Picking the Perfect Baseball-Themed March Madness Bracket

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:

March Madness Schools By Baseball Performance
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
LSU 3 East 260.2 4.3 Albert Belle 40.1
Michigan 2 West 258.0 6.6 Barry Larkin 70.4
Mississippi St. 5 East 235.2 6.7 Rafael Palmeiro 71.9
Tennessee 2 South 231.3 8.0 Todd Helton 61.2
Minnesota 10 East 225.3 9.0 Paul Molitor 75.7
Auburn 5 Midwest 221.8 7.9 Frank Thomas 73.9
Florida St. 4 West 219.4 3.8 J.D. Drew 44.9
Florida 10 West 160.5 3.5 Robby Thompson 33.9
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
Houston 3 Midwest 104.3 3.6 Woody Williams 30.3
St. John’s 11 West 101.8 6.8 Frank Viola 47.2
Virginia 1 South 96.1 4.0 Ryan Zimmerman 38.0
Iowa 10 South 89.5 7.5 Jim Sundberg 40.5
Nevada 7 West 85.4 4.7 Matt Williams 46.6
Oklahoma 9 South 81.5 1.7 Jason Bartlett 18.3
Kentucky 2 Midwest 76.1 2.6 Brandon Webb 31.0
Mississippi 8 South 73.7 2.5 Jeff Fassero 23.8
Old Dominion 14 South 68.1 6.8 Justin Verlander 63.4
Cincinnati 7 South 50.8 7.3 Kevin Youkilis 32.6
Baylor 9 West 45.6 2.1 Jason Jennings 11.2
Ohio St. 11 Midwest 42.3 2.1 Nick Swisher 22.0
VCU 8 East 39.6 3.6 Brandon Inge 19.2
Maryland 6 East 36.8 3.1 Eric Milton 16.5
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
Northeastern 13 Midwest 34.1 8.5 Carlos Pena 25.1
Washington 9 Midwest 33.3 2.2 Tim Lincecum 19.7
Gonzaga 1 West 31.5 2.6 Jason Bay 24.6
Iona 16 Midwest 30.2 10.1 Dennis Leonard 26.0
Duke 1 East 30.0 3.3 Marcus Stroman 10.9
Texas Tech 3 West 28.8 1.1 AJ Ramos 6.1
Kansas 4 Midwest 26.8 1.7 Steve Renko 23.7
Temple 11 East 26.5 5.3 Bobby Higginson 23.1
Yale 14 East 24.7 8.2 Ron Darling 19.7
Murray St. 12 West 22.4 11.2 Kirk Rueter 16.4
Virginia Tech 4 East 21.7 1.6 Joe Saunders 8.6
Liberty 12 East 20.4 3.4 Sid Bream 11.1
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
Wisconsin 5 South 16.9 2.8 Paul Quantrill 17.7
Vermont 13 West 14.3 14.3 Kirk McCaskill 14.3
Louisville 7 East 12.9 0.9 Adam Duvall 5.9
Oregon 12 South 11.0 1.4 Tyler Anderson 7.1
Buffalo 6 West 8.6 4.3 Joe Hesketh 8.5
Bradley 15 East 7.8 1.0 Brian Shouse 5.2
Iowa St. 6 Midwest 6.0 0.8 Mike Myers 8.2
Northern Kentucky 14 West 5.0 1.7 Nate Jones 6.2
UCF 9 East 2.7 0.2 Mike Maroth 4.1
Georgia St. 14 Midwest 0.2 0.2 David Buchanan 0.2
Wofford 7 Midwest -0.1 -0.1 John Cornely -0.1
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
Belmont 11 East -0.5 -0.5 Dwight Bernard -0.5
Fairleigh Dickinson 16 West -0.5 -0.5 Desi Wilson -0.5
Syracuse 8 West -0.7 -0.7 Mike Barlow -0.7
Purdue 3 South -0.9 -0.1 Kevin Plawecki 2.8
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
Villanova 6 South -3.3 -0.5 Mike Neill 0.0
Marquette 5 West
Colgate 15 South
Montana 15 West
Gardner Webb 16 South
North Carolina Central 16 East
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference’s Draft Index

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.

We hoped you liked reading Picking the Perfect Baseball-Themed March Madness Bracket by Devan Fink!

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Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.

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It’s a good thing I don’t take my bracket too seriously, because it is disturbingly close to this one (3 of the same final 4 teams!)