Sports, Thrill of Victory

Southeastern Conference Baseball races continues to heat up

The Southeastern Conference regular season has three weeks left to play, and the league not only has a fantastic title race shaping up, but a bunch of teams also in the mix for postseason play. Chris Lee takes a look at that, and a whole lot more, in this week’s SEC baseball snapshot.

Biggest storylines

: Murfreesboro's Zander Wiel was the National Player of the Week after a three-home-run weekend vs. Missouri. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

Murfreesboro’s Zander Wiel was the National Player of the Week after a three-home-run weekend vs. Missouri. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

We’re No. 1! When it comes to the country’s best league, the SEC seems to have that honor, hands down, at the moment. Not only does it have the country’s consensus No. 1 team in LSU, but the league has the top RPI as well as the top out-of-conference winning percentage (.719). According to D1Baseball.com, the league has more teams that would receive NCAA Tournament bids (nine) than any other league in the country, more host teams (four—Florida, LSU, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt) and more national seeds (the latter three). Top to bottom, nobody can match the SEC this season.

Separating the wheat from the chaff. In addition to the four potential host teams, five other schools (Ole Miss, Auburn, Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky) figure to make the NCAA Tournament field if the season ended today. As for the other five, the curtain is closing fast. For Tennessee, Mississippi State and Georgia, twenty-plus losses and RPIs too close to triple-digits to make an NCAA bid prohibitive without winning the SEC Tournament, and remember, two teams don’t get to go.

That leaves us with two long-shot contenders. Alabama had a top-30 RPI not long ago and even then, many didn’t think the Crimson Tide would make the field. A weekend later, Alabama sits a game over .500 overall and an RPI now outside the top 50. ‘Bama probably needs to win two of three remaining series (Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt) to have any hope. The other remaining dance partner would be South Carolina, but a weekend after a surprising win over Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks wet the bed by losing two of three to UT; their RPI now sits at 74. Carolina has plenty of opportunity (series left with Auburn, A&M and LSU) but the Gamecocks don’t seem to have the lineup or pitching depth to pull off too many wins.

Benintendi’s breakout.  A year ago, Arkansas center fielder Andrew Benintendi was a fairly anonymous SEC freshman who had a decent year (.276/.368/.333, one home run) season in his first taste of college baseball. This year, Benintendi is hitting the cover off the ball (see the numbers below) and since he turns 21 before baseball’s draft this summer, college baseball fans may be waving “goodbye” to the super sophomore just about the time they’re getting acquainted with him. I have a few reservations about making a guy who was this anonymous two months ago as my pick for Player of the Year, but at this point, Benintendi’s numbers seem to warrant it.

In a very competitive SEC race, LSU currently holds the top spot in the league standings. PHOTO COURTESY LSU SPORTS

In a very competitive SEC race, LSU currently holds the top spot in the league standings. PHOTO COURTESY LSU SPORTS

Power rankings (league record and RPI in parenthesis):

  1. LSU (15-6, 5)
  2. Texas A&M (13-7, 4)
  3. Vanderbilt (15-6, 18)
  4. Florida (13-8, 8)
  5. Auburn (10-11, 17)
  6. Arkansas (12-10, 43)
  7. Missouri (12-9, 56)
  8. Ole Miss (10-11, 33)
  9. Kentucky (10-10, 32)
  10. Alabama (8-14, 43)
  11. South Carolina (9-12, 74)
  12. Mississippi State (7-15, 98)
  13. Georgia (6-14, 101)
  14. Tennessee (7-14, 79)

Player of the Year (Bill James’s estimated runs created per 27 outs and fielding percentage in parenthesis):

  1. Andrew Benintendi is having a breakout sophomore season and may be coveted MLB Draft prospect. PHOTO COURTESY ARKANSAS ATHLETICS

    Andrew Benintendi is having a breakout sophomore season and may be coveted MLB Draft prospect. PHOTO COURTESY ARKANSAS ATHLETICS

    Andrew Benintendi, CF, Arkansas (13.5/.986)

  2. Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt (9.8, .971)
  3. Mikey White, SS, Alabama (10.1, .964)
  4. Alex Bregman, SS, LSU (8.8, .973)  NOTE: Bregman’s .311 average on balls in play is flukishly low and should rise.
  5. Josh Tobias, 3B, Florida (9.2, 1.000)
  6. Harrison Bader, LF, Florida (10.6, 1.000)
  7. Logan Taylor, LF, Texas A&M (11.3, .976)
  8. Wes Rea, 1B, Mississippi State (10.5, .991)
  9. Kyle Martin, 1B, South Carolina (10.3, .991)
  10. JaVon Shelby, 2B, Kentucky (10.0, .948)

Pitcher of the Year (ERA, innings, strikeouts/walks in parenthesis)

  1. Carson Fulmer, Vanderbilt (1.52, 71, 101/24)
  2. Alex Lange, LSU (1.86, 63, 72/28)
  3. Jack Wynkoop, South Carolina (2.71, 76.1, 64/11)
  4. Cole Lipscomb, Auburn (2.24, 60.1, 61/17)
  5. Matt Kent, Texas A&M (3.49, 59.1, 51/5) NOTE: Kemp’s stats suggest he’s getting little help from his fielders and that his ERA should be just over half of what it actually is.