The Best College Hitters, So Far

If we’ve learned anything from tracking all batted ball and play-by-play data for over 12,000 college baseball players this season, it’s that a lot of these guys are really, really bad.

And that’s fine. There are all kinds of life lessons to be learned from being a collegiate scholar-athlete. And you can’t knock a guy for wanting to be able to tell his grandkids that he once got a hit off of David Price. But when their “contributions” on the field directly impact the statistics of others, it’s something we need to recognize. We’re so accustomed to looking at stats in neatly defined ability-level boxes (the PCL, the Sally League, heck, even the Cape Cod League) that college stats often don’t make a whole lot of lot of sense without a giant dollop of context.

There are about 300 NCAA Division One teams, running the gamut from the extremely good (Vanderbilt, with a handful of players who will be playing pro ball in three months) to the extremely bad (Coppin State, who loses in blowouts to teams who lose in blowouts to Vandy). Because teams play plenty of in-conference games, it’s not quite as random as all that, but even in the SEC, probably the strongest conference in the nation, there are a few teams that—how shall we put this?—do wonders for David Price’s ERA. Imagine a schedule in which major and minor league teams play half their games against in-league competition and half their games against random other teams and you’ve got the idea.

It’s necessary, then, to adjust for competition. But it isn’t enough to adjust on a team-by-team basis. Even the best teams are top-heavy: behind every Price there’s someone like Vandy’s Stephen Shao, sporting a 7.07 ERA and a .327 batting average against. The guys who face Shao and his ilk are hardly racking up impressive numbers against top-flight competition. In short, a competition adjustment needs to happen on a plate-appearance-by-plate-appearance basis. So that’s what we did.

Crunching the Numbers

To find the best-performing hitters in college baseball this year, we used a stat developed by Andy Dolphin, Mitchel Lichtman and Tom Tango, wOBA. (We got close, anyway: we didn’t include times reached base on errors, because we forgot we were tracking it.) After calculating wOBA for every D1 hitter and wOBA against for every D1 pitcher, we adjusted those for environment using Boyd Nation’s weighted park factors. For the initial calculation, we included only those hitters with 10 or more at-bats and pitchers with five-plus innings pitched, and we stuck within the confines of Division One.

That’s where the fun began. Powered by the play-by-play logs we’ve collected all season, we determined the strength of opposition for every one of those players. We threw out plate appearances against guys who didn’t meet our playing time threshhold as well as Division 2 and 3 players, about whom we don’t yet have enough information. In the end, we had a measure of how difficult a guy’s season was in the 90-95% of his at-bats that mattered. Finally, we adjusted each pitcher’s stats based on the adjusted batting numbers, and then tweaked the batting numbers again to reflect the more accurate stats on each pitcher. (Yes, it was as exciting as it sounds.)

The Best

Without further ado, here are the top 25 college hitters so far this year.

Name               School            Pos   Class   ABs   wOBA    Adj-wOBA
LaPorta Matt       Florida           INF   Sr      141   0.516     0.617
Russell Kyle       Texas             OF    So      165   0.506     0.563
Ackley Dustin      North Carolina    OF    Fr      171   0.477     0.485
Desme Grant        Cal Poly          INF   Jr      157   0.441     0.485
Waring Brandon     Wofford           3B    Jr      131   0.522     0.483
Chu David          Hawaii-Hilo       OF    Sr      150   0.417     0.479
Guyer Brandon      Virginia          OF    Jr      147   0.448     0.474
Johnson Logan      Louisville        UT    Sr      141   0.495     0.473
Satele Alvis       Hawaii-Hilo       1B    Jr      114   0.406     0.471
Tezak Jeff         Nebraska          INF   Jr      102   0.351     0.466
Wallace Brett      Arizona State     1B    So      135   0.475     0.465
Dykstra Allan      Wake Forest       1B    So      166   0.423     0.458
Anders Luke        Texas A&M         1B    So      118   0.406     0.457
Henry Justin       Mississippi       INF   Jr      135   0.405     0.457
Turner Brandon     Mississippi State 2B    Fr      154   0.438     0.457
Suttle Bradley     Texas             IF    So      180   0.412     0.453
Easley Edward      Mississippi State C     Jr      146   0.431     0.447
Mee Mike           Minnesota         1B-OF Sr      122   0.436     0.443
Kulbacki Kellen    James Madison     OF    Jr      151   0.481     0.443
Sanchez Kris       Hawaii            1B/OF Sr      154   0.446     0.442
Schwartz Randy     High Point        3B/1B So      166   0.405     0.442
Lavarnway Ryan     Yale              OF    So      136   0.542     0.441
Krieger Scott      George Mason      1B/OF So      166   0.477     0.440
Thomas Tony        Florida State     2B    Jr      178   0.472     0.440
Shunk Derek        Villanova         INF   So      139   0.428     0.440

If you’re interested in a deeper list, we’ve printed the top 100 at CollegeSplits.com.

The Warning Label

Like any uberstats, these should be taken with a grain of salt. Keep in mind that the sample sizes we’re working with are perilously small: only a handful of players have even 200 at-bats against Division One competition so far this year. One weeks-long cold front or heat wave could make our park factors much less instructive, and every one of these adjustments relies on the equally small sample sizes of the dozens of pitchers each player faces. Most of that comes out in the wash, but some it of doesn’t, and one of the dangers of analyzing college stats is that we’ll never truly know which is which.

Countown to June 7th

On Fridays between now and the draft, we’ll be looking at various qualities of the draft class and other college players. Keep checking back as we analyze pitching, defense, baserunning and more as we try to eke every last tidbit of usefulness out a 60-game season.

Kent Bonham is a consultant in Washington, DC. It’s absurd how much he likes the Red Sox.

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