2011 College World Series: Which Teams Are Best Built to Win in Omaha?
It might sound overly simplistic, but I feel that there are a few factors that really decide whether or not a given team is "built for Omaha."
The first is depth in the pitching staff, particularly in the bullpen. If a team is going to advance to the championship round of the College World Series, they will have to play a game basically every other day for a week. That can take a toll on a pitching staff.
The teams that really excel are the ones that have several different bullpen pitchers they can go to in case a starter has a short start. If you don't have that, you can find yourself throwing the same two or three guys all week and running out of pitching pretty quick.
The next is having an offense that isn't overly reliant on one player. Having a transcendent offensive player is great. There are surely times when that one guy can carry your entire offense. But when you get to this stage of the postseason, you are going to be facing some elite pitching staffs. Those elite staffs will be able to shut down that one player and in turn, your entire offense if he is the only guy that can beat them. Getting contributions all up and down your lineup keeps teams from being able to work around your star.
The third thing is having a shut-down closer. It sounds like a cliche, but the last three outs of a baseball game are the toughest to get. This is particularly true if you don't have a closer that can come in and shut the door against anyone.
With a good closer, you can turn it into an eight or even seven inning game and rest easy knowing that you have a guy that can finish it off.
Out of the 16 remaining teams in the tournament, there are a few that really stand out as teams that are made for Omaha. Let's single them out and examine what it is that makes them so likely to succeed in the College World Series.
The Cavaliers are the consensus best team in the nation and it's easy to see why. They are the most well-rounded team in the entire country.
Virginia passes the Omaha success criteria test with flying colors.
Pitching depth is the name of their game. They have four starting pitchers who have started at least 13 games. Each has an ERA of 3.20 or lower. Two of them, Danny Hultzen and Will Roberts, have ERAs under 2.00.
In the bullpen, they have six pitchers who have made at least 11 appearances. They all have ERAs of 3.86 or lower. All told, the team batting average against Virginia pitching is .211.
In the closer's role, they have Branden Kline. Kline has tallied 17 saves this season and has a 1.78 ERA. He has struck out 49 in 35.1 innings pitched and batters have a .202 batting average against him.
On offense, the Cavaliers don't have a real star. They just get a little something from everyone. As a team, they are hitting .303, led by David Coleman and his .369 average. Steven Proscia and John Hicks provide the power, as they have eight and seven home runs, respectively. In total, Virginia has nine players hitting over .300.
Like Virginia, the Gators have hung out at the top of the rankings all season and they have continued their solid play in the postseason.
Florida's biggest Omaha quality is their balanced offense. As a team, the Gators have a batting average of .311 and have bashed 58 home runs.
Mike Zunino qualifies as a star with his .371 batting average and 16 home runs, but he is protected by guys like Daniel Pigott, Josh Adams, Preston Tucker and Nolan Fontana.
Pigott has a .332 average and provides much of their speed with his 15 steals. Adams hit .330 and chipped in with 40 RBI. Tucker provides much of the rest of the power production with his 13 home runs and 65 RBI. Fontana hits ,309 and has an outstanding .426 on base percentage.
The Gators boast what is probably the most talented pitching staff in the country. Karsten Whitson, Hudson Randall and Alex Panteliodis could all shut down any team in the field on any given day. The bullpen is strong, led by Nick Maronde, Greg Larson, Tommy Toledo and Steven Rodriguez. All of those guys have ERAs of 3.21 or lower.
Austin Maddox has been the closer for much of the season, but he is a question mark from here on out. He injured himself in the regional round, but is hoping to return this weekend. He saved five games this season and had an ERA of 0.74. He has only walked three batters in 24.1 innings of work.
The closer situation probably isn't as settled as coach Kevin O'Sullivan would like, but they are so dominant in the other aspects that I don't see it being a huge issue.
South Carolina Gamecocks
It should be no surprise that the Gamecocks are on this list. They won it all last season and are among the favorites to do it again this season.
Their pitching is just as deep as anyone left in the field. Led by ace Michael Roth, they boast six pitchers who have made at least five starts this season. In any long Omaha run, there are games when teams have to turn to someone who hasn't been a regular starter and South Carolina appears to be ready to weather that storm.
Their bullpen, led by workhorse John Taylor, has six pitchers with ERAs of 3.21 or lower. Taylor himself has a 1.32 ERA over an astounding 43 appearances and 61.1 innings pitched. All told, South Carolina has a team ERA of 2.65 and an opponents batting average against of .229.
Their closer is Matt Price. Price has 17 saves and an ERA of 2.25. He has pitched 48 innings over 30 appearances, showing that he can throw more than one inning at a time. That will become a big weapon when the Gamecocks find themselves up one run in the 8th inning and need to close the game out.
Offensively, the Gamecocks lean pretty heavily on Christian Walker, but not so much that opposing pitchers can just ignore the rest of the lineup. Walker leads the team with a .361 average, nine home runs, and 58 RBI. He is supported by Scott Wingo and his .335 average, Brady Thomas and his 37 RBI and Evan Marzilli who can do a little bit of everything.
For my money, the Commodores are the most Omaha-ready team in the entire field.
They boast a team ERA of 2.41 led by ace starting pitchers Sonny Gray, Grayson Garvin and Taylor Hill. Each one of those guys can go out and win a big game.
In the bullpen, Vanderbilt has seven different often-used pitchers with ERAs of 3.19 or lower. Four of them have ERAs under 2.00. Teams are hitting .217 off of Vanderbilt pitching.
Navery Moore is the closer for the Commodores and he is as good as any in the nation. Moore has a 1.21 ERA, 11 saves, and opposing hitters have a .170 batting average against him.
Offensively, the Commodores can swing the bats with anyone. They have a .319 team batting average and .405 team on base percentage. Jason Esposito leads the way with his .362 batting average and Aaron Westlake provides the most power with his 14 home runs.
They have nine regulars hitting at least .300 and five of them are hitting over .340. Just about any player in the lineup can beat you.
Vanderbilt is the most Omaha-ready team because they can beat you in any type of game. They can win shootouts with their offense, pitcher's duels with their aces and they can win extra inning games with their great bullpen depth.
The Huskies seem like a team that doesn't quite fit in with the rest of these teams, but they are for real.
Having a great player like George Springer might seem to violate my axiom of not being too reliant on one player, but that's not the case.
Springer does give them a ton of production with his 12 homers and 77 RBI, but he has a lot of supporting talent around him. Mike Nemeth leads the team with a .363 average and drove in 50 runs of his own. Ryan Fuller sports a .321 batting average and has driven in 58. As a team, the Huskies are hitting .311.
Pitching wise, Connecticut has great depth. The starting rotation is led by ace Matt Barnes and his 1.62 ERA, but starters Greg Nappo and Brian Ward aren't far behind him with ERAs of 2.55 and 3.28, respectively. The Huskies have five relievers with ERAs of 3.76 or lower, led by closer Kevin Vance.
Vance has 13 saves on the season and a 1.57 ERA. Opposing hitters have a .130 batting average against him. He also has a 31/6 strikeout to walk ratio.
The Huskies have a difficult Super Regional matchup with defending champion South Carolina, but if they can get through them, they have a great shot at being successful in the College World Series.