2020 Colonial Athletic Association Baseball Stock Watch
This offseason, we’re taking a closer look at 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 they might go.
When you think of the Colonial Athletic Association, you might think of a pretty typical mid-major conference. Maybe you would assume it’s a one-bid league more often than not, with most of the teams that earn the bids making relatively quiet exits in the postseason.
But the reality of the situation is that it’s been better than that in recent years and should be considered one of the better mid-major conferences in the country. In four of the last five seasons, it has put multiple teams into regionals and five different CAA teams reached a regional final during that time.
No team from the conference has reached a super regional in the last five seasons, but you don’t have to go back very far to find a team that did, as College of Charleston got to that point in 2014.
UNC Wilmington has been the model of consistency in the league, earning four regional trips in the last five seasons and getting to three different regional finals, but the successes in the CAA have been spread out fairly well. Five members of the nine-team conference have been to the postseason in this data sample and four different teams have topped the standings in that same period of time.
The likes of Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion leaving the conference for the Atlantic 10 in 2013 and Conference USA in 2014, respectively, left holes to fill, but College of Charleston joining in 2013 and Elon coming on board in 2014 has more than made up for those departures.
*2020 records not included
|Team||CAA Record||Winning Pct.||Overall Record||Winning Pct.|
|College of Charleston||77-42||64.71||176-112||61.11|
|William & Mary||54-63||46.15||133-147||47.50|
The CAA has had four teams win the regular-season title in the last five seasons, and those four teams are the top four teams in these five-year standings. As the table shows, that group is pretty well separated from the rest of the league, with 4.03 percentage points between first and fourth place and nearly 13 percentage points between fourth and fifth. While UNCW has been the best team in the CAA over the last five seasons by most measures, College of Charleston comes out on top of these composite standings in large part because of its 2015 season, when it went 21-3 in conference play, the best conference record for any team in this sample. Since then, it hasn’t been as successful as UNCW, but it got out to such a fast start in 2015 and hasn’t had a below .500 season in league play, which allowed it to hold on to the top spot.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each CAA 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.
College of Charleston—⬇️
The Cougars came into this five-year period flying high coming off of a super regional appearance in 2014, and they backed that up by winning the CAA regular-season title in 2015 and getting back to a regional. Since then, though, they haven’t been back to the postseason, even as they’ve shown improvement in the last couple of years under Chad Holbrook. When you consider that College of Charleston not only went to a super regional in 2014, but went to the postseason three times in five seasons between 2010-2014, the last five years just don’t quite stack up, even as it has won more conference games than any other team in the league.
UNCW has been no stranger to regionals over the last 20 years, but it really took things up a notch in the last five seasons, getting to four regionals, including three regional finals. Given the team’s quality year after year, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before it breaks through to its first super regional. The 2019 team sent retiring coach Mark Scalf out in style with one final regional appearance, and it’s now the goal of Randy Hood, a longtime Scalf assistant, to keep the ball rolling.
The best team in the CAA over the last five seasons to not make a postseason appearance, the Phoenix really missed a chance in 2019, when it won the conference regular-season title with a rotation that featured George Kirby and Kyle Brnovich but couldn’t secure the automatic bid. Elon was in the Southern Conference from 2010-2014, so it’s not a direct comparison, necessarily, but it did get to two regionals in its last five seasons as members of the SoCon, including in 2013 for its most recent postseason trip. The last five seasons just haven’t been quite as good as the previous five.
No team in the Colonial has done more to improve its lot in the last five seasons than Northeastern. The 2018 season was a particular highlight, with the Huskies breaking through to their first postseason appearance since 2003 and setting a program record for wins with 36. But the success goes even beyond that one season, as they also won the regular-season title in 2017 and finished this data sample without a single season under .500 in CAA play.
Overall, Delaware didn’t do all that much more winning in the last five seasons than it did in the previous five seasons, if at all, but there is one key difference. In 2017, it won the automatic bid and advanced to a regional for the first time since 2001, when it was still a member of the America East and at the end of a streak of four consecutive postseason appearances and six in seven seasons.
William & Mary - ⬅️➡️
Over the last five seasons, William & Mary had one tough season, a 3-21 CAA campaign in 2018, but was otherwise solid and won the league’s automatic bid in 2016, eventually advancing to the regional final in Charlottesville. That’s pretty similar to the previous five seasons, when the Tribe made a regional appearance in 2013 and were a solid competitor in the CAA just about every year.
JMU has rebounded from bottoming out and finishing 10th in the conference in 2012 and ninth in 2013, and showed signs of progress with a fourth-place finish in 2016. What it hasn’t done is produce any result similar to what it did in 2010 and 2011, when JMU won back-to-back CAA regular-season titles, advancing to a regional in the second of those years.
Though there have been some moderate improvements in the last couple of years, most notably a 12-12 conference record and sixth-place finish in 2018, the Pride continues to struggle to break back into the top half of the CAA. Going back to 2000, Hofstra has finished better than fifth in the standings just once, when it came in second in 2012.
Towson - ⬇️
The last five seasons have been tough for Towson, with a seventh-place finish in the standings in 2015 the best showing in this sample. A 10-14 record the next year in 2016 is the best conference record in the last five seasons. The Tigers got to a regional back in 2013, just months after it was initially announced that the program would be cut, so it’s a big win for the program to have successfully fought off being eliminated, but the Tigers haven’t been able to replicate that type of on-field success since.
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Regional Recap by Year
|2019||UNC Wilmington||0-2 in Chapel Hill Regional|
|2018||UNC Wilmington||2-2 in Greenville Regional|
|2018||Northeastern||0-2 in Raleigh Regional|
|2017||Delaware||0-2 in Lubbock Regional|
|2016||UNC Wilmington||2-2 in Columbia Regional|
|2016||William & Mary||2-2 in Charlottesville Regional|
|2015||UNC Wilmington||2-2 in Baton Rouge Regional|
|2015||College of Charleston||2-2 in Tallahassee Regional|
Looking at this table, it’s easy to see why it’s assumed that UNCW will someday break through to a super regional. Four regional trips and three regional finals in five seasons is the definition of knocking on the door. At first glance, it might appear that the Seahawks hold the key to the Colonial being a two-bid league, as they have been one of the two teams in regionals each time the league has gotten two teams in over the last five seasons. But actually, in two of those three instances, they were the automatic bid winner, and the other team, College of Charleston in 2015 and Northeastern in 2018, did enough to earn an at-large bid.
Top Draft Picks
|George Kirby, RHP, Elon||2019||20th overall|
|Greg Jones, SS, UNC Wilmington||2019||22nd overall|
|Ryan Jeffers, C, UNC Wilmington||2018||59th overall|
|Taylor Clarke, RHP, College of Charleston||2015||76th overall|
|Aaron Civale, RHP, Northeastern||2016||92nd overall|
Jeffers’ selection as the 59th overall pick was a breakthrough for the CAA, as he became the highest-drafted player from the league since 2008. The very next year, two players, Kirby and Jones, surpassed him. The 2019 draft was a big one for the Colonial in a number of ways. Kirby and Jones gave the league multiple first-round picks for the first time since 2004 and the 22 total players drafted was the most from the conference since 2008. Clarke and Civale both broke into the big leagues in 2019, with Civale pitching extremely well for the Indians in 10 starts.
|2019||UNC Wilmington||Mark Scalf||Randy Hood|
|2017||College of Charleston||Matt Heath||Chad Holbrook|
|2017||Towson||Mike Gottlieb||Matt Tyner|
|2015||College of Charleston||Monte Lee||Matt Heath|
|2015||James Madison||Spanky McFarland||Marlin Ikenberry|
Scalf’s retirement at UNCW flew a bit under the radar at the end of the 2019 season, but you can’t overstate what he did for that program. In 28 seasons, he compiled 941 wins and 10 postseason appearances. Most impressive is that the first of those postseason appearances didn’t come until his 12th season on the job. It’s fairly rare that a coach is able to lead his program to finding another gear in the way that he did in Wilmington. It hasn’t resulted in any postseason appearances yet, but Holbrook’s hiring at College of Charleston has paid immediate dividends, with third-place and second-place finishes in the last two seasons.