Let’s pull again the curtain a bit. I’ve been overlaying baseball full-time for about 10 years now, and in that point I’ve mainly written 5 varieties of article time and again. Each sportswriter cranks out recreation tales and interview-based options, and a minimum of two or 3 times per week, each FanGraphs author pens a centered topical evaluation punctuated by charts and jokes. I’m no totally different. Class no. 4 entails Political/social/financial commentary, since our sport is ruled by the society it exists inside, and needs to be analyzed accordingly.
Which brings up class no. 5: I grow to be fixated on one thing bizarre or trivial that no person else on this planet cares about. And fairly than throw out a joke tweet and neglect about it like a traditional particular person, I spend days and days discovering, compiling, and analyzing information in a useless try to find the reality. If a reality as such even exists. Then, detached as to if the readers of FanGraphs Dot Com — i.e. all of you wonderful of us — give a tinker’s rattling in regards to the topic, I publish the outcomes on this little nook of the web.
Be warned, this can be a class no. 5 publish.
It began final weekend, through the first weekend of the Division I NCAA baseball event. For these unfamiliar, faculty baseball doesn’t use a straight knockout bracket like basketball and hockey do. As a substitute, the 64 contestants are sorted into four-team regionals, a double-elimination bracket hosted (normally) by the highest-seeded group. It takes both three or 4 wins to return out of a regional, which includes both six or seven video games. This, by the way, permits us to protect the concept of a decisive Recreation 7, which is a contented accident.
Regionals are the most effective weekend of baseball on TV all yr, corresponding to the Olympics or group stage of the World Cup by way of sports activities viewing. Can’t advocate it sufficient.
The winner of every regional strikes on to an excellent regional, a best-of-three collection, the next weekend. The remaining eight groups transfer on to the Faculty World Collection in Omaha, which is itself a pair of four-team double-elimination tournaments adopted by a best-of-three collection to crown the nationwide champion.
To summarize: 4-team double-elimination, best-of-three; four-team double-elimination, best-of-three.
The choice committee seeds the most effective 16 groups, and as a way to guarantee relative parity, the remaining 48 are additionally break up into tiers of 16, leaving every regional with its personal groups seeded one by means of 4. Consider a regional 4 seed because the equal of between a 13 and 16 seed in March Insanity.
If there’s one factor you must find out about faculty baseball in 2023, it’s that offense is approach up. (I’ll have a chart as an instance that time shortly.) Residence runs are at an all-time excessive, and scoring generally is at its highest stage in 13 years. And the regionals themselves had been fairly chaotic; there have been quite a few upsets and comebacks, and solely 9 of the 16 hosts survived. The fallen included three of the highest six nationwide seeds and half of the highest 10. Auburn, the no. 13 general seed, acquired bounced with out successful a recreation.
Right here, we arrive on the motivating query: Did extra offense result in extra upsets? It’s potential that the proliferation of residence runs makes it simpler for a trailing group to mount a comeback. Alternatively, the good differentiator in postseason faculty baseball is pitching depth.
The highest applications in main conferences run pitching staffs as deep as main league groups’. A mid-major group, by comparability, won’t solely have fewer prime arms to throw, however the compressed schedule of a regional privileges deeper staffs. Faculty groups, which could play 4 instances per week within the common season, are obliged to play as many as 5 video games in 4 days in a regional — and in opposition to higher-level competitors with extra on the road than ever. For would-be Cinderellas, the query in a regional is whether or not they can cling on in opposition to higher-seeded groups earlier than they run out of pitchers.
But when each group’s pitchers had been getting lit up, maybe that might stage the enjoying discipline, or so I believed.
As a result of it’s potential that this complete idea of mine is bunk. Larger scoring environments are inclined to make upsets much less possible, no more. The extra scoring occasions, the extra alternatives for the vagaries of likelihood to even out. This is the reason the NBA playoffs (this yr however) are typically pretty variety to favorites, whereas the NHL playoffs are a charnel home of random variance.
It’s additionally potential that this postseason will not be, in reality, that upset-happy in any case. Of the three four-over-one upsets on the primary day of the event, two of the successful no. 4 seeds — Penn and Rider — play lower than an hour from my residence and generated substantial native curiosity. So perhaps there weren’t that many upsets, and I’m simply blinded by regional chauvinism. It wouldn’t be the primary time.
In spite of everything that preamble, it’s time to get to the information. Which is a problematic subject for school baseball. See, record-keeping on the faculty stage is… properly, it’s terrible, there’s no different solution to put it. Regardless of the efforts of assorted unbiased web sites, to say nothing of the underpaid, overworked sports activities data administrators upon whose shoulders the school sports activities media panorama rests, there isn’t a worthwhile centralized, searchable database for school baseball stats. For somebody spoiled by Stathead, and Baseball Savant, and, properly, FanGraphs, this presents an infinite downside by way of information assortment.
Again after I was overlaying faculty baseball commonly within the mid-2010s, it was a 50/50 proposition whether or not a group’s field rating would come with pitch depend. If I needed a pitcher’s strikeout price or opponent batting line, I needed to do the mathematics myself. The state-of-the-art has improved considerably within the years since, however not by that a lot:
Division I Offensive Surroundings
SOURCE: NCAA.org, Baseball Reference
For this desk of division-wide offensive tendencies over the previous 14 seasons, I needed to go to 2 totally different sections of the NCAA web site, neither of which had OBP information additional again than 2015 or slugging share for any yr. The 2020 season was canceled earlier than any significant intra-conference play befell, making it ineffective for comparability with different seasons. However the tab for conference- and division-level information for 2022 simply doesn’t exist on the NCAA web site. So I needed to go to Baseball Reference, which has conference-level numbers, kind out the DI conferences, and add up the mandatory numbers myself.
That is all a roundabout approach of claiming that I compiled the game-level information from the entire regionals since 2010 myself by getting into the outcomes of 13 years’ value of brackets right into a spreadsheet by hand. Now, after some tinkering, stated spreadsheet has grow to be unfathomably highly effective. You possibly can use this spreadsheet to place a person on the Moon. Or a minimum of put a person in Omaha. Was it well worth the effort? No, if I’m being sincere. However we press on.
One factor you’ll discover from that desk about general scoring is how wildly the run setting has swung in faculty baseball up to now 15 years. Over right here in MLB, individuals are complaining in regards to the rocket ball or minute modifications to gear and rule enforcement. Develop up. Over in faculty baseball, it’s whole anarchy. Residence runs had been almost 3 times as widespread this yr as they had been in 2014, which isn’t that way back! 4 of these 2014 Division I residence runs got here from Pete Alonso, who will not be that previous! Although maybe it’s instructive that Pete Alonso, who can raise a battleship, might solely hit 4 residence runs in 60 video games in that setting.
I went all the way in which again to 2010 as a result of that yr kicked off a decade of radical gear modifications in faculty baseball. Again within the Nineteen Nineties, groups had been utilizing supercharged aluminum bats to attain seven runs a recreation. Scores within the 20s weren’t unusual. In 2011, the NCAA modified gear requirements to make use of deadened BBCOR bats, and offense went by means of the ground. On the similar time, the Faculty World Collection venue was moved from tiny Rosenblatt Stadium to a brand new, bigger park in downtown Omaha that faces into a robust headwind. On the one Faculty World Collection I coated in particular person, 2014, it was uncommon to see a fly ball get inside 20 toes of the fence.
The brand new bat guidelines despatched the sport too far within the different route. However the place MLB (a minimum of till final yr) would wring its fingers and do nothing for many years, the NCAA acted. In 2015, it modified the baseball, transferring to a brand new ball with lower-profile seams, corresponding to the one used within the minors. Offense rebounded with the much less draggy baseball, although because the pandemic, it’s exploded once more for causes that aren’t completely clear:
As you’ll be able to see — and as you would possibly anticipate — scoring within the postseason has tracked with scoring within the common season. However my speculation is already falling aside. This was the highest-scoring season of the BBCOR period general, however scoring in regional play is down barely from final yr.
It’s vital to keep in mind that a complete regional spherical is made up of solely about 100 video games and someplace between 1,000 and 1,500 runs. A part of the general spike in offense in final yr’s regional was one Oklahoma State-Missouri State recreation that ended 29-15 and accounted for 3% of whole offense throughout all regionals.
The upper-seeded groups additionally dined out this season, as common, although this quantity is usually a little deceptive, as no. 2 and no. 3 seeds carry out very equally throughout historical past:
Larger Seed Report in NCAA Regionals
SOURCE: NCAA.org, Baseball Reference
On the margins, the distinction in high quality from one tier to a different could be fairly small. So let’s have a look at successful share over time, sorted out by seed:
Sure, this was a superb yr for no. 4 seeds, who had their finest successful share and run differential since 2017. Prime-seeded groups additionally took a success, with their worst successful share since 2018. This was one in all simply two cases up to now 13 tournaments during which no. 1 seeds did not win a minimum of 70% of their regional video games. No. 3 seeds had their worst collective efficiency since 2010, going 17-31. For the primary time within the pattern, that they had a successful share nearer to no. 4 seeds than no. 2 seeds. Run differential information has related contours, and as you would possibly anticipate, the stratification between seeds is extra outlined:
Upset wins are typically lower-scoring than chalk. The run differential of top-seeded groups additionally follows the sample of general scoring a bit extra intently than document does.
So if something, extra scoring results in fewer upsets generally, as the recent weekend loved by a handful of no. 4 seeds was balanced out by the disastrous efficiency of no. 3 seeds. And as a lot consideration as Penn and Rider acquired, the true supply of bottom-seed overperformance is Oral Roberts.
ORU is one in all a number of evangelical establishments — together with Liberty and mid-major baseball powerhouse Dallas Baptist — that’s sought publicity by means of athletic excellence and subsequently punches above its weight on the diamond. Oral Roberts performs within the Summit League, which historically solely will get one bid into the NCAA Event. And because of their weak common season schedule, the Mouthbobs normally arrive at Choice Monday with a résumé worthy of a no. 4 seed. This yr, ORU went 46-11 within the common season however ended up with an RPI of 76. (As an apart, RPI has its points, however that’s a publish for an additional day.) Two thirds of their common season wins got here in opposition to groups ranked two hundredth or decrease within the RPI. They performed solely 5 video games in opposition to groups that made the event, and misplaced 4.
However as soon as Oral Roberts will get to the event, it tends to do properly. Since 2010, ORU has made the event 9 instances, and has been a no. 4 seed eight instances. In these eight event appearances, ORU has gained a minimum of one recreation 5 instances and gone 9-14 general, for a .391 successful share that’s nearly double what 4 seeds have achieved usually since 2010.
And this yr, ORU ran the desk within the Stillwater Regional, successful all three of its video games with a plus-six run differential. The opposite 15 four-seeds, together with Rider and Penn, went a mixed 6-30 (.167) with a run differential of minus-192.
Is it the offensive setting, or is it Oral Roberts?
So in any case that effort, the information is at finest detached to my speculation, and what I believed was a development is definitely the results of one small non secular faculty from Oklahoma punching approach above its weight. Was this an vital query to pursue? Probably not. And did we be taught something from the train? Additionally no. However now I’ve gotten this fixation out of my system in time for tremendous regionals, and that’s crucial factor.