Baseball
Sports editor Eric Stubben and fellow mechanical engineering senior Jacob Phillips update advanced stats as Big West Conference play heads into full swing. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

With baseball season in full swing (pun intended, I know it’s bad), we can now start looking at sabermetric statistics for offensive players in the Big West Conference. To begin, let’s take a look at the top players in the conference.

I’ve never heard of anyone named Keston before, but if people named Keston typically hit a baseball this well, it’s a lock for the name of my first-born son. Hiura, the conference Player of the Week a week ago is a shining light in the mist of an otherwise mediocre start to the season for UC Irvine, last year’s Big West Conference offensive leader.

Hitting .417 through the first 25 games of the year, it’s not difficult to see why Hiura maintains such a high WAR. His 15 walks are also above the league average, immensely helping his sabermetric value. Hiura’s also jacked seven home runs this season, the most in the conference, don’t hurt either.

As an ode to Cal Poly, Brett Barbier is not far behind as the second best offensive player in the conference. Less of a power player than Hiura, Barbier has drawn an immense 18 walks and continually finds ways put the ball in play, as shown by his .402 batting average.

It’s no surprise that Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Cal State Northridge (CSUN) all have three players in the Top 15. The graph below shows them as the top three teams in the conference offensively.

There are few teams I dislike more than UCSB and CSUN (I could throw a jab at the University of Washington here, but I won’t). But seriously, what is a Gaucho? When I first got to Cal Poly, I Googled “what is a Gaucho” and four years later, it’s still not clear.

And I mostly don’t like CSUN because it always shocks me that a team in Northridge is able to recruit athletes to come play for them. Here’s what I imagine their recruiting pitch is: “We have poor air quality, a lot of concrete and mediocre academics, so you should come here.” And somehow it works.

Okay, now that I got my feelings out, I can discuss some more baseball.

Both Cal State Northridge and UCSB are here to stay when it comes to the Big West Conference standings. CSUN currently holds the 26th best pitching staff in the nation, as measured by ERA. As a team, the Matadors hold a 3.06 ERA, led by two-time Big West Conference Pitcher of the Week Kenny Rosenberg and one-time Pitcher of the Week Angel Rodriguez.

To put it plainly, UCSB also has staying power. Ranked 10th in the season’s first national RPI rankings, which are compiled by light computer algorithms, the Gauchos have the 52nd best pitching staff in the nation by ERA. Led by star pitcher Shane Bieber (no relation) with an offense to boot, the Gauchos have staying power.

Cal Poly, unfortunately, may not have staying power statistically. Though they have a strong offense that can compete with any team in the nation, as our sabermetrics show, the Mustangs’s pitching has been suspect at best this year. As a whole, the Mustangs’ staff ranks 102nd in the nation with a 4.14 ERA.

Sophomore Erich Uelman won one conference Pitcher of the Week award and has been a bright spot. Sophomore Jarred Zill is hot at times, but the Mustangs have struggled to find consistent starting pitching in the No. 3 and 4 spots this season. Relying on offense to keep a team in games is dangerous and is not something the Mustangs’ historic 2014 team had to endure with strong starting pitching and relievers like Reed Reilly and Taylor Chris.

One team is surprisingly strong and could continue to impress teams down the road is Cal State Fullerton. Despite a dismal 1.6 offensive WAR, the Titans have the 8th best team ERA in the nation at 2.46. One offensive spark could ignite the Titans through Big West Conference play.

Though these predictions are rugged and based on ERA, a somewhat shaky pitching statistic, it’s important to mention the difficulty of developing pitching sabermetrics. The first article may not have stated clearly that most advanced pitching statistics are calculated from situational stats.

The most prominent pitching statistic, “fielding-independent pitching” (FIP), only takes into account situations that defenses can’t affect. This makes it possible to grade a pitcher independent of the defensive caliber behind him. Given the stats we can pull from the NCAA, these algorithms are too complex for accurate calculating.

Overall, the power of pitching should never be underestimated, but it’s just not realistic for these sabermetrics.

With the start of Big West Conference play underway for some teams and beginning of others this weekend, we’ll begin to see separation between teams and how our sabermetric stats stack up to each team’s performance down the road.

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