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What Is Wrong With the Diamond Dogs?

I used to think I was a numbers guy. Back in the days when fellow attorneys were telling me I was "a real stat guy" and fellow bloggers were telling everyone that "Kyle hits numbers so well he's made it almost useless for anyone else to address them," I was able to convince myself that this was so.

However, reading the analyses provided by genuine stat wonks like Sunday Morning Quarterback (who credited me with diligence, but who has absolutely lapped us mere mortals when it comes to numbers) and MGoBlog's Brian (whose latest reflections upon scholarships seemed measured to me and less so to Senator Blutarsky, but whose work on third down conversions was both more sensible and more valuable than whatever it was that got Paul Samuelson a Nobel Prize in economics) makes me realize just how poor a numbers man I really am.

I'm more of a Milton Friedman guy, myself.

Take, for instance, Jeff Sackmann, who, in addition to bearing at least a portion of the responsibility for Brew Crew Ball and Beyond the Boxscore, now provides N.C.A.A. college baseball splits for those who are interested.

The need for this is obvious, as attested to by Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein, who writes: "Until college statistics get more advanced, with not just much-needed standard splits, but also a separation based on competition, I'll stick to the 20-80 scouting scores for making my judgments."

Enter Jeff and his coevals to make the following declaration:

While the vast majority of those thousands of [college baseball] players will never make an impact in pro ball, we think college splits are an even more interesting field for study than their minor league counterparts. College baseball has many characteristics we don't normally associate with even the lowest levels of the minors:
  • lopsided, exhibition-like games (think Yankees vs. Royals...Burlington Royals)
  • crazily different parks, with run factors below 80 and above 150
  • short, unbalanced schedules
  • very different ability levels even on single teams
Much of sabermetrics is about adjusting for all the stuff that old-fashioned stats don't take into account. Given the degree to which major- and minor-league stats can be profitably tweaked based on context, it stands to reason that the same work ought to be done with even greater fervor for college numbers. So let's get at it.

Yes, by all means, let's! While David Ching and MaconDawg are meeting Bulldog Nation's need for information on the first day of spring practice, I would like to take a brief look at the Diamond Dogs, who, being 11 games into a 56-game schedule, have approximately one-fifth of their 2007 season behind them.

Any use of the phrase "56-game" in connection with baseball must be accompanied by a picture of Joe DiMaggio at the plate.

Let me reiterate at this juncture that, while a Dawg Sports reader was kind enough to call me "the George Will of Georgia baseball," I, like Dr. Will, tend to look at the game more qualitatively than quantitatively, but, as there is no sport more steeped in statistical minutiae than baseball, any effort to divorce the national pastime from mathematics would prove as fruitless and ruinous as an attempt to take the numbers out of N.A.S.A.

My casual observation, based upon crude mathematics, is that a major part of the problem with this year's Georgia baseball team has been the inability to score consistently over the course of a contest. In a season-opening three-game set with Oregon State, the Red and Black did not score in the first four innings of the first game, scored in only one of the first six innings in the second game, and did not score in the final five innings of the third game.

The Diamond Dogs were shut out in their second game against Purdue and they did not score in the first five innings either of their third game against Purdue or of their subsequent game against Winthrop. Georgia's first game against U.S.C. was just the second game all season long in which the Classic City Canines put runs on the board in the first inning, but the Red and Black failed to score in the final eight innings of each of their first two showdowns with the Trojans.

Georgia has not scored in more than one of the first three innings of any individual game this season and the Diamond Dogs have been shut out in each of the first three innings in six of their 11 outings. In 10 out of 11 second innings, the Classic City Canines have been held scoreless; the same holds true for 10 of 11 third innings. After scoring in the fourth inning in four of the season's first five games, the Red and Black have scored in the fourth inning in just one of their last six contests. Georgia has scored in the fifth inning only once in its last seven tries.

The foregoing photograph has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject under discussion, but I received a reader request.

In four of their best offensive performances, the Red and Black scored eight runs in the last five innings of their first game against the Beavers after scoring none in the first four, scored six runs in the first five innings of their game against the Bears before being held scoreless in the last four frames, scored eight runs in the last five innings of their opening matchup with the Boilermakers after being limited to just one run in the first three innings, and scored six runs in the last six regularly-scheduled stanzas of their third game against Southern California after being shut out in the first three frames. The final scores of those four games were 10-8, 6-5, 9-0, and 7-6, so such recurrent droughts can make a real difference.

Offensive inconsistency is robbing the Bulldogs of victory in tight games, of which they have played a lot. Add to that the fact that Georgia's starting pitchers have lasted longer than five innings only once and have been given the hook after four or fewer innings seven times (leading to the decision to give closer Joshua Fields his first career start on Wednesday), and it is not difficult to see what the problem is.

Unfortunately, since Jeff's college splits site has only just gotten up and running, not all of the numbers are complete, which is forgivable, inasmuch as the site only aspires to provide detailed breakdowns of more than 9,400 active intercollegiate players from over 270 teams. However, a quick glance at the difference between this and this offers some hint of the utility of the tool Jeff and his colleagues are endeavoring to provide.

Keep an eye on what Jeff is up to over at College Splits; when he, and we, get up to speed, it will prove illuminating. With any luck, by that point, it will help us to understand why Georgia is winning baseball games instead of losing them.

Go 'Dawgs!