Nobody likes a Debbie Downer.
But Uncle Nick is going to put you on his lap and tell you some hard truths amide all the excitement surrounding LSU baseball. Don’t worry; I’m doing this out of love.
AJ Labas, one of LSU’s starting pitcher’s the last two seasons, has decided to sign as an undrafted free agent.
This is not about whether Labas should or should not come back to school. I’ll leave that debate for those reasonable fans on message boards. This is about the glaring weakness in LSU’s ‘Reboot’ for 2022: pitching staff.
As it stands today, the Tigers offense and fielding alone is good enough to not only get to Omaha, but to win multiple games in Omaha. Unfortunately, that’s not what wins you national championships.
Let’s look at the last three national champions:
2018 Oregon State had one of the most dominate best pitching staffs in recent College Baseball history.
2019 Vanderbilt had the best two ace starters in Rocker and Leiter that maybe the sport has ever seen.
2021 Mississippi State. It seemed like every time the Bulldogs pulled a guy that threw in the mid-90’s, they had another guy you had never heard of come in and do the same thing.
If that doesn’t convince you, just look at Jay Johnson’s Arizona team in the College World Series this past season. Lost game one to Vandy on a wild pitch in extra innings and then lost game two to Stanford because their bullpin was shot dead from the previous day.
Stanford was hitting bangers against Arizona. BANGERS. At least that’s what the cool kids are calling it these days.
So Ma’Khail Hilliard and Devin Fontenot are back. Not to mention transfer Eric Reyzelman who throws between 94-97 mph on average. Cool. That’s one SEC starter, another regressing SEC closer who hopes to be an SEC starter and one guy that’s never pitched in the SEC.
What about the young arms on the team?
There is a lot of potential in Garret Edwards, Javen Coleman and Will Helmers. But for right now, that’s all it is. Potential.
On Friday evening, LSU got two more Arizona transfers in left-handed relief pitcher Riley Cooper and RHP Bryce Collins.
Cooper had 29 appearances this past season, started two games and posted a 3-0 record with a 4.88 ERA.
In baseball, there is no such thing as having too many left-handed pitchers in your billpin. But Cooper is still a proven relief pitcher. Not a proven starter.
As a true freshman, Collins went 0-2 with a 5.24 ERA and limited opposing hitters to a .236 batting average in his seven appearances with four starts… back in 2019.
Collins hasn’t played in two years due to injury. There is always hope he will get right, but hope doesn’t get strikeouts. Healthy arms do.
Sure, LSU’s new pitching coach, Jason Kelly, has worked magic everywhere he has been. But he’s not Harry freakin’ Potter.
Kelly can’t just wave a magic wand that will automatically make every guy on LSU’s staff start throwing in the mid-90’s and have killer breaking balls.
In order for LSU to live up to their potential as a team in 2022, they need more proven arms in their bullpin. And that starts in the transfer portal.