A Five-Game Comparison

Find out in this opinion piece why I feel Mississippi State baseball is much better in 2011 compared to 2010 based on the first five games of this season.

When you look at three primary stats - batting average, earned run average and fielding percentage - those three numbers favor the 2011 team.

  • 2010 - Batting average .315, fielding percentage .949 (10 errors) and earned run average 3.40
  • 2011 - Batting average .347, fielding percentage .995 (1 error) and earned run average 1.40
  • You go a little deeper and add in runs scored, walks and strikeouts by MSU hitters, the 2011 team is also better in two of the three.

  • 2010 - 37 runs scored, 23 walks, 34 strikeouts
  • 2011 - 46 runs scored, 19 walks, 23 strikeouts
  • Pitching-wise, the 2011 team is also better.

  • 2010 - IP 45, Hits 41, BBs 15, Ks 42, Earned Runs Allowed 17, Batting Average Against .237
  • 2011 - IP 45, Hits 26, BBs 13, Ks 43, Earned Runs Allowed 7, Batting Average Against .165
  • Fielding-wise, the 2011 is also better. We already know about the percentages but what about unearned runs allowed? Unearned runs are runs scored due to errors.

  • 2010 - Unearned Runs Scored by the Opponent - 6
  • 2010 - Unearned Runs Scored by the Opponent - 0
  • When you add in the runs differences for the 2011 MSU team's offense, pitching and defense compared to the 2010 team, it is a positive of 25 for the 2011 team, or 5 runs per game if you want to average it out per game.

    Before we go any further, I want to compare the first five game opponents in each year since who you play is also very, very important. I'll use RPIs (Boyds World for 2010 and Warren Nolan for 2011) from last year for last year's teams and this year for this year's teams.

  • 2010 - Rhode Island (174), UAB (111) and Southeastern Louisiana (51)
  • 2011 - Akron (73), Lamar (84) and Northwestern State (180)
  • The 2010 team played 3 of their 5 games against Rhode Island (174), 1 against UAB (111) and 1 against Southeastern Louisiana (51), while the 2011 team played 2 against Akron (73), 2 against Lamar (84) and 1 against Northwestern State (180). Based on that, the 2011 schedule was actually a littler stronger RPI-wise. Of course neither five-game schedule would be considered strong but the point is the 2011 team played slightly better competition and performed better overall.

    Now that we have the numbers crunched, let's look at a few possible reasons for the improvement.

    We'll discuss hitting first.

    When you look at the overall positions and how the players hit, the 2010 team actually had a plus 4 to plus 5 for the 2011 team.

    Powers outperformed Collins at first base, one of the outfielder outperformed one of this year's team outfielder and Vickerson and Ogden started off hitting better in 2010 than they have in 2011, although Ogden has 3 more RBI this year compared to last year.

    So, where is the big difference?

    Look no farther than two new players, one player returning from an injury and the two returning senior catchers.

    The returning injured player is third baseman Jarrod Parks, who is hitting .556 with 6 RBI compared to the .263 batting average and 1 RBI from last year's two third basemen.

    The two freshmen are outfielder C.T. Bradford, who is hitting .447 with 7 RBI and DH Daryl Norris, who is hitting .500 with 9 RBI.

    The two catchers, Wes Thigpen and Cody Freeman, have also improved their performances from last year. Combined, they are hitting .409 compared to hitting .250 last season.

    Next up is pitching.

    2011 has seen a much improved junior RHP Devin Jones. Devin threw 2.2 innings in relief, giving up 3 runs in 2010. A a starter this season, in his first start, he threw 7 innings, allowing 0 runs on just 1 hit and 1 walk.

    Nick Routt, who wasn't fully recovered from his 2009 season injury, also threw inconsistently in his first two 2010 starts, giving up 7 runs (5 earned) in 11 innings.

    Also, senior Tyler Whitney, who along with Routt and Jones, were counted on to be the workhorses in SEC games in 2010, gave up 5 runs (4 earned) in 4 innings in his one start during the first five games of 2010.

    Ultimately, Routt would miss most of the year due to an arm injury and Whitney and Jones would remain inconsistent for most of the year, causing the coaching staff to rely on freshmen more than they would like, not only in non-conference play but the SEC as well.

    In fact, of MSU's 30 SEC games, 19 were started by freshmen pitchers and 16 of 26 non-conference games were also started by freshmen pitchers. That was a tall task to ask of pitchers who were throwing in high school the previous season.

    But the good news is those freshmen (Chris Stratton, Kendall Graveman, Chad Girodo, C.C. Watson) are now sophomores and the cornerstone of this year's staff, and it showed in the first five games of this season. In their 3 starts that covered 16.2 innings, those sophomores have given up just 3 runs for a 1.62 ERA.

    As for this year's freshmen pitchers, they have thrown 9.1 innings, but all the innings were thrown after MSU built a big lead in the game. That's not saying they aren't talented pitchers because they are. When you have a freshmen pitchers top out at 98 (Hunter Renfroe) and 95 (Evan Mitchell) miles per hour and also throw strikes, you know you have something special. But the advantage for the freshmen this season is they can be brought along at a much slower pace than last season's freshmen pitchers.

    Also, the emergence of junior RHP Caleb Reed (2 saves) and junior college transfer LHP Luis Pollorena (1 win) have given MSU a solid 1-2 punch as middle to late relievers.

    The one piece of the pitching puzzle yet to be determined is if Nick Routt will come back and look like the Nick Routt of his freshman season. Through the first five games he hasn't pitched but it appears he will soon. Get him back to what he was like his freshman year and this staff could become even better than it already is.

    The third part of the equation is fielding.

    Basically, 1 error in five 2011 season games compared to 10 in 2010 is very telling.

    The question you have is who committed those errors?

    Last season, 5 of the errors were committed by outfielders and 3 by the third basemen.

    So far this season, the team's only error was committed by the second baseman. This year's outfielders (Brent Brownlee, Jaron Shepherd, C.T. Bradford) have not only made the routine plays but due to their speed have made the outstanding plays as well.

    And this year's third baseman, Jarrod Parks, is solid if not spectacular. He has made all the routine plays.

    Jonathan Ogden is in his second season at shortstop and has improved his defensive play.

    Catching has the same two players as last season, Wes Thigpen and Cody Freeman. Thigpen hasn't committed an error during his 1+ years at MSU.

    Nick Vickerson and Sam Frost, both returners from last season, are sharing time at second base and have performed well.

    Ryan Collins, who played in the outfield last season, has taken over for graduated Connor Powers at first base and has performed in an outstanding fashion.

    Basically, this year's defense is made up mostly of veterans and one very athletic newcomer. And that is showing in the lack of errors. And there's no reason to think that will change as the season progresses.

    So there you have it in a nutshell.

    I do, however, want to expand on one more thing. This year's team is netting out at 5 more runs per game than last season's team when you factor in hitting, pitching and defense. Of the 33 losses last season, 24 were by 5 runs or less.

    Now, I'm not saying State is going to all of a sudden have a dramatic improvement and have a net 5 runs per games improvement this year compared to last year, but let's say this year's team played last year's schedule and simply improved 3 runs per game. That would have meant that team would have won 21 more games, including 14 more in SEC, which means an overall record of 44-21 and 20-10 in SEC action. Heck, even if there had just been a two-run improvement, last year's team would have had an overall record of 35-21 and 14-16 in SEC play.

    And don't forget that John Cohen turned Kentucky's program around his third year at the helm. And this is his third year at Mississippi State.

    Just food for thought as we wait for the baseball games this weekend against Belmont.

    Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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