A season that started out with a bang, ended with a dud.
After reaching the 40 win plateau and hosting regionals in each of his first three seasons, many Tiger baseball fans thought 2019 was the time for the program to take that next step. The last time the storied program made a Super Regional was 2010, and this fan base is itching to see that drought end.
In my season preview over at STS, before Spencer Strider was lost for the season, I said,
“This team will go as far as the pitching takes it. If the freshman come in ready, and are able to compete and produce at this level, this team has all the makings of a super regional caliber team. If not, it’s possible they’re still one more year away”
As we all know now, none of the freshman arms were ready. Not ready to contribute at a high level for an entire season anyways. As great as Davis Sharpe was much of the season, he seemed to hit that “freshman wall” down the stretch, and just wasn’t as effective as he had been over the first half of the season.
The upperclassmen weren’t any better. Brooks Crawford never could find that gear he got into down the stretch of the 2018 season. He ended up spending much of his time on the mound with his back turned to the plate, as he repeatedly watched his pitches get deposited into the outfield stands. Crawford ended up allowing 11 long balls in just 42.2 IP and had an ERA of almost 7.00.
After being so impressive in the Friday night role for much of 2018, Jacob Hennessy was very “hit and miss” in 2019. He was the utter definition of inconsistent. One day he’s pitching lights out and the next he’s getting tattooed.
Having lost two starting pitchers before the season started, it was imperative that one of either Crawford or Hennessy step up and be one of those guys you could count on to give you a quality start most weekends, and that just didn’t happen. Mat Clark eventually had to be moved out of the bullpen and into the rotation.
Clark did go on to be the Tigers most consistent starting pitcher, but his absence in that bullpen created a void that never got filled. Clark would’ve played the role Ryan Miller played in the pen in 2018. That guy that can come into any situation and get the job done. Whether you needed one out or four or five innings. Instead, this team didn’t have that guy.
Without Clark, the staff had to rely on Sam Weatherly, Holt Jones, and Owen Griffith to handle the middle relief and get the ball to closer Carson Spiers. That strategy worked for about half the season, but using the same three guys, game after game, eventually caught up to them, and overuse started to become a factor.
Holt Jones and Owen Griffith both ended up flat out gassed coming down the stretch. It seemed neither could even throw a strike. Depending on three pitchers to handle the middle relief and setup roles just isn’t the recipe for success.
This team ended up going precisely as far as the pitching took them. When the arms were fresh, this team was hard to beat. Once that lack of depth started to show and fatigue started creeping in, this team struggled to win games.
We can talk about the teams approach at the plate until we’re blue in the face. Yes, they strike out a ton. Yes, they strand a lot of baserunners. Yes, they rarely bunt guys over. Whether you agree with that approach or not, that’s just the way it’s going to be under this staff.
This is still baseball though and it always comes back to the pitching. It starts there and ends there. This team scored 6.5 runs per game and hit close to .270 as a team, so the offense isn’t as bad as some tend to think.
Until this team gets more pitching depth, this is where we’re at. Contrary to popular opinion, that’s something that just can’t be fixed overnight. The good news is, on paper it seems as next season there should be some depth to work with.
Raffield and Strider will be back from injury, although expect both to be brought along slowly. Davis Sharpe and Mat Clark will be back. Keyshawn Askew and Jackson Lindley will have a season of experience. Highly touted freshman Mack Anglin and Geoffrey Gilbert will be in the mix as well. That’s a lot of guys competing for just four rotation spots.
Then you have Sam Weatherly, Holt Jones, and Jacob Hennessy to round out the staff. And lastly, let’s not forget DJ Uiagalelei, the five star QB that also has a fastball topping out in the mid 90’s. He is expected to be a part of the 2020 team, and he’s not planning to put in all that double duty just to be a spectator. He’ll have a shot at landing a role in that bullpen as well.
Was the 2019 season what we as fans expect from this Clemson Baseball program? Absolutely not. After overachieving his first three years, it’s safe to say the 2019 team underachieved. It was a frustrating season to watch unfold. All is not lost however. There’s a lot of talent to work with in 2020, especially arm talent. Can this coaching staff right the ship and show that last season was just a minor bump in the road?