A few weeks ago, the Boston College baseball team traveled to Chicago to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. They lost two of three, falling into a last place tie in the Atlantic Division, a last place tie in the entire ACC, well out of playoff contention. The losses, at the time, highlighted everything that was wrong with the season, and it started calling into question who would replace Mike Gambino at the close of the 2014 baseball season.
Three weeks ago, the entire complex of Birdball's changed. They've won eight of 10 games, taken two straight ACC series, and pulled to within striking distance of the final slot of the ACC Tournament. They hold tiebreakers over teams they're fighting for that spot with, and all of a sudden, they're one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
Statistically, there has to be a reason why this is happening. Looking at the Eagles, they weren't exactly lighting the world on fire. Following the Notre Dame series, the team was on pace for 390 hits and 484 total bases. They averaged 1.24 bases per hit, down from last year's 1.33 bases per hit. And their Pythagorean W-L was on pace for 15 wins.
Let's look inside each of those numbers, one-by-one, and analyze what are at root for the Boston College resurgence.
Individual Game Hitting
BC had 13 hits against the Irish across three games, an average of less than five hits per game. At present, the Eagles are averaging eight hits per game on the season, nearly a full hit better than they were after Notre Dame. That 7.4 hits per game prior to the UMass-Lowell game has been offset by an average of over nine hits per game. In fact, BC has only hit less than seven hits in a game only once - six against Maryland in a 5-run output.
If we throw out the high and low as outliers in this scenario to get a better idea of BC has performed in the last 10 games, they're consistently still over nine hits per game. Translation - this team has been consistently solid over the last couple of months, which is why they're back to winning games.
Driving in Runs
The best statistic to determine how teams fare with men on base is the hits against total bases extrapolation and compare that to the team's Pythagorean Win-Loss. While runs scored is great, total bases takes into account how many bases a guy touches a base and includes base-on-balls, stolen bases, passed balls, and wild pitches. It's a more complete statistic, in my opinion.
After Notre Dame, Boston College extrapolated their season to 390 hits and 484 total bases. Through 46 games played, BC already now has 361 hits and 468 total bases. That's an average of 7.84 hits per game and 10.17 bases per game. They have 10 games left, totaling 56 games played in the end. That means BC should finish the year, if they continue at this rate, with 439 total hits and 569 total bases.
I had said, at the beginning of the year, that this team, in order to finish the year with 20 wins, would need 477 hits and 634 total bases as long as the pitching cut the runs created by opponents to 200. That balanced the hitting needs against the pitching capabilities. BC pitchers, this year, are holding opponents, to 180 runs created.
Over the last 10 games, Boston College pitchers have held teams to an average of 3.3 runs per game. With ten games left, if that's the case, BC will be able to hold teams to roughly 200-210 runs created this year. That means as long as the Eagle defense doesn't make any huge mistakes or pitch themselves into jams (mistakes = errors and walks, not "mistake pitches" that result in homers), they'll be right where they should be based off the beginning of the year projection.
So what's all of that mean? It means that BC has played so well over the last month that they've risen their overall season production to where it was at the beginning of the year. Considering where they were, that's amazing. The only way BC could get production levels to a predicted level from the beginning of the year would be to go on an absolute tear, but the statistics, quite simply, didn't back it up. That they're able to do it a) frustrates the hell out of me because if they'd done it all year, they'd be a tournament bubble team and b) is a sign that this season's overall body of work has the potential to end where it began in some weirdly roundabout way.
I stand on the Pythagorean Win-Loss as a clear definition of a team's performance. It shows the amount of games a team "should've won." That means that on the course of a season, it measures out if a team played badly for a stretch and all but throws out the outliers in the process. It accounts for the fact that a "real" win-loss usually gets skewed because of weird games where a team decides to go off or you play well enough to win and don't or play bad enough to lose and don't.
On a team that only won 12 games last year, I'm a firm believer in the Pythagorean W-L to measure progress. At the beginning of the year, I said final wins and losses wouldn't matter because I wanted to chart the progress against what Mike Gambino said about the team getting better. I wanted to see if the team was, in fact, improving under his watch. As of a month ago, that hadn't happened, and even with a month to go in the season, the chances of the improvement were so slim, I was calling for a new coach.
So let's look back between the numbers and chart the team's progress. Is it just dumb luck or have they actually performed to the level, over the course of the year, commensurate with their record. No matter how bad they played before, no matter how good they're playing now - I'm going to say that this number will let me know if this is just plumb luck or if this is the work of the coaching staff. In short, this will answer the question on whether or not the BC success if the result of the Eagle play or the fact that the ACC's bottom teams are playing that badly.
BC's Pythagorean W-L is 35.5%. Over a 46-game season, that's 16 wins. Over a 56-game season, that will be....20 wins.
Right now, BC is playing well enough to be a bubble ACC Tournament team with 20 wins. They might finish with better than that due to plumb luck and a number here or there falling in their direction. Is that enough for Mike Gambino to keep his job? Well I'll let you be the judge. I set 20 goals as the bar for the team this year, but Gambino told me that the measuring stick isn't numbers. It's clear the team has made progress. But the goal is the ACC Tournament. If the team wins 20 games but misses the tournament, and the numbers prove that their game play was one way or the other, statistically we can prove if the team met its goal because it played well enough or because they just plain got lucky. We have to remember that without the way they've been playing ball, they were going to be a last place team. Their play over the last month cannot discount how bad things were going, just like the way things were going wasn't quite the death sentence I was purporting it to be, apparently.
They're borderline there. They're actually so close to where they set their own bar at the beginning of the year, it's amazing considering where they were. I'm so far impressed with the way this team's played over the last month. I sincerely offer a mea culpa and apologize for calling the players hearts into question and thinking they were headed for another 12-15 win season. But that's where the numbers pointed me. The numbers are pointing me in another direction right now because of the way they're trending. With series against Pittsburgh and Clemson left in the ACC and games left against Binghamton and Maine, I can't wait to see where this goes.
But like I've said before, almost being that close isn't there yet. And it very easily can nose dive back down. Pittsburgh comes to town this weekend. And as we can prove, winning those games could now be the difference between the ACC Tournament and sitting home for the spring.