Not far from the batting cages inside the Marucci Performance Center, Eddie Smith tacked four sheets of paper onto a corkboard, displaying the offensive goals and approach he has taught since fall practice.
When LSU coach Paul Mainieri picked Smith as the volunteer hitting coach last summer, Smith brought with him a clear plan, one he had developed over his 13-year career in college baseball. It combined analytics and mental approach.
One sheet listed three goals: lead the Southeastern Conference in runs per game, on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and a defensive metric called plus/minus, which measures runs saved.
Smith believes a correlation exists between successful offensive teams and OPS. The percentage calculates a player’s ability to reach base and hit for power. Smith has emphasized walks — he titled one piece of paper “VALUE THE WALK!!!” — and extra-base hits since he arrived at LSU.
Underneath the all-caps headline, Smith included two bar graphs. One showed the walk-to-strikeout ratio for LSU last season (.52-1) versus the walk-to-strikeout ratio of LSU all-conference players since 2011 (.92-1). The other graph showed the same ratio for college players taken in the Major League Baseball draft the past four years. Hitters selected in the first round averaged a 1.08-1 ratio.
As he tries to increase walks, Smith has instructed hitters to chase fewer pitches. At the bottom of the corkboard, Smith split an at-bat into two scenarios: less than two strikes and two strikes. Smith asked players to look for their pitch and attack with fewer than two strikes. On the verge of a strikeout, he wanted players to battle.
“Somehow, someway,” Smith said, “you’ve got to find a way to win that battle.”
With less than one week until LSU begins its season against Indiana on Friday, the players have absorbed Smith’s approach to hitting. Smith showed them a slideshow presentation during their first team meeting with a message similar to the sheets of paper near the batting cages. He set a foundation for his expectations, and the Tigers have accepted his requests.
“I give all my credit to Eddie Smith,” said sophomore Gavin Dugas, who hit .333 with five doubles and two home runs during fall practice. Dugas batted .186 his freshman year. “If there was a coach I could pick to coach me the rest of my life, it would be him.”
Smith began developing his offensive approach during his two years as a utility infielder at Notre Dame. He played for Mainieri, who showed Smith the detail required inside a successful program. Mainieri gave the team clear expectations.
After Smith graduated, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor called Mainieri. O’Connor coached with Mainieri for nine years, and Virginia had received approval to hire a director of baseball operations for the first time. Mainieri, who was leaving for LSU, recommended Smith. O’Connor hired him.
Smith coordinated travel itineraries and scouting reports. He later helped coach the hitters. Whatever O’Connor asked of Smith during their five years together, Smith completed the task with meticulous preparation. O’Connor called him “relentless.”
“He never wanted to leave anything for chance,” O’Connor said. “I was spoiled in the first guy I hired in that job set the bar so high for future guys and what my expectations are.”
As Smith moved from Virginia to Santa Clara to Notre Dame, he gathered bits of information, forming his own ideas for how to run a program and coach hitters.
By the time Smith became the head coach at Lower Columbia Community College, he understood his expectations for players. He won three straight Northwest Athletic Conference championships, and Smith received 2015 American Baseball Coaches Association/Diamond Pacific Association Division National Coach of the Year.
The honor came with an invitation to speak at the ABCA’s 72nd annual conference. The organization assigned Smith a presentation on infield play. He created a PowerPoint with videos. As Smith discussed drills and his team’s philosophy, sharing as much as he could about the infield, Mainieri listened.
“I was absolutely mesmerized,” Mainieri said. “It was the most organized, articulate, mature presentation I think I’d ever seen at one of those clinics.”
His final year at Lower Columbia in 2017, Smith hired a recruiting coordinator named Kurt Lupinski. About two weeks into the job, Smith recalled Lupinski said, “Coach, you’ve got the yellow brick road here. All the players have to do is follow it and they won’t ever screw up.”
“I took that to heart,” Smith said. “I want that for the players to say here’s the expectation and challenge them to meet that every single day.”
When Smith arrived at LSU from Tulane, hired to replace volunteer hitting coach Sean Ochinko, he spent three days analyzing every returning hitter, the team’s overall statistics, the SEC and teams across the country. He flew to watch LSU’s players in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He ate with junior right fielder Daniel Cabrera.
“We started talking about hitting,” said Cabrera, a Cape Cod All-Star last summer. “He’s not a mechanical guy. He’s all about approach, being positive, going up there with a plan. I could talk with him for days about baseball and hitting.”
Though Smith has some unwavering expectations for hitters, such as their approach with less than two strikes, he understands players require individualized instruction. He has not presented a one-size-fits-all model.
As a freshman last year, Drew Bianco swung aggressively throughout the season, trying to hit home runs. He struck out 34 percent of his at-bats. Smith showed Bianco when he swung too hard, his front shoulder turned away from the ball, causing him to miss pitches. Smith told Bianco to aim up the middle and to the opposite field. He convinced him to accept singles and walks. His natural strength would create home runs.
“I feel like I’m a completely different hitter than I was when I came here,” Bianco said. “I think he has changed my whole mindset of hitting and for the better.”
Throughout his career, Smith developed his foundation for hitting. He adopted bits of information from every stop, and now, he and Mainieri must find a lineup capable of supporting the Tigers’ pitching staff.
LSU lost the majority of its starters and its top-three hitters from last season. The Tigers have not settled on their opening day lineup, and even once Mainieri fills out the first card, it will change as he searches for the best combination of players. Smith needs to have them ready.
“Maybe he’ll be our Joe Brady,” Mainieri said, referencing the former LSU passing game coordinator who helped create one of the best offenses in college football history. “I don’t know if he’ll make that kind of an impact or not.
“Hitting a baseball is a hard thing to do. You’ve got to have a lot of talent. But I can tell you the kids look like they’re getting better to me every day.”