LSU's Paul Skenes (Mandy Sorenson)

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LSU’s Paul Skenes wins D1Baseball Player of the Year award

Awards

Paul Skenes is the 2023 D1Baseball Player of the Year after putting together a historic season while helping to lead LSU to the national championship.

Skenes finished second in the nation among qualified pitchers in ERA (1.69) and first in strikeouts (209), breaking fellow LSU great Ben McDonald’s 34-year-old SEC strikeout record and becoming the first Division I pitcher to reach the 200-strikeout plateau since Long Beach State’s Jered Weaver in 2004. Remarkably, he struck out more than 10 times as many batters as he walked (20), while holding opponents to a .165 batting average in 122.2 innings. Unsurprisingly, he also led the nation in WHIP (0.75) while finishing second in victories (13) behind Wake Forest’s Rhett Lowder, with whom he traded zeroes in an epic College World Series showdown last week. Skenes struck out nine in that contest to break McDonald’s record.

“I’ve gotten to talk with Ben a lot, and he called a lot of our games,” Skenes said afterward. “Obviously had a really good career at LSU and in the major leagues. It’s cool. And it’s cool to leave a legacy.

It’s fair to say Skenes’ legacy is secure. The SEC Pitcher of the Year, Skenes also won the CWS Most Outstanding Player award by going 1-0, 1.15 with 21 strikeouts against two walks in 15.2 innings over two superb starts in Omaha.

“I mean, this is something that we look forward to all year. This is why I came to LSU,” Skenes said of the opportunity to pitch on college baseball’s grandest stage. “But honestly, playing in front of as many fans as we have at Alex Box, and kind of mentally preparing over the last 10 months or whatever it’s been, when it comes down to it it just comes down to execution. And Coach says the game doesn’t change, people change. As long as we make it to where we don’t change, then that allows to us have success here.”

Previous Winners

2022Ivan Melendez, Texas
2021Kevin Kopps, Arkansas
2020None
2019Adley Rutschman, Oregon State
2018Brady Singer, Florida
2017Brendan McKay, Louisville
2016Will Craig, Wake Forest
2015Dansby Swanson, Vanderbilt

Skenes arrived at LSU last fall as a transfer from Air Force, where he was a two-time All-American as a two-way talent, splitting time between pitching and catching — when he wasn’t training to be an F-15 fighter pilot. He was an established star who hit double-digit homers in each of his first two seasons while posting a sub-3 ERA, first as a closer during his freshman year, then as a starter in his sophomore campaign. He could dominate with a fastball that sat 92-95 mph last summer for Team USA — but he took a huge jump once he arrived at LSU and started focusing exclusively on pitching.

Working with LSU pitching coach Wes Johnson, Skenes’ velocity spiked into the high 90s and regularly exceeded 100 mph, topping out at 103. He sustained that premium velocity all season long, throwing more than 40 pitches 100 mph or faster during his first CWS start against Tennessee. Skenes also made dramatic strides improving his slider under Johnson’s tutelage, and the pitch became a power offering in the high 80s this year, giving him another out pitch along with his fastball and changeup.

In Omaha, LSU coach Jay Johnson explained that Skenes’ huge leap forward and LSU’s decision to use him exclusively as a pitcher this year went hand in hand:

“There’s a lot of value in simplicity, I think, and he’s a great two-way player. This dude was launching home runs in fall baseball. I mean, as impressive as it gets He definitely could make an impact. Had I just made him a position player, he would have 20 home runs right now and potentially be hitting fifth or sixth for our team.

“Well, we had a really deliberate plan on the pitching side of it. We got him started right when he got to campus with Coach Wes Johnson to develop his slider. There were some things that we needed to do. So we started to do that early. We shut him down earlier in the fall to give him more ramp-up time for the season. Then it wasn’t intentional, but I think kind of removing the two-way player thing, I started to see his ability to recover physically better. You’re minimizing the rotations because the rotation of a pitching delivery, rotation of a hitting swing, he is righthanded in both, it’s very similar.

“I feel like last year he was catching. He was swinging a bat. He was running the bases. He was potentially playing first base at times. Then, also, you know, going six or seven innings in a league that’s not very easy to pitch in. I know that firsthand. I think kind of the simplicity of it, and then you take someone that is so driven, that is so disciplined, and get them on track with one thing. What does Friday to Friday look like? Then he has absolutely mastered that. When you are talking about recovery, when you are talking about development, velocity improvement, improving his secondary pitches, he has been able to go all-in on those things. I think that’s probably the reasoning [behind Skenes focusing on pitching].”

Jay Johnson

For more on Skenes, check out Mark Etheridge’s superb profile on him from back in February, when his greatness was already apparent.

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