2020 Big East Conference Baseball Stock Watch
This offseason, we’re taking deep dives into all 31 Division I baseball conferences, using five years’ worth of data to examine where each league has been and to try to project forward to where it might go.
The not-so-distant past of the Big East is complicated, thanks to the previous iteration of the league being at the center of the messiest parts of the realignment drama in 2013.
Untangling all of that is a task for another day, but long story short, this Big East is technically a new conference created after the members of the original Big East known as the “Catholic 7” left the league to form a new one. From there, this new alliance negotiated to purchase the Big East name from the schools left behind, a group that went on to form the American Athletic Conference.
From a baseball standpoint, out of that chaos came a league that lost some of its strength initially, particularly given what Louisville was building at that point, but has since found its footing as a small but quality mid-major league.
There are two teams in Creighton and St. John’s that are going to be in the postseason mix just about every year. Despite not having quite as much success as those two programs in the regular season, Xavier has developed a knack for finding its way into the postseason as well.
Then there is Seton Hall, a name that still carries a lot of weight in the Northeast for its historical success and a solid program that perpetually competes at the top of the league standings.
And things stand to get better beginning in 2021. After initially staying back to continue on as a member of the American, Connecticut just joined the new Big East on July 1 of this year. A regional participant in three of the six years they were in the AAC, the Huskies will bring additional quality to the proceedings.
Another small but not inconsequential benefit to UConn joining is that the conference can go from playing just 18 conference contests to 21 now that it is an eight-team round robin. That will begin, at the earliest, in 2022, as the Big East is among a group of conferences forming a regional scheduling alliance for next season that will supersede a traditional conference schedule.
*2020 records not included
|Team||Big East Record||Winning Pct.||Overall Record||Winning Pct.|
The top four teams in the standings have clearly differentiated themselves from the bottom three teams, but you can even break it down further than that and see how closely clustered Creighton and St. John’s are at the top, and how clustered Seton Hall and Xavier are in the next tier. The Bluejays and Red Storm have consistently traded blows in recent seasons, winning a combined four out of the last five regular-season titles. The Pirates and Musketeers, meanwhile, have consistently occupied the space just below those top two teams, with the former having more regular-season success without any postseason appearances and the latter a bit more inconsistent in the regular season but much more adept at elbowing its way into regionals.
Team-By-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each Big 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.
For all of the success Creighton has enjoyed in the last five seasons, including two regular-season titles and a regional final in Corvallis in 2019, the arrow is to the side rather than up because that is simply a continuation of the success the Bluejays had between 2010-2014, when they split time between the Missouri Valley Conference and the Big East. In that period of time, they won two regular-season titles and also went to regionals twice.
Similar to Creighton, St. John’s has been excellent over the last five seasons, but that’s really no different than what the program did in the previous five seasons. In the last five seasons, the Red Storm won the Big East regular-season title twice, won 40 or more games three times and went to three regionals. Compare that to 2010-2014, when the Johnnies didn’t win any league titles but did go to three regionals, and for the first time in program history, went to a super regional in 2012, where they were eliminated by eventual national champion Arizona.
An arrow pointing down is a bit harsh for Seton Hall, given that it has spent the last five seasons continuing a streak of not finishing lower than fourth in the Big East going back to 2010, but there were some accomplishments from 2010-2014 that it just hasn’t lived up to in the last five years. Namely, it got to a regional in 2011, which is its most recent postseason appearance, and it won 30 or more games four times in those five seasons, culminating in a 39-win campaign in 2014. In the last five seasons, it has won 30 or more just twice.
In his time as the head coach at Xavier, Scott Googins showed a tremendous ability to get his team ready to play its best baseball at the right time, and that shined through in an incredible way in the last five seasons, as the Musketeers went to two regionals via the automatic bid. There were regular-season successes as well, such as a Big East title in 2016, but for a team that was never quite able to push its way into at-large consideration, going to the postseason as often as Xavier has recently is impressive. Billy O’Conner, who took over for Googins prior to the 2018 season, has big shoes to fill in that regard.
Georgetown is still looking for its first postseason appearance, so while it hasn’t achieved that milestone, it has made gradual improvements in the last five seasons. By winning percentage, four of the last five seasons (minus a 4-14 conference record in 2017) are its four best seasons in Big East play this century, and a fourth-place finish in the league in 2015 is the best the Hoyas have done in that same time frame.
Like Georgetown, it’s been more of a subtle progression rather than a dramatic breakthrough, but Butler has also improved in recent years. The 2018 season, in particular, stood out for the Bulldogs. Their third-place finish was the best in a conference race since coming in second in the Horizon League in 2004, and the 34 wins they put up in that season made for the highest overall win total since 2003. In fact, a 31-win season in 2017 just before a 34-win 2018 season was the first time since 2002-2003 that Butler had won 30 or more games in back-to-back seasons.
Before getting into how difficult the last five years have been for Villanova, and they have been, it’s important to note that the 2020 season was perhaps shaping up to be a good one for the program, as it was off to a 9-5 start with a win over Arizona State to its name. That said, the five years prior involved a lot of struggle for the Wildcats, including a 2018 season when they bottomed out at 1-17 in Big East play. A 7-11 conference record in 2015 is the best in this data sample.
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Regional Recap by Year
|2019||Creighton||3-2 in Los Angeles Regional|
|2018||St. John's||1-2 in Clemson Regional|
|2017||St. John's||0-2 in Clemson Regional|
|2017||Xavier||2-2 in Louisville Regional|
|2016||Xavier||2-2 in Nashville Regional|
|2015||St. John's||2-2 in Stillwater Regional|
The Big East has competed extremely well in the postseason in recent years. While it hasn’t had a team break through to a super regional since Louisville did so in its last year in the conference in 2013, it has had four teams in the last five seasons reach regional finals, including Creighton in 2019, which came up one win short of making the leap. Perhaps most notably, Xavier went to a regional final both times it got into the postseason. Big East teams are a combined 10-12 in regionals in the last five seasons. When you consider that each eliminated team, as a rule, is going to take on two losses, that’s an impressive feat. Getting two teams into regionals more often is a clear next step for the Big East to take, and getting UConn back into the league will certainly help in that regard.
Top Draft Picks
|Zac Lowther, LHP, Xavier||2017||74th overall|
|Ryan Pepiot, RHP, Butler||2019||102nd overall|
|Will Robertson, OF, Creighton||2019||117th overall|
|Tom Hackimer, RHP, St. John's||2016||123rd overall|
|Conor Grammes, RHP, Xavier||2019||152nd overall|
Xavier has rightfully earned a reputation for seemingly always having at least one high-end pitcher on its roster, and you can see that here with the selections of Lowther and Grammes. Both Lowther and Hackimer are closing in on the big leagues, as each pitched in Double-A in 2019. The 2019 draft was a high point for the Big East, as that’s when three of its five highest-drafted players in the last five years came off the board. The number of players drafted from the conference has also steadily crept up from 2015-2019, going from 11 to 10 to 15 to 17 and finally 19 in 2019.
|2019||St. John's||Ed Blankmeyer||Mike Hampton|
|2017||Xavier||Scott Googins||Billy O'Conner|
|2016||Butle||Steve Farley||Dave Schrage|
|2016||Villanova||Joe Godri||Kevin Mulvey|
It was mentioned earlier that O’Conner had big shoes to fill when he took over the Xavier program after Googins moved to crosstown rival Cincinnati. Longtime St. John’s assistant Mike Hampton has even bigger shoes to fill as he takes over for Ed Blankmeyer, who took a job with the Mets after 24 successful years with the Red Storm. Schrage, who also has head coaching stops at Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State on his resume, got immediate improvement out of the Bulldogs after taking over, inspiring some confidence that he can eventually lead the program to its first postseason appearance since 2000.