A Comparison of Baseball Teams in the West

Inside Sparta analyzes and compares the 2009 baseball season for the conferences on West Coast to see how they stacked up against one another, and if the teams selected, and overlooked, for the NCAA Tournament deserved their fate. You might be surprised at what is found.

Did the Western Athletic Conference deserve getting only one representative in the NCAA Tournament? I felt that the WAC and San Jose State were snubbed in the selection process and still feel that way. I've thought about how I could approach it and even as I write, it evolves. Bear with me here, as I will wander. The bottom line is that the WAC doesn't come out very good by any standard. My final rankings are as follows:

  1. Pac-10
  2. Big West (BW)
  3. Mountain West (MW)
  4. West Coast (WCC)
  5. Western Athletic (WAC)

The Pac-10 won by a good margin. The Big West and the Mountain West Conferences were close. The West Coast Conference just beat out the WAC because their average RPI was a bit better and they won one game in the NCAAs. If you're a fellow WAC fan, you're not feeling too well right now. I'll discuss the conferences' strong and weak points.

CONFERENCE RPIs

First thing to remember is that a team's RPI can change even if they are not playing. The rating is dynamic and can change until all teams are done with their season.

WCC
  Team RPI
  Gonzaga 41
  University of San Diego    49
  Loyola Marymount  93
  University of San Francisco 102
  Pepperdine 135
  Saint Mary's 137
  University of Portland 190
  Santa Clara 200

The conference average RPI is 118. Gonzaga and San Diego had strong out-of-conference schedules, which is reflected in their high RPIs. The league average was brought down primarily by Santa Clara and Portland State. I looked at both their schedules and they contained some teams I have never heard of, and those teams that were good to decent opposition were losses for both teams. Gonzaga has been a power in the Northwest in basketball for a long time, but has only recently been gaining any attention with its baseball program. It was the only WCC team chosen to go to the NCAA Tournament as it won the regular season title, the conference tournament, and had the best RPI in the confernece. They were certainly deserving of being chosen. San Diego had a good RPI but was only middle of the pack in the WCC, and so weren't chosen. 

Big West
  Team RPI
  CSU Fullerton 1
  UC Irvine 20
  Cal Poly SLO 56
  UC Riverside 76
  UC Santa Barbara 87
  CSU Long Beach 115
  Pacific 142
  CSU Northridge 182
  UC Davis 230

The conference average RPI was 101. In my estimation the Big West is the premier baseball conference in the west. They have three of the highest rated teams in UC Irvine, CSU Fullerton, and Cal Poly SLO. Fullerton and Irvine, especially, played national schedules and won many of these games, which resulted in very high RPIs. I don't know how a CSU school can afford a national schedule, but Fullerton did and it paid off. Having no football team might have something to do with being able to afford these expenses. I wish the Spartans could do the same with the same success. Irvine, Fullerton, and Cal Poly were 1-2-3 in the league, which has no tournament, and were chosen for the NCAAs because of RPI, where they finished in league, and national ranking. The league average RPI was dragged down by UC Davis and CSU Northridge, as both had bad years.

WAC
  Team RPI
  Hawaii 68
  San Jose State 80
  Louisiana Tech 112
  New Mexico State 130
  Fresno State 156
  Nevada 168
  Sacramento State 175

The league average RPI was 127. No one team was outstanding, but Hawai'i and San Jose State were decent. San Jose State was the WAC regular season champion, did not win the WAC tournament, and had a low RPI (below 64), and so was not chosen. Hawai'i did not win the WAC regular season title, didn't win the WAC tournament, and had a low RPI so also was not chosen. Fresno State won the WAC tournament, which was their only way to get a ticket to the NCAAs. Their quick elimination from the tournament was no surprise. Other than SJSU and Hawai'i, the conference was only average and the schedules reflected very few challenging teams. If the WAC is to be taken seriously, the teams must start scheduling stronger opposition. I know that is expensive but it's either do that or maintain the level of mediocrity most fans won't accept.

Pac-10
  Team RPI
  Arizona State 4
  Oregon State 40
  Washington State 47
  Arizona 61
  UCLA 69
  USC 74
  Stanford 78
  California 122
  Washington 123
  Oregon 235

The league average RPI was 85. This was by far the best RPI of all the conferences in the west. ASU was at or near the top of the national rankings for most of the year. ASU, OSU, USC, Stanford and Arizona have been baseball powerhouses for years and all play a national schedule. Oregon is building a program but has a way to go to catch up. Only Cal and Washington seemed to be a bit down this year. There is no league tournament and the top three teams in the Pac-10 were invited to the NCAA Tournament.

MWC
  Team RPI
  TCU 9
  San Diego State 42
  BYU 60
  Utah 82
  New Mexico 86
  UNLV 208
  Air Force 282

The league average RPI was 110. TCU was the best team in the MWC as they won the regular season title. They also had a very strong OOC schedule, winning many of those games. Utah had little to show for a bad year but they won the conference tournament, which resulted in an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. San Diego State had a pretty good RPI, was third in the regular season, and lost in the championship game of the conference tournament. That resulted in them being chosen for the NCAAs. The fact that the Aztecs have the best pitcher in college baseball probably didn't hurt. The league's RPI was drastically dragged down by UNLV and Air Force.
        
ALL-AMERICANS

The list I used is from the recently announced Louisville Slugger All-American team. I thought this a good measure of conference strength because these players are recognized throughout college baseball as being among the best at their respective position.

WCC
  Player School Position AA Team
  Matt Fields Gonzaga Pitcher Third

Big West
  Player School Position AA Team
  Daniel Bibona UC Irvine Pitcher First
  Eric Pettis UC Irvine Pitcher Third
  Ben Orloff UC Irvine Shortstop Third
  Daniel Renken CSU Fullerton Pitcher Third

WAC
  Player School Position AA Team
  Bryan Marquez New Mexico State Shortstop First
  Tommy Mendonca Fresno State Third Base Second

Pac-10
  Player School Position AA Team
  Mike Leake Arizona State Pitcher First
  Bryce Brentz Arizona State Outfield First
  Dillon Baird Arizona First Base Second
  Josh Spence Arizona State Pitcher Third
  Carlos Ramirez Arizona State Catcher Third

Mountain West
  Player School Position AA Team
  Stephen Strasburg San Diego State Pitcher First
  Addison Reed San Diego State Pitcher First
  Mike Brownstein New Mexico Second Base Second

There are 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament. I therefore listed teams in their respective conferences with an RPI of 64 or lower (first column). As you can see, not many were counted - with none from the WAC. Ouch!  I'm now thinking that if the NCAA truly had their way, no WAC team would have been selected. The Pac-10 led with four teams with RPIs lower then 64, which I find somewhat surprising, but only three of them were chosen for the tournament.

AA means All-Americans. The Pac-10 and the Big West lead with five and four selections, respectively. The WAC's selections were both position players, which I will discuss shortly.

NCAA is simply a column listing teams in the NCAA Tournament. The next column is the record for the conference in the Regionals, with the Super Regionals yet to be played.

Conference RPI < 64 AA RPIa NCAA NCAA Record
MWC 3 3 110 3 6-4 TCU Advanced
WAC 0 2 127 1 0-2
Big West 3 4 101 3 5-4 Fullerton Advanced
Pac-10 4 5 85 3 6-4 ASU Advanced
WCC 2 1 118 1 1-2

Irvine is out as Virginia shut them down in their own back yard. This must be a huge disappointment to the Anteaters as they were at the top of the rankings for most of the second-half of the year. All that work just to lose in front of your own fans. Fullerton moves on to carry the banner of the Big West as well as California baseball. ASU moves on as does TCU, LSU, Florida, North Carolina, Florida State, Arkansas, and Texas. The Big 10 is gone. Of the seven Big 12 teams in the tournament, all are gone except Texas. The Big 10 and Big 12 don't look so good. Unfortunately, neither does the west, as all the California teams except Fullerton are gone. The SEC and ACC are both looking strong. The SEC is in the winner's circle with LSU, Florida, and Arkansas, with Mississippi, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt playing on Monday. The ACC is well represented by Virginia, Florida State, and North Carolina moving on, with Georgia Tech and Clemson playing on Monday.

After that little bit of NCAA talk let me get back to the theme of this article. How does the WAC stack up? Not good, as you can see. How can the WAC change this and move up? It can be done but will be a slow process. I have a few suggestions.

The WAC tournament must be abolished. Should a team be rewarded for season-long excellence or for a weekend hot streak? The obvious answer is the season-long body of work. The WAC's impact on the NCAAs was non-existent, as Fresno State was an undeserving participant. I will attend next year's tournament in Arizona but that doesn't mean I support it.

The WAC's two All-Americans were position players. The Big West had three pitchers, the Mountain West had two pitchers, the Pac-10 had two pitchers, and the WCC's lone choice was a pitcher. The point I'm trying to make is that the WAC was a hitter's conference and pitching was not good, other than San Jose State's staff. There is a reason the Spartans did well in the conference. They could pitch as well as hit. They basically swept all the pitching stats and awards in the WAC. Seniors Ryan Shopshire and David Berner were the two most dominating pitchers in the league, and no other team could match them in a four game series. The WAC as a whole must improve in the area of starting pitching. The Spartans need to improve their bullpen.




Don Starks is the Baseball Editor of Inside Sparta. You may contact Don with any questions, comments, or tips at don@insidesparta.com

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