One of my favorite sporting events of the year is just around the corner. And no, I’m not referring to Opening Day, though it indeed fits both conditions. I am, of course, talking about March Madness.
For a stat nut like me, March Madness is the perfect time of year. It combines sports with both probability and unpredictability. It’s also quite fun to see fans from all over the country supporting their local universities and alma maters in the biggest basketball tournament (and workplace distraction) in the United States.
The only thing missing from March Madness is a baseball spin. But for those like me who enjoy both the Madness and Opening Day, I have a solution: the perfect baseball-themed March Madness bracket. When I say “perfect,” I don’t mean literally perfect. Unfortunately, there is just a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance that this bracket (or any other bracket) will achieve perfection.
It is perfect, though, in another sense. The second qualifier, “baseball-themed,” is important. This bracket can indeed call itself the perfect baseball-themed bracket. Let me show you how.
The process behind this is rather simple. I compiled all 68 teams in the tournament, and using Baseball-Reference’s Draft Index, was able to easily search every major league player to come from one of these schools. I then ranked each school by total WAR produced by those players.
I should note that this is only in the MLB Draft era (1965-present), and that this list only includes players who were drafted from said school. For example, if Devan Fink played baseball at Michigan but then transferred to the University of Florida and was subsequently drafted out of Florida, the Gators would get all of the credit for having harbored Devan Fink.
Without further ado, the rankings:
|School||Seed||Region||Total WAR||WAR Per MLB Player||Best Player||WAR From Top Player|
|Arizona St.||11||West||754.4||7.5||Barry Bonds||162.8|
|Mississippi St.||5||East||235.2||6.7||Rafael Palmeiro||71.9|
|Florida St.||4||West||219.4||3.8||J.D. Drew||44.9|
|Seton Hall||10||Midwest||158.5||11.3||Craig Biggio||65.5|
|North Carolina||1||Midwest||147.1||4.2||B.J. Surhoff||34.4|
|Michigan St.||2||East||112.9||8.7||Kirk Gibson||38.4|
|St. John’s||11||West||101.8||6.8||Frank Viola||47.2|
|Old Dominion||14||South||68.1||6.8||Justin Verlander||63.4|
|Ohio St.||11||Midwest||42.3||2.1||Nick Swisher||22.0|
|Saint Mary’s||11||South||36.0||5.1||Von Hayes||29.9|
|UC Irvine||13||South||35.9||4.5||Brady Anderson||35.0|
|Texas Tech||3||West||28.8||1.1||AJ Ramos||6.1|
|Murray St.||12||West||22.4||11.2||Kirk Rueter||16.4|
|Virginia Tech||4||East||21.7||1.6||Joe Saunders||8.6|
|Prairie View A&M||16||West||17.3||5.8||Steve Henderson||11.5|
|Kansas St.||4||South||17.0||2.1||Ted Power||7.1|
|Iowa St.||6||Midwest||6.0||0.8||Mike Myers||8.2|
|Northern Kentucky||14||West||5.0||1.7||Nate Jones||6.2|
|Georgia St.||14||Midwest||0.2||0.2||David Buchanan||0.2|
|Saint Louis||13||East||-0.2||-0.2||James Norwood||-0.2|
|Utah St.||8||Midwest||-0.3||-0.3||Tom Robson||-0.3|
|North Dakota St.||16||East||-0.4||-0.4||Neil Wagner||-0.4|
|Fairleigh Dickinson||16||West||-0.5||-0.5||Desi Wilson||-0.5|
|New Mexico St.||12||Midwest||-0.9||-0.3||Tyler Sturdevant||0.2|
|Abilene Christian||15||Midwest||-0.9||-0.9||Bill Gilbreth||-0.9|
|North Carolina Central||16||East||—||—||—||—|
And, now, the bracket. I simply selected the better baseball school in every round:
Let’s break down both the good and the bad of this bracket.
Starting with the good, I am glad that this exercise did not result in selecting any No. 16 seeds to win their first matchup. College basketball fans may remember UMBC’s unlikely defeat of Virginia last year in the first round of the tournament, but that only moved 16th-seeded teams to a 1-135 record since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Also good is this bracket’s South region. It has some fun upsets in there, including 14th-seeded Old Dominion making it to the Sweet Sixteen (thank ODU alumni Justin Verlander for that one), but it still finishes out with a good ol’ No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup to determine who goes to the Final Four. This is the only region of the bracket that features the No. 1 and No. 2 in the Elite Eight, which is what you would expect to occur if all the favorites won every game.
Looking at the teams that this bracket has selected for the Elite Eight, the seeds add up to a total sum of 41. This is mediocre; again, if the favorites won every game, you would expect the Elite Eight seeds to add up to 12. That said, last year, the Elite Eight teams added up to a seed sum of 39, so the baseball bracket might be on to something.
Furthermore, the Final Four of this bracket has a seed sum of 21, again only slightly higher than the seed sum of the 2018 Final Four (16). Nothing seems too outrageous here either, seed-wise.
Moving over to the bad, I’m not a big fan of the Arizona St. pick to win the tournament. It’s probably not the best idea to pick a team who has to play a play-in game to win the entire tournament, and Arizona St. plays St. John’s on Wednesday night. (For what it’s worth, Vegas has Arizona St. as a 1.5-point favorite.) Though if Arizona St. does lose, this bracket gets St. John’s as its champion, and they’re not as bad at baseball as you may expect, ranking 14th in the above list.
Really, though, that’s my only major quibble with the bracket. Yes, LSU, Tennessee, and Auburn are probably not the best picks for the Final Four, but they’re all No. 5 seeds or better. I can’t really complain about that.
On the whole, I’m extremely excited for March Madness this year, and maybe you will be now, too. At the very least, you now have a baseball spin to put on your bracket.
But you might want to pick a different team to win the whole thing.
Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.