clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

College World Series Preview

New, 65 comments

The 2009 College World Series features two strong favorites in each bracket along with a handful of capable challengers. Pitching and defense is back in full force in college baseball as this year's field contains seven teams in the Top 16 in the nation at preventing runs. Meanwhile, five teams made it to Omaha despite being outside the national Top 16 in scoring runs. All numbers in this preview for team rankings have been park-adjusted and are based on my ratings. Offense ratings mean that the team in question would be expected to score that many runs, on average, against an average opponent. Defense ratings mean that the team can be expected to hold an opponent that many runs, on average, below their expected output. Please note that I used Boyd Nation's park factors for all teams except LSU, for whom I recalculated the park factor based on this year's data alone. The new Alex Box Stadium played as a fairly significant pitcher's park this season, a big change from the previous version.

The probabilities used for this preview are calculated based on the EWP ratings available via the above ratings link, unlike the regionals preview numbers that were based only on the power ratings. The power ratings method relies solely on runs scored and allowed in each game and doesn't account for wins and losses. While this is more in line with how betting lines are set, in college baseball there are drawbacks. In a recent extreme example, Florida State's 37-6 win over Ohio State was exaggerated in these ratings as each run counted equally. Obviously the last 20 runs or so were completely inconsequential to handicapping who would win or lose a game in the future. The Seminoles had already proven their superiority. At the other end of the spectrum, teams that consistently win lower-scoring games are somewhat undervalued in the power ratings method because only the margin of victory is considered and not the scoring ratio. This means that if two teams both beat the same opponent but one team wins 5-1 and one team wins 10-5, the team that wins the higher-scoring game will always receive a greater overall benefit in the power ratings.

The EWP ratings, then, take into account both the power ratings and a team's win-loss performance against the schedule played. The schedule factor for the win-loss adjustment is based on each opponent's power rating, so the power rating is still a large factor in the overall assessment. Finally, a team's expected winning percentage against any given opponent is determined using the log5 method based on each team's EWP rating. I believe this method should prove to be more accurate in the long-term, but that is purely a gut feeling at this point as I've never run a retrodictive or predictive comparison.

Also, while I recognize that this extremely short introduction might not be sufficient to support the use of the stat, please note that I will be including GPA numbers for players and teams. But not that kind of GPA, this will be the Gross Production Average. This value will not be park-adjusted and is calculated as (1.8*OBP+SLG)/4 in all cases. The 1.8 coefficient is borrowed directly from the vast research by MLB statheads, so may not correlate perfectly with college baseball. However, my thought would be that the coefficient should actually be higher in college baseball because of the worse defense compared to the big leaguers. Regardless, 1.8 is what we're going with.

Ratings and probability tables are available at the end of the preview. Corrections regarding pitching rotations, positions, etc. are encouraged in the comments section.

Bracket One

Bracket One is headed up by the national #2 seed Fullerton Titans. The Titans are the most complete team in Omaha, fielding the #4 offense in the nation with a 9.62 rating as well as the #2 defense at 4.64 runs prevented per game. This makes them the best offense and 2nd best defense in Omaha. Offensively they are led by a trio of hitters with GPAs over .350 - Jared Clark (.351), Josh Fellhauer (.351), and Khris Davis (.356). Fellhauer sports an impressive .485 OBP to go with respectable power while Clark and particularly Davis have impressive power numbers. Davis has 16 home runs to go with 25 doubles on the year, but Clark leads the team with his 81 RBI. I'm not sure who the Titans consider their #1 starter, but it doesn't much matter as both Daniel Renken (11-2, 2.36 ERA, 98 K, 32 BB 118 IP) and Noe Ramírez (9-1, 2.86 ERA, 96 K, 21 BB, 107 IP) are excellent options. Tyler Pill (11-3, 3.95 ERA, 73 K, 12 BB, 98 IP) is their third starter and appears quite capable, while Nick Ramírez (3-1, 2.63 ERA, 27 K, 9 BB, 37.2 IP) leads the team in saves with 7. Fullerton has a .976 team fielding percentage.

The Arkansas Razorbacks will be the game one opponent for the Titans. By the numbers the Razorbacks look like a Texas-lite type of squad. Their offense is only #69 in the nation at 8.09 runs per game (last out of the 8 teams in the CWS) but they have arrived in Omaha on the strength of their #7 defense, which prevents 3.36 runs per game and is 4th best in Omaha. Andy Wilkins leads the Razorbacks in every offensive category, including nose hair I assume. He sports a .367 GPA for the year thanks to a .457 OBP and .644 SLG to go with his 17 home runs. His closest teammates to that number have .302 GPAs for the season. Arkansas' pitching staff has an unimpressive 4.50 team ERA and no starters under 4.00 on the year. So why do the Razorbacks rank 7th in the nation at preventing runs? They've played the 2nd most difficult schedule in the country this year. Closer Stephen Richards has a 1.09 ERA and 9 saves this season and Arkansas appears to go to the bullpen early and often. They have received approximately 277 innings from their starters this year versus 255 from their bullpen. The Razorbacks have a .969 team fielding percentage for the season.

The LSU Tigers arrive in Omaha with a fairly well-balanced team, although relative to this field they are in a familiar position of being offense-oriented. LSU has the #8 offense in the country at 9.41 runs per game and that's 2nd best in the field at Omaha. Their defense, while a very respectable #13 nationally preventing 2.98 runs per game, is 6th best in the CWS. The Tiger offense is led by Ryan Schimpf (.365 GPA), Jared Mitchell (.351), and Blake Dean (.342). Surprisingly, at least to me based on history, LSU has attempted 151 stolen bases this year and has succeeded 111 times. Leon Landry, who has 12 home runs, leads the Tigers with 35 steals on 44 attempts. Louis Coleman (13-2, 2.76 ERA, 124 K, 19 BB, 114 IP) and Anthony Ranaudo (10-3, 2.95 ERA, 147 K, 41 BB, 109.2 IP) lead the pitching staff along with closer Matty Ott (16 SV, 2.17 ERA, 63 K, 4 BB, 45.2 IP). Third starter Austin Ross is only 5-7 with a 4.94 ERA, leading me to wonder if the Tigers will look at another option if they get far in Omaha. LSU has a .973 fielding percentage as a team in 2009.

Virginia could be somewhat of a Longhorn fan favorite on the other side of the draw as they got to Omaha by fighting through a ridiculous draw put in front of them by the committee, something with which Texas fans are quite familiar. The Cavaliers took out the great Irvine Anteater program in Irvine before traveling to Mississippi to eliminate the Rebels. An exceptionally well-balanced team, Virginia fields the #14 offense (9.23 runs per game) and #12 defense (3.12 runs prevented per game) in the nation. Those numbers are good for 3rd and 5th in the 8-team CWS field, respectively. Their offense is led by Jarrett Parker who has an excellent .375 GPA for the year, especially considering that Virginia's homefield plays as a pitcher's park. Parker has a .684 SLG this season thanks to 16 home runs and 19 doubles along with a .364 batting average. Also contributing strongly is Dan Grovatt (.331 GPA). Virginia has an excellent running game as they have been successful on 116 out of 140 steal attempts this year for a nearly 83% success rate. Danny Hultzen (9-1, 2.09 ERA, 95 K, 27 BB, 86 IP) is the Cavaliers' ace starting pitcher, and after him Virginia spreads out the starts. Anyone with insight on their rotation is invited to comment. Andrew Carraway has the same number of starts and a nice 8-1 record but has a 4.13 ERA to go with it and appeared only in relief of Robert Poutier (3-0, 2.21 ERA, 50 K, 15 BB, 36.2 IP) during the Super Regional games against Ole Miss. Kevin Arico closes for the Cavaliers and has 11 saves and a 2.06 ERA to go with 45 strikeouts and only 6 walks in 35 innings. Virginia fields .972 as a team.

Bracket Two

The other favorite, according to the numbers, is the national #5 seed Arizona State Sun Devils. Somewhat obscured in the raw totals by their offense-friendly park, the Sun Devils in reality rely on the #1 defense in the nation, a unit that prevents an average of 5.15 runs per game compared to their opponents' average offensive capability. Their offense comes in 4th out of the teams in the College World Series thanks to a #20 national ranking at 9.09 runs per game. The previously mentioned home park should be kept in mind as the following numbers are listed, of course. Offensively, Jason Kipnis leads the way with an outstanding .405 GPA, which includes a .496 OBP and .729 SLG this year and he's thrown in 26 steals on 30 attempts for good measure. But he's not alone as Carlos Ramírez has a .376 GPA good for fourth in the CWS field. All told ASU has 8 players with over 50 ABs and a GPA over .300 for the season. But if we chalk up those numbers to the park, then that makes these pitching numbers more incredible. Mike Leake leads the Sun Devils staff and has posted a 16-1 record, a 1.36 ERA, and 150 strikeouts against 21 walks in 132.2 innings this year. Josh Spence (9-1, 2.33 ERA, 109 K, 25 BB, 88.2 IP) is healthy again based on his showing against Clemson and Seth Blair (7-2, 3.16 ERA, 78 K, 29 BB, 77 IP) offers a third strong starting option for the Sun Devils. The relief work is spread out but Mitchell Lambson leads the team with 5 saves and 28 relief appearances; he has posted an 8-3 record and a 2.77 ERA with 86 Ks and 23 walks in 74.2 innings. ASU has fielded .969 as a team this year.

The North Carolina Tarheels are in Omaha for the fourth consecutive year and are looking for their first national championship having lost consecutive championship series to Oregon State in 2006 and 2007. The Tarheels stormed through their regional and super regional and are another well-balanced team. They have the #23 offense in the country (8.96 runs per game) and the #16 defense (2.91 runs prevented per game). In this tough field, however, those figures are good for 5th and 7th, respectively. Dustin Ackley leads the Tarheel offense with some filthy numbers that have been obtained in a slight pitcher's park. Ackley has a .412 batting average, 22 home runs, 17 doubles, 50 walks, a .512 on-base percentage, and a .776 slugging percentage that all adds up to a ridiculous .425 GPA for the year. Kyle Seager is no slouch, either, with his .360 GPA being obtained on the strength of a .480 OBP of his own. North Carolina appears to be a classic station-to-station team as they don't steal often (79 attempts), aren't good when they do (under 70%, although Ackley and Seager are a combined 26-31), and don't sacrifice terribly often (40 on the year). Adam Warren (9-2, 3.23 ERA, 97 K, 34 BB, 92 IP) leads the starters and Alex White (8-4, 4.13 ERA, 109 K, 41 BB, 98 IP) is the clear #2. Brian Moran doesn't lead the Tarheels in saves but is the best reliever on the year. He has 64.2 innings pitched in 34 appearances and a 1.95 ERA with 88 strikeouts and only 8 walks. North Carolina may struggle to find starting pitching later in the tournament. Matt Harvey (7-2, 5.35 ERA, 78 K, 37 BB, 70.2 IP) has the only other start in the postseason. The Tarheels have a .970 team fielding percentage.

The Texas Longhorns are making their record 33rd appearance in Omaha and have won six national titles to date. As the #1 overall seed, coverage of the tournament is sure to make the Longhorns out to be the heavy favorite (like when the ESPN Super Regional coverage made it seem like TCU was some sort of huge underdog story), but the task ahead is daunting. Texas' offense is rated at 8.12 runs per game, which ranks #66 in the nation and #7 in Omaha. As always, though, the focus is on the defense, a unit that prevents an average of 3.72 runs per game, good for 5th in the country and 3rd in Omaha. Put together, the Longhorns are 6th in the CWS by power rating, but their EWP rating is 3rd in the field. The player stats break down as expected, with Brandon Belt leading the Longhorns with a .336 GPA and only one other player, Kevin Keyes, above .300 for the year. Texas also does not run more than usual with only 93 steal attempts on the season, 70 of which have been successful. The Longhorns basically play a different type of station-to-station baseball where they rely on their 96 sacrifices to move runners to the next base. Where Texas gets their wins is, as usual, pitching and defense. Leading the way is a deep and consistent pitching staff led by Chance Ruffin (10-2, 3.02 ERA, 101 K, 23 BB, 116.1 IP). Freshman Taylor Jungmann (8-3, 2.27 ERA, 86 K, 30 BB, 79.1 IP) has come on late in the season to join Cole Green (5-3, 3.02 ERA, 70 K, 30 BB, 95.1 IP) as the starting mainstays. Brandon Workman (3-3, 3.45 ERA, 78 K, 25 BB, 70.1 IP) may be called on in Omaha if the Longhorns can stick around long enough. Austin Wood is the closer and has 15 saves with a 2.19 ERA, 67 Ks, and 15 walks in 78 innings pitched. Austin Dicharry (8-2, 2.40 ERA, 56 K, 20 BB, 56.1 IP) is another option and is the swingman on the staff, capable of starting if called upon. Keith Shinaberry is the real star, though. Not because of his 1.93 ERA (how has he done that with a .359 opponents' batting average and a 1.71 WHIP?), but more because he played for Austin High. Texas leads the field with a .979 team fielding percentage.

Southern Mississippi is the huge underdog at the College World Series after winning the Atlanta Regional at Georgia Tech and then sweeping Florida in the Super Regional in Gainesville. Even after their postseason run, though, they bring only the #55 offense (8.40 runs per game) and #36 defense (2.21 runs prevented per game) in the nation to the CWS. Those numbers are 6th and 8th in Omaha, respectively. Southern Miss has a hitter's park, and Bo Davis leads the way with a .382 GPA, third best in Omaha. He has a .488 OBP to go with his 14 home runs and 10 steals in 12 attempts. Kameron Brunty (.328 GPA) is another significant threat in the Southern Miss lineup and Joey Archer (.304 GPA) has launched 10 homers this season and has 62 RBI. Corey Stevens is the only other hitter over .300 on the year (.305). As a team the Golden Eagles run even less often and even worse than North Carolina (45 steals in 69 attempts on the year) and also have fewer sacrifices (33 on the season). The Southern Miss starters are led by Todd McInnis (9-4, 3.61 ERA, 86 K, 31 BB, 94.2 IP) and JR Ballinger (7-3, 3.89 ERA, 59 K, 35 BB, 83.1 IP). After those two the responibility for starting is spread out among several less-than-fantastic options. Jeff Stanley (4-2, 4.43 ERA, 24 K, 21 BB, 42.2 IP) would appear to be the #3 starter and Scott Copeland (2-5, 6.28 ERA, 22 K, 17 BB, 38.2 IP) has the only other postseason start but lasted only an inning before McInnis came out for the second time in the regional. Collin Cargill (13 SV, 3.32 ERA, 32 K, 20 BB, 38 IP) is the closer. The Golden Eagles' .966 team fielding percentage is the lowest in Omaha.

Summary

What should happen - Before the tournament started my pick was Arizona State over Fullerton in the championship series. The numbers say there's no reason to change that pick now. Look for the Sun Devils to finally win another championship after 28 years of waiting.

What's going to happen - Texas takes advantage of the Southern Miss draw, wins a great game against ASU on Tuesday night, and closes their half out with a win over North Carolina after the Tarheels eliminate a shell-shocked Sun Devil squad. On the other side, the Cavaliers get a huge win over LSU to meet Fullerton on Monday night. The Cavaliers stun the Titans in their first meeting, but the Titans force Game 13 in the rematch. Virginia pulls it out but heads into the championship series with a slightly fatigued staff. Texas jumps on them in the opening game and holds them off in Game 2 of the series to win a 7th national championship. Right?

Obligatory Table

Team Power Offense Defense EWP Finals Champs
Arizona St. 14.24 9.09 5.15 0.939 59.31% 38.01%
Cal St. Fullerton 14.26 9.62 4.64 0.933 53.28% 30.56%
Texas 11.84 8.12 3.72 0.888 23.31% 9.65%
LSU 12.39 9.41 2.98 0.885 19.23% 7.19%
Virginia 12.35 9.23 3.12 0.880 17.43% 6.25%
North Carolina 11.88 8.96 2.91 0.870 13.44% 4.76%
Arkansas 11.45 8.09 3.36 0.852 10.06% 2.85%
Southern Miss 10.61 8.40 2.21 0.782 3.95% 0.71%