Coming into the season ranked No. 1, a College World Series Championship was always the goal for the Florida Gators baseball team. With four CWS appearances from 2010-2015, and still no championships, Gator faithful had high hopes 2016 would finally be the year.
The best overall season in Florida baseball history ended with a quick, two and barbeque exit in Omaha. If that makes you sad, just remember FSU has made 21 CWS appearances and has never won a championship.
This season ended in disappointing fashion, but was successful in many ways. The Gators finished the season with a 52-16 record, the best overall record in program history. The 2016 team became the quickest team in Florida history to reach 40 wins, doing so in only 48 games. Florida earned the No. 1 overall seed in the National Tournament and was one of eight teams still playing in late June.
Florida’s pitching staff was considered by most to be the best in the country. The unmatched depth of the pitching staff was a nightmare to opposing teams, because there was always an ace on the mound. All three weekend starters for the Gators could’ve been Friday night starters for most teams. Even bullpen pitchers, such as Dane Dunning, could have been successful starters for any team in the country.
It is difficult to single out a few key pitchers in such a talented staff, but much of the credit for Florida’s success this year can be given to Logan Shore, Dane Dunning, and Shaun Anderson.
SEC Pitcher of the Year Logan Shore, finished the season with a 12-1 record. His only loss came in his final game of the season against Coastal Carolina at the CWS. Before the loss, Shore had won 17 consecutive decisions, a school record. The Friday night starter pitched a team leading 105.1 innings this season and posted a 2.31 ERA.
Dane Dunning was not credited nearly enough for his value to the Gators this season. He had to eat through countless innings of extreme value in his 35 appearances, mostly in relief. He took on a role that not many pitchers want to do, and he owned it. It was not uncommon for him to pitch four or five innings in relief. His ability to have long outings saved more pitchers in the bullpen for upcoming games.
Shaun Anderson came on big in the closing role all season to secure wins for the Gators. He accumulated 13 saves — tying a school record — in his 36 appearances this season and led the team with a mind-blowing ERA of just 0.97.
There is no discrediting the talent and importance of the rest of Florida’s pitchers. A.J Puk was the sixth overall pick in the MLB Draft and Alex Faedo won 13 games for the Gators on the mound, that is just how good this pitching staff was.
The Gators led the SEC in nearly every pitching statistic there was, including ERA (2.91), Opposing batting average (.226), and strikeouts (671). Kevin O’Sullivan is doing something right in recruiting and developing his pitchers.
Defense was lights out this season for the Gators. Florida finished the season as one of the best fielding teams in the country, and the best overall fielding team in the SEC. Florida’s young
defense was made up of mostly freshman and sophomores, with the exception of Buddy Reed, Pete Alonso, and sometimes Ryan Larson.
Sophomore catcher, Mike Rivera, was the unquestioned leader on defense. Rivera controlled the games from behind the plate for the Gators and became one of the best defensive catchers in the country this season.
Buddy Reed and Dalton Guthrie were huge factors at two of the most important positions on the field. Reed’s speed in centerfield saved many a ball from falling in the outfield this season. He often made difficult plays look routine. Guthrie made the transition from second base to shortstop this season and handled his position well. He made nearly all the routine plays and made the occasional highlight reel play, which is what it takes to be a steady shortstop. The two freshman infielders, Deacon Liput and Jonathan India, played beyond their years on defense this season. They are two outstanding, young defensive players who could be superstars in the years to come.
The offense was the biggest hole in Florida’s game this season, and it came back to bite them in the end. If there was a phase of the game where Florida’s youth was apparent, it was in the batter’s box. The Gators finished the season with a team batting average of .278, which was 7th in the SEC.
The Gators struggled to find an identity at the plate this season. Throughout the year, there were games like the 12-2 win against Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament, where the offense seemed unstoppable. Then there were games like the first game against FSU in Supers and the two CWS games, where there were no adjustments made and Florida could not take advantage of offensive opportunities.
Pete Alonso was the heart and soul of the Florida offense this season. The junior first baseman batted .374, with a .659 slugging percentage, and 14 dingers. When he was on, the young offense followed behind him.
In the final games of the season, the Gators relied too much on the pitching staff to win the games for them. That is ultimately what lost Florida a chance to make a run at the National Championship this season.
The good news, Florida’s offense will be loaded with experience and improving talent next season.
As for the pitching staff, the Gators will lose a majority of the arms that led them this season. Alex Faedo will likely be the most experienced pitcher on the staff going into 2017. Florida will also return a couple of talented young pitchers with some experience, in Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar. The staff will be young next season, but O’Sullivan will have a lot of talent to work with and develop.
Looking back at the 2016 season, there were many accomplishments to be proud of, as well as things that left the players, coaches, and fans disappointed and unsatisfied. There will never be real satisfaction in Gainesville until a championship is won in baseball. With so many talented players returning next season, the Gators potential has no ceiling.
Looking forward, there are plenty of things to be excited about.