Friday, June 13, 2014

Baseball homer or fair gripe?

First, let me say, the UTA Mavericks baseball team earned their postseason spot, or lack thereof. They solidified their status with ugly early-season losses to Stephen F Austin (20-35), Incarnate Word (18-32) and Abilene Christian (18-36). Losses to other Southland Conference schools McNeese State (30-28), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (31-27), and Houston Baptist (23-28) meant the Mavs had to win the conference tournament to get in to the NCAA tourney, despite three top-25 wins and a late-season 10-game winning streak.

Consider UTA had a better record against Sun Belt schools (22-12), Big 12 teams (3-5) and Pac-12 foes (1-1) than the Southland competition (3-7). I'm convinced had UTA beaten SFA, IWU, ACU and HBU, you'd be looking at an at-large team. But, as I said at the top, UTA played their way to their postseason destiny.

What I offer for consideration is the lack of recognition UTA has failed to receive two years in a row within their own conference(s).

In 2013, UTA finished tied with Cal State-Bakersfield for first in the Western Athletic Conference. Then, similar to now, the team played poorly in non-conference and had to win the tourney to advance, which they didn't. But neither the Bakersfield, who still landed five players on the All-WAC first team and another on the second, as well as Player, Pitcher and Coach of the Year.

UTA, again finished tied for first in the standings, had one first-team and two second-team selections. Meanwhile, Dallas Baptist (3 1sts-2nds), New Mexico State (2-2), Sacramento State (3-1), Texas State (1-4) and  UTSA (1-3) all had more selections while eighth-place San Jose State (0-3) had the same amount. Seattle and Louisiana Tech, who occupied the last two slots in the standings, had less selections than the Mavs.

So if it were true, and UTA did have less talent than the other teams, should Coach Thomas have received Coach of the Year?

This year, they finished second. To be fair, Louisiana-Lafayette was one of the top teams in the nation, finishing the season ranked number one in one poll and played in a three-game Super Regional before ending the season. Unlike Bakersfield, ULL would be in the NCAA's no matter what. They were far and away the best team in the SBC. Their five first-team selections and four seconds were deserved. Yet, the number two team still only had two selections, both first-teamers. Georgia State (3-0), Texas State (1-3), Troy (0-3) and Western Kentucky (2-2) had more all-conference picks and finished lower in the standings. Arkansas-Little Rock (1-1) didn't make the tournament and had as many picks as UTA. Now, consider that Arkansas State finished third and had zero selections total and it seems to be a greater case of one team being so good that it drowns everyone else out.

But that once again begs the question, if UTA finishes so high in the standings and has by far fewer all-conference picks, shouldn't that earn coach of the year honors? I could coach ULL to success if they have that much talent. I don't buy that argument that it includes a coach's work in the off-season, for example recruiting. A first year coach who wins with players recruited by the previous coach still gets Coach of the Year honors.

It didn't bother me terribly much at first. I think I just muttered "typical" when I saw it, but it was draft day that made me gives this another look. UTA had a banner year for players drafted with six, including three in the top ten rounds of the forty-round draft. ULL had seven. So the league winners put nine all-conference players up and have seven drafted, while UTA has two All-SBCers and six draftees? That ratio is out-of-whack.

I completely understand that MLB teams don't draft on numbers and stats, but potential, needs and other intangibles. That's how a guy like Jess Amedee, who went 1-4 with a 6.52 ERA in 48.1 innings gets drafted. Those numbers will never win an NCAA postseason accolade, but scouts could see something and take him in the 27th round.

Devil's advocate says that had UTA won more in non-conference, it is a moot point. The naysayers say if Thomas had that many drafted, he underperformed and didn't deserve any Coach awards. There may be some merit to that. There have been times I have questioned his calls, like holding a runner at third, or his pitching moves and strategy (I would have started Chase Weaver against the Cajuns instead of Amedee in the SBC championship).

In the end, I am rarely a critique-the-coach kind of guy. I know my passion for UTA can cloud things. I can look at an individual season and say ehh. But after two years, one first and one second place finish among ten teams, UTA deserves more than five total all-conference picks.