2011 Gators Much Improved

The disappearance of the Florida offense has been exaggerated. The panic surrounding some of the struggles seems to be blown up, too, especially when you put it in perspective of last season's team. The 2010 Gators went to the College World Series for the first time in five years, but the 2011 Gators are statistically head and shoulders above that group.

We'll start with the record. The Gators currently sit at 31-10 overall with a 14-4 record in conference play. In 2010, a youthful Florida team was 30-11 overall with a 12-6 conference record.

Through six weekend series in the conference, both seasons have been split with three road and three home series. So with equal schedules, the two-game improvement through 18 conference games this season has happened for multiple reasons.

Simply put, the 2011 Gators are better.

It starts on the mound. The 2010 pitching staff led the Gators to Omaha. Alex Panteliodis won 11 games while Hudson Randall led the SEC in ERA during conference games as a freshman, but when the team made it to the College World Series, the pitching fell apart.

The pitching this season has been better and deeper. Through 18 SEC games last season, the Florida pitching staff had plenty of hype, but it had a 4.07 ERA. At that same point in the current season, the Gators have a 2.64 ERA.

The difference comes in pitching depth. Every arm that head coach Kevin O'Sullivan used last season showed potential, but not all of the arms put it together. At this point in the 2010 season, there were three pitchers (Kevin Chapman, Brian Johnson and Steven Rodriguez) who had thrown at least 15 innings and maintained an ERA under 3.10. There are currently eight pitchers on the Florida staff who have thrown at least 15 innings with an ERA under 3.10.

Look a little further into the stats and the difference in the pitching staffs becomes more obvious. At this point last season, the Florida staff allowed a 1.30 WHIP, which is the amount of walks and hits allowed per inning. For perspective, the average WHIP in Major League Baseball last season was 1.35. Last year's pitching staff was doing well at this point of the year, but the current staff has a 1.11 WHIP. Even with the new bats, a .19 drop in WHIP in one season is impossible to ignore.

The Florida pitchers have also gone from 7.44 strikeouts per nine innings to 7.62 this season. Walks are down, too. The 2010 pitching staff walked 2.53 batters per nine innings, while this year's staff is walking 1.90 batters per nine innings. When opponents are putting fewer pitches in play and walking less, the pitching will automatically improve.

But everyone knew the pitching would be good. The 1.43 decrease in ERA at this point in the season comes as a surprise, but it's the offense that has taken this team to the next level.

Just as with every team in the country, the number of home runs has gone down for the Florida offense. The Gators were hitting .297 after 18 SEC games last season, but they're sitting at a league-leading .315 at this point in the current season. The Florida home runs have dropped by 18 at this point in the season compared to last season, but the doubles have increased by 13.

The Florida offense actually has only seven fewer extra base hits than it did last season through 18 conference games.

The Gators currently boast eight everyday starts with a batting average above .300. At this point last season, even with the help from the old bats, there were only four (Matt den Dekker, Austin Maddox, Preston Tucker and Brian Johnson). Left fielder Tyler Thompson (.237) is the only current starter who is below .300.

So where the offense, just like every offense in the country, might have taken a hit in the power numbers, it might actually be better because every hitter can hurt the opposing team. The team's on-base percentage is also up slightly from .384 to .387.

One other interesting note that comes from the new bats is that Florida has used 37 sacrifice bunts compared to only 17 at this point last season.

The Gators set a school record last season with a .976 fielding percentage, but they currently boast a .979 fielding percentage. With the new bats, the improved defense is even more important.

So, relax. Even with some of the early season inconsistencies, the Gators seemed to figure it out last weekend against Alabama. If the team continues to improve to close conference play, it would be a surprise not to see them in Omaha.


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