The college baseball season is well under way, and a month into the season provides a good enough glimpse at who is a contender this season and who isn't. With that in mind, each week leading up to the NCAA postseason I'll be taking an in-depth look at the college baseball top 25 and give you a recap of the biggest movers and shakers from the week that was. This week's post will give a short rundown of each squad's year-to-date whereas future iterations will primarily focus on the previous weekend's action.
Before we begin, it's worth noting that there are a lot of college baseball standings to choose from. For the purposes of this weekly post, I'll be using Baseball America's top 25 for a couple of reasons. BA's rankings usually seems pretty fair minded, they're published with regularity at roughly the same time, and (most importantly) they're generally favorable to my Longhorns.
One other thing to note before getting to the rankings. Ranking college baseball teams is very difficult due to the incredible disparity of ballparks and schedules. Perhaps it's my support for the tenants of Augieball -- namely the emphasis on strong pitching and defense -- coming out, but I tend to believe in those teams that pitch well and play tough competition. Especially with the new NCAA bat rules, the team that pitches consistently well this season will have a better chance of winning in Omaha over the team that hits lots of home runs off a weaker schedule. To that end, Boyd's World's Iterative Strength Ratings is an important gauge of who a team has been playing and will provide the weekly strength of schedule.
A summary of each of the top 25 college baseball teams to get caught up on the season's first month:
Florida (14-2, 70 SoS) - The first of three SEC schools in the top five, Florida has won consistently this season against tough competition. The three weekend starting pitchers are a combined 9-0 and all three have ERAs below 2.30, with Friday and Saturday starters Brian Johnson and Hudson Randall hovering around 1.10. Daniel Pigott and Preston Tucker lead the way offensively, hitting .463 and .396 respectively. The Gators get a big test next weekend when they travel to Baton Rouge to take on a streaking LSU club.
Vanderbilt (16-1, 125 SoS) - The Commodores took two of three this weekend in a hard fought series against Illinois-Chicago. Friday starter Sonny Gray (4-0, 1.71 ERA) has been Vandy's best starter thus far and a bevy of relievers have made up for occasionally less-than-stellar starts. First baseman Aaron Westlake leads the team in most offensive categories, including hits, runs, homers, batting average and slugging. Vanderbilt takes on Purdue in a midweek game before starting SEC play against Mississippi State.
- Oklahoma (16-1, 206 SoS) - OU dropped its first game of the season Sunday against UALR. The Sooners are ranked number three but have played just one team in the RPI top 50 and two in the RPI top 100. The Sooners have crushed the ball against inferior competition, hitting .379 and 19 homers as a team (the Longhorns hit their first home run on Tuesday). Similarly, Oklahoma's pitching has been very good (2.66 team ERA). The schedule gets much tougher from here on out, with OU traveling to Tempe to take on Arizona State in a two game midweek series before returning to Norman to play Texas A&M next weekend. A better picture of how good these guys actually are should emerge by then.
- South Carolina (11-2, 81 SoS) - The Gamecocks took two of three from a not so bad Cal State Bakersfield squad this weekend and own an impressive series win over Clemson a weekend ago. First baseman Christian Walker leads the way offensively (.447 BA, .830 slugging), although the team batting average is a mediocre .290. Friday starter Michael Roth has been very impressive (4-0, 0.99 ERA) so far this season. USC begins conference play against Georgia next weekend.
- Texas (11-5, 66 SoS) - Texas has lost a game every Saturday this season, and this past weekend's series against Brown was no exception. Friday starter Taylor Jungmann had his shortest outing of the year on Friday, throwing 8 scoreless innings and lowering his ERA to 0.78 with 31 strikeouts and just one walk on the year. Freshman Erich Weiss continues to be the biggest surprise offensively, leading the team in nearly every offensive category. Weiss's grand slam on Saturday gave Texas its only four runs in the double header victory.
- Florida State (15-1, 75 SoS) - The Seminoles have only dropped one game on the year, a 2-1 loss at Georgia. FSU owns a 5-3 midweek victory over rival Florida which played far more like a Friday night game than a midweek affair. Friday starter Sean Gilmartin has been terrific (4-0, 1.24 ERA) so far and the team is hitting .322 overall. A critical week awaits with Florida midweek and a weekend series at Virginia.
- Virginia (16-1, 69 SoS) - A weekend sweep at Clemson helps UVA jump four slots to #7. Danny Hultzen has been a two way star for the Cavaliers, with a 4-0 record as starting pitcher (0.66 ERA) and hitting .372. The schedule doesn't get any easier next week as Virginia will host FSU next weekend.
- LSU (15-1, 96 SoS) - The Tigers swept Cal State Fullerton this past weekend, winning a pair of 7-6 games before finishing with a 10-2 Sunday blowout. LSU's three top hitters - JaCoby Jones, Raph Rhymes and Austin Nola - may win the award for best names in college baseball and are hitting .415, .385 and .365 respectively. LSU pitchers are holding opponents to a ridiculous .195 team batting average, although the team ERA of 2.94 isn't incredible considering the schedule. A series against Florida next weekend will be critical for gaining an edge in the SEC.
- Arizona State (11-3, 157 SoS) - The Sun Devils won a nice series against Auburn this past weekend, although the competition up to that point has not been too difficult. ASU has clearly been getting it done offensively (.349 team BA, 7.3 runs per game), which may be hiding weak pitching to date (3.80 team ERA). Arizona State has a tough road ahead with a two game set with Oklahoma followed by two more against Cal State Fullerton and a weekend series against Arizona.
- TCU (10-5, 120 SoS) - Rounding out the top ten, TCU features two of the nation's premier pitching talents in Matt Purke and Kyle Winkler. Purke is 2-1 with a 0.66 ERA on the year and Winkler has bested him with a 4-0 record and an ERA of 0.00. Unsurprisingly, TCU's lone series loss came in the one series Purke did not pitch due to a blister on his hand.
- Arizona (14-3, 220 SoS) - The Wildcats swept Northern Colorado last weekend in their fourth consecutive series against Directional School U. A series win over Long Beach State is nothing to sneeze at and a two-game split with Rice are the only games worth mentioning so far on the Arizona schedule. Four games against Arizona State await shortly followed by consecutive series against Cal, UCLA and Oregon.
- Stanford (6-5, 1 SoS) - The Tree took off this past weekend and have played far and away the most difficult schedule in the land. Stanford took two of three from Rice to start the year but dropped hard fought series against Vanderbilt and Texas, hence the high ranking despite the 6-5 record. The schedule lightens considerably with series against Michigan, Long Beach State and Washington State upcoming.
- Cal State Fullerton (8-6, 4 SoS) - Like Stanford, the Titans have played a brutal schedule to start the season, dropping an 11 inning game against UNC, taking two of three from TCU and being swept in Baton Rouge this past weekend. CSF has struggled at the plate, hitting just .254 as a team and having just one home run thus far.
- Baylor (11-5, 32 SoS) - The Bears swept Louisiana Tech last weekend and won two of three at the Houston College Classic before that. The Bears have hit the ball well but the team's 4.28 ERA will struggle to cut it in Big XII play.
- Cal (10-4, 41 SoS) - Cal has played three consecutive tournaments, sweeping two of them but dropping three of four in San Diego a weekend ago. A real series against Ohio State awaits next weekend.
- Clemson (7-6, 5 SoS) - Another team with a pretty poor record that may be mostly explained by an incredibly tough schedule to date. The Tigers have now dropped five of their last six after being swept by UVA and dropping two of three against South Carolina. A very manageable next nine games should enable Clemson to get back on track starting with a home series against Duke this weekend.
- Fresno State (11-2, 60 SoS) - The Bulldogs had a near sweep of Nebraska this past weekend to raise their record to 11-2. Saturday starter Greg Gonzales is 3-0 with a 0.98 and hasn't given up more than one earned run in any of his starts.
- North Carolina (14-3, 76 SoS) - The Tar Heels dropped two of three at Wake Forest this past weekend but they were quite impressive against a relatively easy schedule before that. UNC should win series against Va Tech and Duke the next two weekends before their first tests of the season against Clemson and Florida State in back to back weekends in early April.
- UCONN (7-6, 61 SoS) - UCONN was supposed to be a top ten team this season but dropped four of their first five against baseball powerhouses like Purdue and Minnesotta. Matt Barnes is in the conversation for the first overall pick in the June MLB draft, but he took the loss in each of his first two starts. Barnes hasn't given up an earned run in his last two starts though, including a complete game shutout at San Diego on Sunday.
- College of Charleston (14-3, 223 SoS) - CoC has a 7-4 loss to Auburn but otherwise hasn't faced any difficult competition. Daniel Aldrich and Matt Leeds are tearing it up offensively (.396 and .375 BA respectively) and have combined for twelve home runs on the year.
- Texas A&M (12-4, 146 SoS) - The Aggies split a pair of extra inning games in a series win over Florida International this past weekend. John Stilson and Michael Wacha have been a powerful 1-2 starting pitching punch for the Ags and the team as a whole has a fairly ridiculous 1.63 ERA. A midweek game against Fullerton and series in Norman will be a critical test to see if this team is for real.
- Tulane (11-4, 42 SoS) - My favorite team growing up, the Green Wave have had impressive series wins against Ole Miss and Wichita State the last two weekends. Tulane's pitching has been good (2.33 team ERA), which has hidden some pretty atrocious offense. Tulane hitters are hitting only .212, just an appalling number albeit against a tough schedule so far.
- Georgia Tech (12-4, 111 SoS) - The Yellow Jackets have won seven straight after starting the year 5-4. Mark Pope has led the pitching staff with a 0.29 ERA (1 earned run) in four starts and a 4-0 record.
- UCLA (8-6, 105 SoS) - The Bruins were supposed to be one of the best teams in the country but have been in free fall this season against a less-than-killer schedule. Future first round picks Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole have been good (1.71 and 1.78 ERA respectively), but they have posted a disappointing 3-3 combined record. The pair have struck out an astonishing 83 in only 62 innings.
- Rice (10-8, 11 SoS) - The Owls haven't faired particularly well this season, posting only a 10-8 record against a pretty tough schedule. The good are victories over Arizona, Texas A&M and a sweep of Southern California while the bads are dropping two of three to Stanford, a 7-0 loss to Sam Houston State and a 15-inning loss to Cal last Saturday.