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The View from the Deck: 2016 Auburn Baseball Preview Part 3, Pitchers and Measuring Success

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Auburn begins the Butch Thompson era on Friday. It's a season of optimism and changes in mentality.

Ashley Ward / Auburn Athletics

Welcome to Part 3 of Kevin's Auburn Baseball preview! Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven't already!

PITCHING

Although the outfield is lacking depth, the pitching department cupboard for Auburn is pretty well stocked. However, refer back to my bit about how Coach Butch Thompson has previously established/used his pitchers. It’s, as my friend Everett Duke explained this weekend, the "Softball" strategy. Knowing that, it’s kind of hard to keep guys in labels as Rotation guys or Closers or Set Up guys. I did my best to try to list 5 starting pitchers with 1-3 being the weekend guys in order from Friday through Sunday.

The only sure thing at this point is that Cole Lipscomb is the closest that Auburn has in terms of an Ace. Both in pedigree and role. Cole should be Auburn’s "Friday Night Guy" and everything else should fall into place after that.

Originally going in to the season, I didn’t say a way for Ben Braymer NOT to start for Auburn and I didn’t really see a way for Justin Camp NOT to be Auburn’s closer. Braymer was a war-daddy for LSU-Eunice and seemed (on-paper at least) that he could easily translate that into a weekend role. Camp was Auburn’s closer last year until he was tinkered and toyed with and Auburn decided to overuse Keegan Thompson until his wheels fell off.

Well, it seems like the roles of Braymer and Camp have been reversed with Braymer moving into more of a closer’s role and Camp positioning himself as a starter once again.

That’s fine though because at the end of the day, it’s about using guys where they are most effective and almost "bookending" starters during a Nine inning game.

For Braymer especially (and I remember listening to an interview from Coach Butch Thompson where he specifically mentioned it) it allows a pitcher to be more effective essentially because he doesn’t see as many batters.

All pitchers have a law of diminishing returns. They are most effective the first time through an order and then, as a batter sees the pitcher for a third or fourth time, the batter is able to better improve their timing and better able to predict what pitch is coming based on tendencies the batter has seen earlier in a game. It’s why starters normally only last 5 or 6 innings (that, and pitch counts) and it’s why Sunday College Baseball games seem to devolve into offensive explosions. It takes time but with more and more repetition, hitters are going to improve.

So, for Auburn and for Coach Butch Thompson, the trick is to limit the amount of times that a batter would see a pitcher. You do that by using multiple pitchers, pitching situationally, and by limiting the number of pitches used in an at-bat. Less times a hitter can see a pitcher? The less effective the hitter will be. Simple as that.

Now you take a guy like Ben Braymer, who has 3 pitches he throws exceptionally well (A two and four seem fastball and a changeup) and has two others (slider/curve) that he can use as out-pitches and change of pace pitches. If Braymer is only asked to get three or six outs in a weekend then he can continually rely on his Fastballs in the first two games and then slowly work in his breaking stuff in the final game. It makes him more effective and maximizes his impact as a pitcher. It also keeps him healthier by limiting his pitches and overall innings.

It’s that same strategy that would cause Auburn to use their full complement of pitchers during the season. Have every guy fill a role and then use that role to its maximum potential.

If there is one thing that Auburn has this season, it would be pitching depth. Now, it would be hard for me to effectively predict if a guy like Justin Camp remains a starter or transitions back into the bullpen. Equally as hard would be for me to tell if Ben Braymer moves from the back-end to the front end.

Auburn’s pitching will be in flux and these first few weeks of the season will be all about how guys fill roles. I wouldn’t get too hung up on who starts and who closes games. At least not early on.

For the casual Auburn fan, this would be a great way to learn more about baseball in general. Pay attention during the season when a pitcher is used. Who was he facing (Right Hand Hitter vs Left Hand Hitter), what was the situation (bases empty? Late-innings? Etc), and what did the hitter do before? If you can make notes of those situations then you can start to figure out the puzzle of pitching. Find out when a guy is coming out and then try to figure out why he’s being used.

The only adequate prediction that I can make about Auburn’s pitching is that it’s going to see a lot of faces and it’s going to use a lot of arms. That’s not even a bad thing. To me, if the Auburn pitching machine is working at its highest clip then that’s exactly what you SHOULD see. No more of one guy starts and pitches until he’s empty and then we kick in a setup guy and then a closer. That’s not what is going to work here.

To start the season, Auburn will go with Lipscomb on Friday, Camp on Saturday, and Gabe Klobosits on Sunday.

Again, that’s a good jumping in point for the rotation. Auburn has some other starting pitching depth it will either try to establish (Tavo Rodriguez) or develop (Daniel Sprinkle) with some other names like Braymer or Casey Mize possibly transitioning to a starter role. Either way, the Tigers will use a lot of guys through the season as they try to mix and match and develop matchups/strategies.

Also different for 2016 is that Auburn has a few more LHPs than it normally has: Andrew Mitchell, Tavo Rodriguez, Izaac Yabrough, Colton Campbell, and Ben Braymer. On paper that’s only one more than last year, but Maxwell was barely used (2 appearances) and Garrett Deloney (who is now gone) only saw the field for a third of an inning. In 2016, Auburn has two potential LHP Starters. In 2016, the staff overused Will Thompson and Izaac Yarbrough almost exclusively. I think the main differnce between last year and this year is that it doesn’t look like Butch Thompson has any indication of NOT using guys.

Auburn has the arms. Auburn should use the arms.

MEASURING SUCCESS

I get asked this all the time. Maybe it’s because Auburn fans want results. Maybe it’s because some can’t understand why Auburn has a new coach after going to a Regional last year. The same question always is asked: "What’s Auburn going to do this year?" The underlying subtext is honestly asking how Auburn is going to finish the year. The predictors have picked Auburn last in the SEC. I honestly don’t see it. Maybe my glasses are still Orange and Blue tinted. However, with the talent that’s coming back and the new additions and the coaching staff in place, I don’t think Auburn remains at the bottom of the barrel.

So we really are asking ourselves: What would make Auburn baseball in 2016 a success?

That’s simple and it’s been the same answer for a few years: Make a Regional.

That’s it.

I still maintain that making the SEC Tournament should be a given and if Auburn is sweating a ticket to Hoover than they have regressed.

A Regional is an unequivocal success for 2016. Factor in how Auburn got there (both during the season and in the offseason) and what it means for the future and you’ll see why making a Regional is the goal.

Auburn isn’t in a position to be poisoned by success. Auburn has reached the Ole Miss level where Regionals are second nature and the team is trying to break through the glass ceiling of a Super Regional.

That’s where Auburn wants to be. You may laugh at the notion that Auburn wants to be Ole Miss in baseball but it’s true. Right now, Auburn needs to be that team that gets to Regionals year after year. A team with stability. A team where 35 to 40 wins is the norm. Get that. Get that established and churning for a few seasons and then ask for more. Right now, Auburn isn’t in a position to ask for more. Sure, as fans, we may always want more. We may always want Auburn to be in the College World Series. That’s fine. That’s good positive thinking. Unfortunately, the realist in me takes over and that thinking can get washed away. Could Auburn make it to Omaha? Sure. Anything is possible.

Right now however, Auburn looks like a Regional team. Now, that’s a regional team that going to have to fight. It won’t come easy and there will be some nervous moments in the season. Auburn can’t realistically expect to make a Regional this season. They need to earn it. They’ll have to fight for it.

Overall, Auburn needs to move itself up into the upper tier of SEC Programs. To me, the tiers in the SEC are this:

Tier 1:

LSU

Florida

Vanderbilt

Texas A&M

Tier 2:

South Carolina

Ole Miss

Mississippi State

Arkansas

Tier 3:

Auburn

Alabama

Kentucky

Missouri

Tennessee

Georgia

Auburn wants to be move up to that second rung. That rung of teams who lead in attendance, have had a strong run of success, and haven’t had any big sustained drops in results.

Sure, when you look at those teams, maybe some of your SEC blue-blood snobbery may kick in.

You aren’t alone in that thinking. To me, it’s not the best thinking as an Auburn fan, but that’s just me.

EMBRACING 2016

Probably the reason I’m personally embracing 2016 and just trying to enjoy it more as a fan, is because 2017 is shaping up to be a rough restart. Just looking at the roster, Auburn has no Sophomore class. None. The closest Auburn has to a sophomore is Colton Campbell (RS FR). The previous staff’s reliance on JUCO guys and transfers left Auburn well stocked with upper classmen for 2016 but the trade-off was the potential (although very rare) of having on 11 players on the roster to start the 2017 season.

Sure, not every Junior or Senior is going to leave for the draft. But Auburn is top-heavy roster-wise right now and there is little foundation for long term growth and development.

That means a couple of things. Auburn could follow the lead of the previous staff and keep using JUCOs and transfers to fill gaps and essentially play a Ponzi scheme with the roster.

Or they could do what it looks like what Coach Butch Thompson is already doing. Load up on underclassmen in 2017.

College Baseball commitments are hard to keep track of, but Auburn already has 12 guys listed as commitments onPerfect Game. That’s 12 Freshmen who can hopefully all make it Auburn. Considering how few Freshman Auburn has committed in what would have been the sophomore class (9); that’s a big step in the "growth" direction. Of that class, only 5 ever made it campus and only Colton Campbell is left.

That’s the goal. Have guys come in a Freshmen and develop through the program for 3 or more years. Coach Butch Thompson is working towards that goal.

However, that could mean a lot of growing pains in 2017.

So for 2016? Embrace it. Love it. Enjoy it.

Whatever Auburn does will probably be an over achievement. Whatever happens, Auburn fans should latch on. This is hopefully the ground floor of a resurgence. That means holding on for any potential bumps down the line.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I can honestly say that 2016 is the first time in a long time of following Auburn baseball that I’m genuinely giddy for the season. I’m also excited when opening weekend rolls around, but this year just seems a little bit different. It seems like this is the start of something fantastic for Auburn baseball. It seems like the opening line of a great novel of rebirth.

There are pieces to win now, but even more than that, there are little steps being taken and little bricks being laid that should rebuild Auburn for years to come. It’s exciting to say the very least. It’s going to be exciting to see things moving in a positive direction again.

I'll be there every game I can. Watching from the same spot on the Parking Deck.

War Damn Eagle. War Damn Baseball. Always.