2020 Southwestern Athletic Conference Stock Watch
This offseason, we’re going to take a closer look at all 31 conferences in Division I baseball. We’ll use five years’ worth of data, including win-loss record, postseason appearances, draft results and coaching changes, to dive deep into where a conference has been and project forward to where it might go.
Over the last five seasons, the Southwestern Athletic Conference has been dominated by two teams, Alabama State in the East Division and Texas Southern in the West Division, and depending on what you value, you can make a case that either one has been the top team in the league during that time.
Alabama State has dominated in the regular season, winning more than 80 percent of its SWAC games, and in 2016, it was a perfect 24-0 in conference play. Texas Southern, meanwhile, has been to regionals three times in the last five seasons, making it far and away the most successful program from a postseason standpoint.
The emergence of Southern under Kerrick Jackson is a development that could change the SWAC hierarchy over the next five seasons. The Jaguars showed great improvement from 2018 to 2019 and capped last season off with their first regional appearance since 2009. Jackson has been very clear that he has big goals for Southern, and achieving most or all of them would make his program the class of the SWAC.
*2020 records not included
|Team||SWAC Record||Winning Pct.||Overall Record||Winning Pct.|
|Mississippi Valley State||28-89||24.58||39-167||18.93|
|Prairie View A&M||38-80||32.20||77-180||29.96|
The East has a very clear top and bottom, with Alabama State running away with the standings and Jackson State winning more than two-thirds of its SWAC games. In the West, you see a lot more parity and depth, with just over 30 percentage points between first and last place in these five-years standings. In the East, the difference was closer to 60 points. In the West, Grambling and UAPB are back-to-back in the standings, but the paths taken to arrive there are very different. Grambling has been very consistent almost every year, outside of a 7-17 record in the SWAC in 2015. In the other four seasons in this data set, it collected 14, 15 or 16 wins in conference play. UAPB, meanwhile, has had some wild swings in fortune over the last five seasons. In 2015 and 2016, it won the division with 17-6 and 16-5 records, respectively, but in 2019, it went just 3-19 in conference.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each SWAC 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.
Things have gone extraordinarily well for the Hornets in the last five seasons, and the only thing that keeps this five-year period from being definitely the best five-year period in recent history is that the 2013 and 2014 seasons, just prior to this data set beginning, were really good as well. In 2016, ASU won 38 games overall, went undefeated in the SWAC and got to a regional for the first time in program history. It also didn’t miss a beat when coach Mervyl Melendez departed for Florida International after the 2016 season and Jose' Vazquez took over. As of now, ASU doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
A down arrow here is harsh, because Jackson State continues to be a very successful program. However, when you compare 2010-2014 and the last five seasons, the clear difference is that the Tigers made back-to-back regional appearances in 2013 and 2014 but haven't done so in the last five seasons. More than anything else, consistency truly is the right word to use for this program under Omar Johnson, who took over in 2007. Since then, JSU has finished under .500 in the SWAC and won fewer than 31 games overall once each. Getting back to a regional is undoubtedly the next immediate goal for the program.
There’s something about Michael Robertson-coached teams and playing well when it matters most. As the head coach at Prairie View A&M, Robertson led the Panthers to back-to-back regionals in 2006 and 2007, and now, he’s had TSU in regionals in three of the last five seasons. Texas Southern also does a nice job of occasionally winning games against top-flight competition, which it isn’t afraid to take on in its midweek games. During the 2020 season, it pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the shortened season with a win over Mississippi State.
In the last few years, Grambling has established a level of consistency that hadn’t been there in a while. After going 7-17 in SWAC play in 2015, the Tigers have gone 15-8, 15-9, 14-10 and 16-8 in the last four seasons, which is the first time they’ve finished over .500 in the SWAC in four consecutive seasons since 1997-2000. Grambling did go to a regional back in 2010 and hasn’t done so in the last five years, but the improvement in consistency in the last five years outweighs the single postseason appearance during the five years prior.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff has had some of its best seasons in recent history in the last five years, even if it ended this data sample on a sour note with a 3-19 conference record in 2019. In 2015 and 2016, it won the West Division with records of 17-6 and 16-5, respectively. The Lions’ 25 wins in 2015 were also the most since also winning 25 back in 2002.
The Bulldogs had nowhere to go but up after a particularly difficult stretch of seasons between 2010-2014, which included a 2012 season that saw them go 1-23 in the SWAC. But it’s not just that the program had nowhere to go but up. The Bulldogs have also shown significant improvement in recent years. In 2015, the team went 16-8 in the SWAC, good for second place in the division, and in that same season, it won 26 games overall, the most since transitioning to Division I.
Southern has as bright a future as any program in the conference right now, but before 2019, it had been a tough five-year period for the Jaguars, culminating in a 9-33 season with a 6-15 record in the SWAC in 2018. There was some inconsistency for the program from 2010-2014, but on balance, it was the more successful five-year period.
Prairie View A&M—⬇️
Although things weren’t as good for Prairie View as they were during the program’s peak under Michael Robertson, it did a lot of winning between 2010-2014, finishing .500 or better in the SWAC three out of five years and getting to a regional in 2012 after going 15-8 in conference play. In the last five years, things haven’t gone as smoothly, with the Panthers finishing under .500 in SWAC play each season.
Between 2010 and 2014, Alcorn State finished over .500 in SWAC play four times and at the end of a 19-4 conference season in 2011, got to a regional for the first time in program history. The Braves haven’t had any seasons of above .500 baseball in the SWAC since 2013, with a 10-14 mark in 2016 serving as their best in this five-year data sample. For those reasons, the arrow points down for the last five seasons.
Mississippi Valley State—⬇️
The last five seasons have been tough on MVSU, with a 9-15 conference record in 2018 the best in this data sample. By comparison, in the previous five seasons, there were some clear highlights, such as a 16-8 conference record in 2010 and a 14-9 mark in 2011. Getting back to that level of competitiveness is certainly the goal for the Delta Devils.
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Regional Recap by Year
|2019||Southern||0-2 in Starkville Regional|
|2018||Texas Southern||0-2 in Austin Regional|
|2017||Texas Southern||0-2 in Baton Rouge Regional|
|2016||Alabama State||0-2 in Tallahassee Regional|
|2015||Texas Southern||0-2 in College Station Regional|
Behind all of these 0-2 results, there are instances of SWAC teams playing above their heads and toying with upsets along the way. In 2016, Alabama State went into the seventh inning of an elimination game with South Alabama ahead 3-2 before falling, 6-3. In 2017, Texas Southern jumped out to an early 3-0 lead over Louisiana State before the hosting Tigers righted the ship and then held a 5-0 lead over Rice at one point in an elimination game the next day before falling. And just last year, Southern held a 4-2 lead over Mississippi State heading into the bottom of the fifth. The last SWAC team to win a game in a regional was Jackson State, which upset Louisiana-Lafayette in its opening game before nearly pulling off another upset against Mississippi State in the winner’s bracket matchup the next day.
Top Draft Selections
|Andre Davis, LHP, Arkansas-Pine Bluff||2015||249th overall|
|Bryce Brown, OF, Jackson State||2017||439th overall|
|Melvin Rodriguez, 2B, Jackson State||2015||554th overall|
|Angel Alicea, RHP, Alabama State||2016||612th overall|
|Kevin Walsh, RHP, Arkansas-Pine Bluff||2015||624th overall|
It speaks to how good the UAPB team, and more specifically, the pitching staff was in 2015 that it had two different pitchers selected in that draft. Both were shutdown relievers for the Lions that season. In the bigger picture, the 2015 draft was a standout moment for the conference as a whole, as nine players from seven different programs were selected.
|2018||Alabama A&M||Mitch Hill||Manny Lora|
|2017||Southern||Roger Cador||Kerrick Jackson|
|2016||Alabama State||Mervyl Melendez||Jose' Vazquez|
|2015||Alcorn State||Barrett Rey||Bretton Richardson|
|2015||Prairie View A&M||Waskyla Cullivan||Auntwan Riggins|
Of the teams that have made recent coaching changes, Southern has seen its fortunes change in a positive way most quickly, with Jackson leading the Jaguars to a regional in year two at the helm. Vazquez had big shoes to fill when Melendez left for Florida International, but he has kept the program rolling right along. After making a change at the end of the 2018 season, the Alabama A&M job came open once again after the abbreviated 2020 season and was still open as the calendar flipped to June.