March 18, 2019

Clemson Tiger Baseball Podcast – Episode 11

Brandon Rink (@brink_aim) looks back at the Tigers last 5 games, ahead to Miami and discusses Clemson’s chances of hosting.

You can download and/or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

Thanks to Brandon for  taking the time out of his busy schedule and everyone at orangeandwhite.com for support of the podcast and this site.

Also, thanks to Clemson graduate Adam Eargle for the artwork on this site and the baseball podcast.

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Small Ball = Smaller Odds of Winning

Last May Clemson entered the top of 9th inning with a 7-2 lead against third ranked North Carolina in their second game of the ACC Tournament and, despite losing the opening game, the Tigers were in good shape to host a regional with a 5 run lead and 3 outs standing between them and their 40th win against 18 losses.

To that point in the game the Tigers had managed to scratch out 7 runs on 9 hits, 8 of which were singles. Small ball was winning.

North Carolina also entered the 9th with 9 hits, but the Tar Heels only had 2 runs to show for their efforts. The Tiger pitching staff had held a power-laden (20th in home runs and 31st in slugging) North Carolina team to one extra base hit to this point.

A walk, 3 singles and a sacrifice fly brought home a couple of runs, but Clemson still led by 3 with two outs and two on. The odds still favored the Tigers, but the great equalizer was waiting in the wings. As Brian Holberton’s bat met Scott Firth’s pitch and the ball sailed over the fence to tie the game all of the missed opportunities that plagued the Tar Heels that evening were erased.

Clemson went on to lose that game in 14 innings, was shut out the next day and relegated to traveling to Columbia for the second straight year for a regional.

For all the talk about the lack of offense in college baseball since the bat changes after the 2010 season power and slugging still rule offensively and teams that have those qualities have a much larger margin of error than small ball teams.

Much as I did with football last summer I took look at college baseball and again found some oft-repeated themes don’t meet the statistical test as “important” to winning and losing.  I looked at 23 metrics for all 296 Division I teams for the 2013 season. Some findings were mundane, some surprising.

With the current state of the bats in college baseball who would have guessed that stolen bases and sacrifices are far and away the metrics that have the least correlation to scoring runs?

Small ball seems to be what the majority of college baseball teams have turned to in the “dead bat era”. It’s not unusual to see the 3-hole or cleanup hitter sacrifice. Get a guy on, steal or bunt him over and hope someone knocks him in. Play for one run at a time. The power game is gone. There’s no use in playing for the big inning. Hang around. Keeep it close.

Except that’s not what the data shows gives you the best chance of winning.

On some level the statistics below are obvious and those metrics show that, not surprisingly, on the offensive side runs correlate highest to winning %.
Baseball Batting Metrics Pearson Wins

Once we have confirmed that runs lead to wins, we needed to determine how teams score runs by finding the correlation to runs for each of the other metrics. There’s also no surprise that hits is the metric that correlates most highly to runs.
Baseball Batting Metrics Pearson Runs

The surprise in the data is not at the top, but the bottom. Stolen bases and sacrifices are not only at the bottom, but they are not close to any of the other metrics in terms of correlation to runs.

With the aforementioned changes in the bat several years back it would seem logical to assume a higher correlation between runs, stolen bases and sacrifices, but that’s simply not so.

Sacrifices and stolen bases are what teams do to generate runs when they don’t hit as well or with as much power as other teams and not something better hitting teams do to score runs. Teams that score runs (and have better odds of winning) generally hit for power (slugging %, OPS).

To some extent coaches play with the hands they are dealt, field and personnel-wise. But many small ball coaches recruit small ball type players and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy on some level.

The findings above are not earth shattering, but it does confirm that a lot of sacrifices and stolen bases and not a lot of power (slugging%, OPS) reduces your chances of scoring runs and leaves these teams a much smaller margin of error.  Small ball  type teams have to capitalize on a higher percentage of opportunities on offense and rely more on pitching and defense.

So while small ball is often cheered and celebrated as indicating a “well-coached” team, it also means the odds of scoring runs, and therefore winning games, are reduced.

Looking at the pitching and defensive metrics it’s ERA that corresponds highest with wins which, again, is not surprising.
Baseball Pitching Metrics Pearson Wins

But what metric drives a team’s ERA the most? You might be mildly surprised (as I was) to find that it’s WHIP, which as the table below shows correlates extremely high to ERA. Not splitting the atom that the two are related, but I wonder how many of us were aware of just how closely these metrics are tied?
Baseball Pitching Metrics Pitchng ERA

On the defensive side a surprise is how low on the list fielding is. I’ve been of the belief that fielding is one of the most important metrics in driving wins and apparently I was wrong. There’s a correlation, but it’s a moderate level.

Hits/9 innings is also important, but WHIP dominates because walks and hits are low on the list individually, but the combination of the two per inning is a powerful indication of winning and losing.

So what’s all this about? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that scoring runs is tougher for teams that have little power and rely on sacrifice bunts and stolen bases to score. A walk, stolen base and single is much less dangerous than a walk, single and 3 run homer. You generally need 3 of the former to equal 1 of the latter.

But the drum beat is nearly non-stop that small ball is the way to win in college baseball with the current bats. These numbers indicate that not only is that not true statistically, but relying on these tactics could in fact retard scoring (by definition you are “sacrificing” a chance for a hit and almost always giving the defense an out when attempting to advance a runner by bunting in most situations).

The truth is small ball wins some games and some teams and coaches are better at it than others, which is a benefit when playing another small ball team. But the odds are against teams using this approach against a team with more power, even during the dead bat era.

These numbers suggest that disadvantage is bigger than most of us realized.

CWS Analysis and Pick

No one team meets every criteria heading into Omaha, but Florida and UCLA come closest, each on the verge of meeting all criteria.

With fielding and pitching being the most important aspects of winning in Omaha, we can virtually eliminate three teams from contention: Arizona, Florida State and Kent State.

Arkansas has stellar pitching, but the fielding and batting leave something to be desired and having South Carolina and Florida in the same bracket spells doom for the Hogs.


2012 CWS Preview

That leaves us with 4 teams.

The Gamecocks are the two-time defending national champs and have the best fielding in either bracket, but have struggled some at the plate, with the worst batting average of any team in Omaha. Will their bats remain clutch in Omaha?

Stony Brook looks great on paper and great in Baton Rouge. My question is what happens if they have to come out of the loser’s bracket? Despite playing in a regional and then a super regional the Seawolves still have by far the worst SoS in the field and that means the Cinderella season will end before the final.

That leaves us with a UCLA-Florida final and a tough call. Two weeks ago I said UCLA looked like a weak #2 national seed. I was wrong about that.

Florida has an advantage in the two most important categories and 3 of the 4 on field measures and for that reason Seldom Used Reserve is forecasting Florida as the 2012 CWS Champion.

Gators, LSU best bets in 2012

I’ve identified 5 teams that have the chance to win the title in Omaha next month, but one stands out from the rest and is Seldom Used Reserve’s pick as the likely champion headed into the 2012 tournament.

The Florida Gators have been on our weekly radar since we began tracking the 2012 season and have to be odds on favorite to win the title. Fielding, pitching and slugging are all championship level and the batting isn’t that far off the mark. All this was done against the 11th toughest schedule in the nation and all this leads me to proclaim Florida our pick to win in Omaha.

Another SEC team comes in 2nd in our seeds of likely champions. If LSU had a little more pitching they could certainly win it all. The chances are slim that the ERA will move into range and given the fact that only one of the last 10 champions have had a worse ERA than LSUs current number leads me to believe that the Tigers will fall short.

Team Record Fielding ERA Batting Slugging SoS
Florida 42-18 16 10 118 14 11
LSU 43-16 4 37 43 62 45
Rice 40-17 24 9 104 82 56
Baylor 44-14 31 24 10 25 25
UCLA 42-14 28 39 14 81 1


Rice comes in third in our seeding and while the Owls fielding and batting can be improved, their SoS is out of range as no national champion in the last 10 years has had a SoS higher than 49.

Baylor is our 4th seed and would meet Rice in the Super if they both make it, but the Bears are a tad short on fielding and pitching. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the Waco Regional to see if the Bears can make a move in the fielding department.

Our 5th and final seed is UCLA. I believe this is a weak #2 national seed. Historically known for their pitching, this is a team that is 39th in ERA and 31st in fielding. Neither of those is going to get it done. Certainly, the Bruins can win their Regional and even the Super, but their chances of winning in Omaha with those numbers are not good.


The last 10 National Champions

Year Team Fielding ERA Batting Slugging SoS
2002 Texas 5 2 99 65 9
2003 Rice 2 2 41 103 15
2004 Cal State – Fullerton 17 22 9 56 3
2005 Texas 3 4 80 74 17
2006 Oregon State 8 14 85 95 18
2007 Oregon State 2 11 162 129 25
2008 Fresno State 52 56 125 102 49
2009 LSU 16 9 78 34 33
2010 South Carolina 13 7 173 81 39
2011 South Carolina 35 5 81 57 18

Thoughts on the Columbia Regional

I’m not high on Clemson’s prospects this coming weekend in Columbia and not just because they play in Columbia and two-time defending champ South Carolina potentially looms.  The fact is the Tigers may never play the Gamecocks in this regional. 

Coastal Carolina has the #2 ERA nationally and Clemson is a mediocre at best at the plate.  The Tigers actually have the highest SoS in the Regional, but also own the lowest team batting average – though none of these four will be mistaken for murderers row.

Thomas Brittle (orangeandwhite.com)

Can the Tigers beat Coastal?  Absolutely.  But here’s guessing all those salivating over a potential South Carolina-Clemson matchup on Saturday should wait and see what the Tigers do on Friday against a Coastal team they’ve already lost to this year.

A couple of things in the Tigers favor are the Chanticleers fielding issues and a weak schedule that may have the Chants pitching a tad overrated.  And remember – this is a Clemson team that gave South Carolina all they wanted in a 3 games series early in the season.

Team Record Fielding ERA Batting Slugging SoS
South Carolina 40-16 5 31 177 88 44
Clemson 33-26 40 94 193 117 21
Coastal Carolina 41-17 160 2 92 153 161
Manhattan 33-25 119 151 162 178 214


This is the Gamecocks regional to lose, and while Gamecock pitching isn’t three-peat worthy and they lack top end hitting, South Carolina should head to the Supers next week.

 

College Baseball Contenders (through 5/20/12)

Not a thing has changed since last week, except a few rankings. Through games of Sunday no teams meet all 5 of our criteria. Florida is closest, followed by Rice.

Team Record Fielding ERA Batting Slugging SoS
Florida 40-16 12 9 120 15 9
Rice 39-15 27 8 89 74 49


Rice has dropped a bit in fielding, but gained 10 spots in the SoS.  However, having seen both teams play, Florida has to be considered the favorite heading into the conference tournaments.

College Baseball Contenders (through 5/13/12)

Through games of Sunday no teams meet all 5 of our criteria.  Florida is closest, followed by Rice.

Team Record Fielding ERA Batting Slugging SoS
Florida 38-14 9 8 117 22 9
Rice 36-14 21 14 86 66 59


Rice is only .001 out of the money in fielding, but the Owl’s 59th rated SoS is something to keep an eye on.  The Owls finish up the regular season with a game against Sam Houston State (34-16) and then a three game series at UCF (40-12) which is tied for the C-USA lead with Rice at 15-6.

College Baseball Contenders (through 5/6/12)

The Gators regain their spot as the lone contender through games of Sunday and meet all 5 of our criteria.

Team Record Fielding ERA Batting Slugging SoS
Florida 35-13 4 14 97 13 5




Rice (33-13) had a tough series with Houston over the weekend and is just outside the ERA and Batting Average parameters, but remain a team to keep an eye on.

College Baseball Contenders (through 4/29/12)

Rice had the week off but remains at the top of the heap and a 3 game series at UCF looms down the road to end the regular season and most likely decide Conference USA.

Florida does not technically meet the criteria, but considering that the Gators are 0.01 from being 22nd in ERA, I’ve included them here.  Their SoS is also much stronger than Rice’s.
 

Team Record Fielding ERA Batting Slugging SoS
Rice 30-12 11 15 99 83 34
Florida 33-12 5 24 98 13 8


South Carolina has dropped a notch in pitching (31st) and batting average (149) and I’m not going to include them at this point, while LSU’s ERA remains a bit high (41st) for inclusion.

College Baseball Contenders (through 4/22/12)

Rice shows up as the top contender for the first time this year, and with good reason as they are solid in both pitching and fielding, the two dominant components.  Interestingly enough, the Owls aren’t even atop the Conference USA standings and still face league-leading UCF down the road.

The Gators would be on top, but their ERA is a tad out of range at 24th, but they are outstanding in every other respect.  This team could certainly take home the hardware in Omaha.

South Carolina continues it’s solid fielding, but both the pitching and hitting has tailed a bit. However, given the Gamecocks recent history they can’t be counted out. 

Team Record Fielding ERA Batting Slugging SoS
Rice 30-12 13 14 100 83 33
Florida 31-9 4 24 81 9 9
South Carolina 30-11 5 30 141 89 51
LSU 32-9 8 41 37 63 79

I debated LSUs inclusion here because of their ERA and, to a lesser extent, their SoS, but in the end I felt they deserved to be here for now.  As we mentioned a couple weeks ago the Tigers have huge series left and I’m not willing to count them out yet.