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Three keys to FSU baseball’s success in 2020

With three months till the season opener, let’s take a look at the most important things for 2020

2019 Florida State Baseball Season Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The Seminoles are slated to start Mike Martin Jr.s’ first season as head coach precisely three months from today. Let’s take a look at the three most important things to the Seminoles’ success in 2020.

  1. Better infield defense

With the talent in Florida and the program history at FSU, the ‘Noles can match up with anyone talent-wise on the diamond. But last year, the Seminoles had too many errors and mental mistakes. Florida State’s .964 fielding percentage was 197th in the country last year. Often the mistakes came from the FSU infield as they made 72% of the 82 errors.

It’s hard to replace a guy like Drew Mendoza offensively, but a quality defensive 3B could make up for his offensive production. Mendoza had the worst fielding percentage on the defense at .899 and often struggled with his arm, which is evident as he moved to 1B in pro ball.

Mike Salvatore will be harder to replace, as he was the ’Noles most consistent player. JUCO transfer Jackson Greene appears to be the likely candidate at 2B, and the junior from Live Oak posted a .925 FLD% with 11 errors last year. Nander De Sedas will likely take over the SS role as the sophomore won the best defensive player award in the NECBL this summer and has looked like a completely different fielder this year with less flash and hitches in his movement.

Lastly, the 1B position was a continuous struggle last year for the ‘Noles. Each of FSU’s first basemen made five errors, and both Nico Baldor and Cooper Swanson hit under .200. At the end of the season, Carter Smith gave the position some consistency and made the lineup much deeper. We don’t know who will start yet, but if one player is consistently in the lineup throughout the entire season, that should improve the position.

2. Win the first pitch

Since his first press conference as head coach, Meat has preached aggressiveness and putting pressure on the opponent. When it comes to aggression, the first-pitch is the most important pitch, of every at-bat.

If you’re a hitter, the first pitch will likely be the best and most predictable pitch you will see. As a pitcher, getting up 0-1 is so important because it gives you the ability to dictate the rest of the at-bat. If you get behind, the hitter knows you have to come to him in the zone.

In 2014 in the major leagues, a batter’s OPS dropped 204 points when they get behind in the count versus taking a first pitch ball. When hitters put the ball in play on the first pitch the batting average was .336 with an OPS of .870.

FSU hitters should attack first-pitch fastballs in 2020 rather than taking till they get a strike, which often happened in 2019. Seminole pitchers should attack the zone with fastballs early in the count, giving them the ability to use their off-speed how they want late in the count.

3. The use of analytics and manufacturing runs

Baseball, like other sports, is quickly becoming a game of analytics and maximizing your potential chance at a win. In 2020, manufacturing runs and using analytics will be critical to the ‘Noles making up for lost production. This doesn’t just mean stealing bases as there are lots of opportunities outside of just stolen bases and sac bunts to push the envelope and pressure the opponents into giving you free runs.

FSU isn’t the most athletic team, but you don’t have to be fast to be a good base runner. Meat and his staff are looking for players that can squeeze the opponent and force mistakes. The ’Noles can pressure their opponents by dropping down a drag bunt when you see the 3B playing back, taking a base on a dirtball after predicting when the pitcher will spike a ball due to the count, tagging up on a deep fly ball from first to move into scoring position, going from first-to-third on singles, taking hard turns around first base, etc.

Michigan had the perfect blueprint for this in the CWS last year. You saw athletes all over the diamond and aggressiveness on the base paths. Did they run into some outs? Yes. But did they manufacture runs to match the level of talent with top programs from the south? Yes.

If the Seminoles can do these three things, they can make up for last year’s loss in production. The future success of the 2019/2020 team will be determined by the defense’s ability to back a reliable pitching staff and the offense’s ability to manufacture runs in critical situations.