Nearly halfway through its season, Penn State has seen its fair share of ups and downs from its roster, as it currently sits at 11th in the Big Ten at 6-11.
The Nittany Lions’ first series was a solid display that ended in a split, but it would take five weekends until they clinched their first series win against Rutgers.
Coach Rob Cooper’s squad has seen inconsistency from both its offense and defense, but each component of the team helped the blue and white put together its most complete performances in its past two series against the Scarlet Knights and Michigan.
Seventeen games in, here’s a look at who has exceeded expectations and who needs to step up his game.
Conor Larkin, hot
Conor Larkin has undoubtedly been the best pitcher on Cooper’s staff thus far. He leads the team’s usual trio of starters with a 3.81 ERA.
Larkin has been suffocating to hitters, only allowing a .222 batting average to his opponents in his outings. He also leads the team with 37 strikeouts on the year.
Despite his strong start to the campaign, Larkin’s record sits at a relatively poor 1-3 mark. Still, he has given the Nittany Lions every opportunity to hang in the games he started.
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Penn State is hardly a stranger to the big dance.
Cole Bartels, cold
Cole Bartels played hero in Penn State’s upset of then-No. 19 Michigan with a walk-off slap bunt that skipped just out of the reach of the Wolverines’ third baseman.
However, Bartels’ season hasn’t consisted of many fairy-tale endings like that one.
He has taken control of the everyday first baseman role, but his .204 batting average and .563 OPS rank last among Nittany Lion batters with 75% of games played and three plate appearances per game.
Cooper tried to experiment with Bartels batting leadoff for a few games, but it wasn’t enough to get the redshirt junior going.
First base is a position typically known for its plethora of power hitters and RBI machines.
At this juncture in the season, Bartels hasn’t been either, but he could be a key piece to help the Nittany Lions turn their season around.
Justin Williams, hot
After a 2-for-12 weekend in the season opener against Northwestern, Justin Williams buckled down at the plate and now leads Penn State with a .311 batting average.
Williams has provided solid power and production to Cooper’s squad from the three-hole for most of the season.
He also ranks second on the team with a .902 OPS and is tied for second with three home runs. He has tacked on six RBIs as well.
Williams additionally has gotten a hit in each of the last four games and has reached base in 11 straight contests.
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Penn State is getting ready for its regular season finale with one word on its mind — humility.
Tyler Shingledecker, cold
Cooper said Tyler Shingledecker’s 2020 numbers were “videogame-like.” That hasn’t quite been the case so far in 2021.
Against Michigan, Shingledecker put together a shutout performance to help Penn State to the upset in Game 1, but he blew up in Game 2 by issuing three walks in an outing that only lasted four batters.
Shingledecker’s ERA sits at 6.75 and he has given up nine earned runs in just 12 innings of work.
Cooper’s bullpen has been one of the rockier areas of the team’s performance so far, but it’s clear Cooper still trusts Shingledecker with the ball in tight situations. He will need his lefty setup man to figure it out in order to propel the blue and white to a few more tight wins.
Johnny Piacentino, hot
Like Williams, Johnny Piacentino had a bit of a slow start to the season. He went just 1-for-4 in the first game against Northwestern, but shined in the final game of the series with three home runs.
Piacentino has been arguably the most consistent source of production for Penn State’s offense as he leads the team in home runs (5), RBIs (12), OPS (.910) and runs scored (12).
He and Williams have been an elite one-two punch for Cooper at the top of the order so far this season. Piacentino is also sporting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage with the most putouts on the team.