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Quick off the Blocks

Publication Date: March 19, 2002

6-0? 1-5?

There are no rules on when or how conference play is to be accomplished in NCAA ball, of course, nor should there be, so it can be tricky to get a feel for when things are starting up. However, roughly half of the thirty Division I conferences have begun play now, so it seems like a reasonable time to take a look at how important it is to start well in conference play.

From 1998 through 2001, there were approximately 120 conference-seasons played, involving a bit over 1000 teams. I've taken those 1000+ seasons and grouped them according to the team's record in their first six conference games and then counted how they finished in the conference standings at the end of the season. Here's the complete table:

           # Teams Finishing in Place
      1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10 11 12 13

0-6   0  0  0  2  4  7  8 19 10  8  5  3  0 
1-5   0  1  3  4 14 21 21 31 20 19  9  5  1 
2-4   1  9 15 27 23 30 37 19 20 20  8  4  0 
3-3   9 24 26 23 34 30 20 22 16  7  2  1  0 
4-2  33 35 42 41 28 20 15  9  4  0  2  0  0 
5-1  40 39 28 19 15  7  5  2  1  0  0  0  0 
6-0  36 11  5  3  1  3  0  0  0  0  0  0  0 

In other words, there were two teams who started 0-6 and finished fourth, for example (Chicago State in 1999 and Austin Peay State in 2000, in case you were wondering). The one team to go 1-5 and then finish second was Providence in 1999; the only team to go 2-4 and then win was Rice in 2000. On the other end, the team that started off 5-1 and then finished ninth was George Washington in 1999. The teams that started off 6-0 and then finished sixth were Texas and Murray State in 1999 and Niagara in 2000.

What does all this mean? Well, first of all, I'm sure there's not enough data here (and there probably could never be enough data) to declare that something will never happen, so if your team has already gone 0-6, just assume that you'll be the first to come storming all the way back. There's enough evidence here, though, that there are some pretty good teams that should start worrying if things go poorly this weekend. There's probably no reason to assume that the first six games are any more significant than any other six, but it also seems that you can get a pretty good indication of where a team will finish based on a random six-game sample. The variation in conference size doesn't make it as clear on the low end, but teams that start off with zero or one win tend to finish towards the bottom. On the top end, 60% of the teams that have started out 6-0 have gone on to win the league, and a plurality of the 5-1 teams have done so.

Now, there's always a danger in taking a result and trying to use it as a cause, but this means there could be some fairly significant results this weekend, as some fairly good teams are digging some rather deep holes for themselves. LSU and Ole Miss meet this weekend coming off a weekend where they managed one win between them; the loser of that series can almost throw in the towel on winning the conference. On the other hand, the Florida-South Carolina winner could really put the division away this weekend with a sweep. The winner of the North Carolina-Florida State series, especially if one of them can manage a sweep, will have put themselves in really good position to finish first or second (the ACC's uneven scheduling makes this sort of forecasting a bit more difficult, though). Oklahoma, New Mexico, and BYU could all get off to a reasonable-sized lead with a sweep. No one can guarantee themselves anything, but they can do about as much as you can for yourself in March.


In last week's column on new Web sources, I missed one -- there's a new fan-run site for Sun Belt baseball at Given that information for the mid-major conferences can be harder to come by than for the big guys, this could be a valuable asset for those following the game as a whole.

Breaking news: The SEC office sent a bullying letter to Rivals about the site, so the site is being moved to This has happened on rather short notice, so I'm trying to get the word out.

I've also had a rather troubling charge, which I'm not sure what to do about -- I've had charges of plagiarism leveled against the guys at College Baseball Insider. The problem with this is that the standards in sports reporting are somewhat different than they are in most of the world. Sports information directors, as a general rule, write fairly good, unbiased game descriptions, and most of the press coverage tends to come from that -- if you read an official school release and an AP release on the same game, a lot of times you can see the fingerprints all over the AP release. On the other hand, direct copying, especially from non-school sources without acknowledgement, is generally considered to be a no-no. I'm not sure where on that continuum the Insider guys are falling. For now, I plan to keep reading and hope that they'll be sure to stay inside the lines.

Pitch Count Watch

Rather than keep returning to the subject of pitch counts and pitcher usage in general too often for my main theme, I'm just going to run a standard feature down here where I point out potential problems; feel free to stop reading above this if the subject doesn't interest you. This will just be a quick listing of questionable starts that have caught my eye or, on the other hand, starts where pitchers were pulled according to plan early despite pitching extremely well in close games.

Date Team Pitcher Opponent IP H R ER BB SO AB BF Pitches
Mar 15 Louisiana State Bo Pettit Vanderbilt 9.0 4 0 0 2 12 31 33 141
Mar 15 Vanderbilt Jeremy Sowers Louisiana State 7.2 9 6 6 2 8 30 33 121
Mar 15 Kentucky Joseph Blanton Auburn 9.0 7 1 1 1 9 33 35 149
Mar 15 Rutgers Bobby Brownlie Miami, Florida 7.0 7 0 0 1 5 26 27 97 (*)

(*) Pitch count is estimated.

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