For the fifth consecutive year, Boston College baseball did not qualify for the ACC Tournament.
Throughout an entire season of upbeat feelings, good vibrations, and perceived success, the Eagles finished as the 12th place team, the last place team in the Atlantic Division.
Despite all of the good feelings surrounding the team this year, the end result is another bitter disappointment. A reason why the team didn't qualify feels more and more like an excuse, and there's a growing rumbling about Mike Gambino, perhaps moreso this year than in the past when the team simply lost the majority of their games with few marquee victories.
To make sense of this season is going to be tough, but in the coming days and weeks, that's exactly what we'll try to do. We'll try to look at where the season went wrong, where it fell off, and how, exactly, the team missed the playoffs. We start with a look at the statistical breakdowns presented at the beginning of the year three short years ago.
At the beginning of the season, I set the goal for this year's incarnation to be 27 wins. That would give the Eagles essentially a .500 record, and I rationalized it would allow for good enough improvement to show marginal growth.
Boston College hit that 27 win mark but failed to qualify for the ACC Tournament. In a sign of how the ACC improved, compare to last year. Of the 14 teams in the league, ten finished over .500 and all made the league tournament. The teams finishing under .500 were all the teams that missed the league bracket.
This year, only one team finished with an overall sub-.500 record in the entire league - Pittsburgh (20-32). Boston College's .519 win percentage overall was actually better than Wake Forest by exactly one-half game, but it still wasn't enough to get them into the league. In a vastly-improved year, the threshold instead became 30 wins, something we couldn't have foreseen at the beginning of the season.
Boston College only went 10-19 in league play, essentially matching their record from last season when they went 10-20.
So like everything else on the table that we'll go through, there are two sides to the story. The Eagles improved greatly in non-conference play and became one of the top teams in New England, a mantle they relinquished at the start of the decade. That they went 18-7 in non-conference play is a sign of good things and that they're finally looking like an ACC team.
On the flip side, they didn't gain any ground in league play and missed the tournament again. They might've gotten better, but the rest of the league did too, and they couldn't jump over any of the other programs. Five years without a conference tournament bid after two years in is an indictment of the coaching staff and of head coach Mike Gambino.
I tend to fall into the first camp. The entire ACC went a combined 241-94 with nobody finishing under .500 in non-conference games. They won 72% of all games they played outside of the league. In the past five years, the Eagles lost games to Harvard, Dartmouth, Northeastern, and UMass. They didn't go into those games expecting to win, and that edge was totally lost. That they went out and dominated non-conference play like they did is an encouraging sign, and of the seven OOC losses, three came against LSU in a series the Eagles, at that point, quite simply weren't going to win. Another loss came to UConn in a game where BC simply imploded, and the Huskies are the class program in the northeast. It's easy to get shortsighted on the ACC Tournament, but it wasn't too long ago when BC was just simply losing every game it played in. They ended up hitting the goal for wins, even if they missed the conference wins goal I set at the beginning of the year.
Over the past few seasons, BC's runs created stat was something that made me cringe. This year, they scored 78 more runs on the season while creating roughly the same percentage (88%). That means that their offense continued to churn out at near peak capacity, but the ceiling on it actually rose considerably. That's a testament to the development of existing talent while at the same time bringing in new talent capable of producing at a higher ceiling than former players.
Defensively, the Eagles allowed 266 runs, a total down 21 from a year ago. Of those 266, opponents created 221 runs, or 83%. While cutting down on the number of runs allowed, BC also made it substantially harder on opponents by forcing them to create nearly 3% more of the cumulative total.
Translation - BC cut down on the amount of runs scored, but of those runs scored, opposing hitters accounted for more than what the Eagles assisted them with. Had BC not improved, they would've allowed a substantially larger amount of runs.
Total Hits & Total Bases
Prior to the season, I said BC would need anywhere from 490-500 hits and 625-650 total bases in order to get into the ACC Tournament. The Eagles had 491 hits and 688 total bases, missing the ACC Tournament by only a couple of games.
That means the Eagles did enough to get themselves into the tournament and missed on a razor thin margin. They obviously could've gotten more production, but consider that the Eagles battled some injuries from the word go. Chris Shaw's injury might've been the biggest since he was cruising, and that broken hamate bone might've cost BC the nine or ten hits they needed in order to win a couple of games here and there. That's not the sole reason obviously, but if we're going by the numbers, you can see how slim that margin for error really was. That BC came in just a hair under it is why they didn't make the tournament.
Ah, yes - my favorite statistic of all time. As I've mentioned, Pythagorean Win-Loss measures how many wins BC should've had opposite how many wins they actually had. It's a measure to determine what exactly was left on the table.
Last season, the Eagles won 22 games but got to that level because opponents essentially gave them three wins' worth of games.
This year, BC's Pythagorean win-loss was 51%. That means the performance on the field should have yielded 28 wins. Instead, they won 27. I think about that one game where they gave up a walk-off homer against Virginia Tech or the game against UConn and say to myself - those are the games they left on the table.
Detractors of Mike Gambino will immediately point to the team's lack of a postseason berth and say he failed. They'll point to his history and immediately say he should resign or be fired. But where I was buying that over the past two seasons, I'm not buying it this year. Mike Gambino got everything that he could out of this team. The ceiling rose just enough to be better, and the team showed it could compete at a higher level. Unfortunately, the talent and competition levels within the ACC rose just enough to shut the Eagles out of the postseason tournament for a fifth straight year, and I want to see what this coaching staff can do with elevated expectations.
The Eagles finished last in the Atlantic Divison, but that they did is more of an indication of the ACC than anything else. This was an elite league, perhaps the best in the nation, and the Birds legitimately gave everything they could to make the tournament. Whatever the reason to lower the ceiling on the season - injuries, missed opportunities, coaching, whatever it was - they did everything they could and fell short.
This year is, for the first time, something to build upon, but it raises the stakes for next year. They performed essentially to maximum ability. They made the most of their opportunities, and only left one or two games on the table, something that happens to every baseball team in a given year. Unfortunately, this was the year where one or two games made the difference.