Before the ACC Baseball Tournament begins tonight, I wanted to run through the numbers to show you exactly how special this Virginia Tech team is in comparison to past Hokie teams going back to 2005. That was the school’s first year in the ACC, and it has been an uphill climb.
When the Hokies joined the ACC, their talent level was way down and Chuck Hartman was near the end of his career. Pete Hughes did a great job reviving the program, leading Tech to regionals in 2010 and 2013 – and Tech even hosted in 2013. However, Hughes left for Oklahoma after 2013, and the program passed to Pat Mason, who immediately took it back down to pre-Hughes levels.
John Szefc took over the program in the summer of 2017 and went through his first season in 2018. Progress was slow in his first year, but in his second season the Hokies began to show immediate progress on the pitching mound (thanks in part to pitching coach Ryan Fecteau, who is outstanding) and in overall team defense. Chew on these stats for a second (note…I didn’t include 2020 because of was shortened due to COVID)…
1) Tech’s top three teams of the ACC era in terms of fielding percentage were 2022, 2019 and 2021, with marks of 0.979, 0.975 and 0.973 respectively. Only one other Tech team of the entire ACC era broke 0.970 in fielding percentage. It’s clear that Szefc in his staff have made a huge difference when it comes to defense, and the players have said so themselves:
“Especially with coach Szefc – I mean, we all value defense – he really hits it home,” shortstop Tanner Schobel told reporters on Tuesday. “Defense is a priority.”
2) The Szefc/Fecteau era has produced the top two ERA teams since Virginia Tech joined the ACC. The 2019 Hokies posted an ERA of 3.98, which is the only time the Hokies have had a sub-4.00 ERA. The 2022 Hokies are No. 2 on the list with a team ERA of 4.06. In fact, only four Tech teams have had a sub-4.50 ERA. Here they are…
That should put into perspective the job that Fecteau has done as pitching coach, and it helps that his pitchers have a much better defense playing behind them these days. Apparently you can win a lot of games if you pitch well and play good defense. Who knew?
Ah, but what about the hitting? Even with improved pitching and defense, the program lagged behind because it took awhile to build up the talent base from a hitting perspective. Now that improved hitting has joined improved pitching and fielding, the results have skyrocketed. Tech’s investments into analytics have also certainly played a role. Consider the following…
1) Virginia Tech has 104 home runs this year, the first time since 1988 that they’ve gone over 100 homers in a season. The second-most homers a VT team has hit during the ACC era was 84 in 2017.
2) Virginia Tech has a team batting average of .309. That’s just the third time in the ACC era that the Hokies have hit over .300, and trails only the 2009 and 2010 teams, which both hit .319.
The 2009 and 2010 teams didn’t have the pop of the 2022 Hokies, though, hitting 52 and 81 homers, respectively. That 2010 team made the NCAA Regionals, but didn’t quite have the pitching or defense to advance. The 2022 Hokies can hit for average and power, plus they can pitch and play defense. It’s the most complete team for as long as I have been following Virginia Tech baseball.
Here’s where the Hokies rank nationally in some key numbers out of 293 Division I teams…
Batting Average: T-13
Home Runs Per Game: No. 4
Earned Run Average: No. 23
Fielding %: No. 17
That’s why I said on the TSL Podcast on Monday that I believe Virginia Tech does have a chance to win the National Championship in baseball this season. I meant it. The Hokies can hit for power, they can hit for average, they can play defense, and they can pitch. They are extremely well-balanced as a team, and at the plate they are elite no matter how you slice it.
There aren’t many teams in the country who have an argument that they are as good across the board as Virginia Tech. The main one happens to be the only team in the country who ranks higher than the Hokies – No. 1 Tennessee. That No. 1 ranking is well-earned. Here’s how the Volunteers stack up in the same categories…
Batting Average: No. 12
Home Runs Per Game: No. 1
Earned Run Average: No. 1
Fielding %: No. 7
Geez. There’s basically no difference between the two teams from a hitting perspective, but it’s awfully hard to score on Tennessee. They have a team ERA of 2.37, and the second-best team in the country is Southern Miss, who is way behind them at 3.08. The closest Power 5 team is UCLA at 3.55!
I suppose it would be hard to bet against Tennessee with numbers like that, but at the same time, it’s baseball, and anything can happen in a knockout tournament. Tennessee Tech managed to beat them 3-2, and their only series loss came to unranked Kentucky, so they are beatable.
But NCAA Regionals are this week, and any potential meeting with Tennessee wouldn’t happen until the College World Series. Until then, the Hokies have the ACC Tournament, NCAA Regionals, and hopefully Super Regionals. If you’re in the Blacksburg area, I’d encourage you to come out for Regionals, because this is an opportunity to see what will go down as the best team in Virginia Tech history to date.
Click here for an affiliate list for tonight’s game against Clemson on Regional Sports Networks. Friday night’s game against North Carolina should also be shown on the same channels. The semifinals on Saturday will be shown on the ACC Network while Sunday’s championship game is on ESPN2.