Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
SEC Baseball Report: Coaches think Skenes has MLB stuff now
LSU starting pitcher Paul Skenes throws against Samford during an NCAA college baseball game Friday, March 10, 2023, in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP)
LSU right-hander Paul Skenes moved from the Mountain West Conference to the Southeastern Conference when he transferred from Air Force last summer.
Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle likely would have preferred a different landing spot.
"He’s pitching in the wrong league, I’ll tell you that," Schlossnagle told reporters after Skenes struck out 11 and pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings during a 9-0 victory at Texas A&M last Friday. "He needs to be in the American or National League.”
Skenes has been the SEC's most dominant pitcher through five weeks. Entering Friday's game against No. 3 Arkansas, the ace of the top-ranked Tigers is 5-0 with a 0.59 ERA and 0.53 WHIP in 30 1/3 innings. He has struck out 59 and walked 4, and opposing batters have a .115 average against him.
He leads the NCAA in strikeouts and WHIP, and ranks in the top 10 of most statistical categories for pitchers.
“He could do it against a major league lineup right now and I believe that,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said, according to The Associated Press.
Skenes, who has at least 11 strikeouts in every outing, is on pace to challenge LSU great Ben McDonald's single-season strikeouts record. McDonald struck out 202 in 152 1/3 innings in 1989, which is an SEC record.
Schlossnagle, who has been a college assistant or head coach for 33 seasons, said Skenes is one of the three best college pitchers he has seen, along with Southern Cal’s Mark Prior and San Diego State’s Stephen Strasburg. Prior won the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball’s best player in 2001, and Strasburg was the Golden Spikes winner in 2009. Both had successful professional careers.
“It’s one thing to throw 98-100 mph, but this guy is big and tall and loose, and he’s got some life to his fastball,” Schlossnagle said. “He threw a couple decent changeups. He’s a real pitcher.”
The fastball velocity grabs attention, but Skenes' slider has been his most effective pitch. According to 6-4-3 Charts, batters have a .074 average against Skenes' slider, and the pitch has a swing-and-miss rate (also known as whiff rate) of 56.3%.
The average Division I whiff rate for breaking pitches is 33.5%, according to 6-4-3 Charts.
Skenes, 6-6 and 247 pounds, has a scoreless streak of 10 innings entering Friday’s game against the Razorbacks.
“He’s got an incredible fastball, good breaking ball, he throws strikes,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He’s big. He can go nine innings, throw 110 pitches — whatever he needs to do.”
Skenes was one of the prized recruits on the transfer market last year after he won the Olerud Award as the nation’s best two-way player. He batted .314 with 10 doubles, 13 home runs and 38 RBI in his final season at Air Force.
Arkansas was one of the teams that tried to sign Skenes.
“We pursued him like every team in the SEC and every team in the country,” Van Horn said. “He’s a great pitcher and can also hit. I thought he was going to hit [at LSU], too.
“We pursued him about as hard as you could pursue him.”
Shocker in CoMo
The team predicted to finish last in the SEC East swept the team predicted to win the division, and it wasn’t particularly close.
Missouri outscored Tennessee by a combined score of 23-6 at Taylor Stadium. It was Mizzou’s first SEC series sweep since 2019 against South Carolina, and the Volunteers’ first time to be swept in an SEC series since 2019 at Arkansas.
The Tigers won the series opener 9-1, then won a pair of seven-inning games 7-4 and 7-1 on Sunday.
“Pretty good weekend, huh?” Missouri coach Steve Bieser said, according to PowerMizzou.com.
Tennessee coach Tony Vitello was ejected during the second game of the series for arguing with the home-plate umpire following a balk call. It was the third time Vitello has been ejected since 2019.
Vitello played at Missouri and began his coaching career there.
Mississippi State skid
Less than 21 months removed from winning the national championship at the College World Series, Mississippi State enters its home series against Vanderbilt this week on a 14-game losing streak in conference play.
The Bulldogs were swept at Kentucky last week. Mississippi State lost 6-5 in 10 innings in the series opener when the Wildcats scored the wining run on a passed ball, then dropped the last two games by a combined score of 29-6.
“Last year is last year,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said when asked about the losing streak by Robbie Faulk of Mississippi State 247Sports following a 12-3 loss in the second game of the series. “This year’s [SEC losing streak] is two. We haven’t pitched up here as well as we could.”
The Bulldogs suffered a 17-3 run-rule loss the following day in the series finale.
Mississippi State has lost by an average of 6.3 runs per game during its 14-game SEC losing streak.
Some great pitching performances, coupled with the SEC’s new pace-of-play initiatives, created for shorter games during the first week of conference play.
According to the SEC, the average time for the 14 nine-inning games last week was 2 hours, 38 minutes. On the same weekend last season, regulation games averaged 3 hours, 15 minutes.
Four SEC games ended in a run rule because one team was leading by 10 runs after the seventh inning.
The shortest nine-inning game of the week came last Thursday when Florida and Alabama finished in 1 hour, 50 minutes. The Gators won the game 3-0 and the teams combined for four hits.
Missouri and Tennessee played a pair of seven-inning games last Sunday. The combined game time for that doubleheader was 4 hours, 19 minutes.
In the polls
There are 11 SEC teams ranked in the latest USA Today Baseball Coaches Poll:
11. South Carolina
13. Ole Miss
18. Texas A&M
SEC West Standings
Texas A&M 1-2
Ole Miss 0-3
Mississippi State 0-3
SEC East Standings
South Carolina 3-0
Series of the Week — Arkansas (19-2) at LSU (19-2)
Two of the top three-ranked teams in college baseball will be on display when the Razorbacks play the Tigers at Alex Box Stadium.
Their 19 victories are tied for second-most nationally, behind South Carolina (20-2). Arkansas has won 14 consecutive games. LSU has won 14 of 15, with the only blemish coming last Sunday at Texas A&M to snap a 13-game win streak.
The Razorbacks have played a tougher non-conference schedule, according to WarrenNolan.com. Arkansas enters the series with the No. 27 strength of schedule, and the Tigers’ schedule strength is ranked 39th.
LSU has not won a series over Arkansas since 2018. The Razorbacks went 2-1 against the Tigers in 2019 in Fayetteville and 2021 in Baton Rouge, and Arkansas swept LSU last year at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Other weekend series
Florida (19-4) at Ole Miss (15-6)
Texas A&M (15-6) at Tennessee (16-6)
Missouri (17-3) at South Carolina (20-2)
Kentucky (19-2) at Alabama (18-4)
Vanderbilt (16-5) at Mississippi State (14-8)
*Georgia (14-7) at Auburn (14-6-1)
* Series will begin Thursday
Hitter of the Week — Ethan Petry, South Carolina
The Gamecocks’ freshman standout homered 3 times, had 7 RBI and scored 4 runs during games against Presbyterian and Georgia.
Petry hit a solo home run during South Carolina’s 5-4 series-opening victory at Georgia, then went 4 for 4 and had 5 RBI later that day when the Gamecocks had a run-rule victory over the Bulldogs in the second game of a doubleheader.
Pitcher of the Week — Brandon Sproat, Florida
The Gators’ sophomore right-hander pitched a one-hit shutout when Florida defeated Alabama 3-0 in the series opener.
Sproat walked 2, struck out a career-high 11 batters and retired the final 10 hitters he faced. The only hit against him came during the second inning.
Sproat improved to 4-0 and lowered his ERA to 2.73 in 29 2/3 innings. The Gators are undefeated in the 11 games pitched by Sproat since he became the team’s No. 1 starter last April.
Other noteworthy performances
• Vanderbilt left-hander Hunter Owen threw a 96-pitch complete game and shut out Ole Miss. Owen struck out 11, gave up 2 hits and walked 1.
• LSU’s Tommy White batted .474 and had 11 RBI and scored 7 runs scored during games against New Orleans and Texas A&M.
• Florida shortstop Josh Rivera hit 4 home runs and 2 triples and had 6 RBI during games against North Florida and Alabama.
• LSU right-hander Paul Skenes struck out 11, allowed 4 hits and did not walk a batter during 6 1/3 scoreless innings at Texas A&M.
Stat of the Week
All seven of last week's series were decided before the final game.
Vanderbilt swept Ole Miss, Arkansas swept Auburn, Kentucky swept Mississippi State, South Carolina swept Georgia, and Missouri swept Tennessee.
LSU won a series over Texas A&M, and Florida won a series over Alabama, but the Aggies and the Crimson Tide avoided sweeps with Game 3 victories.
Home teams had a record of 15-6. South Carolina was the only road team that swept, and the Gamecocks and LSU were the only teams to win a series away from home.
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