By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – John Cohen knew the offensive struggles would come.
When he took over as Mississippi State’s head coach in the summer of 2008, his first order of business was building up a low-grade pitching staff. That meant Cohen’s early recruiting efforts were a bit short on position players, although he tried to alleviate that somewhat by bringing in guys that could both pitch and play the field.
With most of the Ron Polk recruits out of the program now, the No. 25-ranked Bulldogs are a young and inexperienced group outside of the pitching staff, and the numbers reflect that. State is hitting .225 as a team in SEC play, which ranks last in the league.
“I felt like that would happen for sure,” Cohen said of the struggles. “But again, you can win with pitching and defense. You can’t win without it. If you’re not really solid on the mound at this level of college baseball, you have no chance.”
MSU (30-18, 12-12 SEC), which travels to No. 6 Florida this weekend, is among the league’s best in pitching with a 3.24 ERA in conference games 195 strikeouts.
That’s helped offset many of the offensive issues, which have been exacerbated by injuries.
A breakdown of MSU’s offensive numbers in 24 SEC games – 12 at home, 12 on the road – reveals some telling trends. The Bulldogs actually hit better on the road (.237) than at home (.212), but they’ve scored more at home (56 runs) than on the road (51).
That’s due in large part to the fact that State has had 70 walks and 25 hit-by-pitches at Dudy Noble Field, versus 33 and 12, respectively, away from it.
“Walks, errors, hit batsmen essentially create big innings,” Cohen said. “We preach all the statistics to our players. … Hits are important, but they’re not the most critical part of the equation.”
Of course, Cohen would like to see more hits. He’s high on the young talent in MSU’s lineup, but it’s taking some of those players time to figure things out.
Dudy Noble Field plays a role in MSU’s offensive output, and in the output of visiting teams. In SEC games, opponents are hitting .246 with two home runs, averaging 3.8 runs per game. MSU averages 4.5 runs per game at home.
“Really the only statistic that matters offensively is runs scored,” Cohen said. “The rest of it is just conversation. When we have a little bit better performance offensively, and we are striking the ball a little bit better, I think all those numbers will go up.”