Bias and "Arm Abuse" in NCAA Baseball

This post has two subjects: bias in the NCAA selection process and the “abusing” of pitchers by NCAA baseball coaches. Skip brought up the notion of bias in selecting teams and seeds in the NCAA D1 baseball tournament.

Notre Dame’s baseball team has put together a fine season, compiling a record of 45-15-1, and winning the Big East’s regular season and tournament championships. But having been seeded third, behind Kentucky (45-12) and the College of Charleston (43-15) in the Lexington regional, the Irish have dialed up the bias-o-meter.

There was some question on whether the Missouri Tigers should have gotten into the tournament at all. They were a top-10 pick in some polls coming into the season, but they didn’t live up to their billing, finishing the regular season at 31-25 and in 7th place in the Big XII. But like the folks that select the 65 teams for the basketball tournament, the folks that pick the baseball teams take more than record (31-25) into consideration. Missouri’s star pitcher, Max Scherzer, slammed his hand in a car door immediately before the season began and later developed tendinitis. The tendinitis seemed to affect the whole team, and they went through a mid-season slump.

But they finished the season on a strong note, sweeping Texas on the final weekend of the regular season and then beat Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the Big XII tournament. They lost to eventual Big XII Tourney champion Kansas, a loss that some thought knocked them out off the bubble.

But noting the injuries, the conference in which they play, and the strong finish they had, the Tigers were allowed in, one of the last teams to make the tournament. This wasn’t about cash flow and attendance at the regionals. This wasn’t a 6-6 Nebraska football team being selected for a bowl game because of the reputation Husker fans have for travelling everywhere to see their Tigers play. The Mizzou baseball club has a loyal but smallish following. If there is any bias it’s conference statistical bias – playing in the Big XII helped push Mizzou on the right side of the margin.

Now they play Pepperdine in an elimination game for both teams today and Mizzou coach Tim Jamieson has a tough decision to make: should he pitch staff ace Max Scherzer today on two days rest? We often hear about college coaches “abusing” their pitchers’ arms, and there aren’t many arms out there more valuable than Scherzer’s:

There is nothing more that Max Scherzer can do. Just hurry up and wait, really, for what is the most important moment of his promising baseball career.

Baseball scouts are a fickle bunch, and they like their top picks without baggage. There is perhaps no worse baggage for a pitcher than arm trouble, so Scherzer, a 6-foot-2 210-pound right-hander, probably will fall a bit to perhaps the middle of the first round — even as he lights up radar guns at 99 mph after the tendinitis.

…With Missouri still alive in the NCAA postseason, Scherzer is 7-2 with a 1.95 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 23 walks in 73.2 innings. That’s good, no question, but not quite up to the incredible standard he set as a sophomore when he was the Big 12’s pitcher of the year, going 9-4 with a 1.86 ERA, a school record 131 strikeouts in 106 1/3 innings and a preposterous .211 slugging percentage against him.

But his injuries may have dropped his draft status:

That means that depending on when Scherzer becomes the first first-round pick in Mizzou history, his fall from the first few picks to perhaps the middle of the opening round could cost him seven figures of signing bonus money.

It’s understandable why Jamieson would want to pitch Scherzer today.

  1. It’s an elimination game
  2. Scherzer likely won’t pitch for the Tigers again if the Tigers lose this game
  3. Nathan Culp, their second-best pitcher (who ain’t too shabby), pitched on Saturday and almost suredly is out for today.

Most of the costs of pitching today seem to be borne by Scherzer. Sure, if Scherzer does get drafted in the first round, that is something Jamieson and his coaches can play up on the recruiting trail, but my guess is that won’t have much of an effect on any potential recruit.

Even if he pitches and doesn’t get seriously injured today, the wear and tear on his arm may show up at a future time, hurting his potential Major League career. But how could anyone in the future point back to one particular day’s unnoticeable wear and tear as the day the turned the tables?

A rested Scherzer would seem to be Jamieson’s best option, but Scherzer’s probably not all that rested. But if Scherzer tells Jamieson he’s good to go, how could his pitching be termed “abuse?”

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Author: Phil Miller

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