Crazy Eight

The 2008 College World Series has a little something for everybody. If you’re a college baseball history buff, longtime powers Florida State, Stanford, Miami and Louisiana State should stir up some feelings of nostalgia. If you’re not so old school, modern powers Rice, North Carolina and Georgia might tickle your fancy. If you’re into star power, you’ll enjoy watching three of the four players tied for the national lead in home runs (Buster Posey, Gordon Beckham and Matt Clark). Posey will likely become the second player in history to win the Division I triple crown as long as Beckham and Smith don’t out-homer him in Omaha. If you just want to see prospects, the 2008 CWS features seven players who went in the first round of last week’s draft (Posey, Beckham, Jason Castro, Yonder Alonso, Jemile Weeks, Carlos Gutierrez, Joshua Fields) and two others who went in the supplemental first round (Jeremy Bleich and Bryan Price).

This field has no shortage of heavy hitters, with six national seeds reaching Omaha, the most since 2001. But it also offers a classic Cinderella story in Fresno State, the first team seeded No. 4 in a regional to reach the College World Series in the 64-team era. And it’s worth noting that the last four national champions have not been national seeds.

Here are some other nuggets about the compelling CWS field.

  • Defense wins championships. The last six national champions have all ranked in the top 20 in the nation in fielding percentage, and none of them had a fielding percentage worse than .972. Four of the champions ranked in the top five in fielding percentage, and another ranked eighth. Here’s a look at how this year’s final eight stacks up defensively (stats and ranks are through regionals):
    Team Fielding Percentage National Rank
    Miami .975 8th
    Stanford .974 11th
    LSU .971 25th
    Fresno State .971 26th
    North Carolina .971 30th
    Georgia .970 36th
    Rice .963 141st
    Florida State .959 178th
  •  Miami coach Jim Morris often talks about the importance of a strong bullpen. His Hurricanes won national championships in 1999 and 2001 with stellar bullpens, and he has said he would trade two quality starters for a single quality closer. All eight teams in the 2008 CWS field have at least one bullpen ace they can count upon. Here’s a look at those stoppers (though Ryan Strauss and Jared Bradford also have started when needed), and how well each team has protected late leads this season (stats are through super-regionals):
    Team Bullpen ace Record when leading
    after 8 innings
    Miami Carlos Gutierrez
    (5-3, 3.02, 13 SV)
    Florida State Ryan Strauss
    (10-1, 4.25, 4 SV)
    Georgia Joshua Fields
    (2-2, 2.76, 16 SV)
    Rice Cole St.Clair
    (10-2, 2.61, 5 SV)
    LSU Jared Bradford
    (10-4, 4.50, 5 SV)
    Stanford Drew Storen
    (4-3, 2.79, 8 SV)
    North Carolina Rob Wooten
    (6-2, 1.80, 4 SV)
    Fresno State Brandon Burke
    (4-5, 3.15, 12 SV)
  • What separates these eight teams on the mound is starting pitching. There are several starters in Omaha with good numbers, but the only true power arms are North Carolina sophomore righty Alex White and freshman righty Matt Harvey, both of whom run their fastballs into the mid-90s and have sometimes-devastating secondary stuff. Miami ace Chris Hernandez, Stanford ace Jeremy Bleich and Fresno State ace Justin Wilson all have very good stuff from the left side, but none exceeds 91 mph with his fastball. In an offensive CWS field filled with power bats, the ability to combat them with power arms that are capable of missing bats is a major advantage. And it’s been an advantage all year long for North Carolina. Here’s how the eight contenders stack up on the mound (stats and national rankings are through regionals):
    Team ERA (Rank) Strikeouts/9 IP (Rank) Hits/9 IP (Rank)
    North Carolina 2.79 (1st) 10.2 (1st) 7.45 (1st)
    Rice 3.55 (6th) 9.0 (8th) 8.87 (28th)
    LSU 3.83 (14th) 8.0 (35th) 8.87 (26th)
    Miami 3.94 (19th) 8.7 (10th) 8.60 (12th)
    Florida State 4.02 (22nd) 7.7 (64th) 8.56 (11th)
    Stanford 4.43 (43rd) 6.3 (180th) 9.55 (59th)
    Fresno State 4.54 (51st) 7.5 (80th) 9.23 (42nd)
    Georgia 4.72 (62nd) 7.6 (76th) 9.26 (44th)
  • So after all this talk about how offensive this CWS could be, which offense is the best? The statistics don’t tell the whole story, but they tell at least part of the story. Florida State and Miami both stand out for their power and patience, and the Hurricanes have the most speed of the eight regional teams as well. Neither of the West Coast teams plays like a typical West Coast team; Stanford and Fresno State steal less bases than any of the other Omaha teams. Six of the eight teams rank in the national top 50 in walks, while Louisiana State is the most aggressive, free-swinging team of the lot. Here’s how the eight offenses stack up (stats and national ranks are through regionals):
    Team Runs per game (Rank) AVG (Rank) SLG (Rank) HR per game (Rank) SB per game (Rank) Walks (Rank)
    Florida State 9.9 (3rd) .356 (1st)  .570 (3rd) 1.51 (12th) 1.03 (155th) 402 (1st)
    Miami 9.0 (7th) .328 (17th) .549 (5th) 1.62 (7th) 1.64 (45th) 311 (7th)
     LSU 7.8 (38th)  .305 (92nd)  .504 (28th)  1.4 (19th) 1.43 (71st) 235 (84th)
     North Carolina 7.7 (45th) .324 (23rd) .492 (38th) 0.9 (99th) 1.05 (149th) 256 (49th) 
    Stanford 7.5 (51st) .300 (125th) .478 (56th) 1.21 (39th) 0.72 (233rd) 248 (60th)
    Rice 7.4 (54th) .308 (75th) .453 (97th) 0.88 (108th) 0.97 (173rd) 274 (30th)
    Georgia 7.1 (85th) .306 (87th) .479 (54th) 1.37 (23rd) 1.11 (131st) 267 (38th)
    Fresno State 6.8 (107th) .297 (136th) .439 (135th) 1.0 (73rd) 0.81 (214th) 296 (15th)
  • There’s something to be said for momentum, and for domination. Reader Darren Maybee sent in this breakdown of postseason run differentials for the eight Omaha teams:
    Team Postseason run differential
    Florida State +37
    LSU +34
    North Carolina +26
    Georgia +24
    Stanford +14
    Miami +10
    Rice +10
    Fresno State +2
  • Finally, the 2008 CWS doesn’t just feature big-name schools; it also features a number of big-name coaches. Seven of the eight coaches have led teams to Omaha as head coaches before, and they have combined to make 45 total trips to the CWS. No coach in history has reached Omaha more times without winning a championship than Florida State’s Mike Martin. This is Martin’s 13th trip to Omaha; the only three coaches with more appearances are Cliff Gustafson, Rod Dedeaux and Mark Marquess. Here’s a look at the CWS histories for each of the eight head coaches:
    Name, Team Previous CWS appearances CWS W-L record National titles
    Mark Marquess, Stanford 13 34-23 2
    (1987, 1988)
    Mike Martin,
    Florida State
    12 17-24 0
    Jim Morris, Miami 10 20-15 2
    (1999, 2001)
    Wayne Graham, Rice 6 10-11 1 (2003)
    Mike Fox,
    North Carolina
    2 8-4 0
    David Perno, Georgia 2 2-4 0
    Paul Mainieri, LSU 1 1-2 0
    Mike Batesole,
    Fresno State
    0 0-0 0