2020 SEC Baseball Stock Watch
This offseason, we’re going to take a deep dive into all 31 conferences in Division I college baseball, using five years’ worth of data to examine where each conference has been and to try to project forward to where it might go.
The Southeastern Conference has only advanced its claim to be the best conference in the country in recent years, no matter which metric you want to use.
It has won two of the last five national championships, has had a team in the College World Series Finals in four of the last five years, and in 2017, the national title came down to two SEC clubs—Florida and Louisiana State.
In 2018, the league matched a record by getting 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament, and then it did it again in 2019. In 2016, a record seven SEC teams hosted regionals.
From a draft standpoint, the league also continues to put more players into pro baseball than any other conference. In 2018, it had 99 players drafted, closely followed by 91 players in the 2019 draft.
There have been years when the ACC outpaces the SEC in certain metrics or years when the Big 12 might outshine the SEC on a per capita basis, but there’s no doubting the SEC’s place atop the college baseball conference hierarchy.
*2020 records not included
|Team||SEC Record||Winning Pct.||Overall Record||Winning Pct.|
The breakdown of the standings between the East and West reflect the way those respective divisions have been talked about in recent years. In the East, you can clearly see the dominance of Vanderbilt and Florida, as they are bunched tightly at the top, with everyone else in the division not only more than 14 percentage points back but also coming in under .500. The West, meanwhile, is a jumbled mess outside of LSU being nearly six percentage points clear of second-place Texas A&M. Fewer than three percentage points separate second and fifth place, and less than a single percentage point separates third and fifth. The West also has five teams over .500 in SEC play, while the East has just two. One other mark of the SEC’s dominance is how its teams have performed out of conference play, with just one team finishing under .500 overall for the last five seasons. And that team, Alabama, is just three games under .500.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each SEC 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.
It’s extremely impressive that the Tigers have the top winning percentage in the SEC over the last five seasons when you consider that they’re members of the West division, which has been competitive from top to bottom in recent years. LSU has been to Omaha twice in the last five seasons, and in 2017, it advanced to the CWS Finals. LSU is also riding an eight-year regional streak, which is the best among teams in the West and good for third in the conference, behind only Vanderbilt and Florida.
By Vanderbilt standards, the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons were down years, with only one hosted regional and no Omaha trips in the three seasons, but the 2015 and 2019 bookends in this data sample more than make up for that. In 2015, it fell one game short of winning back-to-back national championships, and in 2019, it did claim the program’s second national championship. As they continue to recruit at a supremely high level and boast perhaps the top two picks in the 2021 draft in righthanders Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, the Commodores appear poised to get the next five-year data set off to a fast start.
The last five years more or less continued the excellence that Florida exhibited in the previous five years, but the big difference is that it broke through for its first national championship in 2017, defeating conference foe LSU in the CWS Finals. It was also during this five-year period that the Gators made four consecutive Omaha trips between 2015-2018. After a down season in 2019 by the incredibly high Florida standard, the Gators are expected to be the No. 1 team in the country in 2021 to begin the next five seasons in style.
The Aggies, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, come in second for this five-year data sample among teams in the West. There have been improvements in the last five seasons when compared to the five seasons prior, such as Texas A&M getting to super regionals more regularly, but the arrow is to the side because the top-line data points are fairly similar. A&M has continued to win a ton of regular-season games, put a ton of players (particularly pitchers) into pro baseball and it made one trip to Omaha in each five-year span—in 2017 for this five-year sample and in 2011 for the previous five years—both ending in 0-2 showings. The next step, making a deep run in Omaha, is clear.
When Mississippi went to the College World Series in 2014 for the first time since 1972, it was going to be tough for the program to keep up that standard in the following seasons. The Rebels have been extremely consistent over the last five seasons, never going worse than 14-16 in SEC play, but they did miss the postseason after going 14-16 in conference play in 2017 and the postseason results just haven’t been there. In 2016 and 2018, they lost home regionals, and in 2019, they fell one game short of Omaha in a super regional against Arkansas. It’s worth noting that Mississippi was off to an incredible start in 2020 and should be very good again in 2021, suggesting that perhaps it’s on the upswing as we speak.
Arkansas will look back on the 2018 season, when it came one out away from its first national championship, as a missed opportunity, but the last five seasons have been a huge success for the Razorbacks no matter how you look at it. They did have a tough 7-23 record in SEC play in 2016, but otherwise, they’ve gone 17-12 or better in SEC play each of the last five seasons and made trips to the CWS in 2015, 2018 and 2019. Coming into this five-year window, Arkansas was already one of the most consistent programs in college baseball, but it came out of this five-year window as one of the truly elite programs in the sport.
No team in the conference has had a wilder ride in the last five years than Mississippi State. Just in the last five years, it has finished last in the division (2015), has gone through three head coaches plus an interim coach, got to Omaha under that interim coach (Gary Henderson in 2018) and by going to Omaha in 2019, got to the CWS in back-to-back years for the first time since 1997-1998. Despite all of that activity, not all of which was positive, the last five years have been a big success, what with the pair of CWS appearances and a 2016 SEC regular-season title.
The first half of this five-year data set did not go particularly well for Georgia. It finished seventh, fifth and sixth in the East from 2015-2017, and it goes without saying, well outside of the postseason picture. The Bulldogs made up for that, however, by what they did in the last two seasons, hosting regionals in both 2018 and 2019. They’re undoubtedly disappointed to not have advanced out of either of those home regionals, but given where they came from at the beginning of his five-year period, that’s clear progress.
By winning back-to-back national titles in 2010 and 2011 and then getting to the CWS Finals in 2012, South Carolina set a level that would be impossible to replicate moving forward, and that’s what you see in the results of the last five seasons. It won the East in 2016 and got to two super regionals, but it was unable to get back to the College World Series and it missed regionals altogether three times—in 2015, 2017 and 2019. It’s unrealistic to expect the type of run South Carolina had in the early part of the previous decade to happen again, but something between that and what it has done in the last five years is fitting of the type of program it is.
Kentucky - ⬆️
Kentucky didn’t make the postseason as often in the last five years (just once in 2017) as it did in the previous five seasons (twice in 2012 and 2014), but the 2017 season was enough of a breakthrough that the arrow points up for the Wildcats over the last five seasons. In that season, it hosted a regional for the first time since 2006 and then won a regional for the first time ever. Thanks to rival Louisville, UK fell short of breaking through to Omaha in the ensuing super regional, but that doesn’t take away from the enormity of that accomplishment. Despite a fall back to the pack in 2018 and 2019, the hope is that new Kentucky Proud Park will host many a postseason game in the near future.
The last five seasons have been good to Auburn. It began with a regional appearance in 2015, and after a down 2016 campaign in Butch Thompson’s first season, the Tigers have been to a regional in each of the past three full seasons. In 2018, Auburn advanced to a super regional for the first time since 1999, and after getting walked off by Florida in the third game of that series, it came back in 2019 and got to Omaha for the first time since 1997. Taking a wider view, three straight regional appearances for the Tigers is the longest streak since they got to seven straight from 1997-2003.
Missouri is the toughest team to peg in the entire conference. On one hand, Missouri hasn’t been to the postseason in the last five seasons and it did get there back in 2012, its last season as a member of the Big 12. By that measure, the arrow should maybe be pointing down. But on the other hand, the SEC is a step up from the Big 12, and while the Tigers really struggled to find their footing early on in the conference, they have been extremely competitive the last three seasons and were probably just one or two wins away from a regional appearance in 2019. That’s a reason the arrow should maybe point up, but the lack of a postseason appearance can’t be overlooked, and for that reason, the arrow is to the side.
The arrow points up for Tennessee thanks to one single data point, and that’s the 2019 regional appearance, the first for the program since 2005. The 2019 season also ended with the Volunteers finishing third in the East, which was their best since coming in second, also back in 2005. The next step is turning that success into a prolonged period of success for the program. The Volunteers were on the path to doing that in 2020 before the season was canceled, so they’ll hope to continue that in earnest in 2021.
It’s been a tough five years for Alabama, there’s just no way around that. It didn’t make any postseason appearances in the last five seasons, and it has had three different head coaches during this time. Alabama was off to a fast start in 2020 but didn’t get the chance to prove that the improvement was real against SEC competition. What’s undeniable is that the young talent on the Crimson Tide roster is real, and they’ll have a chance to show it again in 2021 and beyond.
College Podcast: Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor Looks Ahead To 2021
Virginia is off and running toward the 2021 season, one in which the Cavaliers will be among the favorites to win the national title.
Regional and College World Series Appearances by Year
|Year||Regional Teams||College World Series Teams|
The 2019 postseason was a triumph for the SEC. Not only did it once again tie the record with 10 teams in regionals, but it also put a record-tying four teams into the College World Series. A conference has done that five times in history, four of which have come from the SEC, and two of those instances are in the last five years. The cherry on top for the conference’s 2019 postseason success, of course, was Vanderbilt coming away with its second national championship. The 2016 postseason is the strangest of this bunch. The SEC got seven teams into regionals, all of which hosted. But despite that inherent advantage, just one team got to Omaha, and that team, Florida, went 0-2. If you’re looking for evidence of the depth of the conference, take your pick of the following facts. Every league member except Alabama and Missouri has made a regional in the last five seasons. Of the 14 league members, 10 have hosted regionals in the last five seasons. And seven different SEC teams, half of the conference, have been to Omaha in the last five seasons.
Top Draft Selections
* Does not include 2020 draft
|Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn||2018||1st overall|
|Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt||2015||1st overall|
|Nick Senzel, 3B, Tennessee||2016||2nd overall|
|Alex Bregman, SS, Louisiana State||2015||2nd overall|
|JJ Bleday, OF, Vanderbilt||2019||4th overall|
The SEC has had a player selected in the first five picks of the draft in each of the last five years. In addition to the players listed above, Vanderbilt righthander Kyle Wright was taken fifth overall in the 2017 draft. The sheer volume of players drafted from SEC schools is impressive as well, with 99 players taken in 2018 and 91 in 2019. By comparison, the Pac-12 had 70 players drafted in 2019, a record for the league. The ACC had 75 selected in 2018 and 69 in 2019. The Big 12, which has just nine baseball members, had 46 and 48 selected in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
|2018||Mississippi State||Gary Henderson (interim)||Chris Lemonis|
|2018||Mississippi State||Andy Cannizaro||Gary Henderson (interim)|
|2017||Alabama||Greg Goff||Brad Bohannon|
|2017||South Carolina||Chad Holbrook||Mark Kingston|
|2017||Tennessee||Dave Serrano||Tony Vitello|
|2016||Alabama||Mitch Gaspard||Greg Goff|
|2016||Kentucky||Gary Henderson||Nick Mingione|
|2016||Mississippi State||John Cohen||Andy Cannizaro|
|2016||Missouri||Tim Jamieson||Steve Bieser|
|2015||Auburn||Sunny Golloway||Butch Thompson|
The equal and opposite reaction to the SEC being the preeminent college baseball conference is that expectations are sky-high for coaches in the league, and you can see that in the 10 coaching changes that have taken place in the last five years. However, to be fair, close to half of these changes were made under what could be described as atypical circumstances, including all three of the changes Mississippi State made. In 2016, John Cohen left the seat vacant in order to become the school’s athletic director, and there were two separate personnel moves made in 2018 as a result of Andy Cannizaro’s firing after the first weekend of the season. Coaching changes in the SEC are often made with an expectation of immediate results, and several of these moves have played out that way. Mingione led Kentucky to a super regional in year one, Kingston had South Carolina in a super regional in year one, Lemonis had MSU in Omaha in year one and Vitello had Tennessee in its first regional since 2005 in year two. The offseason after the 2019 season was a rare quiet one on the coaching carousel in the league, as it was the first time since 2014 that no changes were made.