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SEC baseball run differential: Auburn’s OK

I’m not much help when it comes to college baseball. I’ve never followed it all that closely, never lived and died with it even in the Hal Baird heyday, never known enough about Auburn’s roster or results to feel like I could comment on it all that knowledgeably. These past two seasons, there’s been even less need to do so with Kevin doing his thing at PPL.

But there is one thing I can do: basic math. And it’s surprising how much basic math can help when it comes to analyzing sports results, as anyone’s ever taken a look at Pythagorean wins–for football, for basketball, yes, for baseball–already knows. Wins and losses are what matter in the record books, but if you’re looking for future wins and losses, you’re better off looking at how well a team has actually performed … what you want to look at is scoring margin. Truly good teams, in whatever sport you’d care to name, aren’t the “poised” ones who make the “clutch plays” to win tight games; they’re the ones who blow the opponent out to begin with.

(You can see this effect in action in Auburn’s 2009 campaign. After Auburn beat Florida 8-7 last April 11, they stood at 7-6 in the SEC but had won six of those games by two runs or less while routinely losing by wide margins. What happened next? A 24-2 loss to the Gators the very next night and losses in 13 of their next 15 SEC games.)

So: after two straight weekends in which the Auburn baseball team more-or-less exchanged comfortable wins on Friday and Sunday but dropped the coin-flip game on Saturday to lose the series, I ended up too curious to know where Auburn’s scoring margin stands in relation to the rest of the SEC. I did the math, and here’s the results, all 12 SEC teams ranked by raw scoring margin:

1. South Carolina (7-2), +32 (+9 vs. UT, +4 vs. AU, +19 vs. MSU)

2. Auburn (5-4), +30 (+34 vs. UGA, -4 vs. SC, 0 vs. UA)

3. LSU (7-2), +17 (+2 vs. Ark, +10 vs. UT, +5 vs. UGA)

4. Arkansas (6-3), +11 (-2 vs. LSU, +7 vs. UA, +6 vs. UK)

5. Florida (6-3), +6 (+9 vs. MSU, -1 vs. Miss, -2 vs. Vandy)

6. Alabama (4-5), +4 (+11 vs. Vandy, -7 vs. Ark, 0 vs. AU)

7. Vandy (5-4), 0 (-11 vs. UA, +9 vs. UK, +2 vs. UF)

8. Ole Miss (5-4), -1 (+1 vs. UK, +1 vs. UF, -3 vs. UT)

9a. Kentucky (2-7), -16 (-1 vs. Miss, -9 vs. Vandy, -6 vs. Ark)

9b. Tennessee (2-7), -16 (-9 vs. SC, -10 vs. LSU, +3 vs. Miss)

11. Miss. St. (3-6), -29 (-9 vs. UF, -1 vs. UGA, -19 vs. SC)

12. Georgia (2-7), -38 (-34 vs. AU, +1 vs. MSU, -5 vs. LSU)

OK, so I wouldn’t take these rankings as gospel. I’m not sure I’d even advise taking them as a Jack Chick tract. Nine games is a tiny, tiny sample size, and strength-of-schedule obviously plays a huge role; getting Mississippi St. or one of the three 2-7 East teams is a big help, getting Carolina or LSU a big handicap. I’ll be updating these as we go week-to-week (assuming there’s some interest), and the more data we can plug in, the more accurate they’ll get.

But even at this early stage, I think we can draw a few hesitant conclusions:

— Yes, the Auburn-Georgia series is a fluke. When no other series even comes close in terms of lopsided run differential–the closest runner-up is the +19 in the SC-MSU series, 15 runs behind–it’s safe to call it an outlier and give Auburn a bit of a knock. If the Tigers really end up the second-best team in the SEC, I think we’ll all be stunned.

Still: the most dominant series victory in the league yet this year counts for something. Yes, Auburn’s gone 2-4 since, but they’ve done it while only being outscored by a total of four runs against two solid teams. Put those two pieces of evidence together, and the Tigers might not be No. 2, but I’ll bet they’re at least in the top half of the league with the Hogs and Gators.

— Also underrated: Alabama. The Tide haven’t played a game yet against a team with a losing SEC record, but they’re still in the black in run differential after having gone 1-3 in one-run games.

— On the overrated side, I think you have to wonder about Ole Miss. Taking the series from Florida is fairly impressive, but it only came by a run and putting up a combined -2 against the likes of Kentucky and Tennessee–two teams that have gotten flattened whenever they haven’t been playing Ole Miss–is a red flag.

— Records and series victory over Georgia aside, Miss. St. might be the worst team in the league. All three of their victories have come by a single run, but just one of their losses was closer than 3.

Like I said, we’ll do this again next week, but for now, I’d tell Auburn fans not to worry too much. Unless that Georgia series truly is the fluke to end all flukes, the Tigers should be plenty capable of staying out of the bottom four and finally securing that trip to Hoover.

Photo by Van Emst.

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