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Moving the Fences

Publication Date: June 12, 2001

Does It Matter?

Some of the more interesting news this week has come from off the field, between the SEC coaches' carousel and the announcement from Wally Groff that the current offensive level in Omaha was "bad for college baseball" (what is it about baseball that makes those in charge of it want to badmouth the product, and why is it spreading to the college ranks?) and that the fences in Rosenblatt Stadium would be moved back and raised. Since the onfield news is getting plenty of coverage for a change, I'll focus off-field for this week.

For those of you who might have missed it, in the last week or so, Florida's Andy Lopez was fired, Mississippi State's Pat McMahon was hired to replace him, and Georgia's Ron Polk is the current odds-on favorite to replace McMahon. Those are all fine coaches (about equally good, as far as I can tell, which makes it a bit puzzling that they're rotating), and I have no real comment past that, other than to say that anything that takes us down the road to footballization is a bad thing, and the Lopez firing strikes me as an unfortunate step in that direction.

On the Rosenblatt enlargement story, though, I ran off a short statistical study that I want to ponder:.

         Season     CWS
          Runs      Runs
        per Game  per Game
        per Team  per Team      %

1980      6.22      5.53       88.9
1981      6.52      6.63      101.7
1982      6.39      5.68       88.9
1983      6.44      4.50       69.9
1984      6.41      7.60      118.6
1985      6.94      5.97       86.0
1986      6.79      4.93       72.6
1987      6.72      5.00       74.4
1988      6.53      5.13       78.6
1989      6.15      5.29       86.0
1990      6.07      5.11       84.2
1991      6.30      6.31      100.2
1992      6.18      4.61       74.6
1993      6.08      5.50       90.5
1994      6.24      5.46       87.5
1995      6.20      6.11       98.5
1996      6.48      6.73      103.9
1997      7.00      6.21       88.7
1998      7.12      8.04      112.9
1999      6.93      5.86       84.6
2000      6.53      6.19       94.8

The percentage column represents the runs per game in the CWS as a percentage of runs per game in the overall season.

The incomplete numbers for this year so far are way off the scale -- 6.34 for the season but 7.68 (121.2%) for the series. Mostly that's just an effect of one of the potential problems with the study -- we're dealing with an extremely small sample size with only 15 or fewer games each year in the CWS -- so Tennessee's first two games this year are throwing the scale off. The remaining two or three games will most likely bring down that average quite a bit, especially since Stanford has tended to avoid high-scoring games for the most part.

I don't have a strong sentiment regarding what the offensive levels in the game in general should be. I personally prefer low-scoring pitching duels, but I don't really believe the rules should be changed to encourage them -- we're just in an offensive era, and the pitchers will catch up at some point. On the other hand, I do believe strongly that the CWS should mirror "normal" college baseball as much as possible. If they're going to decide who the best team in the nation is there, they should play under conditions that reflect the same conditions that everyone has been playing under for the whole of the season.

In general, it seems that the CWS actually tends to offer less scoring than the regular season, and that it's only note-worthy when the CWS is higher-scoring than the regular season, as shown by the outcry after the 1998 season. I'm sure that there's something of a selection bias here -- I've shown before that teams which allow fewer runs are more likely to win their conference than those that score the most, and there's no reason to think that wouldn't also be an aid in getting through the postseason -- which causes scoring to be lower in the CWS than in the regular season.

However, it looks like to me like the CWS has more closely mirrored the regular season since 1990 than it did in the '80's. I don't have a history of stadium changes handy, but my recollection is that the current configuration dates to around 1988 or so.

The perception is that something's broken and needs to be fixed. This, I suspect, grows from this desire to be exactly like pro baseball that I've never understood but which is probably fired on by the, ahem, expert commentators that ESPN provides for the CWS (note the comment on denigrating the game in the first paragraph and draw your own tie to Harold Reynolds if you like). There's nothing wrong with pro baseball -- I watch at least as much pro baseball as college -- but there's also nothing wrong with having a brand of baseball where the scores get into double digits fairly often, and there's no need to apologize for that or try to hide it by having the sport's most visible event be played under different circumstances than the rest of the season.

Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Moving the Fences About the author, Boyd Nation