Any chance left for a regional bid?

That was a tough loss.  Not a whole lot else to say about it…

This was not a good year for The Citadel in terms of officiating when playing Elon, either.  The football game was an atrocity, of course, featuring a set of calls so bad that  presumably even the conference powers-that-be were embarrassed.  Then in hoops there was the mysterious shotclock situation at their place.  Last night the Bulldogs got hurt by a much-disputed balk call that resulted in two runs.  Memo to the SoCon:  you owe The Citadel more than one next year against the Phoenix.

Okay, first let me say that I don’t think the Bulldogs are getting in a regional, and I don’t think they have much of a shot at getting in a regional. However, it’s not completely out of the question. First, there are four teams still out there that could “steal” a bid, and obviously Bulldog fans want all of them to lose.

Texas Tech can still win the Big XII if it wins Saturday night and Sunday.  On Sunday there will be three other title games of consequence. Connecticut is in the Big East title game (against Dan McDonnell and Louisville), Southern Mississippi hosts Rice in the C-USA championship, and Louisiana-Monroe plays MTSU in the Sun Belt final. Supporters of The Citadel want TT, UConn, USM, and ULM to all go down to defeat.

It is true, I suppose, that Southern Mississippi has an outside shot at an at-large bid, but ultimately I think the committee will look at its mediocre resume and determine that the Golden Eagles have a chance to earn a bid by winning at home.  Win and they’re in; lose and they’re out.

[Edited on Sunday morning:  Texas Tech lost Saturday night to Texas A&M, 11-4, so the Red Raiders’ season is over.  That’s one less team that could steal a bid.]

After analyzing the contenders and pretenders, I’ve decided that there are 60 spots locked up out of the 64. That includes automatic bids. It isn’t as clear-cut as the hoops tourney usually is, but I’ve identified 15 teams that have a case for grabbing one of those four spots left. There are a few other teams I don’t think are in the mix, but I’ll list them too.

Here are the locks (in my opinion):

ACC: Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Miami (FL), Boston College
SEC: LSU, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Arkansas
Big XII: Texas, Missouri, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Kansas
Pac-10: Arizona State, Washington State, Oregon State
Big East: Louisville
SoCon: Elon, Georgia Southern
Southland: Texas State, Sam Houston State
Big West: UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly
Mountain West: TCU, Utah, San Diego State
C-USA: Rice, East Carolina
Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky
Patriot: Army
MEAC:  Bethune-Cookman
Big South: Coastal Carolina
Ivy: Dartmouth
CAA: Georgia State
WCC: Gonzaga
MAC: Kent State
MAAC: Marist
NEC: Monmouth
Summit: Oral Roberts
OVC: Tennessee Tech
Atlantic 10: Xavier
Big 10: Indiana, Ohio State, Minnesota
MVC: Wichita State
Champions of the following leagues: America East, Atlantic Sun, Horizon, SWAC, and the WAC.

That leaves 15 teams fighting for 4 spots (and there may not be 4, of course; odds are there won’t be): Oklahoma State, Baylor, Dallas Baptist, George Mason, Notre Dame, Western Carolina, Hawaii, San Diego, Rhode Island, Missouri State, Tulane, Eastern Illinois, Duke, Illinois, The Citadel

Those teams are listed in current RPI order, and yes, the Bulldogs are last among them (RPI as of Sunday at 77).

Also hoping, but it’s a distant hope, because I think these teams are out of luck: Stanford, Arizona, UC-Riverside, UCSB, BYU, New Mexico, Troy, Southeastern Louisiana, Auburn, Kentucky

George Mason has a nice record and RPI, and is probably going to get in the field. Baylor was terrible down the stretch but has a really good RPI. Oklahoma State didn’t make the Big XII tourney (9-16 conference record) but has a high RPI.

Duke would be the eighth team out of the ACC. Illinois would be the fourth team out of the Big 10. Neither have good RPIs, but both have quality wins (especially Duke). Notre Dame would be the second team out of the Big East, and I could see a “northern” at-large bid being awarded (UConn may be playing for ND’s spot).

Dallas Baptist is a mystery team, an independent with an RPI in the top 40. Missouri State finished first in the regular season in the MVC. I think Hawaii is done after losing Saturday night to Fresno State in a tourney elimination game (the WAC tourney is being played in Honolulu; I’m guessing the WAC will now be a one-bid league). Tulane would be the third team out of C-USA (if Southern Miss doesn’t steal a bid) but doesn’t have a whole lot else to offer, a situation not dissimilar to that of Rhode Island.

San Diego has a poor overall record and didn’t fare well against the RPI top 100 (8-17). Western Carolina has a better record than USD, but only went 11-19 against the top 100. Eastern Illinois has a nice record but didn’t play anybody. The Citadel is 7-4 against the top 50, 15-12 against the top 100 (both marks comparing favorably to most of the bubble teams), but has a low RPI and several bad losses.

So there you have it.  The Citadel is one of the 15.  Depending on the bids that are “stolen” tomorrow, the Bulldogs have about a 1-in-4 chance of getting in, in my opinion.  It’s not much, but it’s better than a 0-for-4 chance.

Also, one caveat:  the committee almost always has one or two what-were-they-thinking selections, so if a “lock” doesn’t make the field, or some team I haven’t even mentioned does, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

The selection show is Monday at 12:30 pm ET, on ESPN.

SoCon tourney “flip” is a flop

Well, I’m disappointed The Citadel lost its tourney opener today to Appalachian State, obviously, but what I wanted to write about doesn’t have much to do with today’s game, but rather the conference tournament as a whole.  It’s a topic that features the SoCon, but it could apply to any conference tournament.  This is going to take a bit of explaining, also, so please bear with me while I outline what I think is a serious flaw in the conference tournament format.

The Southern Conference tournament has two distinct four-team pools (at least, they should be distinct).  One team from each of those pools survives to play on Sunday in a single-game championship.  In other words, it’s possible for a team to go undefeated in its pool, and play a one-loss team for the title, lose the title game, and thus finish with just one loss but no championship.  This is done for television (SportSouth will televise the title game on Sunday).

Now, we’ve all seen this one-game-for-all-the-marbles deal before.  The College World Series did this for over a decade, and nobody really liked the idea of a team in a double-elimination tournament not winning the title despite only losing one game, especially when there were no other undefeated teams.  It happened occasionally, too (Texas did not lose until it fell to one-loss Wichita State in the 1989 final, in only the second year of the single-game championship format; the very next year one-loss Georgia beat previously undefeated Oklahoma State for the crown).

The NCAA has now changed to a best-of-three series for the title, which I think everyone likes.  The current setup is exactly what the college baseball championship should be.  However, what I want to emphasize is that even in its imperfect single-game state, the College World Series bracket was not set up the way the Southern Conference bracket is this year.

Essentially, the league is “flipping” two teams in the bracket for Saturday’s play.  This concept can be confusing, so much so that the conference initially released a bracket .pdf that was incorrect.  It’s now been fixed, and you can see it here.  Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier describes the “flipping” of the bracket:

There are two four-team brackets — Cid, App State, Davidson and GSU in one, and Elon, Furman, C of C and WCU in the other. On day three (Saturday), however, the bracket is flipped, with the 2-0 team from each bracket sent to the other.
If The Cid, for example, wins its first two games in bracket one, it will be off Friday and sent to bracket two for its third game on Saturday. This keeps one team from playing another three times in the tournament. It also means two teams from the same bracket could meet in the finals.

The next-to-last sentence explains the rationale for the “flip” — but the last sentence exposes the problem with it.  Let me give an example:

Let’s say that Appalachian State follows up its win over The Citadel by beating Georgia Southern, and then (after the flip) beats Elon on Saturday in the early afternoon game to advance to the championship game on Sunday.  The Mountaineers would be undefeated, and would have beaten the top three seeds in the tourney.  However, what happens if the opponent in the title game on Sunday were to be The Citadel or Georgia Southern?  That would mean that Appalachian State would have to beat one of those teams twice without losing to win the championship.

In other words, say in that scenario Georgia Southern beats Appy.  They would both have one loss (to each other) but GSU would be the champs and the Mountaineers would be out of luck.  Avoiding a potential third game between the two schools by employing the “flip” would thus prove detrimental to the Mountaineers.

The difference between flipping and not flipping the teams is this:  if you have a one-loss team and an undefeated team, and they come from completely separate pools, then at least you could make the argument that the one-loss team came from a stronger pool, so it winning the title against an undefeated team from the other pool isn’t quite as unfair.  You really don’t even have to make that argument; the fact that the two pools are distinct from one another makes things at least somewhat equitable (in theory).  You certainly don’t have to worry about a situation where two teams beat each other, but one gets an edge because it lost in a double-elimination situation before a one-shot title game.

Flipping teams like this isn’t a bad idea for a true double-elimination tournament.  In fact, in that situation it’s probably a good thing.  When there is already an inherent flaw in a format, however, trying to get even cuter with the bracketing just serves to exponentially increase the chances of having an unjust resolution to the tournament.

The SoCon baseball tourney moves to Greenville

It’s SoCon baseball tourney time, live from Riley Park in beautiful downtown Charl…

Oh.  They moved the tournament this year.

That’s right.  After 19 consecutive years in Charleston, the powers that be in the Southern Conference wilted from the non-stop complaints of a select few and moved the tournament (for at least one year) to Greenville, where it will be held at Fluor Field.  (The tourney returns to Riley Park next year.)

The tournament regularly made money (!) when it was held in Charleston.  Don’t expect it to do so in Greenville, where it will lack the kind of community support that has made it successful in the Holy City.  Of course, the conference doesn’t realy need the money.  Wait, what’s that you say?  The economic climate in the country has hit the SoCon hard?  The league is cutting costs, including not holding media days for football and basketball?  It’s going to reduce the number of teams that qualify for conference tournaments in sports like women’s soccer, men’s soccer, women’s tennis, men’s tennis, volleyball, and softball?  It’s going to force conference baseball series next year to be held over two days rather than three, with Saturday doubleheaders, to save on travel expenses?  It’s going to do all those things and then cut off its nose to spite its face by moving its baseball tourney just to please a small group of whiners?

Yes, it is.  (The league is also not printing media guides next year, although that strikes me as a good permanent move, what with being able to publish the guides online.  It would be nice if the conference updated its historical records information in hoops and baseball, which hasn’t been done in several years.)

The complaints came over a perceived home field advantage for The Citadel (and for the College of Charleston to a lesser extent).  The loudest of the voices was that of UNC Greensboro coach Mike Gaski, who campaigned to move the tournament for about a decade, or not too long after his 1998 squad had been defeated by The Citadel in the tournament championship game.  That was UNCG’s first year in the league after having lots of success in the Big South.  Gaski’s crew had won the regular season in the SoCon by a half-game over The Citadel, and by one game over Western Carolina, in a very tight three-way race.  Then the tournament rolled around.  The Spartans had actually swept the Bulldogs in Charleston earlier that season, but when the games really mattered, The Citadel prevailed twice over UNCG by a combined score of 21-1.

There really should not have been much to complain about — 21-1 strikes me as being rather decisive — but that was just the start of the drumbeat for moving the tourney.  The thing is, though, UNCG hasn’t won the league regular season title since then.  The Spartans did make it to the tourney title game in 2001, as the 5 seed, when they lost to (of course) The Citadel, which probably rankled Gaski even more.

As everyone knows, home field advantage in baseball isn’t nearly as important as it is in football or basketball.  There is no comparison between The Citadel playing tournament games at Riley Park and UT-Chattanooga getting to host the SoCon men’s hoops tourney on its home court.  That is borne out by the numbers.  While UTC has won the basketball tournament both times it has hosted it, I think some people would be surprised if they took a look at the baseball tournament history since the SoCon set up shop in Charleston.  There have been 19 tournaments held in Chucktown, and here is the breakdown over that time span:

The Citadel — 5 regular season titles, 7 tournament titles
College of Charleston — 3 regular season titles, 1 tournament title
Western Carolina — 3 regular season titles, 4 tournament titles
Georgia Southern — 5 regular season titles, 3 tournament titles
Elon — 2 regular season titles, 1 tournament title
UNC Greensboro — 1 regular season title, 0 tournament titles
Furman — 0 regular season titles, 2 tournament titles
Wofford — 0 regular season titles, 1 tournament title

The Citadel is +2 overall in 19 years of hosting the event (in terms of tourney versus regular season titles).  Meanwhile, the other local school reputed to have at least something of an edge by the tournament being held in Charleston, the CofC, is -2.  So much for a huge local advantage.

After Gaski and UNCG, the school with the most fans critical of the tournament being held in Charleston is probably Western Carolina — but the Catamounts have had their fair share of success there, and are +1.  Really, it’s Georgia Southern that logically would have the biggest complaint (-2), but its fans don’t seem to have had nearly as much of an issue with the tournament being held in the port city (it’s not an inconvenient location for them, for one thing).

The school that appears to have had the biggest benefit to playing in Charleston, as far as tourney vs. regular season success goes, is Furman, with no league regular season titles but two tourney titles since 1990.  Thus, the conference in its infinite wisdom is moving the tournament so the Paladins can be the host team…

You know what this is really about?  It’s about programs not being as successful as they once were, and not getting in the NCAA tournament, and looking for an excuse.  Western Carolina dominated the league in the mid-to-late 1980s, winning five straight tournament titles from 1985-89, all of which were held either in Cullowhee, Boone, or Asheville.  In those five years, WCU also happened to win the league regular season (or division) title four times.  The Catamounts also won a division title in 1984, but didn’t win the tournament that season.

UNC Greensboro won the Big South in 1994 and 1997, winning that conference’s tournament title both years as well.  It entered the Southern Conference following the ’97 campaign.

Western Carolina fans remember the glory days of winning the league every year.  The Catamounts have generally still been competitive, and among the better teams in the league, but they don’t win the conference title every year, and that is reflected in WCU’s tournament results.  The same can be said for UNCG, which has usually been good, but hasn’t enjoyed as much success as it had in the Big South immediately prior to joining the SoCon.

Unfortunately for Gaski and the Spartans, the year the tournament finally moves to Greenville has coincided with that of one of his worst squads, and UNCG has not qualified for this year’s tournament.  I suspect the coach finds that particularly galling.

I hope that Greenville does a decent job hosting the event.  I think it’s safe to assume that there will be a tarp at Fluor Field.  As some of us remember, that wasn’t the case when the tournament was held in Asheville.  The league can’t afford to repeat the 1989 debacle, which just screamed “Mickey Mouse conference” (and which led directly to the tournament moving to Charleston).

I suppose any of the eight teams in the tournament could win it, but I would rank them like this:

Elon — clearly the best team in the league; NCAA lock
Georgia Southern, The Citadel, Western Carolina, College of Charleston — all think they can win the tourney
Appalachian State, Davidson — dangerous, but probably not dangerous enough to win the tournament
Furman — happy to be the host

The latest projections from Baseball America, SEBaseball.com, etc., suggest that as many as three teams from the SoCon can make the NCAAs.  I am a little dubious about that.  Elon is definitely in, but if the Phoenix win the league tournament I don’t know what other team, if any, will join them as a regional participant.  That will depend on how the other teams fare in Greenville.  My best guess is that Georgia Southern is best positioned to get a bid from among the other schools.  I think The Citadel and the College of Charleston have to win the tournament (that’s probably a given for the CofC at this point), and that Western Carolina may have to at least reach the championship game.

The seedings were thus very important for the contenders, and the short straw was drawn by WCU and the CofC.  Not only do those two squads have to play each other in the first round, but the winner likely has to face Elon in the next game.  Georgia Southern’s second-place league finish means that the Eagles avoid all three of those teams until at least Friday (the same is true for The Citadel).  That said, this tournament has a history of early-round upsets, and neither Appalachian State nor Davidson are easy outs.  Even Furman has to be given a puncher’s chance.

As for The Citadel, I would like the Bulldogs’ chances a lot more if the relief pitching were a little better.  Drew Mahaffey is a quality closer, but the setup corps has left a lot to be desired.  Fred Jordan only appears to have faith in one other reliever, Raymond Copenhaver, but Copenhaver has had his ups and downs this year.

Of course, one solution to the problem with the relief pitching is to have the starters all throw complete games, similar to what happened in 2004 (when The Citadel had a tournament-record five complete games, two by Jonathan Ellis).  If a particular starter is effective, then Jordan is likely to leave him in the game as long as he possibly can.

The Bulldogs appear to be playing better defensively, and the offense is close to its peak level entering the tournament, which is good.  If the bottom of the order can be at least somewhat productive, The Citadel should score a lot of runs, because batters 1-6 have been getting the job done.

I favor Elon to win the tournament, but I am hoping the Bulldogs can have a special week.  I would also find it a bit amusing if The Citadel wins the tournament in a year when it’s not held in Charleston.

Error on the official scorer

On May 8, Howie Kendrick hit a home run off Gil Meche in a 4-1 Angels victory over the Royals — only, he really didn’t hit a homer.  Rather, he circled the bases on a poor fielding play by Kansas City right fielder Jose Guillen, a play that should have been ruled a four-base error.  You can see the play here.  (The Royals have appealed the ruling.)

This is just another example of the long trend in official scoring (at seemingly all levels) to avoid giving errors whenever possible.  It’s most noticeable at the major league level, but you see it in the minors and in college games as well.  A couple of weeks ago I was watching a game between Davidson and The Citadel.  Davidson’s shortstop failed to make two plays that should have been ruled errors, but both were ruled hits by the scorer.  Those were two of the seven hits the Bulldogs had.  There are a number of good hitters in The Citadel’s lineup, but it’s certainly easier to maintain high batting averages when the home scorer is overly generous.

It wasn’t always like this.  Years ago scorers seemingly didn’t hesitate to give errors.  Rabbit Maranville was the best defensive shortstop of his day; it’s one of the main reasons he’s in the Hall of Fame.  Maranville also committed 711 errors in his career (the most by a player whose entire career was played in the 20th century; Bill Dahlen, another outstanding defender, had 1080).

Of course, conditions have improved over time for defenders, which naturally has reduced errors.  Players in Maranville’s day didn’t have the modern gloves of today, and also played on less-than-perfect playing fields.  The original Comiskey Park, for example, was built on a city garbage dump.   Pieces of garbage would regularly rise to the surface.  Luke Appling once tripped over a piece of protruding metal near second base; the grounds crew came out and dug up the rest of a copper tea kettle.

You don’t have to worry about things like that when you play on artificial turf, and/or in domes.  When the Twins moved to Minnesota, they played home games outdoors at Metropolitan Stadium, and in those years never had a team season fielding percentage higher than .980 — but since moving to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the team has never had a fielding percentage lower than .980 over a season.

As a result, great defensive players have committed fewer and fewer errors as time has gone by, with or without the help of friendly scoring decisions.  Luis Aparicio (who played from 1956 to 1973) had 366 errors in his career.  Ozzie Smith (1978-1996) committed 281 errors as a major leaguer.  Omar Vizquel has been in the majors since 1989.  In 100+ more games than Smith, he has only committed 183 errors.

The amount of money now in the game at the major league level has certainly had an impact on scoring decisions; I suspect that a lot of official scorers would deny that, but there is an importance to statistics in this era of baseball that wasn’t there 50 years ago.  I think it’s a key reason errors aren’t given more often.  Along those lines, another consideration for a scorer is to trying to offend the fewest number of players.

For instance, on the Howie Kendrick “homer” not giving an error is great for Kendrick, and probably doesn’t hurt Guillen’s feelings (even if he later said he should have been charged with an error).  The only player negatively affected from a statistical perspective is Meche.  Two happy players versus one not-so-happy player.  It’s an easy call for a scorer, especially when the batter is on the home team.

Of course, there are other things that come into play…

Many years ago I was scoring a minor league game.  During the game there was a pickoff at first base; the runner completely fell asleep, as he wasn’t even trying to steal a base.  He made no move to second (or first, for that matter) until the ball was in the first baseman’s glove.  The first baseman and shortstop (who was covering second base) completely botched the rundown, though, and the baserunner wound up at second.  It’s the kind of play you aren’t surprised to see in the low minors, to be honest.

Now, I didn’t believe in making things too difficult for myself, but I had no option but to rule a pickoff and then an error allowing the runner to take second base (given to the shortstop, in this case).  If the runner had been on the move to second, I could have awarded him a stolen base; heck, if he had been leaning that way I may have done so.  That’s not the easiest play in the scorebook to illustrate.  I wrote a short note in the margin for the folks at Howe Sportsdata, outlining what had happened.

After the game I was about to fax the scoresheet to Howe when the telephone rang.  It was the manager of the club for which I was scoring.  He had noticed the “E” flash up on the board and wanted to know what the ruling was (the runner was one of his players).  I explained it to him, and he then argued with me for about five minutes.  He wasn’t nasty about it, but he was very assertive.  I told him I would consider his argument (he wanted the player credited with a steal).

After I hung up, the assistant GM came over to me and told me that the front office had a pre-existing agreement with the manager that any “questionable” scoring decisions were his call, and to change it to what he wanted…

The player got a steal.  Perhaps that steal was noted from above by the powers-that-be (“hey, this kid’s aggressive”) and eventually led to a promotion.  Somehow, I doubt it.  Of course, the shortstop was presumably happy not to be charged with an error.  The pitcher and catcher were charged with allowing a steal, which was ludicrous, of course, but you can’t fight city hall.

I think about that night almost every time I see a error that is scored a hit.  It’s just another reason why basing a player’s defensive value on fielding percentage is myopic.

Postscript:   On Thursday, Major League Baseball reversed the official scorer’s ruling on the Kendrick-Guillen play, taking the homer away from Kendrick and charging Guillen with a four-base error.  This was an excellent decision by the MLB panel making the call (and apparently a fairly easy one; all five members of the panel voted to overturn the original ruling).

Botany Bay, springtime edition

Back during the winter holiday season, I visited Botany Bay Plantation, on Edisto Island, South Carolina, for the first time.  I wrote a short post about that trip.  Last weekend, I went back to take another (relatively quick) look.

First I have to mention that when you turn off the main road on Edisto Island (SC Highway 174) to get to Botany Bay, you then have to drive about two miles down a dirt road to get to the main entrance to the site.  While driving this stretch of road you will notice two things.  One, the road is essentially covered by a canopy of large oak and pine trees, with Spanish moss hanging off trees in almost a stereotypical fashion.  The other thing you will notice (at least, your spine will notice) is that the road is quite rutted.  My 1999 Saturn SL2 managed fairly well, all things considered.  I’m not so sure about my back.

Once you reach the entrance gate you will be greeted by a genial DNR volunteer, who will sign you in (speaking of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, here is a link to its BBP webpage; you can also find all kinds of information about the plantation and other areas of Edisto Island at this site).  After entering, you will drive for another mile or so (passing a ranch-style house with a fenced-in field; there were two beautiful horses grazing there when I passed by the other day).  You can turn left after a mile and continue on a “tour” of the site, or go right and park in a clearing next to some marshland, where you can then walk (about a half-mile) to the beach.

In other words, there is no valet parking.  (There are also no facilities, if you know what I mean.)

The reward for making the trek to the beach is a view of undeveloped coastline that you don’t see every day.  This particular area is south of Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island and just north of Edisto Beach.

I also wandered around the “tour” area, which includes some farmland, lakes, woodlands, marshland, and ruins from a 19th-century plantation.  It’s interesting stuff.  I was hoping to see more birds this time out, but I think that would entail a little more hiking than I wanted to do; the fall season may prove more conducive to that.  After reading the comments of a couple of local birdwatchers in various newspaper articles about the place, though, I was disappointed not to have an ivory-billed woodpecker land on my shoulder while I was there.

At any rate, here are some more pictures.  As always, keep in mind the mediocre picture-taking ability of the photographer and the limitations of his camera:

Road to BBDon't shootOnly kids get shellsLow tide along the marshMore marshCoastlineBeach to woodsBeach treesBefore high tideLooking out to the oceanShells on treesWoodlandsFind the crabsFarmin'Under a big oak treeFishin'Another viewSleeping oystersGladsLakeviewCatch and releaseOn the tourAnother view of the lakeBBP