2020 Ohio Valley Conference Baseball Stock Watch
This offseason, we’re taking a close look at all 31 Division I college baseball conferences, using five years’ worth of data to examine where a league has been and to try to project forward to where it might go.
The overriding perception of the Ohio Valley Conference is that it’s a fun league to follow if you enjoy offense in college baseball, and it’s easy to see why. Thanks to a number of factors, including some smaller ballparks in the conference, runs have typically come in bunches in OVC play.
But in recent seasons, the league has proven that it can be more than just a place to watch a version of baseball that can resemble pinball.
Most notably, the 2018 Tennessee Tech team proved that an OVC program could build a legitimate College World Series contender under the right circumstances when it came just one win short of making the trip to Omaha.
The league has also become a place where you can build out successful, self-sustaining programs, which Morehead State and Jacksonville State, in particular, have proven in recent seasons.
It’s also worth noting that the OVC is one of the few mid- and low-major conferences that hasn’t really been touched all that much by conference realignment. Jacksonville State joined back in 2003, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville moved up from Division II to join in 2008 and Belmont arrived in 2012, but those are the only three schools to enter this century.
Middle Tennessee State (in 2000) and Samford (in 2008) are the only schools to exit in that time frame. The latter had only joined the league in 2003, so as good as Samford’s baseball program has become since it moved to the Southern Conference, it’s not as if the OVC was losing a longtime member with that move.
Part of this relatively steady membership is owed to the strong roots the conference has. The OVC has a core membership group of Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and Murray State that have been there since the league’s founding in 1948, and one other school in Tennessee Tech that joined a year later. It’s impressive that the league is that old and more than one-third of its membership has been there from virtually its first year.
*2020 records not included
|Team||OVC Record||Winning Pct.||Overall Record||Winning Pct.|
|Southeast Missouri State||88-62||58.67||154-132||53.85|
For the first time in this conference stock watch series, with Morehead State and Jacksonville State both winning 61.74 percent of their OVC games, the top two teams come out in a tie atop the standings. Morehead State is listed first in the table because its overall winning percentage was higher than Jacksonville State’s. With one fewer loss for Tennessee Tech over the last five seasons, it actually would have been a three-way tie. It’s fitting that those three teams, plus Southeast Missouri State, finish in the top four spots here, because they were the four to make regional appearances in the last five seasons.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each OVC 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.
The last five seasons have perhaps been the best five-year run in the history of the Morehead State program, with 183 wins, no seasons of fewer than 32 wins overall, no seasons with an OVC record worse than 17-13 and two regional appearances from 2015-2019. In 2019, Morehead State passed another program milestone, putting up the first 40-win season in program history. In terms of consistency, it’s hard to do better than the Eagles have in recent years.
Like Morehead State, Jacksonville State has been as consistent as they come in the OVC lately, but the arrow is to the side rather than up because that’s nothing new for the Gamecocks. Since joining the OVC in time for the 2004 season, they have been to five regionals, finished under .500 in conference play just once and finished lower than fourth in the league just twice. By winning the regular-season title for the first time since 2008 and tying a Division I program record for wins with 39, the 2019 season was a strong one to end this data sample for JSU.
The 2018 season was the clear highlight for Tennessee Tech, but in terms of looking at the big picture, it’s important to note the success of the 2017 team, when TTU won the regular-season title, won the automatic bid and beat Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional, and understand that the program was more than a one-hit wonder. The Golden Eagles enjoyed success in the OVC well before this data sample began, but their high-end results from 2017 and 2018 are on another level.
Southeast Missouri State—⬆️
Southeast Missouri State actually came into this 2015-2019 data sample as the dominant team in the OVC, as its 2015 and 2016 regular-season titles were the second and third in a string of three straight championships, with the 2016 team breaking through and getting to the Redhawks’ first regional since 2002. The program hasn’t kept up that level of play as the data sample continued, but it has continued to be competitive with a fifth-place finish in 2017 and a second-place finish in 2018 coming before an injury-driven 10th-place showing in 2019.
Austin Peay has remained a top-half OVC team over the last five seasons, but the arrow points down because from 2010-2014, it was the clear class of the conference. In that five-year period, it went to regionals in 2011, 2012 and 2013 while winning regular-season titles in the first two years of that run and enjoying a 47-win season in 2013. Given that high level of success, it’s no surprise that the Governors haven’t lived up to that in recent years.
It’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison because Belmont was in the Atlantic Sun until the 2013 season, but the arrow points down for the Bruins because they made regional trips in each of their last two seasons as members of the A-Sun and won the conference regular-season title in their final season there. Over its last five seasons in the OVC, Belmont hasn’t been back to the postseason and its best finish in the conference standings was fourth in 2017 and 2019. It’s worth noting, however, that Belmont was perhaps turning the tide in 2020, as it was off to a 14-3 start before the season was canceled.
Murray State has made some subtle improvements over the last five seasons. It has finished .500 or better in the OVC in three of the last five years and sixth-place finishes in 2017 and 2019 are the best since the team came in third in 2010. That said, the arrow points to the side because the end results have mostly been the same, with the Racers still looking for their first regional appearance since 2003 and first regular-season title since 1991.
At the current moment, the arrow is pointing up for EKU, as it has steadily improved under head coach Edwin Thompson. The arrow is to the side rather than up for this data sample, however, because the Colonels were also solid between 2010-2014, even finishing second in the conference in 2012, and ultimately, the program hasn’t broken through to the next level just yet, which would be the first regional appearance since 1989 or first regular-season title since 2000.
The Panthers took a slight step back over the last five seasons, when their average finish in the OVC was ninth. In the previous five-year period, meanwhile, they averaged roughly a sixth-place finish. The individual results also don’t compare. EIU went 15-11 in 2012 and 15-14-1 in 2014 in OVC play. Its best record in conference play since then is 13-17 in 2019.
SIU-Edwardsville is still working to find its footing as a member of the OVC after it moved up from Division II in time for the 2009 season. At the start of this data sample, in 2015, it went 19-11 in the OVC to finish third in the conference, but wasn’t able to keep that momentum going from there. With two pro prospects in the rotation in righthanders Collin Baumgartner and Kenny Serwa, 2020 was shaping up to perhaps be a high-water mark year, but the cancellation of the season dashed those hopes.
The last five seasons haven’t been much different for Tennessee-Martin compared to the rest of its recent history, which is to say it has struggled to climb out of the bottom third of the standings. The Skyhawks have finished better than eighth in the conference just twice this century, with the most recent instance coming in 2011, although two of the three times UTM has won 10 or more conference games in a season over that same time period have come in the last five seasons.
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 Recap by Year
|2019||Jacksonville State||2-2 in Oxford Regional|
|2018||Tennessee Tech||4-1 in Oxford Regional, 1-2 in Austin Super Regional|
|2018||Morehead State||0-2 in Clemson Regional|
|2017||Tennessee Tech||1-2 in Tallahassee Regional|
|2016||Southeast Missouri State||0-2 in Starkville Regional|
|2015||Morehead State||0-2 in Louisville Regional|
What Tennessee Tech accomplished in 2018 is the standout postseason result for the OVC in this data sample, but there were other notable results. In 2017, Tennessee Tech won its opening game of the Tallahassee Regional against host Florida State. More recently, Jacksonville State got to the regional final of the Oxford Regional, making it the first OVC program other than Tennessee Tech to get to a regional final since Austin Peay got to back-to-back regional finals in 2012 and 2013.
Top Draft Picks
|Joey Lucchesi, LHP, Southeast Missouri State||2016||114th overall|
|Ethan Roberts, RHP, Tennessee Tech||2018||128th overall|
|Aaron Leasher, LHP, Morehead State||2017||168th overall|
|Aaron Ochsenbein, RHP, Eastern Kentucky||2019||191st overall|
|Travis Moths, RHP, Tennessee Tech||2018||219th overall|
Despite being known as a hitter’s league, the top five draft picks to come out of the OVC in the last five seasons are pitchers. Perhaps it’s a coincidence borne out of the fact that good arms are going to be drafted no matter what conference they happen to be playing in, but it also can’t hurt in developing pitchers that the conference is a hitter-friendly cauldron that can be a sink-or-swim situation on the mound. Lucchesi moved quickly through the Padres system and has spent much of the last two seasons in the starting rotation with the big league club.
|2019||Tennessee Tech||Justin Holmes||Steve Smith|
|2019||Morehead State||Mike McGuire||Mik Aoki|
|2018||Murray State||Kevin Moulder||Dan Skirka|
|2018||Tennessee Tech||Matt Bragga||Justin Holmes|
|2016||Southern Illinois-Edwardsville||Tony Stoecklin||Sean Lyons|
|2016||Southeast Missouri State||Steve Bieser||Andy Sawyers|
|2015||Austin Peay||Gary McClure||Travis Janssen|
|2015||Eastern Illinois||Jim Schmitz||Jason Anderson|
|2015||Eastern Kentucky||Jason Stein||Edwin Thompson|
It was a busy five years on the coaching carousel, as all but three schools in the league made a change at some point, with a couple of those changes coming because coaches got a shot at coaching in more high-profile places. After the 2016 season, Steve Bieser left Southeast Missouri State to coach at Missouri, and after the 2018 season, Matt Bragga moved on from Tennessee Tech to take the job at Rice. The changes made after the 2019 season were particularly interesting, as they both brought relatively big-name coaches into the fold. At Morehead State, Mik Aoki took over for Mike McGuire after previously serving as the head coach at Boston College and Notre Dame. Later in the offseason, Tennessee Tech hired Steve Smith, who previously led Baylor to three Big 12 regular-season titles and a 2005 College World Series appearance in 21 years on the job.