Halfway through the conference season, if you told me that it would be the pitching that we are worried about and not the hitting, I would say you’re insane. All preseason, every time I talked to anyone about the 2018 Ole Miss baseball team, it was always prefaced with “well if the offense can be better this team has a shot”.
Now, we are all saying “well if the pitching can be better this team has a shot”. Mike Bianco’s club has a unique blend of veterans, No. 1 recruiting class studs, and junior college transfers who are all doing their part from top-to-bottom and are helping the Rebs average 7.2 runs per game.
The at-bats look much more confident and the hitters are showing more and more patience at the dish as we make our way to postseason play in May. But, it’s been the sheer numbers that Mike Clement’s offense has put up that is making a case for being a better-hitting team than the 2016 and 2014 clubs. And despite not playing a full season, the 2018 edition of the Diamond Rebs is way ahead of schedule.
37 games in and this Ole Miss offense is flat-out raking. Pure and simple. Going into this week’s midweek with Arkansas State, this group is hitting .305 and slugging .478 as a team. And despite not being No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference (Florida and Arkansas are created teams at this point), they are at the top at every, single category.
- 2nd in K/rate (15.44)
- 2nd in doubles (81)
- 2nd in sacrifice flies (23)
- 3rd in batting average (.305)
- 3rd in on-base percentage (.391)
- 4th in runs scored (266)
- 4th in hits (378)
- 4th in runs batted in (242)
- 4th in slugging percentage (.478)
- 4th in total bases (592)
- 5th in home runs (41)
So, yeah, you get it. This team is good. As of now, the 2018 team slugs and gets on-base at a higher rate than both former teams who won a combined 91 games. Even crazier than that is the strikeout totals when looking at the last team to make it to Omaha and the 2016 team that went 18-12 in conference play.
In 2014, Rebel hitters struck out 398 times, good enough for 3rd in the SEC. In 2016, the team struck out 427(!) times, and hell, that was only 6th in the conference. 15 SEC games into the conference season, the Rebs have only struck out 225 times, good enough second-to-last in the SEC. Now, I know there are still 15 more conference games left, some midweeks, and the postseason, but if this pace continues, they’ll blow both of those teams out of the water, but the pitching they have faced should lighten up a bit (other than Auburn’s Casey Mize and LSU’s Ma’Khail Hilliard).
The strikeout numbers is also a direct reflection of maturity at the plate from some of Clement’s second or third-year pupils. The at-bats are much better and the Rebs are working counts, seeing more pitches, and getting a pitch that they can drive and/or can handle given the situation. As a team, Ole Miss is already at 154 walks on the year. 2016 totaled 243 and 2014 collected 226. The name of the game is get ‘em on, move ‘em over, and drive ‘em in. And that’s what the Rebs are doing.
After last weekend’s series in Nashville, the Rebs have driven in 242 runs. And it has been an all-hands on deck affair.
- Thomas Dillard - 37
- Nick Fortes - 35
- Will Golsan - 25
- Cole Zabowksi - 23
- Ryan Olenek - 21
- Chase Cockrell - 20
- Tyler Keenan - 20
- Grae Kessinger - 19
- Jacob Adams - 13
So if you want to be literal, every single starter is driving runs in at an alarming rate outside of Grae and Jacob, but they’re the table setters at the top and the bottom so that’s fine. But, you’ve got a guy like Golsan who isn’t by any means raking it all over the place, yet he is third on the team in runs batted in.
And going back to the aforementioned at-bats and approaches being much better, Golsan is the perfect example. Despite a really slow start and some tough luck along the way, the senior from Columbus who told Mississippi State “no fucking thanks” has been a key cog in the past couple weeks with this timely hitting and clutch RBI’s in leverage situations.
Unlike previous years, there is no hole anywhere in the 2018 lineup. In SEC play, Ole Miss is the only team with their entire everyday lineup hitting above .250. Pitchers are unable to take at-bats off, and that depth wears on opposing staffs. Most teams fill the bottom of the order with catchers or infielders that struggle to hit, but none of 7-8-9 hitters for Ole Miss hit below .267 in SEC-only games. Without an easy out anywhere on the field, when a pitcher makes a mistake it rarely goes unpunished.
The pitching is beginning to skid a little bit in the bullpen and the starters aren’t going very deep, but maybe we can chalk that up to a tough road stretch and some unexpected weather. Getting back to Swayze should be a big help. The point remains, the Rebel starters are proven and talented and can certainly bounce back. And the bullpen is also a proven commodity that was one of the nation’s best at the beginning of the year. But, if the offense wasn’t cooking like it has been, where would this team be?
This year’s team as of now is better offensively than the Olemaha team and the 2016 team that knocked it all over the park en route to an early exit in their own regional. They are top-to-bottom hitting for average at a higher rate, slugging it far better, and are driving in runs at a rate that has propelled them to a top 15 ranking and as high as No. 4 a few weeks ago.
So when comparing this year’s sticks with the other two teams, it’s honestly a crap shoot. That 2014 team had a major leaguer in the lead-off spot in Braxton Lee, three every day players in the middle of the lineup who hit .320 or better, and a dude who slapped 14 dingers who batted in the six or seven hole. And then there’s the 2016 team who had the best version of J.B. Woodman (.323, 14 HR, .578 slugging), a new and improved Henri Lartigue (team-leading .353 average), and Colby Bortles and his 50 RBI’s.
For the sake of the argument, I’m going to say that this year’s team has the ability to be better than both of those offenses. If Grae Kessinger can stay 100% healthy, Nick Fortes cuts down on the strikeouts a bit, and if Will Golsan continues to improve, there’s a legitimate chance to have eight of the nine every day players over a .300 average by the end of the year. Which is insane, right?
Experts usually say that “bats travel” and that has certainly been the case this season. The Rebels are continuing to score plenty to either win them ball games and/or keep them in it when the pitching has not been enough. And boy, oh boy, would I personally love to see the bats travel to TD Ameritrade to see Clement’s Crew drive baseball’s into the left and right center no-man’s gaps of The Big O.
The end result of this season remains to be seen obviously, but for now this team is still poised to do big things at the plate and hopefully beyond.
How do you think Ole Miss finishes in SEC play?
This poll is closed
19-11 or better