2014 Florida State Seminoles Baseball Preview: Pitching

USA TODAY Sports

Florida State pitching has finally caught up with the offense as this appears to be the most balanced Seminoles team is several years. National title hopes ride with this experienced and talented staff who look to play deep into the College World Series this season.

In case you missed the first part of our season preview on the offensive side of the ball.

PITCHING

Last year's pitching situation was a roller coaster ride. Expected weekend starter, Mike Compton, missed the entire season after sustaining an injury just weeks before Opening Day, requiring Tommy John surgery. Luke Weaver, who started the season as a weekday guy, finished as the Friday starter ad earned a spot on Team USA. Scott "The Stache" Sitz pitched brilliantly during his senior campaign, easing some of the burden that came with losing Compton. So with that being said, this year should be less of a chaotic situation. Oh, and Florida State still has arguably the best pitching coach in the country in Mike Bell.

Starting Rotation:

Fridays: Keep in mind Luke Weaver didn't make the weekend rotation until April of last year against Miami when he went from weekday starter to Friday night number one. From that moment he just kept pitching better and better including a remarkable stretch where he struck out 58 batters and walked only 8 over six consecutive starts. His sophomore season ranks as one of the best in Seminoles history and was one of the best across the country last season.

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There were 100 starting pitchers who threw over 80 innings last season and Weaver finished with the 7th highest strikeout to walk ratio which is impressive.  To make that stat even more impressive take a look at the strikeout per nine ratio of the pitchers ahead of them.  Aaron Nola who is a great pitcher was a full 2 strikeouts per nine behind him.  Just over half (57) of those 100 starting pitchers totaled a K/BB ratio higher than 4.00 and Weaver was 1 of 7 who had a K/9 greater than 10.00

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Looking into the numbers further, there were 10 starting pitchers last season with 80 plus innings logged that had a strikeout per nine ratio over 10 which shows you just what an accomplishment that is on its own.  Weaver led all 10 pitchers with the highest strikeout to walk ratio just ahead of two really talented pitchers.  Mark Appel who was the first player taken overall in last year's draft and Jonathan Gray who was the third player taken overall. Luke Weaver was an elite pitcher in 2013 which is why he is projected by some to be a first round draft pick this June.

Weaver, who also represented Team USA in Japan last summer, comes back with his electric fastball and a much improved slider, according to pitching coach Mike Bell. Despite gaining tons of confidence on the mound throughout last season, his role journey with Team USA has only strengthened that confidence. Oh, and just a funny little note: When we asked Ben DeLuzio who might be able to compete in a foot race, he was pretty quick to say Luke Weaver might be second fastest guy on the team.

Saturday: It's still yet to be seen who will be the Saturday starter between Brandon Leibrandt and Mike Compton, but I'd like to think they'll end up going R-L-R for the weekend rotation, putting Leibrandt in the Saturday spot. The beauty if this is that it really doesn't matter. The accumulation of these three guys is easily one of the best weekend rotations in the country. Leibrandt, who suffered a minor injury during the offseason, is right on track for opening weekend. The lefty is methodical on the mound, locating pitching and catching hitters off-balance.

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It seems that the perception is that Leibrandt had a better freshman campaign that sophomore and I think there are a few factors that play into that.  His freshman season, 2011, came a year after a terrible season for FSU pitching in 2010 so fans thought the world of him, secondly Leibrandt finished the season as the Sunday starter after beginning the year as the Friday ace.  Looking at the numbers his seasons were practically identical, there is the obvious difference in ERA and win/loss record but he is not solely responsible for those.  The reality in it is that the other two starters, Weaver and Sitz, had better seasons than Leibrandt which should take nothing away from the strong season that the left handed junior had.

Having a guy in Leibrandt, who could be a Friday starter just about anywhere, is such a bonus for FSU, as there won't be any let-up between Friday and Saturday, or even Sunday.  It is a pretty amazing that they weekend rotation could all be drafted high enough in which they elect to not return for their senior season.

Sunday: Mike Compton is back and as good as ever, according to everyone around the program. After missing the entirety of last season and undergoing Tommy John surgery, Compton is ready to contribute.

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It has long been talked about, that players sometimes come back stronger/better than ever after Tommy John surgery, so we'll have to wait and see in regards to Compton. It's all about location for this young stud - finding his spots and mercilessly buckling knees with a nasty change-up. DJ Stewart talked about Compton and where he's at saying, "I'm just ready to hit against someone else, he's so good. I love inside fastballs, but he somehow puts it in the perfect spot where I can't get it. So glad we have him back this year."

Weekdays: Peter Miller looks to be the fourth guy as will be that weekday starter. Miller, who passed up signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers to return for his senior season, looks to be a major contributor this year in the often overlooked fourth spot.

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For most teams in the country Miller would be a weekend guy but when the weekend staff is as strong as the Noles is he is relegated to the weekday.  Miller can be extremely valuable to Florida State in this role because 10 times out of 10 he will be the better pitcher taking the mound.

The second weekday starter, who will only be needed a couple times this season, has yet to be decided upon and probably won't be until the time comes. However, I think the two young lefties, sophomore Dylan Silva and freshman Alec Byrd, have the inside track. Our staff tends to agree that FSU needs another lefty at their disposal, and both of these guys have a lot of promise. It's not a common thing to have three freshmen come in like Leibrandt, Compton and Weaver, and do what they did. So don't expect any of that this year.

Relief Pitching:

Returners: As a whole this group was excellent last season.

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RHP Gage Smith will be the anchor with this group and can grow an elite mustache, too.  In a perfect situation he would be the 8th inning set up man but like most of the pitchers in this group he can be used in different types of situations.  LHP Bryant Holtmann will continue his role as a key reliever as well. But I also like the possibility of the previously mentioned guys like Silva and Byrd to see some time in relief.  LHP Billy Strode, who has previously been slated as a starter, has found a home in the bullpen, according to Mike Bell, so expect to see him.  LHP Brandon Johnson was the least seldom used last season and hasn't been in many discussions this preseason but he is still on the roster and is a left handed arm that the Noles need.

RHP Jameis Winston will be looked to as the closer for the Seminoles in 2014.  Winston pitched great as a freshman in 2013 and I have no doubt he will excel this season and in his new role.  But I think that other relievers on this staff could have just as much success as him given the same role.  That is taking nothing away from Jameis, in general the public puts too much stock into a pitcher who generally comes into a game in low leverage situations and has to record only 3 outs while pitching with a lead.  It is an important role though and I do believe that he will do well just like everything else he has done at Florida State.

Newcomers: Florida State returns 75% of the total innings pitched from last year for 2014 plus the return of Mike Compton who pitched 91.0 innings in 2012.  There are 6 new pitchers on the staff this season and considering what is returning it could be tough for any freshmen to see any meaningful innings.

SYNOPSIS:

It is remarkable the transformation that the pitching staff has made after just two years under Mike Bell.  The team's ERA was 20th best in the nation at 2.92 and that's playing in a strong offensive conference.  It more important statistical categories the Noles were 18th overall with 7.9 K/9 and 19th overall with a 2.65 strikeout to walk ratio.  I really believe the pitching staff can be better than last season and that can be aided by the Seminoles new volunteer coach Bryan Henry.  The former All American is a great addition to this staff and will help with development and coaching of the pitching.

FIELDING:

The old saying is that pitching and defense wins championships.  That's not true, pitching and offense wins championships.  Defense is generally overrated and also very difficult to measure for a variety of factors.  The Noles had a very poor fielding percentage last season but that was heavily skewed by one position.  Jose Brizuela, who is playing out of position, accounted for 25% of the Seminoles total errors last season.  Justin Gonzalez returns to shortstop and if he is full healthy he is very good at that position as well as first baseman John Nogowski.  The outfield should be solid especially in left with DJ Stewart, DeLuzio can cover a ton of ground in center and the platoon in right has enough playing time out there where they should feel comfortable playing balls off of the screen.

Hope you enjoyed the season previews and you are almost fully prepared for first pitch tomorrow at 6 PM.  We will have one more article for you prior to the series preview.  I also want to thank Dustin Tackett and Ariya Massoudi for their contributions in the previews, please make sure you are following them all season as they will be the ones in Tallahassee and at the majority of the games.

Go Noles!

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