2020 Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Stock Watch
This offseason, we’re going to take a deep dive into all 31 Division I baseball conferences, using five years’ worth of data to examine where the league has been and to try to project forward to where it might go.
Because the Atlantic Coast Conference has won just one national championship since 1955, a Virginia title in 2015, the league will always have its detractors when comparisons are made to other major conferences, namely the Southeastern Conference.
While that’s a fair criticism in and of itself, the reality is that the conference stacks up favorably against just about any other in any number of metrics, and it’s still the only conference that can really compete with the SEC in terms of putting teams into regionals.
The comparison of the Atlantic and Coastal divisions is similar to what we see in ACC football. The Atlantic is a division led by a clear best team. In football, that’s Clemson. In baseball, it’s Louisville, which is nearly 10 percentage points better in terms of ACC winning percentage than anyone else.
Behind the Cardinals, the Atlantic also has a few rock-solid programs in Clemson, North Carolina State and Florida State, all three of which have been in regionals each year of this data sample.
The Coastal, much like in football, is more of a free-for-all. Three different teams have won the division in the last five seasons, and despite featuring some heavyweights like Miami, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech, every team in the division has missed regionals at least twice in that same time frame.
In the push to add more national titles to the trophy case, the conference currently has a group of programs that have been knocking on the door. Louisville is the most prominent of that group, but Miami, North Carolina and Florida State have also had contenders in recent seasons and could do so again. Virginia suffered a downturn after its national title in 2015, but appears to have a national title contender on its hands for 2021.
The key to winning national titles, though, is flooding the College World Series with contenders from your conference year after year, and the ACC has some growth potential there. Duke and Wake Forest have both been to super regionals recently, but haven’t taken the next step.
Clemson and Georgia Tech are traditional power programs, but the Tigers haven't been to Omaha since 2010 and the Yellow Jackets haven't made the trip since 2006. NC State went in 2013, but as often as it gets into the postseason, and even as often as it hosts, there is potential for more growth in the future as well.
At this stage, a lack of national championships for the ACC seems more like a statistical anomaly and less like the product of any sort of shortcoming for the conference at large, but there is work the conference can do to better position itself moving forward.
*2020 records not included
|Team||ACC Record||Winning Pct.||Overall Record||Winning Pct.|
This five-year data sample also makes up the five seasons that Louisville has been a member of the ACC, and the standings clearly show the extent to which the Cardinals were ready to not only compete at this level, but dominate. The parity in the league, or perhaps more pointedly, the unpredictability of the Coastal Division, can also be seen in how compact the standings are once you get past Louisville, and to a lesser degree, Miami. No other team is winning more than 60 percent of its games and eight of the 14 teams in the conference are winning roughly between 47 and 60 percent of their games.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each ACC 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.
Louisville’s excellence goes far beyond just the last five seasons, but it’s one thing to do it in the Big East and American Athletic Conference, as the Cardinals were doing before, and another to do it in the ACC. Louisville joined the conference for the 2015 season and immediately became the best team in the league by just about any measure. The only thing missing is a national championship, and if it can continue to get to Omaha as often as it has of late, it seems like just a matter of time before that milestone is achieved.
The Hurricanes have had some fantastic highs over the last five seasons, including back-to-back CWS appearances in 2015 and 2016, but on the other hand, they also had their 44-year postseason streak snapped in 2017 and then missed the postseason again in 2018. Miami bounced back to get to a regional in 2019 and had a promising team in 2020, but the arrow can’t be anything but down for this data sample when you consider the broken regional streak.
North Carolina’s last five seasons were fairly similar to Miami’s. It got to the College World Series in 2018 and fell one game short of doing so again in 2019, but it also missed the postseason entirely in 2015 and 2016. Before those two seasons, the Tar Heels hadn’t missed the postseason since 2001, coach Mike Fox’s third year on the job. The last five seasons haven’t been a catastrophically bad run for UNC by any stretch, but it was just a touch below the established standard for a proud program on the whole.
Sure, there are things that Clemson did between 2010-2014 that it didn’t do the last five seasons, namely go to the College World Series, but the arrow is to the side rather than down because the Tigers have continued to be extremely consistent in getting to regionals each of the last five seasons. They also won the division in 2018 for the first time since 2010, and their 47 wins overall that season were the most since winning 53 games in 2006. There have been some accomplishments left on the table by Clemson in the last five seasons, but on balance, it has been a good run.
North Carolina State—⬅️➡️
Much in the same way that the last five seasons have been similar for Miami and UNC, the same is true of Clemson and NC State. The Wolfpack, like the Tigers, made a CWS run during the previous five-year period of 2010-2014 and haven’t done so since, but on the other hand, have done enough to offset that deficiency in pointing the arrow to the side rather than down. In NC State’s case, those things include having been to a regional in each of the last five seasons (after missing in 2014) and the back-to-back 42-win seasons in 2018 and 2019, the highest win totals since that magical 50-win 2013 season that ended in Omaha.
The last five years were business as usual for Florida State, which is to say that the Seminoles were excellent more often than not. They extended the streak of 40-win seasons to 42 in a row, hosted regionals each year from 2015-2018 and got to Omaha twice, in 2017 and 2019, the last of which sent off legendary coach Mike Martin in style. His son and new head coach, Mike Martin, Jr., has enormous shoes to fill in leading the program, but he already knew that from having been in the dugout as an assistant coach since 1998.
Any five-year period that includes a program’s first national title has to have an arrow pointed up, and that’s the case here thanks to Virginia’s 2015 championship. With that said, it was an uneven five years for the Cavaliers, with postseason misses in 2018 and 2019 coming after the national title in 2015 and regional trips in 2016 and 2017. Things were on the upswing again in 2020, however, and coach Brian O’Connor could have a national title contender on his hands next season.
Wake Forest enjoyed a resurgence in the last five seasons. It got to its first regional since 2009 during the 2016 season and then followed that up by getting to a super regional in 2017, where it fell just one win short of its first trip to the College World Series since 1955. The cancellation of the 2020 season ended things early for a talented Wake Forest team, but it should return a similarly talented group in 2021.
The Yellow Jackets rebounded nicely in 2019 and ended up securing the No. 3 national seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the rest of this five-year period was tough on a proud program, with Georgia Tech missing regionals altogether in three out of five years. It’s worth noting that this is a team that could make those years of missed regionals seem like a distant memory very soon, as recruiting has really taken off and Georgia Tech clearly looks like a program on the rise again.
This five-year sample captures the best five-year run in the history of Duke baseball. In 2016, it got to a regional for the first time since 1961. In 2018, it did one better and advanced to a super regional and then did it again in 2019. Both times, the Blue Devils came up just one win short of getting to the College World Series, and had they not been drawn against Texas Tech and Vanderbilt, both on the road, in those super regionals, it’s easy to see at least one Omaha trip happening. It will be hard to match that level of success moving forward, but Duke looks poised to do so.
The last five seasons haven’t been marked by wild successes for Notre Dame, but they were a step up from the previous five seasons. Most notably, in 2015, the Irish went to a regional for the first time since 2006, the last season Paul Mainieri coached the team. Since that season, Notre Dame has had trouble competing with the best teams in the conference, with its 13-17 league record in 2019 the best other than the 17-13 mark in 2015.
Like Notre Dame, the last five seasons haven’t exactly been easy on Boston College, but it does have some accomplishments that make it clear that the arrow points up for this data sample. Specifically, it advanced to the first super regional in program history in 2016 after coming through the Oxford Regional as a No. 3 seed. The rest of the five-year data sample didn’t go as well, but the Eagles could be on the verge of a bounce-back campaign in 2021, what with three elite pro prospects on the roster in righthander Mason Pelio, infielder Cody Morissette and outfielder Sal Frelick.
With the move from the Big East to the ACC in time for the 2014 season, the Panthers have gone from a team typically competing in the top half of the conference to a team finishing near the bottom, with their 11-19 conference record in 2018 the best in the last five seasons. Adjusting for the increased level of competition in the ACC, the arrow points to the side rather than down. The next NCAA Tournament appearance for Pittsburgh will be its first since 1995.
The Hokies won 40 games and got to a regional in 2010 and then hosted a regional at the end of another 40-win season in 2013. They haven’t been able to replicate that success in the last five seasons, with a 2015 season featuring a 27-27 overall record and 13-16 ACC mark serving as the best of the bunch. Under John Szefc, Virginia Tech has taken baby steps back in the right direction the last couple of years, but is still looking for its return to the postseason.
2020 Patriot League Baseball Stock Watch
In the latest conference stock watch, we take a look at the Patriot League, which has been headlined by Navy and Army in recent seasons.
Regional and College World Series Appearances by Year
|Year||Regional Teams||CWS Teams|
The 2015 and 2016 postseasons were highlights for different reasons. In 2015, Virginia won the national title and ended a championship drought that previously went back to Wake Forest in 1955. In 2016, the ACC put 10 teams in regionals, matching the record it co-owns with the SEC. As discussed earlier, the step that comes before winning more national titles is flooding the CWS with teams from the league, and that's a clear opportunity for the ACC. For example, in four of the last five years, the SEC has sent at least three teams to Omaha. The ACC hasn’t had three teams get there in one year since 2008.
Top Draft Picks
|Joey Bart, C, Georgia Tech||2018||2nd overall|
|Brendan McKay, LHP/1B, Louisville||2017||4th overall|
|Corey Ray, OF, Louisville||2016||5th overall|
|Pavin Smith, 1B, Virginia||2017||7th overall|
|Adam Haseley, OF, Virginia||2017||8th overall|
As is the case with other major conferences, the ACC has had no issue putting tons of players into pro baseball. In 2019, it had 69 players drafted after having 75 selected in both 2017 and 2018. The 2017 draft was a high point for the league, as it had three of the first eight players drafted in McKay, Smith and Haseley. One milestone that the ACC hasn’t achieved in a while is having a first overall pick. The last first overall pick from a current ACC school is Pat Burrell of Miami in 1998, but at that time, the Hurricanes were not a member of the conference. The last time a player was selected first overall directly from the ACC ranks was Kris Benson at Clemson in 1996. Of these five highest-drafted players, McKay and Haseley are the two that have seen big league time, as each spent some time in the majors in 2019.
|2019||Florida State||Mike Martin||Mike Martin, Jr.|
|2019||Notre Dame||Mik Aoki||Link Jarrett|
|2018||Miami||Jim Morris||Gino DiMare|
|2018||Pittsburgh||Joe Jordano||Mike Bell|
|2017||Virginia Tech||Pat Mason||John Szefc|
|2015||Clemson||Jack Leggett||Monte Lee|
Half of these coaching changes involve the conference losing a certifiable legend of the sport. After the 2015 season, Jack Leggett, a man known almost as much for his impressive coaching tree as his teams’ on-field successes, was fired by Clemson after 22 seasons as a head coach and 24 in the program. After 2018, Jim Morris retired after having success at two different ACC programs, Georgia Tech and Miami, the latter of which he led to 13 College World Series appearances, including 11 in his first 15 years in Coral Gables. Then, after the 2019 season, Mike Martin stepped away after 17 College World Series appearances and 40 seasons at the helm of Florida State.