Mississippi State senior third baseman Jarrod Parks leads the SEC in hitting, and by a lot. His .409 average is 32 points ahead of second-place Aaron Westlake of Vanderbilt.
It's quite remarkable, especially when you consider that Parks didn't play last year and continues to deal with back pain. I took a close look at his situation in a feature in today's Journal.
Parks has surprised even himself with how well he's hitting.
"I feel like I can do it now; it ain't a big deal to me now. But it's definitely come as a surprise," he said.
As I wrote in the story, Parks' back issues – stemming from a freshman-year injury that required surgery last year – have actually contributed to his becoming a better all-around hitter. He doesn't have the pop he once had, but he's developed a better swing and hits a lot more line drives and ground balls. Parks has only two homers this year.
Assistant coach Lane Burroughs said Parks used to be a "big swinger" but has now "taken a lot of the effort out" of his swing.
Parks has also developed a better focus at the plate.
"I usually try to not give away at-bats and stay focused throughout the whole game, and try to win every pitch," Parks said.
More statistical fun: Parks has hit safetly in 33 of 39 games, owns 17 multi-hit games, and is in the midst of a 13-game hitting streak. He also leads the SEC in on-base percentage (.533), 30 points better than the second-place Westlake.
"I'm not surprised he's having a great year – I knew he'd have good year," Burroughs said. "But to be hitting over .400 this late in the season and this deep into the Southeastern Conference season is remarkable."
Parks said he wasn't aware of his hitting streak until last weekend, when he saw someone mention it on Twitter. He doesn't seem too concerned with whether he can keep his average above .400, either. He said his goal is simply to get at least one hit a game.
"If it happens, it happens," he said. "If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. If I see some good pitches and I happen to hit them in the outfield somewhere where they're not, that's good. But if I hit them right at somebody, that's just the way the game's played."