We have reached the top of the hill. There’s no more climbing to do. The Commodores and Cavaliers have simultaneously reached the peak for the first time in each of their respective program’s history. Once their eyes meet this evening (and for the next two or three games) there will be nothing left to do but knock their opponent off the top of the hill to be declared champion.
Vanderbilt and Virginia are built the same. Both have tremendous starting pitching. Both have a cast of above average, though mostly nondescript hitters–because, you know, it’s 2014 and college baseball doesn’t care about hitting anyways, amirite. (?!?) Both teams will have their aces on the mound tonight hoping to start this best of three game series for all the marbles off properly.
The aces for the respective squads though are worth at least noting. Walker Buehler (he, not of the “day off”) with a 12-2 record, a 2.27 ERA and .218 opponent batting average will face off against Nathan Kirby with a 9-2 record, a 1.7 ERA and a .174 opponent batting average in the first game of the series. A game which will, obviously, set the tone for the series.
If nothing else, this College World Series (and the prior rounds of Regionals/Super Regionals) has served to highlight this sport’s most glaring error. By that, I mean the supreme lack of offense in the last five years brought on by the changing of both the college ball and the college bat. The changes in aluminum bat alloy have decreased the factor by which a ball is repelled by contact. The change has been sought to decrease the likelihood of injuries to opposing pitchers but also to curtail your average football score popping up in the middle of a College World Series. The bat is also meant to replicate the way a wooden bat treats a baseball. Congrats on that, engineers! Please don’t misunderstand, I don’t necessarily mind aligning aspects of the college game with the pros, not at all. But what I do mind is that we’ve taken a lively and interesting game and nearly murdered the interesting parts of it. Maybe it’s not quite “Planet of the Apes”-type destruction but scoring averages are down a full point and a half since the new bats were introduced. ERA has gone down a full point and a half. Homers per game throughout the NCAA has been cut in half now occurring only in 42% of the games played (This is misleading, but, in 2013 home runs occurred at a rate of less than half of one homer per game. 42% of games sound better now? Because, statistics). All of those statistics are the lowest they’ve been in the college game since aluminum bats were introduced over 40 years ago. Did the overseers of the game really want to set their game back four decades offensively? This is clearly an error. No attribution can be given to the ebb and flow of pitching versus hitting, either. Normally we see cyclical periods where batting gains ground on pitching and vice versa; but to have this dramatic change in numbers over such a short period of time is a clear anomaly and must be addressed. The NCAA will be moving to a different ball next year, hoping to turn some of the tide made by the bat change. The idea with the ball change being that slimmer seams will decrease drag and lead to 20% longer hitting distances. That would mean that almost every ball hit to the wall this year would be a home run next year. Will it meet those results? Will the results that we do see from the ball change be enough to assuage nerdy fans like myself? Will these issues even matter if LSU has yet another crappy end to their season? We shall see.
|# of Teams||Average # GMS||Batting Average||Scoring||HR/GM||SB/GM||ERA||K’s/9||FLD PCT|
Stats provided by NCAA.com