It looks like I won't be getting around to previewing the full starting lineup before Michael Roth throws the first pitch against VMI. Procrastination has played a role, sure, but this week, for perhaps the first time ever, my workaday job has obstructed my pursuit of leisure. We'll pick back up with the outfielders and the relief pitchers this weekend or perhaps Monday. But, for now, I leave you with the weekend starting rotation. You could say our paths have crossed before.
Michael Roth (LHP, Sr.)
There's little to say about Friday starter Michael Roth that hasn't already been said by better writers and far better baseball minds than yours truly. Roth enters his senior season as among the surest things in college baseball. It would probably be asking too much to expect him to repeat his ridiculously good junior season (145 IP, 36 runs allowed*), especially given that all but Christian Walker will be gone from the infield that backed him during consecutive national championship runs. The fascinating thing about the enigmatic Mr. Roth is that he really only has one above average pitch (his changeup). But what he lacks in pure stuff (his fastball sits in the low- to mid-80s and tops out around 87) he makes up for in... well, I don't know if a single word quite defines it. "Guts"? "Badassery"? "Deception" probably comes closest, but his success can't all be chalked up to his manifold arm angles and funky delivery. He also sequences his pitches very well and uses a variety of breaking pitches to keep both right- and left-handed hitters off balance.
Roth's plus plus makeup and oddball personality have very much defined the ethos of this team over the past two years, and the baseball program and the university as a whole will be worse off when his athletic and academic careers at South Carolina are done.
Matt Price (RHP, Jr.)
Taking the hill on Saturdays - for now, at least - is Matt Price. There will be several fascinating story lines to follow here. The only reason Price is back with the Gamecocks in 2012 instead of knocking around with an Arizona Diamondbacks minor league affiliate is because Ray Tanner agreed to give him the opportunity to transition from the bullpen into a starting role. Both seem to tacitly acknowledge that Tanner would rather let Price realize that the starting pitcher experiment isn't working - if it comes to that - than move Price back to the bullpen before he's had a chance to prove his worth as a starter.
Price really only used his fastball and slider coming out of the bullpen, and he's been working on adding a changeup and curveball back into his arsenal in the offseason. It will be interesting to see how these pitches have come along on Saturday, especially the changeup. The changeup is a "feel" pitch and can really only be mastered through extreme repetition. It's rarely used by high school pitchers with Price's velocity since going offspeed just has the effect of slowing his mid-90s fastball down to high school level bat speed. It's a pitch that doesn't really get the focus it deserves until pitchers hit college or a professional development system. Since Price has not been using a change for the past several years, it may take a little while to get that feel.
Finally, Price will need to work on becoming much more efficient than he was in 2011. I haven't been able to find pitch count data anywhere online, but my recollection is that he really labored to get outs at times last year (especially in the postseason). That can work in short spurts for a guy with his stuff, but he won't make it far past the third inning if he doesn't learn to become more efficient.
Colby Holmes (RHP, Jr.)
Getting the walks under control was the key for Colby Homes in 2011. He issued three fewer free passes per nine (from 5.33 BB/9 to 2.21/9) and voilà: a perfectly decent back-end rotation piece. But Holmes will need to sustain the gains he made last year and probably even take a step forward if he hopes to stave off Nolan Belcher, Adam Westmoreland, and a horde of talented underclassmen. Holmes has had something of an up-and-down offseason, so this may be one to monitor. We'll know more once he starts playing in games that count.
*While Roth only gave up 17 earned runs during his 2011 campaign en route to a video game-like 1.06 ERA, he did give up 19 unearned runs. It's common for pitchers with extreme ground ball tendencies to give up more earned runs than their flyball-inducing counterparts because ground balls are much more likely than flyballs to result in fielding errors and, therefore, unearned runs. Even so, to have your total runs allowed more than double your earned runs over the course of 145 innings is a bit extreme. Including the unearned runs, his RA/9 in 2011 was 2.23, which makes him seem a bit more human - but not much.**
**Preseason Roth Power Rankings: