2020 Atlantic 10 Conference Baseball Stock Watch
This offseason, we’re going to take deep dives into all 31 college baseball conferences. Using five years’ worth of data, we’ll look at what a league and its membership has done in the past and then try to project forward to what it can do in the future.
The Atlantic 10 is a fascinating conference. It’s a traditional one-bid league, and yet, the teams it produces via automatic bids have recently had a ton of success relative to expectations. The 2015 Virginia Commonwealth and 2017 Davidson teams went a combined 6-1 in road regionals to advance to super regionals.
There have also been instances of the conference producing teams that passed the eye test as postseason-quality teams, including VCU’s 2019 team, which went 39-19 overall and won the league by three games with a 19-5 record.
But that’s where the harsh reality of the league comes into play. When the Rams were eliminated after two games in the conference tournament, they had no real shot at an at-large bid, despite the gaudy records.
Six teams in the league with RPIs of 200 or worse, four of which were on VCU’s schedule, were always going to weigh the metrics down, and in light of that, it actually makes it more impressive that VCU was able to end the season with an RPI inside the top 60.
Unless an Atlantic 10 team goes on a Tennessee Tech-like run, when the Golden Eagles 2018 record was so absurdly good that it was able to overcome the Ohio Valley Conference’s RPI shortcomings and earn an at-large big, this league will continue to be a one-bid league for the foreseeable future.
The quality at the top of the league is hard to deny. You can see it in the way VCU and Davidson competed when those teams got their shot in the postseason. You can also see it in the talent Fordham has collected, the dominance Saint Louis showed in winning the league in 2018 and the consistency of Rhode Island.
Perhaps more than any other conference in the country, however, the story of the Atlantic 10 is very much the tale of multiple conferences, with a clearly-defined upper, middle and bottom third.
*2020 records not included
|Team||A-10 Record||Winning Pct.||Overall Record||Winning Pct.|
These five-year standings do a fantastic job of laying out the divides previously discussed. You have five teams winning roughly 58 percent of their conference games or better. Then you have a group of teams winning about 50 percent of their conference games and another group winning 40 percent or fewer. The one real outlier is George Mason, which doesn’t neatly fit into any of those three groups, with its winning percentage tucking it neatly in between the middle and bottom group. One program on the rise that isn’t quite captured in this data set is Dayton, which went 16-8 in the league in 2019 to finish over .500 in A-10 play for the first time since 2014 and which had another talented team in 2020. Otherwise, the hierarchy of the conference, especially at the top, feels fairly set.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each Atlantic 10 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.
VCU has changed its trajectory in a positive way in the last five years. The super regional appearance in 2015, two conference regular-season titles and consistently good teams on the field of late has established the Rams as the team to beat. Off the field, the school has continued to invest in baseball, as the program opened a new player development center late in 2019, which will only help toward its goal of becoming the clear class of the Atlantic 10.
The consistency URI has achieved is impressive, and that goes beyond this five-year data sample. Going back to 2003, the Rams have finished under .500 in conference play just once, when they went 7-18 in 2014. That hasn’t translated to very many postseason appearances, but that’s part of what makes the arrow point up for Rhode Island here. Its regional trip in 2016 was the program’s first since 2005.
Despite relatively modest facilities and the geographic disadvantage of being the westernmost team in the conference, Saint Louis is one of the most consistent teams in the league, with the ceiling to dominate the league when the stars align, as it did in 2018, when the team went 19-4 to win the conference and then secured the automatic bid. But it’s because of that consistency that the arrow is to the side rather than up, because SLU was winning at about this same clip in the five years prior as well.
What really made the last five seasons a big success for Fordham is what it accomplished the last two years. In 2018, it went 35-19-1 overall and 16-8 in conference play, which made it the best season for the Rams since 2007. In 2019, it went 38-24 to set the program record for wins, and then captured the automatic bid for its first regional appearance since 1998. With an exciting group of position players who love to push the envelope on the base paths and a proven ability for developing high-quality arms, Fordham projects to continue a run near the top of the conference in 2021 and beyond.
The super regional appearance in College Station in 2017, which was a lot closer than an 0-2 showing would suggest, is the clear highlight, but the Wildcats’ success in the last five years goes beyond that. Because Davidson was a member of the Southern Conference until the 2015 season, it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison, but it hadn’t finished .500 in league play this century until 2014, its last year in the SoCon. Since then, it has finished .500 or better each of the last five seasons. The 35 wins in 2017 are a program record, with a 33-win season in 2018 immediately becoming the second-winningest season in Davidson history.
Under Gregg Ritchie, George Washington has come a long way in terms of getting competitive and staying competitive within the Atlantic 10. It has finished .500 or better in the league and won 30 or more games overall four out of the last five seasons, and the first of those 30-plus-win seasons in 2015 was the first for the Colonials since 2005. The next step will be getting to the level the program achieved under current Wake Forest coach Tom Walter, when it won 35 or more games five years in a row from 2000-2004 and got to a regional in 2002.
It’s a credit to Richmond that you know more often than not what you’re going to get from year to year. With one exception, a 6-17 league record in 2017, the Spiders have won 10 or more games in A-10 play every year for the last decade. The flip side is that they haven’t had outlier seasons in the other direction either, with a 32-24 overall record and 15-9 mark in league play in 2018 serving as the best of the last five years.
The high water mark for the Hawks in the last five seasons was 2016, when they went 31-23 overall with a 15-9 record in A-10 play, good for a third-place finish in the standings. That’s similar to the high water mark of the previous five-year period, which was a 35-16 season with an 18-8 record in conference in 2014, leading to a second-place finish. Furthermore, an average eighth-place finish in the Atlantic 10 standings over the last five years is similar to an average seventh-place finish during the previous five. For those reasons, it’s an arrow to the side.
It’s hard to know exactly what to make of the last five years for George Mason. Year to year, its results have been all over the map. It finished 12th in the conference twice in the last five seasons, but it also finished third in 2018. That’s not that different from the previous five years, when the Patriots had a 10th-place and 11th-place finish in the Colonial, of which they were members until 2014, but they did come in third in their first season in the Atlantic 10. Because that season ended in a regional appearance and the last five seasons have resulted in no regional appearances, the arrow is pointed down.
Between 2010-2014, Dayton got to a regional in 2012 after a season when it came in second in the Atlantic 10, and it finished third in 2011 as well. The last five seasons have been tougher overall, although it did go 16-8 in conference play to come in third in the standings in 2019. Still, with the four other years in this data set ending with ninth place or lower finishes in the A-10, the arrow points down when it comes to the program’s last five seasons.
The last five seasons have been tough on UMass. Seasons with 18-27 records in 2019 and 2016 are the best in this data sample, and a 12-12 mark in the conference in 2015 is the best in that regard, although the A-10 standings were so compact that season that it was only good for a 10th-place finish. That 10th-place finish, equaled in 2016 and 2019, is the best the Minutemen have done in the last five years. However, the arrow is to the side rather than down because the end result wasn’t all that dissimilar from the previous five seasons.
Results for the Bonnies were all over the place the last five seasons. The clear peak is a third-place finish in 2017, the program’s best in the A-10 since finishing second in 2006. But as high as that peak was, there’s the deeper valley of a 3-21 conference record and last-place finish in 2015. Ultimately, despite some tough seasons lately, that 2017 season is enough to make the last five years a success as a whole.
La Salle has traditionally been a tough place to win with consistency, and in the last five seasons, you can see that in the three consecutive seasons posting 4-20 conference records from 2017-2019. Any one of those seasons would have been the worst for the program in terms of A-10 record since going 1-23 in 2002, but three of them in a row makes this a particularly difficult stretch for the Explorers.
Boise State Eliminates Baseball Program, Cites Budget Concerns
Boise State on Thursday announced it eliminated its baseball program just three years after the school moved to restart its long-dormant team.
Regional Teams by Year
|2019||Fordham||0-2 in Morgantown Regional|
|2018||Saint Louis||0-2 in Oxford Regional|
|2017||Davidson||3-0 in Chapel Hill Regional|
0-2 in College Station Super Regional
|2016||Rhode Island||1-2 in Columbia Regional|
|2015||Virginia Commonwealth||3-1 in Dallas Regional|
0-2 in Coral Gables Super Regional
The Atlantic 10 getting not one, but two No. 4 seeds through regionals has to be one of the most unexpected postseason developments in college baseball over the last five years. While the conference might not be capable of being a multi-bid league as it’s currently constructed, barring extreme circumstances, that success does show that it can produce programs that compete nationally. It’s worth noting that not only did VCU and Davidson succeed within the confines of the A-10 in 2015 and 2017, but because of some of their geographic advantages, they were able to compete against high-level competition in Virginia and the Carolinas, particularly during midweek games throughout the season. Much of the rest of the league doesn’t have that luxury, and while that clearly hasn’t stopped other teams from securing automatic bids, it could be the kind of small difference that helps put certain teams in position to compete once in the field of 64.
Top Draft Selections
|Logan Driscoll, C, George Mason||2019||73rd overall|
|Deon Stafford, Jr., C, Saint Joseph's||2017||148th overall|
|Miller Hogan, RHP, Saint Louis||2018||180th overall|
|Connor Lehmann, RHP, Saint Louis||2019||203rd overall|
|Tim Brennan, RHP, Saint Joseph's||2018||209th overall|
In terms of quality, draft results in the Atlantic 10 have improved over the second half of this data set, with the five highest-drafted players in the last five seasons coming in the last three drafts. The quantity has been solid over the entirety of the five years, with an average of 11.4 players taken each year after an average of 8.6 were selected in the five years prior.
|2018||Davidson||Dick Cooke||Rucker Taylor|
|2017||Dayton||Tony Vittorio||Jayson King|
|2017||La Salle||Mike Lake||David Miller|
|2017||Massachusetts||Mike Stone||Matt Reynolds|
The coaching carousel has been fairly quiet in the Atlantic 10 for the last five years, save for the offseason after the 2017 season, when three of the four changes occurred. Of these changes, King’s hiring stands out as the one that has paid immediate dividends. After finishing in ninth place in his first season, the Flyers finished in third place in 2019 and had another strong team assembled for 2020. At Davidson, Cooke certainly raised the profile of the program in the last few years of his tenure before retiring after the 2018 season. Now the onus is on Taylor to keep that ball rolling from here.