If you haven’t paid attention, Florida State is in the middle of what might be its worst season under Mike Martin. This is not due to just one unforeseen circumstance, but a culmination of mismanagement over the past decade. Below we address four questions that are relevant to the Seminoles; by no means are these the only four questions that need to be addressed, but they may be the most important.
Q: What is the possibility that FSU misses this postseason?
A: For the first time since April 13th, 2009 the Seminoles dropped out of the Baseball America Top 25. This is due to a 21-14 overall record and a 7-8 record within the ACC. The conference record is particularly disheartening because of the opponents played. They did sweep Notre Dame but were unable to sweep Boston College, whose lone conference win is at the expense of Florida State. Then there was the disastrous series against Virginia Tech, in which FSU was embarrassed and dropped the series. Couple that with a sweep at the hands of North Carolina and a series loss at North Carolina State— the team has simply under performed against the bottom half of the league.
The possibility of Florida State missing the playoffs for the first time in 38 years is very real. Name recognition will hopefully go a long way, but the Seminoles’ resume looks similar to the North Carolina team that missed out on the field of 64 in 2016. The Tarheels went 34-21 in the regular season but missed out on the ACC tournament with a 13-17 record. Their overall RPI of 19 (4th in OOC) and SOS of 8 (16 in OOC) was not enough for them to receive an invitation to a regional.
Florida State was going to be hard pressed to win 40 games this regular season from the jump, but there were really no indications that it would struggle to 30 wins. With only the promise of 21 remaining games this season the Seminoles have an unrelenting end to the season. Twelve of their remaining fifteen conference games are against the ACC’s best: Clemson (RPI 4), Virginia (RPI 7), Wake Forest (RPI 11), and Louisville (RPI 6) plus a series at a struggling Miami team that is nevertheless a fierce rival. Given the inconsistency and below average play in conference, it would be tough to predict any more that 7 wins in those 15 games. Three midweek games against Jacksonville and Stetson accompanied with a series versus Pacific might provide another 5 wins.
Based on those optimistic predictions the Seminoles would finish the season 33-23 and 14-16 in conference play. That record would more than likely be enough to get them into the ACC tournament. A worse record could put them in jeopardy of missing the tournament just like North Carolina did last season, which ultimately cost them a spot in the postseason. As melodramatic as it sounds, every game from here on out has a great importance to the future of this season, the coach, and the program.
Q: Does FSU lack talent or is the issue with coaching?
A: While FSU does not have the best team in the nation, and does not have the tools it should have, Florida State certainly has talent. A few years back the ’Noles changed their recruiting philosophy to go after more highly drafted players, and while results have been mixed, talent still finds its way to Tallahassee. This is the proper way to recruit in baseball, but it does require coaches to keep a close eye on recruits and come to a realistic understanding of what the recruit is looking for to go pro.
Unfortunately, that same change may have created more issues than it has resolved. The problem is that Martin does not recruit that much, or that well. Leaving only two coaches to recruit results in not only losing out on recruits but also less scouting of recruits. Players coming to FSU are recruited because they are good players, not because they are good players at their respective position. The result is a team full of utility players that can struggle in the field and finding their role in the batting order. Also, since the head coach has been mostly absent in recruiting, he loses valuable time to strengthen relationships, which comes in handy not only during the season but when trying to keep a top prospect from leaving Tallahassee to enter the draft. Some players can drastically improve their stock with an extra year in college. James Ramsey recently did this, but he’s been the exception and not the rule, as most players tend to leave rather than stay.
Most of the time, hitters leave Florida State in a much better position than they showed up. Mike Martin, Jr. does a very good job of teaching an elite MLB approach at the plate and has been able to modify the strategy based on the pitcher. While the offense have struggled mightily in the past year, it’s difficult to argue with the results. Florida State routinely finds itself in the top 30 in runs scored per game, if not top 20 and top 10 when talking about Power Five teams..
The pitching success has not been as strong. While the talent and the results have been better under Mike Bell, the ’Noles still have a long way to go. Many pitchers leave FSU only marginally better, if better at all, than when they showed up. Bell can certainly do a better job, but pitching rotations at Florida State have been quite dreadful for a great many years. While some teams, like Florida, use mid-week games to give younger, less experienced pitchers a chance and rest the arms of more veteran or polished pitchers, the Seminoles treat every game the same. Whether it’s Jim Voyles, Gage Smith, or Daniel Bennett, Florida State seems to always start the season with a dependable middle reliever that can’t get an out at the end of the season. It’s not coincidence but rather the fact that pitchers wear down over a year and pitching them in situations that aren’t meaningful results in them tiring out all the quicker.
Ultimately, this all falls on the head coach. Mike Martin’s teams used to be known for great base running and fielding along with lots of small ball, and while the de-emphasis on small ball is a step in the right direction, it should not have resulted in a blow to base running and fielding. Both aspects speak to a lack of attention to detail, which should come as no surprise when you consider Martin is not nearly as involved as he once was. However, these two facets of the game could be the difference between a one-run loss and a two-run win. It allows you to handle stretches where pitching might not be as great, or the bats slump.
Q: How does FSU recruit better?
A: The easiest and quickest fix here is coaching, but that is not really an immediate option, as detailed in the following question. So what else helps recruiting...
“Dick Howser Stadium has taken its place as one of the top collegiate baseball facilities in the country after a two-year, $12 million dollar project was completed in 2004.” - Dick Howser Stadium
That is the first sentence from the athletics website and was undoubtedly made more than a decade ago. Outside some new speakers in 2005, new turf in 2011 and big ceiling fans in 2015, the sale of beer has been the best news about a facility upgrade. While it was once a great recruiting tool, it now has become a deterrent to potential recruits. Teenage baseball players are no different than prospects in football, basketball, or any other sport for that matter— they love to be pampered and are impressed with nice jerseys and fancy facilities.
Multiple baseball programs around the country have made significant investments into their baseball facilities. Within the conference, Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia, and Virginia Tech have all made improvements within the past few years. Non-traditional baseball programs such as Kentucky and Ball State are spending large amounts of cash, as is Alabama, with a 42 million dollar investment.
But are stadium renovations even a possibility? Seriously doubtful. The Florida State athletic department has shown no signs of changing the status quo with the baseball program. With attendance up 9% this season after declining the previous two, there is no reason to think that fans will stop showing up because of outdated facilities, despite an underperforming product on the field.
The basketball program played for decades in a facility that was badly in need of a face lift. The 16 million dollars that were spent to update the Tucker Center only occurred after Leonard Hamilton grew his squad into a consistent contender in the conference. The allocation of funds to the football program has not done the prospect of Howser renovations any favors either, with an 80-million-dollar project completed this past year. In its first year, the Champions Club has not been as popular as anticipated, and it would be hard to imagine the university dropping another huge chunk of cash into another program.
Q: What does the future hold for FSU baseball?
A: Unless something very drastic occurs, it’s a foregone conclusion that Martin will return for the 2018 season in search of the title of winningest coach in college baseball history (he needs 56 wins as of the end of the Florida series to break the record). After that, things get a bit cloudier. Martin’s current contract extends through the 2018 season, but it would not be a surprise to see that extended to 2019 for recruiting purposes, or if he has not broken that record in 2018. If a new contract is not signed, you can take that as a clear indication that 2018 is very likely Martin’s last year.
There is the possibility of Martin trying to stick around after 2018, and it is difficult to say how the program would deal with that. On one hand, Martin is a legend that has made the post season every year he’s coached at Florida State, he’s loved by the fan base and has done little, if anything, to embarrass the university. There isn’t much more you could ask from Martin’s tenure at FSU. On the other hand, he’s well past his prime, and the game has certainly passed him by. The baseball program has stagnated and with schools beginning to invest more and more money into their programs, Stan Wilcox needs to ask himself if Martin can handle this changing environment.
No matter when it happens, Florida State is very likely to hire Mike Martin Jr. as its next head coach, and while there are certainly arguments to be made against staying in house, it’d be foolish to say that Junior has not earned the job. Under Jr.’s watch, the FSU offense has continually been one of the best in the nation in scoring runs and he’s been the driving force in the recruiting arena. For those that want to make the comparison to Bobby Bowden and his son Jeff, don’t. Mike Martin, Jr. is well respected in the college baseball community and if he was not on the Florida State staff he would be an assistant at any program in the country or a head coach at many others.
Whoever the new coach is will have a history of a winning program on his side and a good team name to recruit behind. He’ll also have a great fanbase that ranks in the top 15 in attendance per game in the last four years (when the NCAA started officially keeping that stat). However, bigger ballparks are being built around the country. A new coach will have to work on upping Florida State’s facilities and modernizing the program in a similar way to what Jimbo Fisher did with the football program. Hence, the outlook of the long-term future of FSU baseball is rosy, but the immediate future is unclear.