Softball Notebook

The Softball Channel’s Fastpitch Blog

22  05 2009

Contenders & Pretenders

NCAA Super Regional Preview

By SpartanIlliniCub
TSC Contributor

Every year another pitcher becomes a legend. NCAA softball championships are won on the pitcher’s mound, and each year one upper-classmen pitcher peaks at the right time, becomes un-hittable, pitches every single inning of the playoffs, and takes her team to the title. Upper-classmen pitchers like UCLA’s Keira Goerl in 2004, Michigan’s Jennie Ritter in 2005, Arizona’s Alicia Hollowell in 2006, Taryne Mowatt in 2007, and Arizona State’s Katie Burkhart in 2008 have all fit this mold. It’s possible thPittman put up a respectable 1.09 ERA and a .55 strike out per inning average during the Regional, but these numbers are not good enough to place her among the top pitchers who are peaking at the moment.  Jacksonville has a chance to beat Alabama—another WCWS Pretender—but it does not have much of a chance beyond that.
is is all chance, but it’s also possible the game of softball has an underlying rationality to it, and that patterns emerge when we look at champions over a long period of time. If we can accept the formula of the past 5 WCWS champions is correct, then we can use that formula to predict the championship potential of this year’s pool of WCWS teams.

Here is the formula: to win the WCWS championship, a team must have an upper-classmen pitcher who peaks during the playoffs, pitches every inning for her team, out-pitches all other competition, and leads her team to the championship. Each champion needs the “WCWS Ace Pitcher.”

To test which teams have a pitcher primed to make a Burkhart/Mowatt/Hollowell-like run during this year’s WCWS, we will look at each Super Regional team’s pitching performances during the Regional to determine which pitchers are heating up and ready to go on a tear. Teams with pitchers putting up exceptional statistics during the Regionals will have an edge over teams with pitchers not putting up good numbers, because a pitcher who is peaking has an edge over a superior pitcher who is not.

For this test, we will use a specific benchmark. Pitchers with an ERA below 1.00 or pitchers averaging more than 1 strike-out per inning are deemed to be peaking, and therefore have the capability to win the WCWS. 1.00 ERA and 1+ strike-out per inning were chosen because those numbers are roughly in the middle of the numbers put up by all winning pitchers during Regionals. Plus, a team with a pitcher achieving a sub-1.00 ERA has only to score one run, on average, to win the game; and a pitcher averaging more than one strike-out per inning is keeping runners off of the bases and giving her team a better chance to win the game.

Teams with pitchers fitting the above “1.00 ERA or 1+ Strike-out per Inning Test” are labeled as “Contenders.” Teams without a pitcher putting up sufficient numbers, or teams with underclassman only, are labeled mere “Pretenders.” Additionally, teams with an underclassman as their ace pitcher are excluded, even if they pass the above test, because no WCWS champion during the past 5 years has had an underclassman as their ace pitcher.

Florida vs. California - Projected Winner: Florida
Florida: Contender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Stacey Nelson - Senior
Florida dominated its opponents during the regional, and Stacey Nelson shined just as she has all season.  In fact, Nelson had one of the lowest ERAs at 0.50, and one of the highest strike out per inning average at 1.5.  Nelson may fit the “WCWS Ace” formula better than any other pitcher, and she is putting up these exceptional numbers at exactly the right time.  Nelson’s stellar play during the Regional is proof she is peaking, and makes Florida the odds-on favorite to take home the WCWS trophy.

California: Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Marissa Drewery – Junior
Marissa Drewery posted a 1.00 ERA and a 0.76 strike out per inning average in the Regionals.  Unfortunately for California, her stats place her just outside of the top pitchers on the other Super Regional qualifying teams: her ERA is at, but not below, the 1.00 benchmark; and her strike out per inning average is way below the 1.0 threshold.  Drewery is good, but she is not performing well enough at the right time to make her team a contender.  Plus, California will have to play Florida, one of the best teams in the field, so California’s chances for success are slim.

Arizona vs. Stanford – Projected Winner: Stanford
Arizona: Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Sarah Akamine – Junior
Akamine is an upper-classmen on a Pac-10 powerhouse, but her numbers during the Regional show no signs she is peaking at the right time.  Akamine had a very high 1.75 ERA and is averaging only 0.94 strike outs per inning.  Arizona needs its ace to put up elite numbers right now, but Akamine’s numbers are not good enough to make her team a legitimate contender for the title.  On top of that, Arizona faces an unfavorable match-up in the Super Regional against red-hot Stanford.  This all but destroys Arizona’s chances for a 9th national title.

Stanford: Contender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Missy Penna – Senior
Penna is a pitcher whose performance at the Regional puts her on a bona fide hot streak.  Penna posted a fairly high 1.65 ERA, but dominated batters with a solid 1.24 strike out per inning average.  By proving she can control the strike zone and fool batters this late in the season, Penna has demonstrated she has the capability to continue her streak into the WCWS, performing at a high enough level to win the title for Stanford.

Michigan vs. Baylor – Projected Winner: Michigan
Michigan: Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Jordan Taylor – Sophomore
Jordan Taylor was great all season for the Wolverines and performed exceptionally well during the Regionals.  Taylor posted a stellar .66 ERA and a 1.96 strike out per inning average.  Taylor meets the championship formula except for one critical element: she is an underclassman.  Recent history has shown that underclassmen do not have what it takes to handle the high-pressure final games leading to the title.  However, Michigan has a favorable match-up in the Super Regional against Baylor, and it’s highly likely Taylor will be able to lead her team to a victory over Baylor.

Baylor: Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Whitney Canion – Freshman
Baylor and its ace pitcher Whitney Canion are classic WCWS pretenders.  Canion was solid during the Regionals, posting a 2.0 ERA and a 1.0 strike out per inning average.  Unfortunately, these numbers fail to place her among the other elite pitchers, and she is a freshman.  Freshmen have not proven themselves able to maintain their level of play throughout the high-pressure final games of the WCWS in recent years.  Canion’s numbers at the Regional do not suggest she is at a point in her game where she could break this tradition.

Jacksonville State vs. Alabama – Projected Winner: Alabama
Jacksonville State: Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Karla Pittman – Senior
Pittman put up a respectable 1.09 ERA and a .55 strike out per inning average during the Regional, but these numbers are not good enough to place her among the top pitchers who are peaking at the moment.  Jacksonville has a chance to beat Alabama—another WCWS Pretender—but it does not have much of a chance beyond that.

Alabama: Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful(s): Charlotte Morgan – Junior, Kelsi Dunne – Sophomore
Alabama may have too much talent for its own good.  History has shown championship teams rely on ONE pitcher to get hot and win the big show, but Alabama has an “ace-by-committee” system, splitting innings between Morgan and Dunne.  Combined, Morgan and Dunne have the talent to qualify as the type of pitcher Alabama would need to win the title.  They put up a combined .46 ERA and a .66 strike out per inning average during the Regional—but Alabama cannot pick which pitcher it wants to lead the team!  Because Alabama’s pitching situation breaks from the traditional formula of how to win a WCWS, the odds are against them to win the title.  As such, they cannot be considered a serious contender.

Washington vs. Georgia Tech – Projected Winner: Washington
Washington: Contender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Danielle Lawrie – Senior
Lawrie fits the mold of a WCWS championship pitcher, and she is peaking at the perfect time.  Although Lawrie put up one of the highest ERAs of all pitchers during the Regional (2.04), she also had the highest strike out per inning average (2.33).  Lawrie had one rough game against Massachusetts where she allowed 5 earned runs, but aside from that game she only allowed 2 runs and amassed an astounding 56 strike outs—35 more than the next closest pitcher.  Lawrie’s ability to control the strike zone this late in the season shows she has the ability to help Washington take home the title—she just needs to watch out for breakdown-games like she had against Massachusetts.

Georgia Tech: Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Kristen Adkis – Sophomore
Georgia Tech’s sophomore ace performed admirably during Regionals.  She put up a .66 ERA and had a .66 strike out per inning average.  Her ERA numbers prove she is peaking at the right time and is an exceptional pitcher.  However, Adkins is an underclassman, which vastly reduces the chance she can lead her team to the finals.  Plus, her team must face Washington in the Super Regional.  These two obstacles prevent Georgia Tech from being anything but a “Pretender” at the 2009 WCWS.

Ohio State vs. Georgia – Projected Winner: Ohio State
Ohio State: Contender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Kim Reeder – Senior
After 17 innings pitched at the WCWS Regional, Ohio State ace pitcher Kim Reeder allowed zero earned runs and averaged .94 strike outs per inning.  Her strike out average is close to being elite, and her 0.00 ERA is amazing.   Posting these numbers this late in the season proves beyond doubt that Reeder is on a hot streak and has what it takes to carry her team deep into the WCWS.

Georgia – Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful(s): Christine Hamilton – Senior; Sarah McCloud - Sophomore
With the formula we are currently using, Georgia is one of the weakest teams in the Super Regional pool.  Georgia is another “ace-by-committee” team, splitting its innings between two pitchers.  By not naming a clear ace pitcher, Georgia is breaking from the winning formula used by prior championship teams like Arizona State and Arizona.  Additionally, Hamilton and McCloud’s combined numbers are not good enough to place them among the currently elite pitchers.  During the Regional, they earned a combined 1.0 ERA and a .62 strike out per inning average.  These underwhelming numbers show that these pitchers are either not peaking at the right time, or do not have the talent to compete with the other elite pitchers in the WCWS.  Either way, Georgia is toast.

North Dakota State vs. Arizona State – Projected Winner: North Dakota State
Upset Alert!
North Dakota State – Contender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Andi Padilla – Senior
I know it sounds crazy, but the numbers indicate North Dakota State’s senior pitcher Andi Padilla is peaking at the right time, and Arizona State’s freshman pitcher Hillary Bach is not.  This match-up is primed for an upset.  Padilla put up a compelling .84 ERA during the Regional against stiff competition like Oklahoma.  Padilla’s ability to spread hits around and prevent baserunners from crossing the plate at this point in the season means she is peaking at just the right time.  As long as she doesn’t suffer from the “deer in the headlights” syndrome when playing defending champion Arizona State in the Super Regional, Padilla can lead her team to victory.

Arizona State – Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Hillary Bach – Freshman
According to the numbers, the pressure appears to be getting to Bach.  Arizona State advanced to the Super Regional, but her numbers during the Regional were not very impressive. Bach had one of the highest ERAs of all pitchers at 1.50, and one of the lowest strike out per inning averages at 0.45.  Her numbers are good, but not good enough to place her among the elite pitchers having a chance to break out of the Super Regional and go deep into the WCWS.

Missouri vs. UCLA – Projected Winner: UCLA
Missouri – Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Chelsea Thomas – Freshman
Missouri’s freshman ace did not put up good enough numbers during the Regional to place herself among the elite pitchers capable of leading their team to the title.  Thomas posted a 1.0 ERA and a 0.79 strike out per inning average.  These underwhelming numbers are not good enough at this point of the season compared to other pitchers.  Plus, as a freshman, the odds are against Thomas and Missouri to advance very far in the WCWS.

UCLA – Pretender
“WCWS Ace” Hopeful: Megan Langenfeld - Junior
UCLA has been performing well lately; they even won the Pac-10 title.  But regular season performance means nothing in the playoffs!  It’s possible UCLA did not play its “A” game during Regionals, but Langenfeld’s recent performances did not keep pace with her pitching rivals.  Langenfeld posted a fairly high 1.50 ERA, and a relatively unimpressive 0.85 strike out per inning average.  Langenfeld is not peaking at the right time, and unless she gets her act together, UCLA will lose to teams with pitchers who are performing better.  Luckily for UCLA, they will reap the benefits of an easy road to the final four as they face Missouri and either Arizona State or North Dakota State (who is an underdog to UCLA no matter how well Padilla pitches for them!).  But as it stands now, UCLA’s Megan Langenfeld does not have what it takes to lead the Bruins to the 2009 title.

So there you have it! By using the formula to predict the outcomes of the entire WCWS, the brackets go like this:
WCWS Final 8: Florida vs. Stanford, Michigan vs. Alabama, Washington vs. Ohio State, North Dakota State vs. UCLA
WCWS Final 4: Florida vs. Michigan, Washington vs. UCLA
WCWS Final 2: Florida vs. Washington
WCWS Champion: Florida

One Response to “Contenders & Pretenders”

  1. Well the results are in! The advancing teams are:

    1. Florida
    2. Arizona
    3. Michigan
    4. Alabama
    5. Washington
    6. Georgia
    7. Arizona State
    8. Missouri

    Which makes my prediction success rate a mediocre 50%. My picks that have advanced are Florida, Michigan, Alabama, and Washington. I labeled Florida, Michigan, and Washington contenders. The only teams I labeled “contenders” that were eliminated were Ohio State and North Dakota State.

    My formula was not designed to pick winners. It was designed to identify pitchers currently giving peak performances; with the implication that pitchers who are on a hot streak are capable of carrying their teams to the championship. For example, it may have been a bit naive to think North Dakota State could overcome a Pac-10 powerhouse like Arizona State, but North Dakota State’s pitcher Andi Padilla pitched well enough during the Regional to beat Arizona State—she just didn’t get the job done.

    Similarly, Ohio State’s Kim Reeder was pitching well enough to take her team all the way; she just didn’t get the job done.

    One of my surprise predictions DID come true in a way—labeling UCLA a “pretender.” I said both UCLA and Missouri were pretenders, but UCLA would win because Missouri would be a “deer staring at headlights” and would throw the game away. UCLA really was a pretender! But the Bruins were eliminated a lot faster than I thought.

    My final match-up picks of Florida and Washington are also looking really good. Both of these teams’ ace pitchers were dominant during their respective match-ups. Both only allowed one earned run over two games. Lawrie struck out 18 and Nelson struck out 12.

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