Here's something new for your Monday morning reading, our first ever BON NCAA Baseball Midseason Power Rankings. These rankings are based on our own relatively uneducated opinions of how teams have performed through the first half of the college baseball season. Anybody can beat up on the Little Sisters of the Poor in nonconference play (*ahem Oklahoma State), so we've weighted the rankings towards teams that have pitched well against tougher schedules. RPI and strength-of-schedule numbers taken from Boyds World. Without further adieu, here are our top ten rankings:
1) UCLA (23-1, #2 RPI, #13 SOS) -- Call us suckers for elite pitching in putting UCLA here ahead of ASU. The Bruins are in the top ten nationally in batting average while leading the nation in ERA, strikeouts and opponent batting average. They have three very talented starters, an impossible to hit closer, and a deep bullpen (sound familiar?). Since these rankings are arbitrary, we'll give UCLA the nod for now.
2) Arizona State (25-1, #1 RPI, #12 SOS) -- The Sun Devils lost their coach in the offseason and have responded by winning 23 straight to open the season. ASU is impressive both on offensive (top five nationally in OPS) and pitching (third in ERA and batting average, top ten in ER and strikeouts). Better pitching puts UCLA on top of our power rankings, but there's very little separating the top two slots. The series with UCLA (Apr 30 - May 2) may decide the PAC-10 crown as well as the overall #1 seed.
3) Louisville (24-3, #4 RPI, #65 SOS) -- Maybe the hardest team to rank on this list. The Cardinals are top ten nationally in ERA, opponent batting average, walks per nine and hits per nine. They're solid but don't stand out offensively. A 23-3 record is impressive, but they haven't exactly played elite competition. An impressive series victory over Ole Miss gives Louisville the third spot, although Ole Miss is the only team Louisville has played this season below the Mason-Dixon line.
4) Texas (21-7, #12 RPI, #8 SOS) -- We may be homers, but we firmly believe that this is a stronger team than the one last year that came so close to winning a national title. Only UCLA has a better team ERA, and Texas is top ten nationally in opponents batting average, strikeouts, and shutouts. Texas is also 11th in the country in fielding percentage. Texas pitches better than anybody below it on this list, has played a far tougher schedule, and plays better defense. 16 of Texas' 21 wins (and 6 of the 7 losses) have come against teams in the top 100 in RPI, and that's enough to land them fourth, our love of the burnt orange notwithstanding.
5) LSU (23-4, #14 RPI, #87 SOS) -- The record is quite impressive. The fact that they've done it almost entirely without future top five draft choice Anthony Ranaudo is even more impressive. LSU doesn't pitch or hit at an elite level, although Ranaudo's return should improve the already solid pitching substantially. They play defense well (tied with Texas in fielding percentage), and while only 8 of their 22 wins have come over teams in the top 100 in RPI, the series victory over Arkansas is one of the most impressive of any other team on this list. Hence they're number five--not lower because they've been impressive, not higher because they haven't played many great teams.
6) Virginia (23-6, #8 RPI, #48 SOS) -- They're #1 in the Baseball America rankings, and probably deserved to be higher on this list until a series loss at NC State this weekend. Virginia has gotten impressive series victories over Florida State and Clemson in their last three weekends, but they haven't played all that an impressive schedule overall. They had a nice opening series win over East Carolina, but that has begun to look less impressive over time. UVA is a very strong, very balanced hitting and pitching team, ranking in the top 25 nationally in hitting and top 15 in pitching. This is a team that could very easily find itself with the #1 overall seed when the postseason starts, but objectively hasn't done any more than any team higher on the list.
7) Florida (20-7, #3 RPI, #27 SOS) -- Another spot, another tough to place SEC team. All six of Florida's losses have come against teams in the top 15 in RPI (Florida State, Ole Miss and Miami). They're an elite defensive squad (fourth nationally in fielding percentage), but average offensively (113th nationally in runs scored) and just above average pitching (42nd nationally in ERA). We thought about placing Florida State here (who has taken 2 of 3 midweek games this season from Florida), but a pair of series losses to UVA and Virginia Tech prevented the Seminoles from cracking the list. Back-to-back home series against LSU and Arkansas will determine whether Florida is elite or not. Until then, they're stuck at #7.
8) Georgia Tech (25-3, #17 RPI, #94 SOS) -- Another very tough team to rank. Statistically they deserve to probably be ranked third on this list. They hit well (third in OPS, second in runs and HR), they pitch well (top ten in ERA and five shutouts on the year), and they're a reasonably good defensive squad. But they've played the easiest schedule of anybody on this list, having only 8 wins against top 100 teams. Georgia Tech could be a high top eight seed. Or not, it's going to be tough to tell if this team is truly elite until they play some real competition.
9) Arkansas (22-6, #5 RPI, #17 SOS) -- They've played a much better schedule than LSU or Georgia Tech, but not nearly as tough as Texas, UCLA and ASU. They have a series victory over Kentucky, a win over Kansas, and a tough series loss against LSU. We're still not certain if this Arkansas team is for real, but we'll soon find out since they've got a very tough schedule the rest of the way. The SEC is the nation's premier baseball conference in our minds (narrowly edging out the PAC 10), which as we all know is not inherently indicative of postseason success, but it gives a boost to SEC teams for the purposes of an arbitrary power poll.
10) Stanford (13-9, #22 RPI, #2 SOS) -- Ole Miss, Oregon, Florida State, or TCU could be considered top ten teams, but we'll defer to Stanford for the time being because of that SOS. Stanford got swept at Texas and is the only team to beat UCLA this season. They played both teams on the road, and came very close to taking the UCLA series. Since this is all arbitrary, we're allowed to finish the rankings with Stanford. You could make a case for or against each of the four other teams, so why not Stanford.