While the entire country was going crazy over conference realignment, eight baseball teams were getting ready for the College World Series. Among them: Florida and South Carolina, the only two SEC teams left standing after the Super Regionals claimed Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
The format is back to double-elimination in the first round, then a three-game championship bout between the winner of each bracket. So two losses are the most that any team has left. (And because each SEC team is in separate brackets, an all-SEC final is still possible.)
Looking to prevent that are six other high-quality teams. The brackets and a bit about the non-SEC teams follow.
|B R A C K E T O N E|
The winningest team in school history tries to bring home the championship on its first trip to Omaha. There are only a few things the Horned Frogs don't do extremely well: Steal bases, hit triples, get free passes (72nd in walks, 73rd in HBP) and field the baseball. But in most of those cases -- except the steals, which sabermetricians will tell you doesn't matter much anyway, even if I don't completely agree with them -- the Frogs are still pretty good. The best offensive player is Matt Curry, with a 1.173 OPS and 17 home runs. Pitcher Matt Purke (14-0, 3.23 ERA) strikes out 11.6 batters per nine innings, allows 7.3 hits and walks fewer than 2.5 men.
FLORIDA STATE (14)
This team might be the sabermetrician's dream: They don't hit -- the .301 batting average is 170th out of 292 teams -- but they scored 572 runs during the season, good for 16th overall. What the Seminoles do is walk. A lot. The Division I-leading 389 walks is seven more than No. 2 New Mexico State -- which had five fewer games -- and 30 more than No. 3 Clemson -- which had one more. So the offensive player that should obviously be highlighted is Tyler Holt, who doesn't show up in the top 300 in batting average in college baseball but scores almost 1.3 times a game and walks almost 0.9 times a game. He also has a .628 slugging percentage. Mike McGee has 12 saves and a 1.37 ERA -- and a 1.027 OPS in 238 at-bats.
Pitching got the Bruins here. They rank first in strikeouts per nine innings and second in ERA and hits per nine innings. Aside from the team's win-loss percentage -- which you would expect to be good among any team in the College World Series -- UCLA doesn't rank in the top 10 in the country in any other statistical category. In fact, they rank better than 30th in just two more -- walks allowed per nine innings and HBP (offensively). Dean Espy has a 1.006 OPS and is tied for the team lead with eight home runs. Yes, eight. You pick a pitcher to be singled out for greatness -- Garrett Claypool, Rob Rasmussen, Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole all rank in the top 100 in ERA and wins; in the top 300 in strikeouts per nine innings; and top 300 in hits allowed per nine innings.
- - -
|B R A C K E T T W O|
The Sooners can score just about any way imaginable; they rank in the top 10 in home runs (100, 8th) and sacrifice bunts (65, 7th). Their walk and stolen base numbers are both in the top fifth of the nation. They rank in the top 20 in every major pitching category except walks per nine innings -- where they're 43rd -- and have a great fielding percentage, though they don't turn many double plays. Garrett Buechele has a 1.097 OPS, 16 HRs and 64 RBI. Bobby Shore (10-4, 3.86 ERA) has 77 strikeouts and 88 hits in 91.0 innings.
ARIZONA STATE (1)
The No. 1 seed in the nation doesn't sacrifice much -- and that's about the only place where you can point to rankings of worse than 100 nationwide. They steal, get on base, slug despite being a bit low in the home-run department -- the 37 triples helps that -- and pitch extremely well. There are literally no more nits to pick than the sacrifice numbers, and again the value in that depends on which side of the tradition/sabermetric divide you fall. (I'm in the middle, for the record.) Zach MacPhee has a 1.170 OPS, leads the nation with 14 triples and has a team-leading 64 RBI. Closer Jordan Swagerty has 14 saves, a 2.06 ERA and has struck out 46 batters in 35.0 innings.
As seen above, the Tigers are one of the most-walked teams in Division I. They also score a bunch of runs despite also not batting particularly well (.310 BA), at least in part because they've hit 93 home runs so far. The pitching is solid but won't wow anybody, and the so-so fielding percentage (.963) is offset by a defense that ranks in the top ten in total double plays and double plays per nine innings (75 and 1.14, respectively). There's a reason Kyle Parker was drafted in baseball despite having football opportunities; he has a 1.153 OPS, walked 53 times in 235 at-bats, and hit 20 home runs. Casey Harman (7-3, 3.73 ERA) is easily the team's best pitcher, one of only two Tigers to have allowed fewer hits than innings pitched (101 to 108.2) and among the top 100 nationally in total strikeouts with 95.