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Shifting college statistics can’t always be trusted

By John Manuel
March 15, 2002

When Baseball America rates college players for the draft, statistics don’t factor much into the equation.

Scouts want to see players perform, and statistics can be a good measure of performance. But college stats can be deceiving.

There’s the aluminum bat, of course, and the fact that not all college parks are created equal. For example, one university official, showing off his program’s new ballpark, pointed out the 400-foot sign in center field. "It used to say 400 out there, but now it really is 400," he said.

Scoring games in college baseball isn’t an exact science, either. A player’s numbers may not tell the whole story because those numbers might depend on whether scoring rules are interpreted correctly or who’s doing the scoring.

That’s true of baseball at any level, and NCAA Division I is no different. NCAA statistics director Jim Wright–the guy who compiles the Ratings Percentage Index for baseball–says the home team is designated as the official scorer in the NCAA’s eyes.

So if, as one story goes, the official scorer at State says any fly ball that advances a runner is a sacrifice fly (not just the ones that score runners), then that’s what gets into the books. Because sac flies don’t count as official at-bats, State’s batters might get a boost to their batting averages over a 56-game schedule.

"We’re totally reliant on the sports information directors, who usually work as the official scorers," Wright said. "There are just so many games going on. There’s really no solid oversight on our part."

Recipe For Problems

Discrepancies can arise in a number of ways. Oral Roberts says it set a school record with 29 hits in a 22-5 victory at Kansas, and that four players had four hits in the game. But a box score on the Kansas Website says the Golden Eagles got just 28 hits. So what’s the record?

In a Feb. 6 game at Florida International, Miami credits senior shortstop Javy Rodriguez with three hits in five trips during a 7-1 defeat. But the Golden Panthers–the home team–scored two of those three as errors, not hits. So starting pitcher Josh Banks gave up no earned runs in his five-inning stint, as opposed to the one earned run Miami’s box score charged him.

Baseball isn’t the only sport that has such discrepancies. Wright says Division I-A and I-AA football are the only classifications in which the NCAA has total control over national statistics, so home-team scoring crops up often in sports like basketball and soccer. In part because baseball’s schedule overlaps with the basketball and hockey Final Fours, the NCAA doesn’t even compile national statistics for baseball until April.

"For football, the home team reports the statistics, and we don’t change stats unless it goes through and gets approved by the home team," Wright said. "For baseball, we really don’t change them. There’s really nothing we can do if the two teams report things differently.

"With seven people in the office, we don’t have the manpower to make changes like that or to keep up with baseball stats while basketball is going on."

Just another reason why we turn to scouts as much as stats when it comes time to put players on our All-America teams and when we choose our College Player of the Year.

News & Notes

• North Carolina senior Chris Maples might be the least-heralded player making a significant contribution on a Top 25 team. When he came out of Orange High in Hillsborough, N.C., Maples was considered a fringe Atlantic Coast Conference player. After hitting three home runs in the Tar Heels’ three-game sweep of Florida State, Maples looked anything but fringy. Playing third base and right field as well as pitching out of the bullpen, Maples has become one of the ACC’s most valuable players. After a two-homer, seven-RBI performance in an 18-2 win against Towson, Maples was hitting .320-11-34.

• Has any player meant as much to his program as righthander Shane Komine–the Hawaiian Punchout–to Nebraska? Komine, recently featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd, holds virtually every pitching record worth having for the Huskers, who have won three Big 12 Conference tournaments since he arrived on campus and have sold out their season tickets for new Hawks Field at Haymarket Park. He hasn’t lost in league play in two years. The last such pitcher might just be another Hawaii native and strikeout king, Rainbows lefthander Derek Tatsuno back in the late 1970s.

• The two most attractive coaching openings for the offseason are at Fresno State and Michigan. The Bulldogs offer a strong baseball tradition, an above-average ballpark and a strong fan base. Athletic director Scott Johnson also has to name a pair of basketball coaches to fill Fresno State’s new arena, but he has made the baseball job a priority. Michigan’s position has its attractions–it is Michigan, after all. But an associate athletic director is heading up the search. The fact the AD isn’t involved could indicate to prospective candidates that the Wolverines aren’t ready to upgrade their commitment to baseball.

• UC Irvine was off to a 16-13 start after bringing its program back this season, thanks in part to a pair of stellar freshmen. First baseman Matt Anderson was leading the team in hitting at .420-1-17 and had a .496 on-base percentage. Lefthander Glenn Swanson pitched his way into the rotation between talented juniors Paul French and Sean Tracey. Swanson, a 6-footer listed at 155 pounds, was 4-1, 2.70 and had allowed just 36 hits in 50 innings.

John Manuel is Baseball America’s senior writer for college baseball. He can be reached by e-mail at johnmanuel@baseballamerica.com.

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