The Florida State baseball team has had some ridiculously poor injury luck through the opening two months of the season. Through 38 games, the Seminoles have had their desired starting lineup completely intact on only five occasions.
Highly-touted freshman Drew Mendoza missed the first 26 games of the season after breaking his thumb in preseason practice. Dylan Busby and Jackson Lueck, two of the best hitters on the team, have also both missed time on and off with a myriad of injuries and ailments. Busby has dealt with back and shoulder injuries this year which have caused him to miss six starts. Meanwhile, Jackson Lueck has missed time with shin splints and shingles, which he had a 1 in 100,000 chance of contracting at his age. Due to these, he has been out of the starting lineup on 14 occasions.
Now, this doesn’t excuse other unrelated stuff which led to the program reaching the depths that it has at earlier points this season. In fact, the dramatically improved health of the team may not improve the Seminoles’ postseason stock at all.
However, if there is a way for Florida State to make a late-season push thereby ensuring its lengthy postseason streak stays afloat, an extended period of meshing for the Florida State batters with no one missing due to injury is a key building block. The proof of this is in FSU’s production at the plate in its series win over No. 4 Clemson over the weekend.
The Seminoles, taking part in their first weekend series with everyone healthy, scored 24 runs on a Clemson pitching staff ranking in the top-15 nationally in earned run average (3.02, 11th in NCAA), WHIP (1.17, 13th in NCAA), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.89, 1st in NCAA). Clemson had only allowed eight or more runs twice in its first 34 games, but the Seminoles averaged eight runs over their three-game set, handing the Tigers their first ACC series loss of the year.
“It’s obviously been a tough stretch to start the year, but what people don’t realize is we are finally getting our team to where they need to be,” designated hitter Quincy Nieporte said. “To have all the guys that we knew coming into the season were going to be in the lineup finally together, it’s real comforting.”
And, so far, what a difference the completed lineup has made.
Across the 33 games in which at least one Florida State batter was out of the lineup, the Seminoles are 19-14 and have only played seven teams ranked at the time of the game.
In direct contrast, all five of FSU’s games played with everyone healthy have been against opponents ranked at that time. The ’Noles are 4-1 in those games and have averaged 6.6 runs per game (note: one of the games was called due to weather after only 4 FSU innings at the plate).
Now, a quick glance at FSU’s season stats may show that 6.6 runs/game is a bit of regression from the 7.4 runs/game the Seminoles average overall, good enough for 27th in the NCAA and 4th among power conference teams. However, that number is inflated severely by FSU beating up on inferior foes early in the season. A more accurate reading would be to look at the number of runs FSU averages against ranked opponents with one or more players missing. Upon calculation, that number is a much more telling 2.9 runs per game.
Other stats tell a similar story about the noticeable difference between a healthy and marginally depleted Florida State lineup. In the 33 games with at least one starter missing, the Seminoles are hitting .257 as a team, .298 on balls hit into play. In the five games with a complete lineup, the team average skyrockets to .327 with a BABIP of .391.
Outside of any of these numbers or stats, there just seems to be a different feel around this team after the weekend that was. It’s quite possible that a completely healthy team provides not just a boost in production, but a morale boost, as well. FSU could very well cancel out its weekend success with a loss this week to Stetson or a series loss at Miami. For now, however, the team chooses to believe.
“We haven’t been playing together that much, and I think we are doing pretty good. I think we will be that much better a week from now, a week from then, and then a week from then,” third baseman Dylan Busby said of having the whole lineup healthy. “I just think it’s going to get better and better as the end of the season comes.”