Zunino Deserves SEC Player of the Year

When the SEC announces its season awards on Tuesday, Mike Zunino deserves the SEC Player of the Year honor. It didn't look like it early in the season, but the Florida catcher has ended the season on fire. The most impressive part is that Zunino's best numbers come against better competition when the Gators got into conference play.

Comparing Zunino's numbers this season to years in the past doesn't make sense because of the change in bats. His .383 batting average, 15 home runs and 59 RBIs aren't eye-popping compared to what players did in recent years with the old bats, but all three of those numbers are in the top two of the SEC, pacing the league in home runs and RBIs.   

Zunino was second in slugging percentage (.701), fifth in on-base percentage (.455), first in runs scored (62), third in doubles (19), first in total bases (141)   

Some players feast on out of conference competition to pad their numbers. If anything, the out of conference games hurt Zunino. In 30 SEC games this spring, Zunino hit .422 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs.   

It wasn't just that Zunino drove in runs and was a focal point of the Florida offense, but he served as the clutch hitter when the team needed him the most. His list of big hits is impressive, and it started right when the Gators opened conference play. Florida was playing in front of a crowd over 12,000 at LSU, and the Tigers brought in All-American closer Matty Ott to finish off a 3-2 win. Instead, Zunino hit a ball completely out of Alex Box Stadium to tie the game, and Florida would go on to win the game and sweep LSU.   

His biggest swing would come in the second to last weekend of the year. The Gators split the first two games with then-No. 2 Vanderbilt. He hit a solo home run late in the game to cut the Commodores' lead to 3-2, and after Florida sent the game to extra innings, Zunino blasted a three-run, opposite field home run to right field that gave the Gators a 6-3 win and the series victory.   

His numbers are even more impressive after the early season struggles. After the third weekend of the series, the Gators swept Miami and held a 10-1 record. However, Zunino was hitting .250 with two home runs and five RBIs.   

It's also important to take into consideration his position. Zunino has started 55 of the 56 games behind the plate for the Gators and led one of the top pitching staffs in the country. The sophomore has also thrown out nine of 21 attempted base stealers. He has taken a beating from foul balls and still managed to put up offensive numbers that carried the Gators.  

Don't underestimate his role in leading the pitching staff, either. Brian Johnson and Hudson Randall have credited Zunino for his work and pitching calling behind the plate. Karsten Whitson has talked about Zunino's help since the catcher knows the SEC better than a first year player. All the help did was produce a 7-0 regular season for Whitson with a 2.47 ERA.   


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