing out of position and belongs in the outfield or as a designated hitter, but it appears he is at third for the long haul.
Infield Offense: B+
A logjam in the outfield can be a blessing and a curse, yes you have great depth but that depth can force you to play defensive nightmares out of position like the current issue that FSU is facing. Marcus Davis was the team MVP for the first quarter of the season but since the start of conference play has cooled off. He is still an excellent hitter and has continually come through in big situations. Freshman DJ Stewart is definitely raising eyebrows as he continues to be a leader at the top of the lineup, with a lot of pop in his bat and a lower than normal OBP a drop in the lineup might best for the team. Delph has pretty much been the everyday outfielder and has been extremely productive in the leadoff spot. While platooning him with Knief in right field seems enticing I am not sure how you can take a table setter like him out of the lineup.
Seth Miller is having a much better season than he did a year ago, the problem is that he is another lefty but at this point is probably an upgrade defensively in center field which is why we have seen him in that spot more often. If Miller keeps playing the way he has there is no reason he shouldn't play when a right hander takes the mound. Then there are the two righties in the lineup who recently saw a lot of action due to the trio that Miami through at Florida State. Knief has put up great numbers in the sporadic plate appearances and if Martin can move people around I think he belongs in the lineup. Of all the new guys Jameis has looked the most like a freshman, big strikeout rate that will more likely improve and if not his power numbers better soar. I can see him getting a spot start here and there because he is a switch hitter but due to the position he plays there are just better options ahead of him.
Ideally you would like have more balanced depth throughout all your position players but this is not the worst problem to have. Unfortunately injuries appear to be happening with more frequency so depth could change instantly but this group is about as solid as anyone could hope for.
Outfield Offense: A
Offensively just like pitching there are players that are seldom used, don't travel and often times are not seen the next year. Gould, Valdes and Swoope are all candidates to move on as it doesn't appear that they will play any type of role on this team in 2012. Ladson Montgomery must feel like Jim Sorgi, but I guess that is a good problem to have and Howard knows his role as the emergency catcher so him seeing anytime is very unlikely.
Constantly being on base cause pressure on pitching and the defense and year after year the Seminoles are one of the best teams in the country offensively. Their high OBP, compounded with better than average power equates to one of the highest scoring teams in college. Credit to the coaching staff as this team has amazed given the quantity of newcomers, their prowess for acquiring talent and teaching them how to play in phenomenal. Look for this offense to once again carry the Noles deep into the postseason
Offense Grade: A
I am not even sure how to address one of the worst defenses in the country. You would expect growing pains when breaking in an new infielder, now think about how those pains are exaggerated when you break in four.
Pitching behind this defense can no doubt be frustrating, you want to make that perfect pitch or try to strike everyone out to avoid the ball being put into play. As you can see above Florida State has allowed only 70% of their runs scored to be earned, well below the national average. At this point in the season I wouldn't expect much to change, its not like the players are lazy, not trying or don't care, its just at some point you have to realize that they might not be cut out for the position.
Keeping some perspective & yes they play vital defensive positions but 45% of #FSU errors have come from 2 players...sky is not falling— RaysnNoles (@RodMahoney) April 10, 2013
Losing games you should win can be frustrating and Tuesday night was a perfect example but the defense as a whole is not all that bad. While I don't foresee drastic changes this season, I am positive the issue is being addressed in recruiting and will be changed by next year.
Defensive Grade: D
The process has done a pretty good job of meeting up with the results. I think the Noles record won't be as good as it was in the first half due to the teams that the Seminoles have to face to finish out the season. But they have once again positioned themselves to win their division, win their conference, host a regional and make a bid for a coveted national seed.
Overall Grade: B+
So what are your thoughts?