By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- Everybody loves stats right?
In no other game do numbers tell the story more than baseball.
Have you ever looked at your favorite player’s batting average on the back of a baseball card? Ever scanned through a game program to look at home run totals?
The ability to understand and compare players from different eras is one of the National Pastime's most endearing qualities. Home runs hit by Babe Ruth count the same as the round trippers hit by Albert Pujols, leaving the door open to remember the game's past.
Baseball stats can explain how great players are, and in essence tell us a lot about the games we love to watch. It can also predict the future, establishing a set of patterns to help comprehend what might happen down the line. Stats tell all.
That's where the origin of this "Numbers Game" column began.
I've been a "stat rat" all my life. Even in my college days as a player, I spent entirely too much time begging my sports information director (this guy
) for more hits, and became engrossed in the numbers that measure baseball success.
I wanted to learn how statistics could show a team's strengths, expose a player's weakness and allow for teams to prepare for their upcoming opponent. As an ESPN show is titled, "Numbers Don't Lie" when analyzing baseball, and that general idea gave birth to the column you are reading today.
This will be a once a week endeavor, where I scan the SEC's statistical database to find some of the best and most intriguing numbers in the conference. They can come from an entire team, one player or a collection of squads, as we try to understand just how each team in the league is trying to succeed.
That said, the SEC "Numbers Game" is born.
1. "Moneyball" In Fayetteville
The Number: .514 On-Base Percentage
The Razorbacks had an impressive opening weekend of action, sweeping Villanova by a combined score of 41-7. Arkansas is one of the quietest top five teams in the nation, with the Razorbacks remaining under the radar as SEC preseason attention was showered on Florida and South Carolina. Dave Van Horn's club should definitely be considered in that top tier, and will be a force to be reckoned with all season long.
How they scored this weekend is a more telling fact than the actual number of runs they put up. As Jonah Hill told us (as Peter Brand) in the Oscar nominated film "Moneyball", the goal in baseball is to "buy" runs. While you aren't purchasing any players at the collegiate level, the comparison still applies here because the philosophy behind how you are trying to score is still correct.
Arkansas as a team got on base at a .514 clip, meaning more than half of their at bats resulted in a Razorback player reaching base. If the goal is to score runs, you have to be on base to do it. Arkansas accomplished both, and the numbers they put up over the course of the season's first three games back that up.
Those 41 runs scored were by far the highest total in the SEC's opening weekend, and if Arkansas can continue that on base success going forward, the Razorbacks will be among the league's most lethal offenses.
2: When In Doubt, Strike Them Out
The Number: Over 34 Strikeouts
When it comes to pitching, almost everything is out of a pitcher's control.
The pitcher is solely responsible for the pitch that he throws, and his ability to throw strikes to the batter is at the core of the game of baseball. However, once the baseball leaves his hand, a pitcher becomes as much of a spectator as the fans in attendance.
If a batter makes contact, anything can happen. That hitter might reach base, or the defense might make the play for an out. Perhaps even an error occurs, allowing the player to make it to first even if he shouldn't. All those variables factor into the game's score, and can essentially determine whether he wins or loses, even if the loss had little to do with his actual performance.
While wins as a team statistic are important (highest total is best), wins for a pitcher don't do the best job of telling whether he was dominant on the given day he took the mound. A pitcher can give up an unearned run, his offense not score and be sent home with an "L" on his stat sheet. Not entirely fair, but that is the way it is.
The only way a pitcher can eliminate the variables in the field behind him to make the batter swing and miss. To that point, if they can strike a batter out, it completely dominates all outcomes, keeping runners off base and in turn not allowing the opposing team to score.
Strikeouts are one of the best ways to measure true pitching dominance. If you scan the top four strikeout totals for last year in the major leagues
, you'd see the American League MVP (Justin Verlander) along with three of the MLB's best arms (Clayton Kershaw, CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee).
Three SEC teams showed their power “stuff” this weekend, with LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina recording over 34 punch outs. While averaging over 11 strikeouts for an entire year is unlikely, it is a good indicator of the type of arms those staffs possess. They gave up only 15 totals runs as a group on the weekend, keeping their offenses close enough to win. LSU and South Carolina backed that up, both going a perfect 3-0. Mississippi State went 2-1, losing in extra innings for their only defeat.
Expect this number to fluctuate in the coming weeks, both due to competition and the league’s pitchers getting more comfortable on the mound. But often times the higher the strikeout totals, the better the staff. And we all know that pitching wins championships....ask South Carolina.
3. SECond To None When It Comes To Fans
The Number: 132,602
That's how many people came to see nine of the SEC's 12 schools play this weekend. To put that number in perspective, if that was the population of a city in the United States, it would put it as the country's 187th biggest town. That's more people than the population of Columbia, South Carolina, Gainesville, Florida and a couple of other cities that house SEC schools.
Again, that is just nine SEC schools. The national attendance report only lists the top 34
, but the SEC still found a way to have 75 percent of its squads listed.
That is simply amazing.
The top three schools listed are all from the SEC, with the Bayou Bengals taking the crown. LSU had an average, again AVERAGE, of 10,532 fans per game during their weekend series against Air Force. That is just 3,700 short of what the state's NBA team, the New Orleans Hornets, averages per game for the year. On a big SEC weekend series, it is possible the number of LSU fans that attend could rival the normal attendance at an Oakland A’s major league game (18,232).
Again, simply astounding.
LSU isn't the only team doing it. South Carolina (7,751), Arkansas (6,958) and Mississippi State (6,073) are all in the top five when it comes to attendance, with numbers that are sure to grow as the competition increases and the weather gets warmer.
The SEC and one of its institutions have led the NCAA in total and average attendance for the last 14 seasons in a row, and 19 of the last 25 years.
Sure looks like that will continue in 2012.