Image credit: Nick Grande (Photo courtesy of Stony Brook Athletics)
Over this extended offseason, we’re going to take a closer look at all 31 Division I college baseball conferences. Using five years’ worth of data, we’ll examine where each league has been and project where it might go.
The America East is on the shortlist of the most compact conferences in the country. In a seven-team league, four different teams have won the automatic bid in the last five seasons, and although Stony Brook has been the most successful program of late, it’s not running away from the pack, necessarily.
Binghamton, for example, has won just as many regular-season titles as Stony Brook in the last five seasons, and Maine has done a better job than any program of having its players selected early in the draft during that same timeframe.
One potential game-changer on the horizon for the America East is Binghamton’s new $60 million baseball complex, which will effectively allow the Bearcats to lap the field in terms of having the best facility in the conference.
It’s not a cure-all move, but if there’s anything that can break up the logjam in this conference and push one program to be the clear class of the America East, it’s a safe bet that it would be massive facility investment like that.
*2020 records not included
|Am. East Record
The standings make clear just how compact the America East hierarchy is, with fewer than 20 percentage points separating the winning percentage of the first-place and last-place team and fewer than six percentage points between any two teams in the standings. When you look at the overall winning percentages, Maine looks like an outlier with the worst winning percentage of any team in the league across all games, but it’s important to note that the Black Bears have played some ferociously tough schedules in recent years. In 2018, for example, they played weekend series against Texas Tech, Miami and a regional-bound New Mexico State team all before entering conference play. In 2019, Florida State, Mississippi State and Liberty, which was in a regional last season, were on the non-conference schedule. It would be impossible to avoid taking lumps against schedules like those.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each America East program performed over the last five full seasons. The arrow designation of up, down and to the side represent the results of the last five seasons, not a projection of the years to come.
Given two regular-season titles and two regional appearances, an arrow down seems harsh, but these designations are in comparison to the five years prior, and the Seawolves got to the College World Series in 2012. There was just no realistic way for the last five years to stack up, even though what Stony Brook has accomplished lately is worth celebrating and its consistency is impressive. It has finished .500 or better in America East play every year since 2005.
The last five years have been really solid for the Bearcats, what with two regular-season titles and a regional appearance in 2016. Ultimately, that’s not altogether different from 2010-2014, when the Bearcats won the regular-season title in 2010 and got to two regionals. Prior to Stony Brook’s emergence, Binghamton was running the America East, as the program rattled off four consecutive regular-season titles from 2007-2010. Right now, those two programs are vying for the top spot, but perhaps the Bearcats’ new facility will put them over the top.
In 2018, Hartford enjoyed the best season in its Division I history, as it won its first America East regular-season title and its first America East Tournament, which gave the program its first regional appearance. But even if the Hawks hadn’t accomplished all of that, the last five seasons still would have been a huge success. In 2016, for example, they went 37-18 to set the program record for wins in a season, which was previously 31 from the 2014 campaign. After losing seasons had become the norm for Hartford in its America East history, the last five seasons have changed the trajectory of the program for the better.
Somewhat quietly, UMBC has been very consistent the last five years, save for a 2019 season that saw it fall to 6-17 in America East play. In 2017, it got to a regional for the first time since 2001, when it was a member of the Northeast Conference. In 2015, its 34 wins were the second-highest total in program history, behind the 1992 team. The Retrievers haven’t quite had the high-end success of Stony Brook or Binghamton, but relative to much of the program’s history, the last five seasons have been a success.
It has been a tough last five seasons for the Black Bears, even taking the extraordinarily tough schedules out of the equation. Between 2010 and 2014, Maine won the America East once and finished second twice. In the last five seasons, it hasn’t finished better than third, which it accomplished in 2015, and .500 winning percentages in conference in 2015 and 2018 are the best the program has to offer in this data sample.
The River Hawks get an arrow up almost by default, as they have only been a Division I program for six full seasons, but even beyond that, the program has made clear strides in the last five seasons. In 2018, the team finished above .500 in America East play for the first time, at 13-11, which was also good for second place in the league standings. Only once, when the River Hawks went 5-19 in the league in 2016, have they suffered through a truly subpar season, and that’s a good start for a program freshly transitioned to this level.
Things have been looking up for the Great Danes lately. They finished second in the conference in 2019, and the 28 wins overall were the most since a 29-win campaign in 2007. But on the whole, the last five years don’t quite stack up to the previous five. From 2010-2014, Albany finished .500 or better in conference play three different times. In the last five seasons, the 2019 season is the only time it has done so, and three of the five times in its America East history that it has finished with fewer than 10 conference wins have come in this period of time.
Regional Team by Year
|0-2 in Baton Rouge Regional
|0-2 in DeLand Regional
|0-2 in Winston-Salem Regional
|0-2 in College Station Regional
|1-2 in Fort Worth Regional
There simply hasn’t been a ton of success for America East teams in the postseason in recent years, with only Stony Brook’s 2015 team capturing a win in regionals. That Stony Brook team is particularly interesting, as it was only the third America East team in the 64-team regionals era to be a No. 3 seed rather than a No. 4 and the first since Maine did it in 2003. The other was Delaware in 2001 prior to its joining the Colonial Athletic Association.
Top Draft Selections
|Jeremy Pena, SS, Maine
|Christopher Bec, RHP, Maine
|Stephen Woods, RHP, Albany
|Kevin Lachance, SS, Maryland-Baltimore County
|Justin Yurchak, 3B, Binghamton
Pena is the highest-drafted America East player since Hartford lefthander Sean Newcomb was taken 15th overall in 2014. Woods came to Albany as one of the most highly-touted recruits in the history of the conference, having been selected 188th overall in the 2013 draft by the Rays out of high school. It didn’t always come easy for Woods at Albany, but he mostly made good on his potential, and his 88 strikeouts in 2016 are second-most in program history in a single season.
It’s been a quiet five years on the coaching carousel in the league. Bowen, a longtime assistant at UMBC under Bob Mumma, took over on an interim basis late in the 2019 season before being elevated to the permanent gig in late May of that year. The change at Maine is notable if for no other reason than what Trimper went on to do next. In his first season at Stetson in 2017, he led the Hatters through a dream season that ended with them hosting a regional for the first time in program history.