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Hobbs Column: LSU fields its most complete team

Last Modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 10:07 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

This LSU baseball team is good, really good.

North Carolina is still No. 1 in three of the four national polls, and Vanderbilt is technically tied atop the overall Southeastern Conference standings with the Tigers at 11-1.

But if there’s a better college baseball team out there right now, I want to see it.

The one at LSU really has no weaknesses, and I don’t care who you play, 31-2 is stupid good. It’s baseball. In 33 games you’re supposed to lose more than two by accident.

This is nothing really out of the ordinary for LSU, of course, although no Tigers ever started 31-2 before.

With the postseason still two months away, it’s way too early to proclaim them anything. That’s the way it is with Tiger baseball. You really don’t get into the conversation until you get to Omaha.

And things can wrong, bats can go cold, Stony Brook can show up.

But right now, I don’t know if I’ve seen a better LSU team — certainly not a more complete one.

And, before you ask, I’m not sure you can really compare them to any Tigers of lore.

The marked changes in the once-nuclear bats make that all but impossible.

This team, for instance, has assured itself that it won’t hit a home run in every single game like the 1997 team did, and it’s going to really have to turn up the power to hit 188 for the season. They now have 28, which does lead the SEC.

But it’s hard to compare the apples of today with the oranges of a looser, souped-up age in college baseball.

I’m working on a scientific formula for it, but it’s still pending a federal grant, which could take months, years, maybe a generation or two.

Point is, with the neutered aluminum, they are playing a totally different game now than even the 2009 LSU national champions did. The little things mean as much as the big bombs.

Those teams did what they had to do. Nowadays you better do it all, and these Tigers are playing the game as well as any LSU team ever played whatever game was in fashion at the time.

Right now, the Tigers lead the conference in hitting (.317, which is 21 points higher than the next SEC team) as well as hits, runs and RBIs.

They are a close third in ERA and lead by a wide margin in fielding percentage.

Mason Katz’s 57 RBIs is 13 more than anybody else in the entire nation (16 more than any SEC hitter) and he’s second nationally with 13 home runs, one shy of the leader.

Freshman Alex Bregman (.441) and Katz (.430) are 1-2 among SEC hitters, fifth and seventh nationally.

Even the usual comical base running has been upgraded from slapstick (as recently as last season) to kind of OK, maybe even pretty good. Sometimes even downright daring.

But what really sets this team apart — certainly from its ancestors — is in the field.

Differences in fielding percentage are usually microscopic, measured with a British eye piece down to the third place behind the decimal point.

But how head and shoulders above the SEC crowd is the Tigers’ .983 fielding percentage?

That’s seven points higher than the next best, Mississippi State at .976, which, OK, doesn’t seem like much. But try this out. There is only seven points difference between Mississippi State and the next eight SEC teams.

But, sorry, that’s boring you with numbers.

And, of course, fielding percentage is, if not the most useless statistic in sports, then usually the most misleading.

But LSU even defies that.

Back in the Tigers’ zany Gorilla Ball days, LSU’s defense was most often an innocent bystander.

Skip Bertman did always try to be fairly solid up the middle — with semi-dependable gloves at second base and shortstop and usually a center fielder who at least had some legs.

Defensively the rest of them generally were just out there grazing between at-bats and daydreaming about their next home run.

If the game was absolutely on the line, they might come up with something special, but for the most part they didn’t seem to want to be bothered with the minutiae of chasing down fly balls and the like. It was often a moral victory if they knocked one down without hurting themselves or any teammates.

Yet the fielding percentages back then were rarely eyesores.

That’s why it’s often misleading. Stationary defenses may not make many unusual plays, but they don’t often make errors when waiting on one to be hit right at them before bothering.

This team is different. In 12 SEC games, LSU has committed four errors — that’s one per weekend — and, perhaps more impressive, has not given up a single unearned run.

But the Tigers also help an already strong pitching staff time and time again — often diving, sometimes throwing off their heads. This defense seems to make three or four highlight-reel plays a game with a hardly a bobble.

It’s made defense as much fun to watch as the lumbering Gorillas in the old days.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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