Let's play with numbers. This won't be like the last time we went through this with the RPI. That, while important and worth knowing, was tedious and frustrating. This is a look at the numbers that draw many of us to the game of baseball. Unlike any other sport, baseball can be broken down by numbers to take a look at just about everything.
We don't have the advanced statistics of Major League Baseball yet for college baseball so we won't got over Blair Dunlap's VORP or Matt Grace's DIPS, but we can take a look at how UCLA's team statistics match up against the nation and the Pac-10 heading into a big week of baseball action at Jackie Robinson Stadium with UC Irvine visiting on Tuesday night followed by this weekend's huge Pac-10 series versus Arizona St.
First, let's take a look at some of UCLA's records in various situations and types of games this season as opposed to what they did a year ago. In one run games, the Bruins are 5-1, a year after going 2-14 in such ballgames. UCLA is also 3-0 in extra inning games as opposed to 0-5 last year. This season, the team is 4-1 when tied after six innings after going 0-4 a year ago and they are 27-0 when they out-hit their opponents, compared to 23-9 last year. UCLA was strong last season when leading after five innings, going 21-6, but it doesn't touch this year's 26-0 record in such ballgames.
Now, how about a look at UCLA's various team statistics and how they rank nationally out of 301 teams. The Bruins' national rank is in parentheses.
- ERA- 2.44 (2nd)
- Strikeouts Per Nine Innings- 11.2 (1st)
- Hits Allowed Per Nine Innings- 6.5 (1st)
- Walks Allowed Per Nine Innings- 3.23 (49th)
- Runs Per Game- 7.4 (102nd)
- Batting Average- .322 (54th)
- Slugging Percentage- .478 (86th)
- Doubles Per Game- 2.38 (51st)
- Home Runs Per Game- 0.91 (124th)
- Sacrifice Bunts- 23 (82nd)
- Stolen Bases Per Game- 1.38 (109th)
- Fielding Percentage- .973 (31st)
So what do we make of these numbers? Let's start with the pitching numbers. Obviously, they're damn impressive. It's been said since before the season that it's a battle between UCLA and Texas (who has a 2.41 ERA) for the nation's top pitching staff. The Longhorns have been on fire of late and it looks as if their staff is better than the Bruins', but the gap between the Bruins' and Longhorns' pitching is closer than the gap between the Bruins' and whoever is next. One thing that the Longhorns have a big edge in is their defense, which is ranked fourth nationally in fielding percentage. The Longhorns have exceptional range defensively, allowing them to get to balls and make outs that the Bruins' may not get to and make outs of them to keep that ERA down.
The numbers also tell us that UCLA has far and away the most dominant pitching staff in terms of strikeouts. At 11.2 strikeouts per game, the Bruins are a full 1.2 strikeouts clear of the nation's number two team, Texas A&M. After that, 30 other teams are within 1.2 strikeouts per nine innings of the Aggies. Hits allowed per nine innings is similar, with .48 hits per nine innings separating the Bruins and second place South Carolina.
What can we make of the UCLA offense? How about that it's better than average, but far from exceptional. One thing of concern is a runs per game rank decently well below the rest of the Bruins' offensive numbers, save home runs. This isn't a surprise to those who have watched UCLA play or followed along because especially of late, runners left on base have been a killer to the offense. It is also worth noting that despite getting off to a hot start from a power perspective, the UCLA offense has struggled to hit home runs of late, which was to be expected. Coming into the season it was well-known that power would be at a premium and even at a decreased power rate recently, the Bruins are hitting for more power than many expected before the season.
One thing that we must keep in mind is that the Pac-10 is the home to exceptional pitching this season. Aside from UCLA, who is second in the nation in pitching, past Bruin conference opponents include Oregon, who is third in ERA, Oregon St., who is 13th in ERA and Arizona, who is 27th in ERA. Add in Cal St. Fullerton (17th), Oklahoma (20th), Long Beach St. (42nd) and Vanderbilt (5th), who the Bruins have all played and it can account for lower offensive numbers. Things will also get tougher in the future with Arizona St. (4th), UC Irvine (15th) and Cal (33rd) all on the slate, as well as another contest with Fullerton.
When the Bruins got off to a 22-0 start, it did not go unnoticed. UCLA is one of the better teams in the country and are so with a slightly above average offense, but to go 22-0, you need to be better than slightly above average offensively. The UCLA offense has since cooled off, as expected, and have faced some tough offenses as well in the Pac-10 so how do the Bruins' statistics in conference games compare to the rest of the Pac-10? Conference rank is in parentheses.
- ERA- 2.90 (1st)
- Strikeouts Per Nine Innings- 9.3 (1st)
- Opponent's Batting Average- .249 (1st)
- Home Runs Allowed- 6 (T1st)
- Runs Per Game- 4.83 (8th)
- Batting Average- .252 (9th)
- Slugging Percentage- .362 (8th)
- On-base Percentage- .364 (5th)
- Home Runs Per Game- 0.67 (T2nd)
- Stolen Bases Per Game- 0.92 (4th)
- Fielding Percentage- .975 (3rd)
The pitching is not as impressive as it was in non-conference, but it's still darn impressive. When you take into account that the conference accounts for three of the nation's five best pitching staffs, to lead the conference in four of the most important categories is noteworthy. Despite the fact that Friday night starter Gerrit Cole has yet to win a game in conference and until this past Saturday, the Bruins' number two pitcher, Trevor Bauer, hadn't, the pitching staff has thrown very well. What's worth making note of as well is not just the excellent pitching of the two co-aces, but the phenomenal job that Rob Rasmussen has done on Sundays and the lock-down bullpen that has pitched 39.2 innings in conference games.
The hitting must be a concern when you look at the numbers, though. Even when the excellent pitching that the Bruins have faced is taken into account, the bats have not done everything necessary to be a national championship team. Luckily for the Bruins, it is late April and there's still over a month before the postseason so the offensive doesn't need to be clicking quite yet and their non-conference performance proves that they can catch fire. UCLA hitting coach Rick Vanderhook said a few weeks ago that he expected an offensive slump from the Bruins in the future and it happened. The question now is can they rebound?
Overall, the numbers indicate a very good UCLA team. They are not yet great, but they are very good. Few would call the Bruins the national title favorite at the moment, but few would be surprised if they were playing in the College World Series. When you look at the Bruin pitching staff, you see one that can dominate and dominate they have. When you look at the Bruin offense, you see one that needs to capitalize on chances. UCLA will not have a great hitting team, but they don't need one. What they need to do is drive the runners in that they have the chance to. They need to be an opportunistic offense because the 10 runners left on-base per game that they're averaging in conference is far too many for a team struggling to score.
The postseason often becomes a game of who can pitch better and who has more pitchers than the rest, something UCLA will thrive in. Even so, the Bruins' offense needs to improve if they are to make it to Omaha. They've proven they can do it again and this weekend they will get the chance to prove it against one of the nation's best in Arizona St.