2020 Northeast 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 perception of the Northeast Conference is that it has been dominated by Bryant in recent years, and that is certainly true by most metrics.
In terms of record, the Bulldogs have won 30 more conference games than any other NEC team in the last five seasons, and you have to go back to 2011 to find the last season in which Bryant didn’t finish in at least a tie atop the standings.
Viewed through the lens of draft results, Bryant also stands alone when it comes to measuring individual talent on NEC rosters.
But things aren’t quite as clear cut when you look at postseason appearances. Bryant first broke through to a regional in 2013, the first year it was eligible to do so, which started a streak of three regional appearances in four seasons. Since that last appearance in 2016, however, the Bulldogs haven’t been back.
That recent drought is less of an indictment of anything Bryant is or isn’t doing as a program and more of an illustration of how unpredictable postseason results can be in a traditional one-bid league. Even in its best years, Bryant has to really hustle and catch some breaks to get into at-large range, which means its postseason hopes will most often come down to playing well in the NEC Tournament, and conference tournament play is always a crapshoot.
The membership of the NEC has been steady since Monmouth and Quinnipiac departed the conference after the 2013 season, but going into 2020, it added an eighth member in Merrimack, which is in the process of transitioning to Division I. The Warriors acquitted themselves well against a relatively tough schedule in 2020 before the season was canceled.
*2020 records not included
|Team||NEC Record||Winning Pct.||Overall Record||Winning Pct.|
|Central Connecticut State||71-64||52.59||123-140||46.77|
|Mount St. Mary's||46-90||33.82||67-175||27.69|
With more than 23 percentage points between Bryant and Wagner, the Bulldogs dominance is on full display in these standings. Wagner has always been a solid program in the conference hierarchy, but its breakthrough 2018 season, when it went 21-7 in league play, is really what catapulted it into second place in these five-year standings. That’s because behind Bryant, the next tier of teams is fairly tightly bunched, with fewer than nine percentage points between second and fifth place. One standout season, as Wagner enjoyed in 2018, can really change the outcome when teams are so tightly bunched.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each NEC 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.
You could nitpick Bryant’s resume over the last five seasons and put the arrow down here, given that it has made just one regional appearance in the last five years after making back-to-back appearances in 2013 and 2014. However, the continued dominance shown in the regular season and the high-end talent it continues to put into pro baseball has to be taken into account. Instead, representing what Bryant has continued to be since moving up to Division I, which is the class of the NEC, the arrow is to the side.
The 2018 season was a true breakthrough season for the Seahawks. The 38 overall wins blew away the previous program record of 31 wins in 2009. The 21 wins in league play were also a program record, and second place was the best finish in the NEC since they won the league outright in 2009. The other four seasons in this data sample were pretty good, too, including another second-place finish and two third-place finishes. Suffice it to say that it’s been a successful run for Wagner.
Central Connecticut State—⬆️
In 2017, Central Connecticut State got to its first regional since 2010, and two years later, it got there again, upsetting California along the way in the Fayetteville Regional. Those postseason appearances combined with quality results in the league standings, including a pair of second-place finishes, makes this stretch arguably the most consistent baseball played in the program since it won four regular-season titles in six seasons and got to three regionals between 2001-2006.
Although Sacred Heart did squeeze one regional appearance into this data sample by breaking through in 2015, the arrow points down, because in a pre-Bryant version of the NEC, the Pioneers were flirting with and getting to the postseason more often. Between 2010-2014, they finished second in the league three different times and got to back-to-back regionals in 2011 and 2012.
The athletic entity formerly known as LIU-Brooklyn became simply Long Island when it combined athletic departments with sister campus LIU-Post ahead of the 2019-2020 academic year. It was then that they also went from being the Blackbirds to being the Sharks. No matter the name, the last five seasons have been an improvement for the program. The crowning achievement came in 2018, when the program won the NEC’s automatic bid for the first time.
FDU has had some significant struggles over the last five seasons, specifically a 1-26 conference record in 2018, but it has also had some ups, such as a 16-15 record and third-place finish in 2016. That was the best conference finish since the NEC went away from a divisional format ahead of the 2002 season and just the second time the Knights had come in over .500 in conference play this century. Those types of ups and downs are similar to those that FDU has dealt with historically, and for that reason, the arrow points to the side.
Mount St. Mary’s—⬅️➡️
The results in the last five years aren’t altogether different than they were the previous five seasons for Mount St. Mary’s. In fact, it has finished between fourth and ninth in the conference standings every year going back to 2008, with that 2008 season doubling as the last time the program got to the NCAA Tournament. With most of its biggest successes coming more than a decade ago, the arrow is to the side.
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Regional Recap by Year
|2019||Central Connecticut State||1-2 in Fayetteville Regional|
|2018||Long Island||0-2 in Conway Regional|
|2017||Central Connecticut State||0-2 in Fort Worth Regional|
|2016||Bryant||0-2 in Charlottesville Regional|
|2015||Sacred Heart||0-2 in Fort Worth Regional|
With two regional appearances in five seasons, Central Connecticut State leads the Northeast Conference in terms of getting to the postseason in recent years, and by winning a game over California in the Fayetteville Regional in 2019, it also has the best single result. Bryant achieved a milestone in 2016 by earning a No. 2 seed in the Charlottesville Regional, although it really struggled once it got into that regional. At first glance, it might be easy to blame the NEC’s 1-10 record in regionals over the last five seasons in part on the automatic bid not always being awarded to the best team in the conference, but even Bryant has struggled in this regard when it has reached the postseason, going 1-6 in its three regional appearances, with the lone win coming in its first-ever regional game in 2013. In the end, it’s just always going to be difficult for smaller conference automatic bid winners, including in the NEC, to win once in a regional setting.
Top Draft Picks
|Kyle Wilcox, RHP, Bryant||2015||185th overall|
|Matt Albanese, OF, Bryant||2016||213th overall|
|Ryan Ward, OF, Bryant||2019||251st overall|
|James Karinchak, RHP, Bryant||2017||282nd overall|
|Chris Wright, LHP, Bryant||2019||356th overall|
There are a number of ways you can view Bryant’s dominance here. The most obvious way is that the five highest-drafted players in the conference over the last five years have all come from the program. But you will also notice that these five players are spread out over four separate drafts, so it’s not as if the Bulldogs enjoyed just one or two outstanding drafts in this time frame. Karinchak is the standout name here, as the righthander blew through the Indians system and made his big league debut in 2019.
|2019||Bryant||Steve Owens||Ryan Klosterman|
|2019||Fairleigh Dickinson||Justin McKay||Rob DiToma|
|2018||Fairleigh Dickinson||Gary Puccio||Justin McKay|
|2017||Sacred Heart||Nick Giaquinto||Nick Restaino|
|2016||Long Island||Alex Trezza||Dan Pirillo|
After turning Bryant into the power of the NEC, Steve Owens made the move to Rutgers after the 2019 season, with former Vanderbilt shortstop and UCF assistant coach Ryan Klosterman taking the reins. Pirillo’s hiring at LIU paid dividends quickly, what with him leading the program to the postseason in 2018. DiToma’s hiring at Fairleigh Dickinson should be an interesting one to watch stylistically. While an assistant at Fordham, DiToma turned the Rams into one of the most aggressive baserunning teams in the country and may look to do the same with the Knights.