CLEMSON – “Why are people still pitching to Seth Beer?”
Maybe you’ve wondered that during the past six weeks. I know I have.
Once I’ve gotten past the cynicism of being a sportswriter thinking about tactics rather than a sports romantic in awe simply enjoying the sudden emergence of an otherworldly teenager, it’s occurred to me Beer is not in a zone. It’s been half a season. He’s just that good.
Because history tells us baseball is a cruel mistress lurking in wait to slap sluggers with a slump, you keep waiting for Beer to cool off. It has not happened. It probably will happen. It might not happen.
It’s not just that Seth Beer should be getting fitted for his Lambert (Ga.) High School prom tux coming up May 7. It’s not just that Beer has been named Perfect Game’s Midseason National Player of the Year (and, by default, their Freshman of the Year) and was the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association’s Hitter of the Month for March. It’s not just that Seth Beer has hit safely in all 25 games he’s been to the plate since the season opener Feb. 19, that he ranks second nationally in round-trippers and slugging percentage, or even that he has led the charge from Clemson being an afterthought to a potential NCAA Regional host for the first time since 2011.
It’s these two numbers: 13 and 9. Thirteen home runs, nine strikeouts.
Let’s analyze that, shall we?
For starters, the great Tim Bourret dug up this stat: the last Tiger to mash double-digit home runs, and have his tater total exceed his strikeouts, was shortstop Khalil Greene in 2002 (27 HR, 22 SO.) Greene just happened to be National Player of the Year that season.
In fact, among the long historical list of Clemson All-American hitters, Greene and Denny Walling (13 HR, 12 SO) are the only guys to have more homers than strikeouts in a single season over the course of their careers.
Beer is hitting .430 on the year, ranking 11th in the nation. The ten guys in front of him – which include just three power-conference players, and two from the ACC in Wake Forest’s Will Craig and Louisville’s Nick Solak – are averaging 4.8 home runs and 10.1 strikeouts.
Now for a step further. Well, more like a giant leap.
There are 27 members of Major League Baseball’s 500-HR club. (Just in case you don’t know how big a deal that is: all of the 27, who are not either active, a retiree of at least five years ago or connected to steroid usage, have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.) Among those 27 players, 22 totaled more than double the amount of career strikeouts as career home runs.
The other five players, with better than a 2:1 K-HR ratio, were/are fairly decent with a bat in their hands. They go by the names of Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols.
Don’t go crazy and assume this means Beer is on track to be the next Great Bambino, Splendid Splinter or Hammerin’ Hank. Still, it illustrates how preposterous Beer’s dinger-to-whiff ratio has been.
Now for another point that will test your disposition. Are you glass-is-half-full or glass-is-half-empty?
Says here the Tigers have recorded 13 comeback victories as part of their 22-7 record. Clemson, 7-5 in league play, has trailed in six of its seven ACC victories, and four of those come-from-behind victories included deficits in the fifth inning or later.
The most impressive comeback wins:
Winthrop led 3-1 into the bottom of the ninth, before Clemson rallied behind Beer’s game-tying, 2-run double to win 4-3 in extras on March 9;
Wake Forest led 8-4 in the seventh on March 13, but with Chris Okey’s grand salami keying an eight-run inning, Clemson won 13-8;
BC led 2-1 going to the bottom of the ninth, but Clemson won 3-2 thanks to Beer’s walkoff homer in the 10th on March 20;
Pitt was up 3-1 in the sixth Sunday before clutch hits by Chris Williams and Jordan Greene helped Clemson come back to win 4-3;
And Georgia took a 6-5 lead into the eighth, but Beer’s 13th bomb tied it at 6 and Clemson put up five in the top of the ninth to prevail 11-6 on Tuesday.
Maine, James Madison and Presbyterian each led Clemson 1-0 in the middle of the first, but went on to lose in decisive fashion.
Now, here’s the question: primarily, are you proud of Clemson’s fighting spirit in refusing to drop these tight games? Or primarily, are you concerned the Tigers might have cobbled together a 22-7 record through smoke and mirrors and there might be a storm brewing?
You be the judge.
The week before the season, new pitching coach Andrew See reflected on his experiences at Duke and how he crafted a respectable staff out of a bunch of question marks. See felt confident he could do the same at Clemson.
For a few weeks to open the year, See was a miracle worker when Clemson displayed a nifty set of weekend starters and lights-out relievers.
The going’s been tougher as the staff returned to Earth. Clate Schmidt brandishes a perfect 5-0 record, and the Tigers are 6-1 in his starts, but his 4.38 ERA is hardly the stuff of legends. Charlie Barnes is teetering (2-3, 5.26 ERA) while closer Alex Bostic and youngsters Alex Eubanks and Brooks Crawford have all been touched up.
So it’s a big three-game set coming up here on the road at Duke (15-14, 4-8 ACC), where See will say hello to some old friends but hope his new dugout is the happy one on Sunday evening against a less-than-stellar Blue Devils squad.
And Clemson simply can’t afford a losing weekend, not with the upcoming schedule: Louisville, Georgia Tech, Florida State and N.C. State have all reached 20 wins, and Clemson’s only played one 20-win ACC team so far – which resulted in a sweep at Miami.