Twofold Answer to Arkansas Baseball’s Perplexing Drop to No. 2 Behind Clemson

Erik Bakich, Dave Van Horn, Arkansas baseball, Clemson baseball
photo credit: Clemson Athletics / Craven Whitlow

The esteemed writers in the NCBWA apparently saw the light over the weekend, moving Arkansas baseball to the top of its poll to make it the unanimous No. 1 team in the country.

While the Razorbacks already held the top spot in the other four major college baseball polls, Oregon State jumped them and slid into No. 1 in the NCBWA’s poll after Wake Forest went down last week.

The Beavers won their series at Utah over the weekend, but did blow a nine-run lead in the finale to prevent them from sweeping. That means Oregon State and Arkansas now have identical 17-2 records, which seems to be enough for the head-to-head matchup in Arlington to actually matter to the college baseball writers who vote in that particular poll.

Of course, it also helps that the Razorbacks swept Missouri in dominant fashion, outscoring the Tigers 23-1 across the three games. They actually shut them out for 24 innings before finally giving up a run.

Fans may not want the No. 1 ranking because of the “curse” that has seen the No. 1 overall seed fail to win the national championship every year since 1999, when Miami (Fla.) did it in the first year the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams and went to the current super regional format.

As for the coaches and players, they don’t care. In fact, Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn acted as if he didn’t know about the ranking when asked about how the team handled its first week at No. 1 following Sunday’s win.

“We’re No. 1?” Van Horn said. “We haven’t talked about it. We don’t talk about it. We just play. I guess to answer your question, we won all three games, so it went good. I guess it’s an honor for somebody to rank you No. 1 because they think you’re that good, but somebody’s gotta be there right now.”

That mentality has trickled down to the players, as well.

“You’ve still got to play the game,” catcher Hudson White said. “I don’t think the rankings really matter because, at the end of the day, you’ve got to play the games. I think we have 40-something games left. So being ranked No. 1 doesn’t really mean anything. We just want to win ball games.”

Falling Behind Clemson Baseball

Even with the NCBWA coming around, Arkansas did drop in one ranking.

The Razorbacks fell one spot to No. 2 in the RPI, a formula-based metric that factors in wins and losses and strength of schedule. It’s more important than any of the human polls because it’s a tool used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Clemson is the new No. 1.

So how does a team drop despite winning all three games by a combined 23-1 margin? Well, the answer is twofold.

First, Clemson baseball is a very strong program that improved to 17-2 by winning two of three games at Duke. Those games were on the road, which are weighted heavier than home games, and the Blue Devils are also really good. Even though it was just No. 33 in the RPI, Duke was a top-10 team entering the weekend.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, Missouri is bad. Like really, really bad. Simply playing three games against the Tigers was going to hurt Arkansas in the RPI, regardless of the result — much like midweek games against the SWAC.

Missouri entered the series at No. 173 in the RPI, which was actually up from No. 214 entering the week thanks to an extra-innings midweek win over Kansas on the road. That was still by far the worst ranking in the SEC, though, with Mississippi State being the next lowest at No. 86.

That’s because the Tigers were just 9-8 with losses to the likes of Cal Poly, UC San Diego, Southeast Missouri, Northern Kentucky (twice) and Purdue Fort Wayne (twice). It’s not a stretch to say Missouri is an SEC team in name only.

(It’s no wonder Ross Lovich and Ty Wilmsmeyer jumped at the chance to leave Columbia, Mo., and join the Arkansas baseball program.)

Also, unlike the NET in college basketball, the RPI does not factor in any sort of “efficiency” rating. In the RPI, a win is a win and a loss is a loss, no matter how it was achieved. The fact that Arkansas did what it was supposed to do against the Tigers — thoroughly dominating them in all three games — is not treated any differently than if it won each game in extras.

For more evidence of how the RPI is flawed, consider this: Missouri moved up 39 – THIRTY-NINE – spots in the RPI despite getting swept at Arkansas, simply because it significantly improved its strength of schedule.

That’s not to say the NET is perfect, though. Just ask Eric Musselman about LSU’s ranking a couple of years ago, or Rick Pitino about St. John’s snub this year.

Of course, playing in the SEC, the RPI will take care of itself for Arkansas because it plays a brutal schedule that doesn’t include any more games against Missouri.

Incredible Pitching Numbers for Arkansas Baseball

If college baseball did have a metric that factored in some sort of efficiency rating, Arkansas would be cleaning up on the pitching side of things.

The Razorbacks were expected to have the best pitching staff in the country and, through five weeks at least, they’ve lived up to the hype.

Six different pitching categories are included on the NCAA’s official statistics website and Arkansas ranks No. 1 in five of them — ERA, WHIP, hits allowed per nine innings, strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The only exception is walks allowed per nine innings, in which the Razorbacks are No. 5. They trail four mid-major programs in Fresno State, UT-Arlington, Sam Houston and UTSA.

Here’s a rundown of those numbers:

  • ERA: 2.35 (No. 1 / No. 2 — Texas A&M, 2.65)
  • WHIP: 0.97 (No. 1 / No. 2 — East Carolina, 1.08)
  • H/9 IP: 5.77 (No. 1 / No. 2 — Duke, 6.32)
  • K/9 IP: 13.6 (No. 1 / No. 2 — Florida State, 13.1)
  • BB/9 IP: 2.94 (No. 5 / No. 1 — Fresno State, 2.52)
  • K/BB: 4.64 (No. 1 / No. 2 — Texas A&M, 4.23)

Arkansas Baseball in the Polls

Here is where Arkansas baseball is ranked in each of the major polls…


Check out Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn’s press conference previewing this weekend’s series at Auburn:


More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS…

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