Jun 23, 2017; Omaha, NE, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Paul Mainieri looks out from the dugout prior to the game against the Oregon State Beavers at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.

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Is LSU baseball a program in decline?

Taking stock of the program after a disappointing season came to an end

Kristian Garic
June 10, 2019 - 3:24 pm
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For the second time in three Super Regionals the LSU Baseball Tigers lost at home.  Florida State is the latest team to eliminate the Tigers from post-season baseball at Alex Box Stadium.  The Seminoles did it in just two games.   Tiger fans permeated my twitter time line with “Mainieri has to go” and “It’s time for a house cleaning.”  Pump the breaks on that take, but it’s worth looking into some real issues in the program.  Is LSU baseball a program in decline? 

Before answering that question, we have to acknowledge the difference between today’s game of college baseball and college baseball in the 90’s and early 2000’s.  It’s vastly different.  The roster restrictions aren’t the same.  Teams can only give out 11.7 scholarships while fielding a 25 man roster.  LSU can no longer load up on talent.  With the scholarship restrictions, those players, who would once wait their turn at LSU, now go elsewhere.  The playing field has been leveled completely in college baseball, more so than any other college sport. 

Just look at Michigan.  The Wolverines just upset UCLA, the No. 1 overall seed in the Super Regional.  Do you think Bruins fans want to fire John Savage?  Let me ask that a better way.  Do you think wise Bruins baseball fans want to run manager John Savage out of town? Of course not.

Since we bring up John Savage at UCLA, let’s compare his resume’ to that of Paul Mainieri.  UCLA is a fair comparison or measuring stick for LSU, right?  

Okay, Savage has been at UCLA for 14 seasons.  The Bruins have been to the College World Series three times and they won one national title (2013).   In 12 seasons Mainieri led LSU to five CWS trips and one national title (2009).  Savage’s winning percentage at UCLA is .582, Mainieri’s is .706 after this season.  Yet, some LSU fans want to run him out of town.  (Shaking my head as I wrote that last line).  Tiger fans, you have to stop eyeballing the girl next door, and focus on what you have. 

I admit it, this season was frustrating.  The Tigers were pegged as a pre-season No. 1 team in the country, and with that comes almost unachievable expectations.  LSU plodded through the season dealing with injuries to key members of their pitching staff and position players.  Through all of that, the Tigers were able to put themselves in position to host a Super Regional against a team (Florida State) that backed into the tournament.  

I know.  I know.  That compounds the frustration for LSU fans. The expectation that Skip Bertman set is insanely high, and at the time it was attainable.  Omaha or bust!  Bertman didn’t have to contend with the roster and scholarship restrictions that exist today.  Bertman didn’t have to battle for recruits.  Bertman also didn’t have to battle other upstart baseball programs.  He ran the clear cut premier program in the country. 

And here’s the rub.  It was Skip Bertman’s success that motivated other schools outside of the SEC to truly invest in college baseball.  Schools started sinking money into their baseball programs, because they realized they could compete with the “big boys” and make some money along the way. 

Just look at Louisville.  The Cardinals are going to Omaha for the second time in three seasons, and fifth time under 11 year head coach Dan McDonnell.  Prior to his arrival in 2007, the Louisville baseball program reached the CWS just one time from 1996 to 2006.  The Cardinals built a nice facility, invested a little money and now they are contenders year in and year out.  The once distinguished basketball school is now considered a baseball school.  

Now, here are some things that are worth discussing...worth looking into.  LSU has to seriously look into their medical training staff.  Are they doing enough homework on recruits who might have arm issues lurking, before they arrive on LSU’s campus?  Once a player is injured, is the medical staff properly diagnosing and treating injuries?  

Also, the LSU Baseball Tigers might have to re-evaluate how they recruit.  The fact that LSU had no left handed pitchers available this season is inexcusable.  Every team LSU faced had at least two left handers they could throw at the Tigers.  That flaw hurt LSU in game one of the Super Regional against Florida State.  

Another question that Paul Mainieri has to look into.  Is Allen Dunn still the right pitching coach?  The Tigers have recruited some big time pitching prospects lately, who have either been injured or haven’t lived up to their recruiting status. 

On the field next year LSU has some big shoes to fill.  They will have to replace the entire left side of the infield, along with finding a new second baseman.  The Tigers will also have to replace two-thirds of the outfield.  Zach Watson and Antoine Duplantis are gone.  The pitching staff should remain largely intact.  The Tigers will lose Todd Peterson and Zack Hess to pro baseball.   Cole Henry, Eric Walker, Landon Marceaux and a healthy Jaden Hill give the Tigers solid options for a weekend rotation.  Not to mention, Devin Fontenot is returning out of the bullpen, along with Matt Beck.  Nick Storz is entering his junior season.  Storz is the highly recruited pitcher from Brooklyn, N.Y., who appeared in two games last season, and sat out this entire season with a shoulder injury.  

To say this program is in decline would qualify as a reach.  To say the Tigers didn’t live up to expectations this year is accurate.  If you’re an LSU fan, I invite you to curb your expectations of this program.  Because of the immense parity in college baseball, it should no longer be National Championship or bust.  There has only been one back to back champion in college baseball since 2010.  South Carolina won it all in 2010 and 2011.  

I submit the expectations should be hosting a Regional every year; hosting a Super Regional every two seasons, with a trip to Omaha and a chance to win a National title every four years.  Some will say I’m watering down the expectations of a storied, tradition rich program.  I’m not.  I’m simply being realistic about the landscape of college baseball.  

Grieve in your own way about a disappointing season, Tiger fans, but please stop with the “fire Mainieiri chants.”  You will make yourself miserable thinking that is the correct course of action.  

LSU baseball is not a program in decline, or a program in trouble.  The Tigers are just victims of ridiculous expectations and parity seeping into college baseball that has gone unnoticed by a lot of fans.  

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