Riptide’s Reflections | Tale of two Jays

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

Riptide’s Reflections is The Tulane Hullabaloo’s column talking all things Tulane athletics. 

Tuesday night’s baseball game between Tulane and LSU was all about the two Jays. In the home dugout, Green Wave head coach Jay Uhlman is leading a struggling team who has yet to win 10 games this season. In the visiting dugout, Tigers head coach Jay Johnson is leading the best team in the nation with an all-time great offense.

With yesterday’s 11-5 win, LSU extends their all-time series lead over Tulane to 112-73-2. Yesterday was not only the Tiger’s first visit to New Orleans since 2018, but also their first win since 2018. 

Johnson is in his second year at LSU. Last season, the Tigers were 40-22 (17-13 Southeastern Conference) with the team’s highest ranking being No.14. They bowed out of the NCAA Regionals to the University of Southern Mississippi. This season, they are the No.1 ranked team in the nation with a 27-5 (7-4 SEC) record.

As a team, the Tigers are batting .328 — fifth best in nation —,  and they also have the player with the highest batting average in the country, Dylan Crews, batting .510. Meanwhile, their elite pitching is 19th best in the country with a team ERA of 3.94. They also have the second-best pitcher in baseball in Paul Skenes, with an ERA of 1.14.

However, it is important to note what LSU was prior to Johnson. In the year directly before Johnson arrived, LSU went 38-25 (13-17 SEC) and made the NCAA Super Regional before losing to the Tennessee Volunteers. On that 2021 roster were key players that played last night — including Crews, Tre’ Morgan, Blake Money, Gavin Dugas, Jordan Thompson, Alex Milazzo and Cade Beloso. Also on that roster is Michael Fowler, who pitched last night for Tulane.

All of those players were key to elite level players for the Tigers in 2021. When Johnson took the LSU job, he inherited an elite squad that was primed for great success. As a program with a lot of recent success and plenty of resources, there was little incentive for players to transfer. This observation is not to take anything away from Johnson’s success — he has turned a great squad into the best team in the nation. But, this context is important for comparing with Uhlman.

Uhlman’s first year as Tulane head coach is not going to plan. The team is 9-24 (3-3 American Athletic Conference), although just one game back in AAC play. The pitching ranks 198th out of 295 with a team ERA of 6.40. It is certainly below average, but not a complete disaster. Starters Dylan Carmouche and Ricky Castro are great pitchers but the team crucially lacks a reliable third starter. In the bullpen, Fowler and Michael Lombardi are good options, but there is a noticeable drop off in both quality and consistency after them.

The bigger issue is at the plate. Offensively, the team batting is .237 — ranked 277th out of 295. The Wave’s best hitter this season is Brady Marget who is hitting .301 — which is great, but not near the top echelons of college baseball. 

Last season, Tulane went 33-26-1 (11-13 AAC) but was eliminated in the conference tournament. Of that 2021 roster, 15 of the 36 players either graduated or were drafted into the MLB. Most of the team’s best players transferred. For many, transferring offered more exposure to MLB scouts, a program with more resources and a team that could win the national championship. Tulane, while historically good and well-funded, just could not compete.

To rebuild the roster, Uhlman took on a monumental task to replace the high-end talent that he lost. Retaining Marget, Teo Banks and Jackson Linn was important, even if Banks and Linn are both having down years. In the transfer portal, results were mixed with the additions. Fowler and Castro are both great pick-ups, but behind them is a mixed bag of players. Pitchers Billy Price, Gavin Smith and Tayler Montiel are decent additions, but each has also struggled at times on the mound. None of them have developed the consistency needed to be a high-leverage reliever. The other three transfers have not broken through to see regular game time.

The incoming freshman class has shown flashes of quality, but not the consistency needed. The team has nine true freshmen, with three or four getting regular playing time. Generally speaking, these players show enough promise to be a solid core in the future, but their problem is that their team needs them to be good today. With a further nine players being either redshirt freshmen or sophomores, the majority of the team are still young players.

There are certainly more reasons as to why Tulane’s season is going the way it is, although this is just one angle. Comparing Johnson and Uhlman shows how on an institutional level, Uhlman was not dealt a good hand especially compared to his LSU counterpart. This article is not excusing Uhlman on some of his mistakes — which will be pointed out in future articles — but rather to give context to how the vast majority of coaches probably would have had the same fate as Uhlman in this job. 

Johnson was dealt a great hand and played it perfectly. Uhlman was dealt a bad hand and the on-field product is a reflection of this. It will take time for Uhlman, or anyone for that matter, to turn things around.

Jude Papillion contributed to this article’s reporting.

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