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

Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering senior and the Mustang News sports editor. Jacob Phillips is a mechanical engineering senior. Together, they applied sabermetric analysis to Big West Conference baseball.

When Billy Beane goes to bed on Christmas Eve, I don’t imagine he thinks about some fat man with a sack crawling down the chimney that night. I doubt he thinks about waking up the next morning in some new fuzzy pajamas waiting to pitter-patter downstairs to see what the fat man with a sack snuck under the slowly dying branches of his hallowed fir.

On Christmas Eve, I believe Billy Beane dreams about Brett Barbier.

Okay, maybe I made that up, but it’s realistic. Barbier, Cal Poly’s junior first baseman, is on a tear through the Big West Conference and has risen to second place in our latest conference sabermetric rankings.

In the last two weeks, Barbier has closed the gap on UC Irvine’s Keston Hiura, the top offensive player in the conference. Barbier now trails Hiura by just .01 WAR.

It’s not difficult to look deeper into what makes Barbier a sabermetric dream. This season, Barbier has been hit by 11 pitches, which is exactly 1/3 of Cal Poly’s total HBPs. He’s also walked 22 times this season, good for 14.8 percent of his plate appearances. For comparison, the sabermetric website Fangraphs defines a “great” walk rate as 12.5 percent or higher.

Going along with his high walk rate, Barbier also has a low strikeout rate of 14.8 percent. Fangraphs defines an “above average” strikeout rate as 16 percent or lower.

One of the sabermetric stats defined in the first article of this series was “weighted on base average,” or wOBA. Top tier baseball players generally have a wOBA of .400, while the best of the best may be a bit higher. Last season in the MLB, the player with the highest wOBA (and a minimum of 100 plate appearances) was Bryce Harper, who held a wOBA of .461.

This season, Barbier’s wOBA is .462.

Now, you may be starting to question whether or not Barbier is actually human. Maybe you are expecting a ghost of him to walk out through a corn field into left field during a game this weekend, a la Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams. That’s entirely possible.

But I digress.

Shifting our focus to the team side of sabermetric analysis, it’s easy to be unsure about the remainder of Cal Poly’s season offensively.

Though the Mustangs got off to an unexpectedly hot start for a team that’s comprised of mostly freshmen and sophomores, their production is slowly starting to taper off. Offensively, the Mustangs dropped to fourth in the conference last week and it’s easy to worry that the stress and strain of a ruthless college baseball schedule could be affecting the Cal Poly underclassmen.

However, there is light to be shed on the issue. The Mustangs were fairly consistent throughout the course of the season until production slowed the last two weeks, when they faced Cal State Fullerton, one of the best pitching teams in the nation, and Hawaii, the conference leaders at the time. The Mustangs’ seven-run outburst against Fresno State on Tuesday night does give a glimpse of hope for consistency the rest of the season.

Looking ahead to this weekend’s home matchup against UC Santa Barbara, the Mustangs have a chance to prove they’re the real deal. The Gauchos are ranked No. 14 in the country in the latest NCBWA poll and No. 7 in RPI nationally. UC Santa Barbara’s lineup features three of the conference’s 15 best hitters and the Gauchos’ rotation is spearheaded by heralded MLB prospect Shane Bieber.

According to our sabermetric stats, the Gauchos have been not only the best, but also the most consistent team in the conference this season. Starting pitchers Kyle Smith, Erich Uelmen and Jarred Zill will have to continue to maintain their hot hands if they want to corral the Gauchos this weekend.

If the Mustangs take two of three games of the series from the Gauchos, they’ll have the opportunity to control their own destiny in conference play and should crack next week’s NCBWA rankings.

Further, if the Mustangs are able to pull off a sweep and rain on Bieber and company’s parade, they could really wreak havoc in the Big West Conference. Never say never.

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