The Top Players of NCAA Baseball by (Maybe) Predictive Stats

What follows does not constitute the most rigorous of statistical analyses. Rather, it’s designed to serve as a nearly responsible shorthand for people who, like the author, have considerably more enthusiasm for than actual knowledge of the collegiate game — a shorthand means, that is, towards detecting which players have produced the most excellent performances of the college season.

As in the first two editions of this same thing, what I’ve done is utilize principles recently introduced by Chris Mitchell on forecasting future major-league performance with minor-league stats.

To review those principles very briefly: for hitters in the low minors (i.e. a level similar to the better collegiate leagues), the metrics most predictive of major-league success (besides age) are strikeout rate (K%), isolated power (ISO), and batting average on balls in play (BABIP). For pitchers, the most important metrics are strikeout rate (K%) and, less important but also second-most relevant, walk rate (BB%). What I’ve done here is to combine regressed versions of those various metrics into a pair index stats: KATOH+ for hitters (where 100 is league average and above 100 is better than league average) and KATOH- (where 100 is league average and below 100 is better than league average.

Using that methodology (about which one can read more thoroughly in an earlier post), I’ve identified six types of player in three different conferences each. Here are the types of player: top overall batter, top draft-eligible batter, top defensive-type batter*, top overall pitcher, top draft-eligible pitcher, and top starting pitcher. And here are the conferences: the Atlantic Coast (ACC), the Pacific 12 (Pac-12), and the Southeastern (SEC). As for why I’ve chosen those three conferences, it’s because they featured the most teams collectively included in D1 Baseball’s top-25 preseason rankings.

*Meaning, the top batter who also plays a position towards the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum.

There are nearly one-thousand caveats to supply concerning the data here. Chief among them: these numbers don’t account at all for quality of opponent. That’s relevant because the three conferences here feature a plurality of college baseball’s best teams and yet few, if any, of them them have played a conference matchup. Which, that means (almost by definition) that most of the teams here have faced inferior competition.

Note that, as some conferences have less robust data than others, that I’ve had to provide (sensible) plate-appearance and batters-faced estimates in some cases. Note that xK%, xISO, and xBABIP denote expected strikeout rate, isolated power, and batting average on balls in play, respectively.

ACC
Top Batter
Will Craig, 1B/DH, Wake Forest (So)

Top Draft-Eligible Batter
Brendon Hayden, 1B/DH, Virginia Tech (Sr)

Top Defensive-Type Batter
Cavan Biggio, 2B, Notre Dame (So)

Top Pitcher
Drew Harrington, LHP, Louisville (So)

Top Draft-Eligible Pitcher
Benton Moss, RHP, N. Carolina (Sr)

Top Starter
Benton Moss, RHP, N. Carolina (Sr)

Top-Five Batters

# Name School Yr Pos PA K% ISO BABIP xK% xISO xBABIP KATOH+
1 Will Craig Wake Forest So 1B/DH 77 9.1% .393 .490 13.2% .214 .352 141
2 Matt Thaiss Virgnia So C/DH 59 6.8% .360 .293 12.7% .192 .340 129
3 Kel Johnson Georgia Tech Fr RF 75 25.3% .409 .439 22.3% .217 .349 128
4 Brendon Hayden Virginia Tech Sr 1B/DH 74 13.5% .355 .277 15.7% .200 .338 127
5 Cavan Biggio Notre Dame So 2B 67 14.9% .333 .500 16.6% .190 .352 127

Top-Five Pitchers

# Name School Yr Pos IP TBF K% BB% xK% xBB% KATOH-
1 Drew Harrington Louisville So LHP 15.2 56 42.9% 1.8% 31.1% 6.9% 71
2 Benton Moss N. Carolina Sr RHP 15.2 65 40.0% 4.6% 30.5% 7.5% 74
3 Tommy DeJuneas NC State Fr RHP 8.0 27 51.9% 3.7% 30.0% 8.0% 76
4 Matt Pidich Pittsburgh So RHP 12.2 46 41.3% 4.3% 29.4% 7.7% 77
5 Jesse Adams Boston College Jr LHP 15.2 67 38.8% 7.5% 30.0% 8.3% 77

Notes
Wake Forest’s Will Craig is a 6-foot-3, 230 pound sophomore who led the team in home runs last year, as a freshman. He became Wake’s starting third baseman last year but appears to have settled into a first base/DH role. He also pitches for the Deacons. North Carolina senior right-hander Benton Moss appeared fourth among all pitchers in the most recent edition of this same exercise. Since then he’s made one start, producing a 10:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 7.0 innings against Rhode Island (box). Moss recently sat at 92-94 mph, according to Don Miller of College Baseball Central, topping out at 96 mph.

***

Pac-12
Top Batter
KJ Harrison, C/1B, Oregon St. (Fr)

Top Draft-Eligible Batter
Gabe Clark, DH/1B, Oregon St. (Jr)

Top Defensive-Type Batter
Jeff Hendrix, CF, Oregon St. (Jr)

Top Pitcher
Ryan Burr, RHP, Arizona St. (Jr)

Top Draft-Eligible Pitcher
Ryan Burr, RHP, Arizona St. (Jr)

Top Starter
Griffin Canning, RHP, UCLA (Fr)

Top-Five Batters

# Name School Yr Pos PA K% ISO BABIP xK% xISO xBABIP KATOH+
1 KJ Harrison Oregon St. Fr C/1B 83 13.3% .456 .462 14.3% .234 .342 146
2 Gabe Clark Oregon St. Jr DH/1B 56 12.5% .488 .281 14.2% .216 .330 135
3 Chris Keck UCLA Sr 3B/1B 69 14.5% .436 .293 15.1% .216 .330 134
4 RJ Ybarra Arizona St. Jr DH/1B 46 6.5% .342 .382 11.8% .174 .335 124
5 Jeff Hendrix Oregon St. Jr CF 85 11.8% .275 .400 13.5% .177 .337 124

Top-Five Pitchers

# Name School Yr Pos IP TBF K% BB% xK% xBB% KATOH-
1 Ryan Burr Arizona St. Jr RHP 10.0 43 48.8% 9.3% 32.0% 8.2% 74
2 Griffin Canning UCLA Fr RHP 25.2 99 32.3% 4.0% 27.9% 6.5% 80
3 Bernardo Flores USC So LHP 13.1 56 35.7% 3.6% 27.9% 6.8% 81
4 Darin Gillies Arizona St. Sr RHP 18.2 76 32.9% 5.3% 27.5% 7.1% 82
5 James Kaprielian UCLA Jr RHP 24.1 98 29.6% 3.1% 26.3% 6.1% 83

Notes
Oregon State have recorded a 14-3 record in non-conference play so far this season, averaging over eight runs per game. Unsurprisingly, the batter leaderboard is populated by Beavers. Freshman KJ Harrison appeared in the most recent edition of this same exercise, while juniors Gabe Clark and Jeff Hendrix make their debuts. Of particular interest is Hendrix, who also occupies a place on the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum. UCLA freshman Griffin Canning leads all Pac-12 starting pitchers by the methodology used here. He’s produced strikeout and walk rates of 32.3% and 4.0%, respectively, sitting at about 89-91 mph according to Baseball America’s Vince Lara-Cinisomo.

***

SEC
Top Batter
Harrison Bader, LF, Florida (Jr)

Top Draft-Eligible Batter
Harrison Bader, LF, Florida (Jr)

Top Defensive-Type Batter
Mikey White, SS, Alabama (Jr)

Top Pitcher
Brady Bramlett, RHP, Ole Miss (So)

Top Draft-Eligible Pitcher
Scott Weathersby, RHP, Ole Miss (Sr)

Top Starter
Brady Bramlett, RHP, Ole Miss (So)

Top-Five Batters

# Name School Yr Pos PA K% ISO BABIP xK% xISO xBABIP KATOH+
1 Harrison Bader Florida Jr LF 65 15.4% .469 .455 17.3% .226 .346 139
2 Zack Bowers Georgia Jr C/1B 66 21.2% .521 .379 20.3% .241 .341 139
3 Mikey White Alabama Jr SS 64 12.5% .352 .404 15.8% .193 .343 127
4 Kade Scivicque LSU Sr C 42 2.4% .361 .353 12.3% .179 .340 126
5 Logan Taylor Texas A&M Jr LF 59 16.9% .373 .333 18.1% .195 .339 123

Top-Five Pitchers

# Name School Yr Pos IP TBF K% BB% xK% xBB% KATOH-
1 Brady Bramlett Ole Miss So RHP 22.0 82 41.5% 3.7% 33.5% 7.4% 71
2 Daniel Brown Miss. St. So LHP 13.0 47 42.6% 6.4% 31.5% 8.6% 79
3 Taylor Widener South Carolina So RHP 7.2 29 51.7% 13.8% 32.2% 9.9% 80
4 Alden Cartwright LSU So RHP 6.0 22 50.0% 0.0% 30.3% 8.2% 81
5 Scott Weathersby Ole Miss Sr RHP 10.1 37 43.2% 8.1% 30.8% 9.0% 82

Notes
Florida junior outfielder Harrison Bader has now appeared in all three editions of this exercise. Kiley McDaniel and I recently spoke at some length about his future. In a conference that features Alex Bregman (LSU) and Dansby Swanson (Vanderbilt), Alabama’s Mikey White has produced the top offensive line among draft-eligible shortstops in the SEC. Four underclassmen occupy the top-four spots among SEC pitching leaders. The best of them so far has been Ole Miss right-hander Brady Bramlett. Reports on his repertoire suggest that he relies predominantly on a heavy fastball.

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Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Tshurtz
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Tshurtz

For the Pac-12 pitchers, you have Darin Gillies’ school listed at USC, it’s ASU.