Everyone knows the obstacles facing the 2020 version of the Ole Miss baseball team, especially from the offensive side of the ball. Gone is the leadership from Grae Kessinger and Cooper Johnson, as well as the power production of Cole Zabowski and Thomas Dillard.
The 2016 class did everything but make it to Omaha including hosting two regionals in three seasons, one ending with a super regional berth and the other ending with a disappointing loss to Tennessee Tech on a Monday. Fitting, no doubt.
This year will see a stark difference in the batting order. The Rebels lose 1,551 at bats of a total of 2,293 last season. That’s not the type of production that will be replaced easily. Dillard, Johnson, and Kessinger all struggled as freshman before finding their footing later in their careers. Expect that to happen again. No matter how talented the incoming freshman class is, they’re still 18 year-olds coming into a league full of future big-leaguers. They themselves may be too, but adjustments take time.
Anyway, let’s focus on what Ole Miss does return. I used games started (32.7 percent) as my base metric to see where the Rebels may struggle and where they might stand out this season.
Let’s get the basic out of the way, last year’s team hit .282 and had an OPS of .827. The returnees hit .241 and their OPS was .741, but again, five everyday guys gone is a lot but these are pretty decent starting points. Guys like Tyler Keenan and Anthony Servideo provided a lot as underclassmen and, like anyone, will be expected to increase production as they get older and take on larger roles on the team.
The 2020 team brings back 30.4 percent of the 2019 team total in hits. Slightly down from their share of games started but these players were all freshmen or sophomores (Servideo, Keenan, Kevin Graham, Knox Loposer, Tim Elko, Justin Bench) in 2019. I’ll chalk that up as a push.
Now, 2020 will feature just 25.5 percent of last season’s doubles but 55.6 percent of the triples. 2019 only saw the Rebels hit nine doubles, but five of them return. Team leader Tyler Keenan (please don’t laugh) actually had two of them. Combine these numbers with the 41.9 percent of homers returning and the 2020 team should be heavy on power.
Keenan, Graham, and Elko can run one out of the yard at any point and Knox Loposer showed some power in limited appearances at the plate. The returnees power is a major key in early season success for the Rebels. Many expect games to be low-scoring early and an extra few feet on balls in the gap could mean the difference in a 3-2 loss or a 4-3 win.
tyler keenan's shoulder is doing just fine thanks pic.twitter.com/FwDNqPfBge— Ben Garrett (@SpiritBen) June 1, 2019
Unsurprisingly, the returnees accounted for a little more than their fair share of runs batted in—about 35.3 percent—and a little less at 32.9 percent of total bases. Again, solid numbers that don’t show any gaping holes.
My favorite stat, and one I think should excite Ole Miss fans, is the 2019 underclassmen ability to draw free passes. Walks are far from the most exciting outcome of any plate appearance, but they can show a lot about a hitter. These six players drew 36.5 percent of available walks and did so with far less experience.
Patience at the plate is one of the most difficult things to teach and this group showed they had it in spades early in their careers in Oxford.
I should add, these players accounted for 36.1% of total team strikeouts in 2019 but as freshman this is to be expected. Freshman are facing first round draft picks weekly during SEC play and they’re going to be over matched. That it was below 40% should encourage, not worry fans.
Finally, and this could be due to Ryan Olenek being a little—shaky—on the base paths, but while Ole Miss returns just 29 percent of stolen bases from 2019, they’ll bring back just 17.4 percent of times caught stealing. That’s mostly due to Servideo, he had 24 of the 27 returning steals, but having someone like Anthony at the top of the lineup getting on base and getting himself into scoring position isn’t something to take lightly.