Sports, Thrill of Victory

Southeastern Conference Baseball at the halfway point

This weekend marks the halfway point of the Southeastern Conference season. Sports & Entertainment Nashville’s Chris Lee notes this week’s key happenings and ranks all 14 teams.

Biggest storylines

Who’s No. 1? 

LSU's Alex Lange is one of America's top freshman pitchers.

LSU’s Alex Lange is one of America’s top freshman pitchers. PHOTO COURTESY LSU ATHLETICS

That depends on who you ask.

There are five major college baseball polls; last week, three of them (Baseball America, D1 Baseball and the National College Baseball Writer’s Association) had Vanderbilt as the top team in the land, while the other two (Collegiate Baseball and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll) had Texas A&M No. 1. The week before, Baseball America had LSU No. 1.

What about the computers? The NCAA uses the Ratings Percentage Index as it seeds its teams for the NCAA Tournament. The RPI has its flaws, but right now it has A&M No. 3 nationally, Vandy seventh and LSU 17th. (The Tigers get penalized for having just the 114th-toughest schedule.) Boyd Nation, at his website BoydsWorld.com, runs a metric called the Iterative Strength Ratings (or, “ISRs,” as he likes to call them); the ISRs have A&M No. 1, Vandy sixth and LSU seventh.

As for the records, VU led the SEC by a full game over A&M coming into Friday’s games, due to playing two extra games so far. LSU was 2 1/2 games back. But overall, both LSU (five losses) and A&M (two) have tasted defeat less than Vanderbilt (seven). Of course, the Commodores, according to both the RPI and the ISRs, have played a much-tougher schedule than either.

And then, there’s other stuff. The Commodores returned a lot of the same players from last year’s national championship team; that seems to count for something. The Tigers were a national seed a year ago and return much of their lineup from 2014; plus, they have found some outstanding pitchers among their newcomers. A&M’s returning roster—the Aggies went 14-16 in the SEC last year and didn’t get out of a regional last season—doesn’t have the past résumé of the others, but nobody else in the country has lost just two games (LSU, at five, is second).

Finally, if you want to look at Pythagorean records, which tell you what a team’s record should be, based on the runs it scored and the runs it allowed, the Aggies “should” be more like 29-4, the Tigers, 27-7, and VU holding serve at 28-7.

The whole body of evidence suggests that, right now, it’s a race between Vandy and A&M, with LSU a half-length behind. How you sort between them is entirely based on the lens through which you view these various factors as more important than the others.

SEC dominates Golden Spikes semifinalist list

Murfreesboro native Zander Wiel is one of three Commodores on the Golden Spikes Watch List. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

Murfreesboro native Zander Wiel is one of three Commodores on the Golden Spikes Watch List. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

The Golden Spikes Award is college baseball’s version of the Heisman Trophy, and when the midseason list of 60 semifinalists came out on Thursday, the SEC had more representatives (16) than anybody; the Pac-12, with 11, was next. Florida, Vanderbilt and LSU, which had three apiece, led the way. No other schools in America had more players on the list than that, though TCU also had three.

The hitters include outfielder Nick Banks (A&M), shortstop Alex Bregman (LSU), first baseman Kyle Martin (South Carolina), catcher Kade Scivicque (LSU), outfielder Christin Stewart (Tennessee), shortstop Dansby Swanson (Vanderbilt), third baseman Josh Tobias (Florida), shortstop Mikey White (Alabama), first baseman Zander Wiel (Vanderbilt), outfielder Harrison Bader (Florida) and infielder Casey Hughston (Alabama).

The league also had five pitchers: Vandy’s Carson Fulmer, Missouri’s Tanner Houck, LSU’s Alex Lange, A&M’s Grayson Long and Florida’s Logan Shore.

It seems like a great starting point for an SEC Player of the Year discussion…which I’ll start in this very space next week.

Missouri’s pitching

Missouri's Reggie McClain is part of one of the SEC's most effective weekend rotations. PHOTO COURTESY MISSOURI ATHLETICS

Missouri’s Reggie McClain is part of one of the SEC’s most effective weekend rotations. PHOTO COURTESY MISSOURI ATHLETICS

After the Tigers posted a dismal 6-24 mark last year—that was four wins fewer than Auburn, the next-worst team—everybody expected Mizzou to finish last in the East again. Surprise! Here are the Tigers, in second place in the East and in line for an NCAA bid, mostly because its rotation of freshman Tanner Houck and juniors Peter Fairbanks and Reggie McClain has been about as good as anyone’s. The trio has posted a collective 2.80 ERA in 164 innings, and it appears that this is no fluke as—and I use this word very sparingly—an incredible 141-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Considering that’s been done against a reasonably tough schedule (30th according to RPI, 76 by BoydsWorld), that’s no small achievement.

Power rankings (SEC records, through Thursday night, in parenthesis)

T1. Vanderbilt (11-2) and Texas A&M (9-2): I’ll try to start breaking ties in the coming weeks, but it’s too close to call                    for now.

  1. LSU (8-4): All-American shortstop Alex Bregman (.341/.422/.630, and one error in the field) is having an incredible year.
  1. Florida (6-6): Last year’s SEC regular-season champs have more talent than the record reflects.
  1. Missouri (8-5)
  1. South Carolina (6-6): Five of the Gamecocks’ last seven losses have come by one run; with the rankings clouded from this point on, that, plus history, gives Carolina the benefit of the doubt.
  1. Auburn (4-8): League record is damaged due to six games vs. A&M and Vandy, but the computers (RPI: 26 and BoydsWorld: 22) see Auburn as the SEC’s fifth-best team.
  1. Alabama (4-8): Crimson Tide’s record has taken a beating from playing A&M, Florida and LSU, but ‘Bama absolutely has the talent to make a regional as the schedule eases up. Pythagorean record suggests that ‘Bama is three wins worse overall than it should be.
  1. Kentucky (4-7): Wildcats are suffering from a poor year from starter Kyle Cody (5.87 ERA), who many had pegged as an MLB first-round pick this June.
  1. Arkansas (5-7): Razorbacks rising fast after back-to-back series wins over Ole Miss and Auburn.
  1. Ole Miss (5-8): Poor Rebels not only lost a lot of talent last year, but they’ve also played the toughest schedule in America.
  1. Georgia (5-7): Bulldogs finally got starter David Sosebee back from injury on Tuesday. Now, if they can just get Robert Tyler back healthy too, thought by some to be the top sophomore hurler in the country, there’s enough talent to make an NCAA run.
  1. Tennessee (5-8): The Vols have quietly picked up three wins in a row over good teams.
  1. Mississippi State (5-7): After a 13-0 start against suspect competition, MSU has gone 8-14 since.