In anticipation of the big National Championship matchup between Texas and LSU, we exchanged questions with Richard Pittman of the Tigers' SBN blog And The Valley Shook. His answers to our four questions are below, and our answers to his questions for us are appearing over at ATVS. Richard gave us some great thoughts about LSU and how they match up with Texas. Enjoy!
AO: LSU's Achilles heel all season has been left-handed pitching. Aside from a couple of bullpen guys, Texas' top hurlers are righties. On the other hand, Texas has excellent righties. Who are the best right-handed pitchers the Tigers have faced this year, and how have they fared?
RP: LSU's problems with left-handed pitching are well-documented. We are only a little above .500 when facing a left-handed starter. And keep in mind that towards the end of the season and in the postseason, teams have gone out of their way to start lefties against us. As it turns out, we've gotten better against lefties along the way, but if we're just over .500 against lefties, and we're 54-16 overall, imagine what we've done to righties. We've only lost 3 games against a right-handed starter all year.
To answer your question though, the best right-handed pitchers we faced this year were probably Austin Hyatt for Bama, and the tandem of Mike Ojala and Ryan Berry of Rice, who we faced in the Supers. Back on April 10, Austin Hyatt did pretty well against us. He went 7.2 innings against us and allowed 4 runs, 3 earned. He left the game with the lead, but we ended up beating the bullpen. Ojala and Berry of Rice both sported ERAs below 3.0. Ojala's was below 2.0. We roughed up both of them. Ojala gave up 5 runs in 5 innings and Berry gave up 4 runs in 4 innings. This is a very different team than the one Austin Hyatt had success against. We were struggling (comparatively) at the time and we were in a bit of a funk. Since then, and especially since the last week of the regular season, we have hit our stride.
It's not a coincidence that we do so well against righties. Four of our 5 best power hitters are left-handed, and another of our good hitters is a switch hitter. Our best right handed hitters are Mikie Mahtook and DJ Lemahieu. Mahtook's a freshman and Lemahieu is a good contact hitter but does not hit for much power.
Blake Dean and Ryan Schimpf are lefties who hit righties really well, but the real key is Jared Mitchell. Mitchell plays every day, and there probably isn't a hitter in the CWS who is better against right handed pitching than Mitchell is. He hits the ball hard and is a tremendous home run threat against right-handed pitching. The contrast with how he performs against lefties is striking. Against a left-handed pitcher, Mitchell strikes out a lot, has a difficult time pulling the trigger on a swing, has a hard time finding the ball, and when he manages to hit the ball he has almost no extra-base power. Whan a lefty is on the mound, Mitchell is the worst hitter in our lineup. When a righthander is on the mound, he is our best.
Catch the rest of the LSU preview after the jump.
JA: It's Wednesday night. Texas has just beaten LSU in 3 games. How did it happen? In other words, what do you think is the key to LSU losing this series? Vice versa, LSU has just beaten Texas in 3 games. How did that happen?
RP: If Texas wins, they probably got one of their wins in the Tuesday game, when we will probably have to go with a pitcher other than Louis Coleman or Anthony Ranaudo. We are a very different team when those guys don't pitch. As for how they beat Coleman or Ranaudo, it probably starts with defensive struggles on LSU's part. When Paul Mainieri made the well-publicized midseason roster change that brought Austin Nola into the lineup sent Leon Landry to the bench, he greatly improved the up-the-middle infield defense, but he actually hurt the outfield defense. Landry is an outstanding defensive outfielder, but he wanted Nola at short and Lemahieu at second. That meant he had to move Ryan Schimpf, who could not be removed from the lineup entirely because of his bat. He's spent some time at first base (when we wanted to use Landry against right-handers) but has mostly been in the outfield, where he is dreadfully inexperienced.
Also, while Nola and Lemahieu make a good middle infield combination, we have defensive problems at first base and our pitchers are not great fielders either. Coleman's good, but the others are young and need work at it. As much as the denizens of ATVS loathe bunting, it's actually not a bad strategy to use against us because we have problems fielding them cleanly and/or getting first base covered properly.
The other area we've probably failed in the event of a Texas win is in baserunning. we were terrible about getting thrown out on the bases until very recently. It seems Mainieri has taken the approach in the NCAA Tournament to just let our hitters hit rather than try to "put pressure on the defense" by being aggressive on the bases. Being aggressive on the bases has just gotten us a ton of outs this year.
If we revert back to that kind of strategy, it wouldn't surprise me if we've given you 4 or 5 outs over the course of 3 games by trying to steal or take extra bases.
Also, while Ranaudo and Coleman have been outstanding, neither has been immune to a subpar outing. Both should be rested when they go, as Coleman only went about 80 o 90 pitches on Monday and Ranaudo went 77 on Friday. Coleman will be on full rest and Ranaudo (if he goes Wednesday) will have 4 days rest.
AO: I'll tell you whom I am most scared of: Ryan Schimpf. The conventional wisdom is to be scared of Blake Dean, but since Dean protects Schimpf in the order and Schimpf has been knocking to cover off the ball, he is currently the focus of my fear. So there are 2 questions: am I crazy, or is Schimpf the guy you want up with the game on the line? And, who scares you the most in the Texas lineup?
RP: It's a good and fair question, and I can really go either way about whether Schimpf or Dean is the better hitter. Schimpf's numbers are significantly better, as Dean started the season in a terrible slump in which he only had 2 home runs and was hitting .225 in the first 20-or-so games of the season. Since then, he's been outstanding, but Schimpf has been good all year. Personally, I don't have an answer to your question about who you should fear more. Having them back to back against right handed pitching is a tremendous boon for us
I suppose if you wanted to pinpoint one difference between them, you can point out that Blake Dean is not a base stealing threat. Schimpf is. Schimpf is the better overall player and is close to Dean's equal at the plate. As for who I want up with the game on the line, I'll take either one.
As for your roster, I am most concerned about any left-handed power hitter. As such, I am most concerned about Brandon Belt. He's your best hitter, and really your only left-handed power hitter. Louis Coleman is nasty to right handed hitters because of his 3/4 arm delivery. But the cost is that he has a commensurately tougher time with left handers. And while both Coleman and Ranaudo are very tough, both have given up the long ball. Opponents have hit 16 home runs off of Coleman and 14 off of Ranaudo in about 240 innings between them. That averages out to a home run every 8 innings.
JA: Do you think it's problematic that, with the exception of the SEC tournament, LSU has really only faced any adversity once in this postseason (the 10 inning win against Baylor in the sub-regional)?
RP: I'm not sure I understand your question. Does it bother me that we've blown out a lot of our opponents? No. Why should it? It means we've been playing much better than our competition. I don't really buy into the school of thought that says that a team that plays a lot of close games is more prepared than a team that wins games going away. The key is playing good competition. We've played good competition. UVA was supposed to beat us in the first round with an ace lefty on the mound. Rice supposedly had better pitchers than anyone we've faced this year. Plus, every team here is good. Or at least, they're hot. People play up Arkansas as a Cinderella team, but other than a late-season slump Arkansas was as good of a team as any in the SEC this year. They got past whatever they were struggling
with in time for the regional and they took their place among the best in the country, even though they were a two-seed.
To answer your question a little more seriously, I'm not sure I agree that we have not faced adversity. In the very first game of the NCAA Tournament, we were losing to Southern University going into the bottom of the 7th. In the first game of the CWS, Anthony Ranaudo didn't make it through 4 innings and we were losing in the bottom of the 5th with our middle relief in the game. It remained very close until the bottom of the 8th when we scored 3 runs and got some
distance. It's not like this team hasn't faced a challenge.
Plus, you bring up the SEC Tournament. We lost the opening game and came back to win 5 games in 6 days, getting wins from little-used starters Daniel Bradshaw, Nolan Cain, and Ryan Byrd along the way. I don't believe anyone thought we could win 3 straight games without Coleman or Ranaudo pitching.