The Daily Nole

The State of FSU Baseball Post-2017

Mark Kuhlmann/FSU athletics

The Florida State baseball season came to an end on Wednesday night with a 7-4 loss to the LSU Tigers in the College World Series. For all the highs and all the lows, the Seminoles finished where many thought they would at the beginning of the year. They certainly took a bumpy road to get there, but no one would say that a loss in the CWS is something to be ashamed of.

In fact, if one just looked at the end of the season, they’d be pretty happy with Florida State’s success. Going 46-23 and losing in the CWS is a good mark. This was obviously a different team than the one that finished the regular season at just 35-20 overall and only 14-14 in the ACC.

After all, you play for the postseason right?

The problem with looking at just end-of-year results is that it can often overlook issues that arose during the regular season. This was a similar situation with the football team in 2016, but obviously the sports have very different benchmarks to judge programs by. FSU football was able to win a major bowl; FSU baseball simply didn’t advance very far in the College World Series.

The fact is that for a good two months, FSU baseball was a middle-of-the-pack team with head-of-the-pack talent. It went unranked from April 11 to June 2. There was a legitimate fear that the Seminoles would miss out on the postseason at one point. Very few indicators would suggest that the baseball regular season was a “success”; the floor at FSU is getting to a regional.

A strong performance in the ACC Tournament cannot go unnoticed however. If nothing else, bringing home another ACC title helps illustrate that FSU is still a premier college baseball program in the country. To go through teams like Louisville and North Carolina and come away with a conference championship is undeniably a positive sign.

So too was defeating UCF, Tennessee Tech, Auburn, and Sam Houston State to reach the College World Series. That was not without difficulty of course — losing the first game to the Golden Eagles and being down to the final out against Auburn certainly were signs of concern in the regional. But it’s baseball, and things happen. Florida State was already better than some of the regional hosts that got upset in their home stadiums.

Perhaps we would better served to split the team into two distinct entities. The regular season Florida State, and the postseason Florida State.

Regular season Florida State was disappointing in almost all facets. The only way it lived up to expectations was with the offense. It maintained a high level of play throughout the season, proving that Mike Martin Jr. remains a quality assistant coach.

In most other areas however, the Seminoles simply did not meet the standards set by the names on the front of their jerseys. Errors were common, starting pitching was horrible outside of Tyler Holton, and plain dumb mistakes happened way too much.

Postseason Florida State was pretty much what was expected before the season actually started, alhough the way FSU was eliminated will certainly sting for a while. The opening CWS loss against LSU was incredibly disappointing, and fans will forever be left wondering what would’ve happened if a trio of mental mistakes didn’t occur on a single play. The victory against Cal State Fullerton to stay alive was patented Florida State baseball. Finally, the second loss against LSU was another case of weak early pitching coming back to haunt the Seminoles.

Despite the two heartbreaking losses, Florida State was never run out of the building. LSU is a great team who will likely run into the buzz saw that is Oregon State. FSU was always a threat and made life hard on the Tigers.

It certainly looked better than it did for 90 percent of the regular season. Imagine if mid-season Florida State had played against this LSU team. It’s hard to envision things even being competitive.

The question could then be asked: which part of the season is actually representative of the team? The regular season or the postseason? Or even more narrow: which one will actually carry over into 2018?

Perhaps the various losses in the postseason could provide a part of the answer. In almost every single one, from the first against Tennessee Tech to the last against LSU, Florida State made critical mistakes that were incredibly similar to how it lost different regular season matches. Whether it be egregious fielding errors, unreliable pitching, base-running blunders or odd lineup choices, it was a painful reminder that these types of problems don’t exactly go away overnight.

Here’s the reality: The 55 games before the regional have to count for something. While asking the Seminoles to achieve a ridiculous record like Oregon State is not realistic, pegging them for about 40 should not have been unreasonable. They certainly had the talent and the opportunities to do so.

If we hold that as true, then we’re left with two realities. The postseason results were expected. The regular season results were not. Therefore, it leans towards being a “disappointing” season.

Here’s some context for the trend of FSU baseball over the past few years with head coach Mike Martin. These are the overall Massey ratings for the team:

2012: 3rd overall
2013: 15th overall
2014: 23rd overall
2015: 12th overall
2016: 16th overall
2017: 7th overall

These numbers appear to be fairly accurate. FSU baseball for the past few years has been a good program. It has a great season every once in a while. But therein lies the problem: the Seminoles have the potential to be an elite one.

There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Florida State should almost never drop out of the top 15 when it comes to these end-of-year rankings. Obviously, an off year can be expected every once in a while.

How does this compare to similar programs? Here’s the rankings for LSU and Florida respectively:

2012: 10th/8th
2013: 3rd/94th
2014: 9th/24th
2015: 2nd/1st
2016: 11th/5th
2017: 3rd/4th – Current ranking as of June 22

That is not a perfect comparison since there are obvious differences between schools and the programs themselves. It’s the best we can do however. It’s clear that Florida State is more consistent than Florida at least. But the Gators have had three teams in the top 5 and four overall in the top 10.

FSU had one and two in the respective categories. The Seminole baseball program is consistent, but it hasn’t necessarily reached the heights that similar programs have.

As a side note: there is a considerable contrast between FSU’s ranking after the Louisville series and the CWS. The former comes out to 19th overall. The latter is seventh overall. A stark difference considering one is a “good” team and the other is a “great” one.

Many are less than enthused about the possibility that Mike Martin Jr. will take over the program. However, he would not be a bad choice. Of all the issues that FSU baseball has displayed in the past few years, hitting was not one of them. Martin Jr. is a good coach and a valuable recruiter that understands the current trends of college baseball.

Where some questions lie is with pitching coach Mike Bell. Here are the team ERAs over the past few years. The season before Bell arrived is included.

Team ERA 2012: 3.47 (52nd overall) – Before Mike Bell
Team ERA 2013: 2.92 (20th overall)
Team ERA 2014: 3.08 (36th overall)
Team ERA 2015: 3.87 (82nd overall)
Team ERA 2016: 3.69 (48th overall)
Team ERA 2017: 3.75 (41st overall)

Very few programs can be consistently great in all facets of the game. FSU should be one of them. Bell is not a bad coach and he has put together fairly consistent pitching rotations. Salvaging this season’s pitching situation enough to get the team to Omaha deserves praise, but should the program expect a bit more than an average of 41st in the nation?

There are no easy answers here. When looking at the three main sports for FSU, baseball is in a comparatively better position than basketball. Both are obviously below football. On the other hand, Florida State has shown more willingness to improve the basketball program as of late. Baseball has not received major renovations or upgrades for years. Could that happen soon?

Any changes would likely depend on who takes over for FSU when Martin retires. Florida State would seriously entertain the idea if the successor is aggressive when lobbying for improved facilities. That still means that any upgrades are at least three years out. Not many expect the Seminoles to be serious contenders in the next couple of seasons, so perhaps that plays out perfectly.

The 2017 season was probably Mike Martin’s last chance at a CWS title. The team loses a significant amount of contributors and valuable players going into next year. The 2018 season should be considered nothing else but Martin’s farewell tour.

He’s almost certainly going to get the career win record and ride off into the sunset. The Seminoles will probably make the postseason, but fans shouldn’t hold their collective breaths for a return trip to Omaha.

After that is when the real fun begins. There’s a lot of unpredictability ahead for FSU baseball and it’s coming fast. Martin’s retirement is just the first step of a process that truthfully will not end for a few years.

The Seminoles will not be bad. They have a good couple of coaches and a talented lineup that will prevent any sort of collapse from happening.

But beyond that is anyone’s guess.

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