Last week at The Hardball Times, I posted some predictions for the Division 3 College World Series. They were based on my strength ratings, which themselves are based on Pythagorean winning percentage, adjusted for strength of schedule.
I didn’t put too much stock in the predictions, both because D3 teams play such short seasons and they play a tiny number of games outside of their home conferences. This makes strength of schedule less reliable. Still, the strength ratings were mostly plausible–the top-ranked teams in the national polls came out at or near the top in strength rating, while the biggest underdog of the tournament (Farmingdale State) was at the bottom in strength rating, at least among the World Series participants. The only real head-scratcher was Shenandoah, which out-strength-rated everyone else in the tournament.
Fifteen games isn’t enough to judge a system, but if it were, the D3WS would’ve judged my system inadequate. St. Thomas won the tournament despite ranking 7th among the eight participating schools. The runner-up was Wooster, ranked 5th. Shenandoah won only one game (against Farmingdale) and 2nd-ranked Trinity lost two and went home.
All in all, the higher-ranked team won only 5 of 15 games.
The biggest problem with postseason predictions of this sort is the effect that a single pitcher can have. St. Thomas’s Matt Schuld was unhittable, beating both Chapman and Wooster handily. It may be that, forced to use its entire staff, UST wouldn’t have fared as well. Injuries also play a role: Chapman’s Wayde Kitchens was a highlight of last year’s D3WS, but got hurt several weeks ago and didn’t pitch at all. Without him, they might not have qualified for a regional, let alone earned a place in Appleton.
What was apparent as I watched the games was the difference in defensive quality. Last year, almost all of the participating schools had crackerjack defenses. Even Linfield, which didn’t have much of anything else, made all the plays. Trinity, last year’s winner, played D1-quality defense, if not better.
This year, there was a distinct division between the haves and have-nots. St. Thomas, Wooster, Chapman, and–sometimes–Carthage–played solid defense. The other four teams made you wonder how they got to the final eight. Shenandoah’s infield, especially, wasn’t championship-quality.
That got me thinking–perhaps, at the D3 level, a statistic as simple as Defensive Efficiency would provide more insight into team quality than a measure based on runs scored and runs allowed. After all, a team that plays Bates, Babson and Colby faces a different set of challenges when they get to the national tournament. Every team in the final eight seems to have one or two excellent pitchers, but after that, it’s all about pitching to contact and letting your defense do the work.
The DefEff rankings are quite a bit different than the strength rankings:
- Trinity .723
- St Thomas .688
- Kean .680
- Carthage .680
- Farmingdale .677
- Chapman .666
- Wooster .663
- Shenandoah .647
It’s tough to believe Wooster is near the bottom; I thought they had the best defense on display in Appleton. I’m willing to believe that Trinity’s defense was solid all season based on their performance last year, but this year I guess they saved their misplays for the World Series.
Of the 15 games, the team with the better DefEff won 6. St Thomas’s success tanked the performance of the strength ratings, and Wooster’s success did the same to the DefEff rankings. Of course, 15 games don’t say much about either approach.
Interestingly, ranked by DefEff, three of the top six teams at any level of college baseball are Point Loma Nazarene, Salisbury (Md.), and Pomona-Pitzer. The last two were the two top-ranked teams in D3 polls, and Point Loma is one win away from the NAIA championship.