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Analysis: Deeper look at FSU entering postseason

The 2022 regular season has concluded for the Florida State baseball team as the Seminoles wrapped up their regular season by dropping all three games against North Carolina and ending on a four-game losing streak.

The Osceola has evaluated the past four months of Seminole baseball and gone over the good, the bad and the ugly in what was an inconsistent season for Mike Martin Jr.’s ball club. Starting with their respective best and worst series, here is a recap of where Florida State excelled, where they underwhelmed and what to expect from them heading into the postseason.

FSU’s best series: Louisville (April 14-16)

After a 2-7 slump in early April, Florida State seemed like a team that was beginning a downward spiral after a strong start to conference play. Instead, the Seminoles pulled a momentum-shifting series out of the hat and swept a Louisville team that was ranked No. 9 at the time and was the nation’s leading offense, averaging 10 runs a ballgame. With the way FSU’s starting pitching was struggling in April, the Seminoles’ sweep against what was the best offense in the country was easily their most impressive series of the season.

FSU’s worst series: North Carolina (May 19- 21)

There are a few series that could have been chosen. A series loss at Georgia Tech or the home sweep to Notre Dame were among the lows. That was before Florida State got swept in an ugly series on the road in which they relinquished 28 runs at Chapel Hill. With a regional host on the line, a Seminole team that just took two-out-of-three against a No. 6 Miami got the brakes beaten off them. One of the underlying storylines this season was that Martin Jr. specifically wanted to play a schedule in which his team was readily tested so they excelled in big moments. In arguably the biggest moment of the season, his team got swept. That is not the response you were hoping for. The series was capped off in an 11-0 loss that now has the ’Noles entering the ACC Tournament with their tails between their legs.

Parker Messick and Bryce Hubbart

There are two reasons why Florida State could have a good postseason run: The first reason is Parker Messick and the second is Bryce Hubbart.

While they haven’t been perfect, Messick and Hubbart have come mostly as advertised this season. Leading the nation in strikeouts (136), Messick won ACC Pitcher of the Week honors four times and finished the regular season with a 3.05 ERA. Most importantly, Messick brings intensity and leadership that is on display every outing.

Like Messick, Hubbart also won multiple ACC Pitcher of the Week honors as well as being named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Pitcher of the Month in February. Hubbart experienced a turbulent middle stretch of the season where it seemed he couldn’t catch a break due to illness and weather delays but still was able to post an 8-2 record with a 2.97 ERA. Even when he wasn’t at his best, and the UNC game was a notable exception, he often threw well enough to give Florida State a chance to win.

If you are Florida State in a best-of-three postseason series, you have to like your chances knowing that these two are throwing Game 1 and Game 2. They have consistently been the glue that has kept a flawed team together and arguably been the base that has won Florida State more series than they should have.

Missing third starter

The unfortunate flipside to the scenario above – what if it goes to a Game 3? That’s where things get a little uneasy for Florida State. In games that were not started by either Messick or Hubbart, the Seminoles are only 14-12. That’s not good for a pitching staff that has been touted as one of the best in the country.

While it’s relatively common for teams to not have a solidified Sunday / midweek starter, the issue for Florida State is that they have two capable arms and neither have lived up to the expectations. Not only that but the struggles of the starting pitching on Sunday and Tuesday has taxed the bullpen. LHP Ross Dunn looked competent during the non-conference schedule but floundered the further he went into conference play. It resulted in him being benched for nearly a month.

The other issue, and perhaps more concerning of the two, is that RHP Carson Montgomery has not shown many signs of improvement in his second year. Montgomery has not gone deep into ballgames (he averages just under 4 innings a game) and has struggled finding the strike zone all year. For comparison, Messick has thrown 35.2 more innings this season than Montgomery, yet Montgomery has seven more walks (22), four more hit batters (11) and two more wild pitches (4). That’s not encouraging for a player that was the No. 1 ranked right-handed pitcher in Florida coming out of high school in 2021.

If Florida State gets into a Game 3 situation, who starts on the mound? There aren’t that many enticing options and Martin Jr. may not be able to afford using an opener and risk taxing the bullpen.

Pen problems

Where to begin? Maybe it’s best to start with the fact that Florida State has been outscored by opponents 75-42 in the 8th inning or later this season. Although that stat is pretty damning, it doesn’t tell the entire story. Most of the struggles out of the bullpen this season seem to stem from the frequent shuffling of roles. It became very evident early on that Jonah Scolaro was neither effective nor comfortable in the closer spot and it cost Florida State in a few close games. Similarly, Wyatt Crowell was used a lot early in the year in high-leverage situations but could not get things going. While Scolaro and Crowell have now found roles as long relievers, other roles are still being felt out and part of that is due to the bullpen being taxed on Sundays and midweek. And, yes, the coaching decisions haven’t been stellar either. The most recent example being Martin Jr. pulling Davis Hare at Florida to bring in Andrew Armstrong, who had only thrown 14.1 innings in two years. Baseball is a game of matchups but pulling your new closer for a sophomore with little play time is a headscratcher.

Ferrer, Tibbs are fantastic freshmen

If you are looking for a breath of positivity, look no further than the play of freshmen Jaime Ferrer (Bayamon, Puerto Rico) and James Tibbs (Marietta, Ga.). With a huge hole needing to be filled offensively with the departure of Matheu Nelson, Ferrer and Tibbs have surprised and exceeded expectations. The duo both had 10-game hitting streaks in the first few weeks of the season and continued to find success. It looked as though both would be staples in the batting order but with the outfield cluttered with talent, Tibbs got less and less play time. In an offense that has been hit or miss, pun unintended, Ferrer and Tibbs have consistently produced, having the highest (Ferrer) and 5th highest (Tibbs) on-base percentage on the team. Ferrer specifically has been hit-by-pitches 23 times, which is the third most in a single season in program history. The future is bright with Ferrer and Tibbs in the outfield. Look for them to have an impact in any Florida State postseason run.

Too much depth leads to juggling

Is it ever a bad thing to have too much depth? You wouldn’t think so but perhaps we’ve witnessed a rare case with this Florida State squad.

This is by far the deepest team that Martin Jr. has had in his three years at the helm but that presents the challenge of managing playing time. The result has been a season in which it felt like Martin Jr. and the Seminoles were always trying to find out what pieces worked and where they fit in so that everyone could get a seat at the table, instead of setting a lineup and letting the players “play ball” before adjusting. It has resulted in situations that feel a lot more like chess than baseball.

For example, when Jackson Greene suddenly starts playing third base halfway through the season while Brett Roberts moves to second base, what about the original third baseman, Logan Lacey? That moves Lacey to the outfield, which takes a spot away from Reese Albert or James Tibbs, more frequently Tibbs. Which is an unfortunate circumstance because Tibbs is one of the better hitters in the lineup and you need him involved. To keep him involved and developing, you bring him on frequently as a pinch hitter, which keeps him involved but isn’t as useful as him playing the entire game. These issues are amplified when players get into slumps, and Martin Jr. has admitted as much. Lacey has shown his versatility in playing center field and third base, and in the last week of the regular season he has settled in at the hot corner.

It’s a sympathetic problem, but as much as baseball is a game of matchups, it’s also a game built upon repetitions and being comfortable in your role.

The situation has not been helped by Tyler Martin’s lingering shoulder injury. Martin led the team in on-base percentage for three consecutive seasons and his eye at the plate as well as base-running acumen make him an exceptional leadoff batter. It just isn’t practical for him to be your designated hitter, too. Ideally, you’d want Martin playing at first base instead of a slumping Alex Toral to open the designated hitter slot for someone with more power to bat in the cleanup spot. Brock Mathis is a player that easily could fill that spot as he has pop and a lot of experience as a senior transfer from Oklahoma State, but he hasn’t seen the field as much because Colton Vincent is the better defensive catcher and has been readily needed with the pitching staff’s inconsistency. It truly is a rock and a hard place for Martin Jr. because Tyler deserves to be in the lineup but is not healthy enough to field and it effects the rest of the lineup.

To reiterate, chess more than baseball.

Inconsistencies on defense

Coming into the season, Martin Jr. advertised a new and improved defense with incoming transfer Jordan Carrion taking over at shortstop from an error-prone Nander De Sedas. While Carrion certainly made some spectacular plays, the defense as a whole didn’t see much improvement. In 54 games, FSU committed 64 errors with a .968 fielding percentage that is the 150th best percentage in the country (out of 293 Division 1 teams). The Seminoles only have one less error than last year’s team (factoring in 2021 regular season and postseason). Something to keep in mind is that often scorers will award infield singles on balls mishandled by infielders instead of errors – so this number could potentially be worse. The Seminoles also are only 224th in the country in double plays turned, though that stat is circumstantial and Florida State’s pitching staff doesn’t typically pitch for contact.

Ten weekend series wins

To end on a somewhat positive note – despite being an incredibly flawed team, Florida State has managed to win 10 of 14 weekend series and beat two regional hosts in Louisville and Miami. However, most of those wins came at home, as the Seminoles were 2-3 in their road series this season. Florida State’s 6-14 record away from Dick Howser Stadium this year is a major reason for concern. But in the same breath, the Seminoles do have series wins against some of the best teams in the country. The Seminoles have won series against almost every ranked team they have played this season with the only exception being Notre Dame, which swept Florida State in early April. If you consider the three games played against Florida over the course of the season a series, then Florida also is an outlier to the success that FSU has had against ranked teams.

Georgia Southern, Louisville, Miami, TCU and Florida have received individual losses or series losses at the hands of Florida State — which makes you feel somewhat hopeful entering the postseason that Florida State can have success. However, it’s all about who can get hot at the right time and, while it seemed like Florida State was going to head into the ACC Tournament strong with a series win against Miami, an 0-4 skid in the final week of the season has everyone feeling uncertain about this flawed, talented, deep, yet inconsistent roster.