Don’t worry too much about Monday’s loss to Rice. The Ducks had a bad game. That’s it. Good teams have bad games. The difference between good teams and the ones that can’t even dream about the College World Series is that good teams have many more games like this one than like Oregon had Monday.
The Ducks aren’t just a good team, though; they’re an elite one, and they just completed what might have been the best season in the history of the school.
Now, it has to be mentioned that judging this team against pre-2009 Ducks squads (Oregon didn’t have a baseball program from 1982-2008) is like trying to determine if Malcolm Gladwell was a better writer in 2010 than Nathanial Hawthorne was in 1840. Not only have the modern era Ducks played far more games per season than any Oregon team before 1982, the game of baseball has also changed a ton since then. Hell, baseball was drastically different a decade ago much less three-plus decades.
All that said, we can still try to compare these Ducks with past teams. It’s more fun, anyway.
A team’s record is the first, most basic thing to look at when judging a team’s performance. However, because of the aforementioned differences in games played per season, the first stat we’ll explore is winning percentage. This year’s team went 48-17, which equates to a .738 winning percentage. You’d have to go back to 1965 (19 seasons) to find a better winning % from an Oregon baseball team. The Ducks have had plenty of good teams in between those seasons as well, like last year’s 46-19 squad.
This is where the number of games played per season helps this year’s Ducks. That 1965 team played 36 games all season. The 2013 Ducks played nearly twice that many (65 in all). More games means more chances for a team to simply have a bad day like the Ducks had Monday. There are more chances for a key player(s) to get injured as well. Simply put, more things can go wrong over 65 baseball games than 36.
So, if a team has twice as many chances for things to go wrong and still wins nearly three-quarters of its games, there’s no doubt that team is for real.
This is the main reason why no Ducks fan should feel too down about Monday’s result. What’s the better sample size to look at when trying to determine a team’s true performance during a season; 65 games or one? We all know it’s 65. Defining the success of this Oregon team by looking at one game would be like someone judging you after spending one Cinco de Mayo with you in college. Large sample sizes are crucial in college, whether we’re talking about baseball or something else.
Oregon didn’t have a patty-cake schedule, either. Of course, the Ducks’ schedule is hard every year because they play in the PAC-12, but they also played some brutal out-of-conference games this season. Rice, Cal State Fullerton and Vanderbilt were all ranked in Baseball America‘s most recent Top 25 (#20, #3 and #1 respectively) and the Ducks (#9) played each team extremely tough, beating each of them once.
In conference play the Ducks went 22-9, which included two wins against #4 Oregon State and one win each against #10 UCLA and #24 Arizona State. (Oregon played three one-run games against UCLA and ASU and lost them all. That’s pretty unlucky.)
Let’s also look at this from the other team’s perspective. The opponents’ strength of schedules has been bolstered because they’ve played Oregon. They all look at their victories against the Ducks as “big wins”, possibly the biggest wins of their seasons. I don’t know the coaches and players from these teams but I’m sure they all respect Oregon and know how good the 2013 Ducks were. This shouldn’t be overlooked.
Early in the season there were concerns about the lineup not producing. It was like an annoying little smudge on an otherwise completely clear cell phone screen. By mid-March, that smudge disappeared. The Ducks finally started hitting up to their potential, resulting in a very good team becoming a complete one.
This season the Ducks were 4th in the PAC-12 in runs scored, as well as 3rd in runs given up (only OSU and UCLA allowed fewer). Almost all of their hitters could get on base and just as many of them could drive the runners in. Their three main starting pitchers were dominant (combined ERA of 2.69) and their bullpen was as deep as a conversation with Sigmund Freud. The pitchers looked even better with that fantastic Oregon defense playing behind them.
Is it hard to see such a good team end their season so soon? Of course it is, but the “such a good team” part should stand out more than anything else in that question.
Besides, Monday’s game isn’t even close to the most defining game of the season. That title goes to Oregon’s March 10 contest against Vanderbilt. Cole Irvin and Jimmie Sherfy pitched much better than their line scores indicate. The lineup looked unspectacular for most of the game. They trailed 5-2 going into the bottom of the eighth inning. Then, all of the sudden, they started getting runners on base in every way imaginable, concluding with a huge Scott Heineman two-out single that gave the Ducks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Oregon baseball program didn’t exist five years ago. Now, they’re beating national powers and continuing to compete in games no matter how slim the chances of winning might look.
The Ducks weren’t perfect in that Vandy game but they still played well in every area. That’s how this year should be remembered: above-average play in every facet of the game, giving them the ability to beat any team in the nation. Good luck finding a better season of Oregon baseball than this one.