By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – Just like that, we are down to one.
Technically, we are actually down to three, with one series and three games left in the 2012 SEC baseball season. 27 league contests are in the books, with this upcoming weekend finalizing the seeding in Hoover for the conference tournament.
Much is still up for grabs in this final week (I’ll explain below), including who will be the recipients of this year’s Division Championship trophies. There are also NCAA aspirations, with this final set giving league teams the chance to impress the national selection committee.
Even though there is a clear hierarchy, we should be reminded of just how talented this year’s crop of teams has been. Only 10 games separate top from bottom in both divisions, which may seem like a lot, but in the grand scheme isn’t a large number.
Either way, as the final weekend approaches, let’s see what the “numbers” tell us.
1.The Field Is Set
The Number: 10
Well, we do know something. The 10 teams that will head to Hoover for the SEC Baseball Tournament have been decided, with last week’s games solidifying the field. In a perfect split, five teams from both the Eastern and Western Divisions punched their ticket to the SEC’s crown jewel. Though the order of ranking is yet to be determined, below are the 10 teams (by current standings) that have qualified.
Now, how close is this to what you’ll see in Hoover? That’s a tough question, and depends on what happens this weekend on the diamond.
How the final three spots break down will be fun to watch, as Kentucky, LSU and South Carolina are all within one game of each other. Remember, the division champs will always be the #1/#2 seeds at the tournament, so as it stands now South Carolina would be the “third wheel” looking on from the outside. Florida is in the overall title mix as well, particularly if the Gators can sweep Auburn this weekend.
But, the Gamecocks have a chance to rewrite the standings. In a case of ironic scheduling, South Carolina will host the Tigers of LSU at Carolina Stadium.
Three states over, Kentucky will look to capture its first division title since 2006, as the Wildcats will take on fellow SEC tournament team Mississippi State. Safe to say there will be a lot of scoreboard watching at both Carolina Stadium and Dudy-Noble Field (MSU).
Also worth keeping an eye on is the free for all for the 6-10 spots. From the list above, Vanderbilt down to Auburn are all separated by just one game, meaning what you see above can be completely different next Monday.
The dust officially clears a week from now, when the bracket and matchups will be officially released. Who will play who? Good question. At this point, no one knows.
2. Do Seedings Matter?
The Number: 3
After breaking down the scenarios for the SEC Tournament, it got me thinking. Does seeding matter when it comes to winning the SEC baseball tournament? Is there a benefit historically to being a higher seed? Or is it more important to get into the event and take your chances?
With the help of the SEC’s Chuck Dunlap, I was able to go back and analyze the tournament winners and their seeds when they captured the crown. Just for comparison’s sake, I narrowed my search down to the Hoover era of the tournament.
2011- Florida (Three Seed)
2010- LSU (Eight Seed)
2009- LSU (One Seed)
2008- LSU (Two Seed)
2007- Vanderbilt (One Seed)
2006- Ole Miss (Five Seed)
2005- Mississippi State (Seven Seed)
2004- South Carolina (Five Seed)
2003- Alabama (Seven Seed)
2002- Alabama (Two Seed)
2001- Mississippi State (Four Seed)
2000- LSU (Two Seed)
1999- Alabama (Three Seed)
1998- Auburn (Five Seed)
A quick glance shows that if given the choice, you’d like to be LSU. The Tigers won three straight tournaments (2008-11) and an SEC-high four overall since the event has been in Hoover.
As for seedings, you might be surprised at which numbers have had the most success at Regions Park.
Both the two and five seeds have won three championships, leading the way. The one seed, the team with the best overall conference record, has won just twice in 14 years, the same amount as the three and seven seed. An eight seed has also won, a reminder that anyone in the field truly has a fighting chance.
What seed do you not want your favorite team to be? That’d be the six spot, which has not won a title during the Hoover era.
While not a roadmap for the future, it is definitely something to keep in mind as you watch this final weekend. Getting in the dance is the most important thing, but you might sleep better if your favorite team dodges that sixth spot.
3. The Defense Never Rests
The Number: .981
In the famous baseball movie Bull Durham (1988), the team’s manager (aptly named Skip), uttered a famous quote that is remembered by every fan of the National Pastime.
“You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.”
While throwing (pitching) and hitting often garner the headlines, “catching” the ball can be just as important to a team’s success. Having a solid defensive squad can be the difference in a winning club, or being a team on the outside looking in when it comes to the SEC Tournament.
Although fielding percentage isn’t the best way to properly examine defensive efficiency, it is the statistic we have at our disposal. The stat’s weaknesses (assessing fielder’s range, etc.) are duly noted, but it can still give a good glimpse of the teams that are good on the defensive end.
When I mentioned earlier that defense can be a factor in capturing a spot in postseason play, the numbers back me up. When you look at the rankings for SEC-only games, teams 10 and 11 in fielding percentage are Alabama and Tennessee. These two squads are not headed to Hoover, perhaps in small part to the combined 60 errors they’ve committed on the year.
It is no coincidence that the league’s best defensive teams (Georgia, Ole Miss, Florida, South Carolina, LSU, Kentucky) are among the conference’s best teams overall. When it comes to errors, the six teams with the lowest totals are also the current top six seeds in the SEC.
Again, it isn’t just luck that it works out that way.
Errors have a prolonged effect on the game and the team that commits them. For every error made, that team’s pitcher has to throw more pitches. Errors also lead to runners on base, which in turn can lead to more runs given up. Any way you look at it, being able to avoid defensive miscues is an important part of winning baseball.
While fielding may not be an exciting facet of the game to sell to fans, it can go a long way to winning games. In the end, that is what matters.
The “defense” never rests.