April 5, 2006
FSU VS. BC – THE SERIES
This weekend’s three game series is the first between the two teams. Boston College joined the ACC this year after leaving the Big East in 2005. Last year, the Eagles took 2nd place in the Big East with a 17-8 conference record (37-20 overall). The 37 wins were a record for Boston College baseball. Heading into Wednesday night’s game versus Northeastern, the Eagles were 15-12 and 4-8 in the ACC, while Florida State is 28-4 (9-3). For head coach Mike Martin, Boston College will be the 151st team he has faced. In his career, Martin has a record of 212-37 in the first meeting or series against an opponent. That gives Martin a .851 winning percentage against first-time opponents. The last team Florida State faced for the first time was Brown, which FSU swept in a three game series. Florida State has not lost to a first-time opponent since February 1st, 1998 (Tennessee, 3-5).
Bryan Henry returns to the hill for his tenth Friday night start of the season. The junior is coming off his first regular season loss since April 3, 2005, which was a stretch of 15 straight wins. The Tallahassee native has lost only three games in his career as a starter and has shown he is more than capable of shrugging off a defeat and moving on. After losing to Clemson last year Henry went on to win eight straight games. After losing to Florida in the Super Regionals he won seven straight decisions this year. That means following his two defeats as a starter, Henry has gone on win streaks of seven and eight games. As a starting pitcher Henry has followed each of his losses by going at least two months before suffering another defeat. The junior has been particularly good following a loss. Since making the move into the starting rotation, in his next two outings after a loss Henry is 2-0 with 10 K’s and a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings including a win over Florida. The last time Henry took the mound he was on the short end of a 4-0 defeat to UNC and Tar Heel ace Andrew Miller. The performance was a little atypical for Henry even though he pitched well enough to get the win. For the first time in his career as a starter or a reliever Henry gave up double digit hits. He also walked three batters, which was equal to the amount of walks he had issued in his previous five games combined, which covered almost 35 innings. When you combine his walks and hits, it was just the second time in his career he had allowed double digit players to get on base. The last time that happened was April 19, 2005 in a win versus Florida when he allowed eight hits and walked three batters. It was also the first time this season that Henry has allowed a team to score in more than one inning of a start. In Henry’s career he has made 20 starts and in 15 the opponent has either been held scoreless or was able to score in just one inning. In the 136 innings Henry has appeared in as a starter teams have only been able to score a run in 15% of those innings (21 innings with a run). The biggest predictor for Henry’s success is if he allows a team to score in more than one frame. There has been only four times the junior has allowed a team to score in two innings in a start and once a team scored in three innings. In the five starts where Henry has allowed a team to score in more than one inning he is 2-3 compared to 13-0 when he holds an opponent to runs in one inning or less. When you include Henry’s appearances as a starter and as a reliever, the junior is 16-4 but just 5-3 in road games. In fairness to Henry his road loses came against a top 10 team in North Carolina this year, versus Florida in the Super Regional last year and then a hard-luck loss at Duke as a reliever in 2005. This season Henry is 6-0 with a 1.58 ERA in Tallahassee and 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in three road starts at Auburn, at North Carolina and at Virginia Tech.
Like Henry, Tyler Chambliss is coming off his first loss of the year and his first ever setback as a starting pitcher. The junior redefined the term hard-luck loser in his last start. He was brilliant versus the Tar Heels going 8 2/3 and allowing just two earned runs before back-to-back errors with two outs in the ninth doomed the Seminoles. Chambliss has been FSU’s best pitcher on the road this season. He leads the team with a 3-1 record and his 2.57 ERA is best among all starters and second-best overall. The Live Oak native won two of FSU’s biggest road games this season at Auburn and at Florida. One of the reasons for Chambliss’ success on the road is that he is holding right-handed hitters to .188 average but it is the little things that he is doing well that is fueling his success. With runners on base teams are hitting just .229. With the bases empty they are hitting just .250 and with two outs in an inning opponents are batting just .143. Tyler hasn’t just been FSU’s best on the road he has been the team’s best starter in ACC games as well. Chambliss and Henry are both 3-1 in conference games but Chambliss leads all starters with a 1.71 ERA. He is holding ACC batters to an average of just .217 and opponents are nowhere near even .200 against him with a right-handed hitter at the plate (.190), with runners in scoring position (.185) or with two outs in an inning (.147). Chambliss has struggled somewhat this year in the first innings of games allowing four of his 13 earned runs and posting a 4.00 ERA but you better get to him early. Between the second and sixth innings Chambliss has allowed only seven earned runs and has an ERA of 1.48. What has been the most impressive thing about the junior is the way he has picked FSU up after losses. The Seminoles have only lost games in three series this year and Chambliss has pitched the game following the loss each time. In the game directly following an FSU loss Chambliss has gone 2-1 and if it weren’t for a collapse by the defense in the ninth versus UNC, he would be 3-0. In those three outings versus Auburn, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, Chambliss has posted a 1.25 ERA in 21 2/3 innings with 22 K’s and only seven walks.
Barret Browning will make his second consecutive start in the weekend rotation after a solid performance versus UNC last week. While he did not figure into the decision, Browning kept FSU in the game and the Seminoles went on to get the victory and avoid a series sweep. After pitching five or more innings in five straight starts, the senior has not been able to make it out of the fifth in his last two outings and 10 of his 19 earned runs have come in just the last two games. The problem for Browning this year has been the second inning. The Jessup, GA native has given up 11 of his 19 earned runs in the second inning alone. One of the reasons for that is due to walks. Browning has issued 15 free passes this season and seven of those have come in the second frame of games. If he can get through the second though, Browning is very tough. In the third through sixth innings, Browning has an ERA of just 2.25. This will be the first ACC start on the road for Browning in 2006 but last season as a junior he made five road starts in conference play. In those games Browning posted a 1-3 record and a 6.75 ERA. While those numbers don’t look stellar on paper Browning has been pretty solid on the road in those ACC games. Except for one bad outing where he went just one inning and gave up five runs at NC State, Browning has gone six innings in four of his starts and five in another. Without the Wolfpack outing, Browning has a more respectable 5.48 ERA and a solid .265 opponent batting average. Last year Browning’s ACC road starts came against Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, Maryland and NC State so it wasn’t the easiest group to face but where he got into trouble was dealing with the leadoff batter. Last season in conference road games Browning put 44% of leadoff batters on base. This will be just the third road start of the season for Browning but he has pitched very well away from Mike Martin Field. In two starts the senior is 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in roadies. Those numbers are very consistent with what he has done at home where he is 4-0 with a 4.20 ERA.
When the Seminoles face an ACC opponent for the first time, they don’t exactly extend the welcome mat to their new conference partners. Florida State holds a 20-9 (.689) record when facing an ACC opponent for the first time in a conference match up. The Seminoles have swept four of those teams (Maryland, Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Wake Forest), and have only been on the losing end of the series twice (Clemson and Miami). In those 29 games, FSU has outscored their opponents 204-128, and have scored double-digit runs nine times. This is the sixth time a conference rivalry will begin away from Dick Howser Stadium, and of those six series, Florida State holds a 9-6 record.
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
There is no doubt if you want to make it to Omaha you have been able to win on the road. The 2006 Seminoles have answered a lot of the questions surrounding this team coming into the season but they still need to show they can win in an opponent’s park. While the team’s 22-0 record at home is impressive, critics will point to the squad’s 6-4 mark on the road. Three of FSU’s four road defeats came to a top five team in North Carolina (1-2) and a tough SEC squad at Auburn but there is no doubt with road series remaining versus BC and top 25 teams Wake Forest and Clemson the Seminoles will need to be ready to win away from home. Teams are always going to play better at home. That is just a fact of life and winning 60% of your road games is a pretty good number but there are a few categories that the Seminoles would love to see improvement in when it comes to playing on the road. First off is slugging percentage where FSU is slugging 165 points less away from home (.571 to .406). Florida State also needs to do a better job of hitting with runners on base. While the Seminoles are stranding slightly more runners on base at home (9.1 versus 8.7), they are doing much better hitting in crucial situations at home as compared to the road. With runners on base, in scoring position and with the bases loaded FSU is batting 84 points higher at home than on the road (.355 versus .271). FSU will also need to improve on its .264 road batting average and lower its average of 7.5 strikeouts per game. There are some areas where the Seminoles are really doing well away from home. FSU is fielding better on the road (.971 versus .969) and the pitching staff is doing a very good job of holding teams to a batting average of just .262 away from Mike Martin Field. After facing Andrew Miller last week it is understandable that the team’s average versus lefties would drop but the Seminoles would like to do better than their .204 average versus southpaws.
HE’S FOR REAL
There is no doubting that Ryan Strauss is for real. After being called upon when Mark Gildea and Travis Anderson went down with injuries, the sophomore has really stepped up. The Tampa native spent 2005 as a pitcher with part time duty as a defensive replacement in the outfield. He had just four at bats last year and recorded one hit. This year all he is doing is hitting .413, slugging .619 and averaging almost one RBI per start. Strauss has been a huge addition to the line-up since becoming an everyday starter March 10. In the last 16 games Strauss has recorded a hit in 15 of those contests and recorded multiple hits in nine of those 16 games. He had one stretch of four straight games with multiple hits joining Dennis Guinn and Shane Robinson as the only Seminole batters to pull that off in 2006. Since his first start, Strauss is hitting .397 and slugging .603 with nine RBIs. His batting average over that stretch is the best on the team and he currently leads the entire squad in average. As a starter Strauss is torching lefties to the tune of a .429 average. He is also coming through in clutch situations. With the bases loaded, with runners on and with runners in scoring position, Strauss is hitting .429. Considering he has only started half this year’s games, Strauss isn’t showing up in many of the team leader categories but when you look at his per game numbers since he became a starter only one Seminole is averaging more hits per game (Shane Robinson) and more homers per game (Dennis Guinn) than Strauss. If there were any doubts about Strauss, all you have to do is look at the series he had versus the best pitching staff the Seminoles have seen to date. Strauss had the best weekend of any Seminole versus UNC and its dominant pitching staff. He was one of only three players to record a hit in all three games and the only Seminole to record two multi-hit games. He was the only FSU player to hit over .400 in the series and was second on the team with five RBIs. He also only struck out once in 12 at bats. That’s a pretty good performance for the biggest series of his young career.
The transition from Tyler Chambliss to Luke Tucker couldn’t be going any better for FSU. Chambliss is proving he is among the best starters in the nation this year with a 7-1 record and a 1.93 ERA and Tucker is doing more than his fair share closing games. The junior closer is now leading the team with a 1.76 ERA, a .113 opponent batting average and seven saves. He has been nothing short of phenomenal especially as of late. In his last seven outings he has fanned two or more batters six times. He has struck out the side three times and fanned two of the three batters he faced the other three times. After striking out 13 batters in his first 10 appearances, Tucker has Ked 15 in his last seven games. He is leading the team with an average of 16.43 K’s per nine innings of work. What Tucker has done is pretty special and if you don’t believe it yet just look at how his numbers compare to what Chambliss did last season in an All-ACC campaign where he was one of the top closers in America. At this point last year Chambliss’ numbers were amazing as he was 4-1 with seven saves. His ERA was just 0.89 and his opponent batting average was .171. He had 32 strikeouts and nine walks. Those numbers were unbelievably good but not that far ahead of where Tucker is right now.
BUSTER, WHAT IT IS RIGHT NOW
Freshman shortstop Buster Posey continues to impress. The Georgia native has started every game for FSU so far as a true freshman and his .352 average is fourth-best on the squad and he is in the top five on the team in nine different offensive categories. Probably one of the most impressive things about Posey is the fact he has drawn 19 walks, which is the second-most on the team. That’s not the only thing he is doing to impress though. Posey already has 14 multi-hit games and eight multi-RBI games, which rank in the top three on the team. He has only been held hitless six times all season and he has recorded a hit in 12 of his last 13 games. He is hitting a team-best .515 versus left-handed pitching and reaching base 50% of the time when starting an inning. Posey isn’t just putting up impressive numbers in the big stat categories he is also doing the little things that help a team to a 28-4 start and top five ranking. The freshman is scoring runners from third base with less than two outs 81% of the time, second-best on the team and advancing runners successfully 49% of the time. He also leads the team with a .750 average when bunting for base hits.
Brent Marsh has been a huge addition to the Seminole bullpen in 2006. The former South Carolina closer is 2-1 this year and holding opponents to a .172 batting average. He has 14 K’s and has only issued two walks in 18 innings of work. Marsh has really shown as of late what made him one of the SEC’s top closers last season. After a couple of rough outings where he allowed six runs to Maryland and Virginia Tech, Marsh has rebounded quite nicely to say the least. In his last four appearances Marsh has allowed just two hits and one run. That really isn’t that surprising if you look at his season as a whole. Without those two outings versus the Terps and Hokies, Marsh has not allowed a run in 11 of his other 13 appearances and given up just one run in each of those other two outings. Marsh’s ERA is currently 4.00 but if you look at his numbers minus just two regrettable appearances, they are better than any Seminole hurler. Minus the two games versus Virginia Tech and Maryland, Marsh has a team-best 1.10 ERA, a .113 opponent batting average, 13 K’s, one walk and two wins.
There is no questioning the job FSU’s starting pitchers have done this season. Bryan Henry, Tyler Chambliss, Barret Browning and Michael Hyde have been spectacular. The FSU starters are 25-2 with a combined 2.88 ERA. They have issued 64 free passes and struck out 119 batters for a ratio of almost two K’s per walk. If you ask anyone of those four guys though, they will tell you a lot of that success, especially when it comes to that .926 winning percentage, is due to the bullpen. FSU relievers have appeared in 31 games this season and in 22 of those appearances they have allowed one earned run or less. They have a combined record of 4-2 with eight saves as a group. There have been 20 games this year when the bullpen has been called on to work three or more innings and the pen is 4-1 with five saves in their longest outings of the season.
MAC-Z-MIZING HIS TIME
One of the most pleasant surprises of the 2006 campaign has been the play of Dennis Guinn. The sophomore first baseman provided FSU with a power threat it hasn’t seen since the days of John-Ford Griffin and Marshall McDougall. He has 46 RBIs already this season and nine homers both lead the team but the sophomore will be sidelined indefinitely with a case of mononucleosis. As has been the case all season, someone will need to step up to fill those shoes and that someone will be Ryan McArdle. The transfer has been very good in a limited role so far in 2006. McArdle is hitting .387 and slugging .645 with two doubles, two homers and five RBIs. He gets on base 50% of the time to start an inning and is also hitting .400 versus lefties but he has some big shoes to fill. Statistically the biggest drop off between Guinn and McArdle is in the area of clutch hitting. Guinn was batting .442 with runners in scoring position this year compared to just .222 for McArdle. With only one start at first base under his belt, McArdle will need to adjust quickly. Guinn’s offensive numbers have overshadowed his stellar defense as he has posted a .982 fielding percentage this season. McArdle has shown he can hit coming off the bench but he will now need to prove he can do it on a regular basis as a starter. In three starts, two as a DH and one at first, McArdle is hitting .444 with two runs scored. The only thing troubling with his numbers is he has yet to drive in a run or record an extra base hit in a start, although it has been just three games.
McArdle is next in a line that is longer than the FSU coaches would have hoped of players asked to step up for an injured teammate. One the positive side every one of those players has responded. When Mark Gildea went down with a hamstring injury, Travis Anderson came in and hit .500 and slugged .700 before suffering his own injury. Anderson was replaced by Ryan Strauss and all he has done in 16 starts since then is recorded a hit in 15 of those contests and recorded multiple hits in nine of those 16 games. Since replacing Anderson, Strauss is hitting .397 and slugging .603 with nine RBIs. When the rash of injuries hit the outfield it caused some defensive shifting and Charles Cleveland was called upon to play third base as Ryne Malone moved into the outfield. In his three starts as a replacement Cleveland hit .400 with four RBIs and five walks. The left field spot isn’t the only position that has suffered the injury bug. When Danny Diaz injured his wrist and couldn’t play versus Virginia Tech another FSU back-up came in and did the job. Kyle Maxie stepped in behind the plate for Diaz and hit .333 and posted an on base percentage of .571. So as bad as it is to suffer injuries, this Seminole team has not only shown it is deep but that it is ready to perform when called upon.