The difference between Mississippi State being 5-1 in the SEC and where they currently stand at 2-4 is four measly runs. An extra inning loss to LSU and two 1-run defeats at Kentucky. There are plenty of factors that go into winning and losing a baseball game, and most of the time it falls on what the players did or did not do during those nine innings. But you always want to put your best foot forward and put those players in the best position to win.
The bullpen has been fantastic. The starting pitching has been disappointing from a couple of guys, but that is in the process of being corrected. The defense has been good, and the offense better than expected.
Mississippi State is first in the SEC in batting average, on-base %, runs scored, hits, RBI, at-bats, 2nd in walks, 5th in stolen bases. All these are great things - but is there a way to produce more runs?
Not to take anything away from the above mentioned statistics, but State has played at least two more games than every other SEC team, and in most cases three or more. Still, stuff like batting avg and OB% are solid numbers. So how can we take a .407 OB%, .427 slugging % and .308 team average and produce even more runs?
First, MSU also leads the league in strikeouts with 11 more than anyone else. We are also 3rd in double plays, but just one behind the leaders Georgia and Ole Miss. Both of those are sure fire rally killers. One of the ways to avoid this is by sacrifice bunting, although I hate doing it. One of the problems I have with the way Cohen does it is that he will sac bunt anyone and sometimes it kills a potential rally. I don't mind if guys like Henderson, Pirtle or even Norris and Detz bunt - but let the other guys swing away. So, pick your spots.
Secondly, men left on base has come back to haunt MSU time and time again. The Bulldogs have averaged leaving 8 men on base in the six losses, but have had games vs. UCA and LSU with 12 and 11 respectively. With the most RBI in the SEC State is obviously getting timely hitting, but we just need a little more of it - or maybe this goes to my next point...
Finally, I think the lineup could be put together in a more effective way. There's a different lineup for virtually every game, but for the most part it looks something like this:
To me, you have to base everything off of Hunter Renfroe because he is your best, and hottest, hitter. When you put him in the 3-hole you are limiting the number of potential runners he could drive in. Take the doubleheader last Saturday - two home runs at crucial points in the game but both of them solo shots. With 35 RBI (15 more than anyone on the team) and 9 HR (seven more than anyone else) the guy is the definition of a cleanup hitter. His slugging percentage (.900) leads the SEC - we need to move him down a spot so one more guy can get on base in front of him.
Next, you've got to have someone to protect Renfroe. One of the flaws baseball has is that you don't have to pitch to a team's best hitter. So, to avoid this State needs a potent 5-hole guy. There's no way Henderson should be there, and I don't see Slauter as that guy either. You're asking a lot of your catcher to manage the pitching staff and then hit in a crucial spot like protecting Renfroe. I think big Wes Rea is the best option here. He's only hitting .233 right now but he's been hurt most of the year. He's got plenty of power and is good enough to make opposing pitchers think twice about not throwing to Hunter.
Now we need three guys in front of Renfroe to set the table. Adam Frazier is the perfect leadoff man. He's done it his entire career and he's got a .463 OB%, by far the most hits on the team and six stolen bases.
This may seem off the wall, but I'd move Bradford to 3rd and put Detz hitting 2nd. Alex Detz is leading the SEC in OB% at .515 (.019 higher than anyone else) and I'm not so sure Bradford doesn't have more power than him. C.T. has more total bases this year, and he has a .383 OB%. Plus I like the idea of putting a little space between your base stealers. Bradford is 4 for 4 this year but if Frazier is on base ahead of him he can't steal - if Detz is able to move Frazier to 2nd base or he gets an extra base hit, the base paths are more open for C.T. to run. Detz is cooling off a little so if he doesn't get the start I actually wouldn't mind seeing Sam Frost in the 2-hole with his .310 avg/.459 OB/4-4 SB.
On to the bottom of the lineup where State has had some struggles at times. The 6-9 hitters really cost State in the LSU series.
Norris and Porter are perfect for the 6th spot. Both have power (although rarely hit home runs), neither is that great of a hitter but they are capable of hitting the ball real hard and having a monster game. I don't think there's any reason to have both of these guys missing from the lineup like we've seen several times this year - Norris plays vs. LHP, Porter vs. RHP.
Hit Slauter 7th. I don't see any reason to put Rea here. Henderson and Robson would also be a good choice for this spot as well as would Ammirati if it's his turn behind the plate.
8-9 hitters could be anyone from Pirtle to Frost to Henderson, etc. The guys who are slumping, hitting into double plays, etc.
It seems like John Cohen would like to make sure everyone gets their chance to start. That's all well and dandy in the non-conference, but let's not do it here. I think we've got a pretty solid group we need to stick to:
C - Slauter/Ammirati - At first I wasn't too keen on starting Ammirati during a weekend series, but the man's hitting .310 so why not. But I don't think he needs to just automatically start on Saturday to break up the days for Slauter - make sure it's a RHP.
1B - Rea/Detz - Wes Rea should be starting every game, but if there's a RHP on Sunday and he's stuggled at the plate all weekend that I wouldn't be opposed to seeing Detz at 1B. Or, in a mid-week game DH Rea to save his legs a little.
2B - Pirtle/Frost - Pirtle has come on strong here lately, but is still hitting just .226 (he does have the 2nd most HR -2 - on the team, however). He gives you good defense, speed on the base paths and he's a switch hitter, but I don't know that his bat dictates him being in there every game. I would've liked to seen Matthew Britton step up a little more, but that train has passed and Sam Frost has stepped up with some really solid numbers in limited action. Maybe one game per series, against a RHP, throw him in there. And this probably won't happen, but why not let Detz play 2B some...he played there in junior college?
3B - Norris/Detz - This should probably be our platoon. Norris vs. LHP, Detz vs. RHP. Whatever happens, no matter how hot he gets, we cannot play Sam Frost at 3B - he cannot consistanly make the throws.
SS- Frazier - No brainer.
LF - Henderson/Robson - Another platoon with Hendu vs. LHP, Robson vs. RHP. Niether one is tearing the cover off the ball, so if we want to throw in Tyler Fullerton or Derrick Armstrong I wouldn't have a problem with it.
CF - Bradford - Bradford is a really good ball player, although he has been a little streaky this year. Still, you have to put him in there everyday. He's 3rd in the SEC in plate appearances and has pitched in five games so if we need to throw Armstrong out there for a mid-week game I don't think it would be the end of the world.
RF - Renfroe - No brainer.
DH - Porter/Detz/Slauter - If we are facing a RHP, then Porter needs to be in there. He doesn't strike out that much and has some pop. If we're facing a lefty and Slauter is catching (which he should be) then start whoever is hot at the moment - Porter or Detz. If for some reason we're in another one of those weird situations like in the UK series and facing two or three LHP, then Slauter can DH the game he isn't catching.