Friday night starter Randy Fontanez has been a solid ace for the Bulls this season. But he'll need more help from his offense to give the Bulls a chance at a postseason run.
"From day one, the goal has been, and still is, Omaha, Nebraska." - USF Head Coach Lelo Prado
That's the first quote you see here in the Baseball Interactive Guide on the USF Athletics website. And we were on board with this as well. But just shy of halfway through the conference season, it looks like it's a Big East Tournament Championship or bust for the Bulls, meaning USF will most likely miss the NCAA Tournament for the 9th straight year.
After taking two of three from Seton Hall this past weekend in a series that was filled with apparently some rough weather up in E. Orange this weekend, the Bulls stand at 7-5 in the Big East, and 17-18 overall. The Big East sits as the 13th best conference in Division I Baseball by Conference RPI. And USF has yet to play the best three teams in the league by the (admittedly deficient) RPI statistic, meaning the easiest part of their schedule is behind them.
This team is nowhere close to competing for the NCAA Tournament, much less Omaha. And the youth card can't really be played either, as yesterday the Bulls started two seniors, five juniors, two sophomores, and a freshman. Anyone that saw the four games against the #2 Florida Gators can see the talent gap between the two teams is massive. If that's the level of baseball that's needed to get to Omaha, it's clear the Bulls aren't competing at that level right now.
The team also caught a brutal break when lefty stud Andrew Barbosa blew out his elbow and ended up needing Tommy John surgery in March. It will take some more dramatics from the legendary paperwork ninjas of USF Compliance to get Barbosa the eligibility he'd need to compete for the Bulls again. At 6'8" and with great velocity, control, and makeup, even while still wrapped in a sling I wouldn't be shocked to Barbosa get drafted in June. He's got electric stuff, and Tommy John is almost like getting an oil change for your elbow nowadays.
A breakdown of the Bulls by the numbers, individually as well as in comparison to the rest of the conference, after the jump.
Below is some advanced breakdown for all the Bulls regular hitters, as well as all pitchers with more than 10 innings pitched. Much thanks to Steve Slowinski from DRaysBay and SB Tampa Bay for giving me the basic formulas to plug in here. We kept the MLB equivalents because with the new bats this year in college baseball, offense is way down everywhere, and we might be looking at much more normalized numbers nationwide by the end of the season. Click here to find out what wOBA and FIP if you haven't used them before.
The FIP shows that Pietrzyk has gotten a bit unlucky, and Loynaz and Moran a bit lucky so far. But it is college baseball and the sample sizes are very small here. Last year the team ERA was 4.99, so being down over a full point is a credit to the Bulls arms, as well as the lesser bats used during the 2011 season. Especially when you lose your co-ace after just 10 innings, USF has been moderately successful from the mound.
But the numbers show that the lineup isn't very imposing, as being 9th in wOBA in a 12 team league that's rather pedestrian doesn't say much. And only one hitter (Koscso) would even rank as average or above on the top four hitting teams in the Big East. The lack of offensive punch is the downfall of USF, and they aren't getting it done on the bases either. After 35 games, the Bulls are 28 of 41 on stolen bases, ranking 10th in the league.
This team of upperclassmen is simply going to have to hit better to be able to salvage this season. The Bulls take on Louisville, St. John's, and UConn the next three weekends, who are also the top 3 teams in the conference in terms of RPI. Winning these series is crucial to drawing a good seed for the conference tournament. RPI's are listed below (H/T BoydsWorld.com):
St. John's 59
Seton Hall 125
Notre Dame 145
Even if the Bulls managed to win out in conference and finish 22-5 in the Big East, they would probably still be a bubble team. Most likely this season will come down to what happens in Clearwater in May, where USF will have somewhat of a home field advantage and a legitimate ace in Fontanez. But the Bulls will need to show more than they have so far to make anyone think they have a real chance of claiming that tournament title, and the golden ticket to the NCAA's that goes with it.