Wednesday, May 31, 2006

We're now less than 24 hours away from the beginning of the Women's College World Series. One last topic I'd like to explore before the start of play is the participating schools' athletic budgets.

The Indianapolis Star newspaper compiled what it calls the NCAA Financial Reports Database, which provides revenue and expediture information -- broken down into fairly fine-grained categories -- for a large number of NCAA schools. It's actually a lot of fun to poke around in the database, which you can access via the above link. You can select schools, and for each school, switch between "Revenue Statement" and "Expense Statement."

I first viewed the database several weeks ago after hearing about it through -- what else -- a sports discussion board. As I was going back to look at it earlier today, I was hoping that information would be available specifically for softball, but that wasn't the case. As you can see, the breakdowns are only for football, men's basketball, women's basketball, and "Other." We thus won't be able to see what the eight WCWS schools spend on softball, but we can still look at overall athletic budgets, which probably give some indication of how well softball is funded at a given institution. Here are the overall athletic expenditures ("Total Operating" expenses), ranked in descending order:

University of Texas, Austin $82,400,829

University of Tennessee $71,783,012

University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa) $56,989,608

UCLA $46,010,599

University of Arizona $40,760,160

Arizona State University $39,749,018

Oregon State University $36,106,183

Northwestern University -- Unavailable, as private schools not required to disclose (see link to database above for explanation)

I encourage those of you who are fans of schools not listed above to check out your institution's expenditures. If, as seems likely, the amount is less than some or all of the schools above, maybe you won't feel so bad about your team's failure to make it to Oklahoma City.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

One thing that cannot have escaped college softball fans is that many of the dominant pitchers are very tall, especially for women. Among the teams playing in the Women's College World Series, which begins Thursday, we have: Cat Osterman of Texas (whom I profiled in yesterday's entry, below), 6-foot-2; Monica Abbott of Tennessee, 6-3; and Brianne McGowan of Oregon State, 6-2.

Given my recreational interest in physics, I've begun to wonder if longer pitching arms produce higher speed on the ball. We first need to establish that taller people have longer arms; indeed, arm span is positively correlated with height. Further, writings on various sports suggest that there may be something going on with height and/or arm length.

Regarding whether 16-year-old female golfer Michelle Wie would ever be good enough to qualify to play on the men's PGA tour full-time, a commentator suggested on ESPN.com's website that:

... there is the fact that she is 6-foot-1 trending toward 6-foot-2. That gives her a big swing arc that can generate impressive club head speed.

Another potentially useful source is Timothy Gay's book, Football Physics (which I've reviewed, here).

On pages 130-139 of Dr. Gay's book, his discussion of the kicking motion (especially Figure 5-1) suggests an analogy between a kicker's leg rotation about the hip and a softball pitcher's arm rotation about the shoulder. Limb length appears to have some role to play, as he includes the punter's leg length (assumed to be 3 feet) in calculating the leg's moment of inertia. One difference, of course, between kicking and pitching is that in the former, one strikes the ball, whereas in the latter, one releases it.

The equations in the upper part of p. 137 appear to suggest that greater leg length is associated with greater speed of the ball coming off the punter's foot. Thus, both the aforementioned golf quote and my reading of Football Physics suggest that height (or limb length) is beneficial for athletes performing tasks of angular (circular) motion.

I've inquired with some physicists (whose identities I don't want to reveal at this time because they've offered me only some tentative thoughts), and none of them has shot down the idea that, everything else held equal, a longer arm would lead to a faster pitch.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Everything is now in place for softball's Women's College World Series, which begins Thursday in Oklahoma City. The official NCAA bracket is available here. For each game, the starting time and television information is provided. It looks to me like several of the teams have the potential to do a lot of damage. When a team as talented as Tennessee is the eighth seed, you know the field is going to be competitive!

Of the many storylines that will unfold over the next week and a half, perhaps the most compelling one is that this year is Texas pitcher Cat Osterman's last chance for her and her teammates to win the WCWS.

Already an Olympic gold medalist (here and here), and also the all-time NCAA softball strike-out leader, Osterman is softball's mega-celebrity, attracting enormous media coverage such as this splashy feature in USA Today. From Lawrence to Lubbock, her road appearances in the Big 12 have brought out some of the biggest softball crowds seen in these towns.

Looking back on Cat's two previous appearances in the WCWS -- in 2003 as a sophomore and 2005 as a junior -- one sees a mixture of brilliance and frustration (her freshman year of 2002, the Longhorns didn't make the World Series, and she redshirted in 2004 in preparation for the Olympics; click here for Texas's yearly game-by-game logs). What follows is a detailed look back at Cat and her UT teams' fortunes at their two previous WCWS appearances.

2003 WCWS

Texas met UCLA in the final of their part of the bracket (which functioned as a national semi-final). Texas (with no World Series losses) just needed a single win to advance to the championship round, whereas UCLA (having lost its opening game to Cal) needed to beat the Longhorns twice.

UCLA beat Texas 3-0 in the teams' first meeting, a game I don't remember watching.

Instead, the rematch later that night is my first recollection of ever hearing about or seeing Cat Osterman. Texas took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, and Osterman was making this lead stand up, striking out Bruin after Bruin. Many of those strike-outs (or at least it seemed) involved UCLA batters, having two strikes against them, swinging and missing at pitches in the dirt.

As a UCLA alumnus (undergraduate), I kept asking myself with great irritation, “Why do they keep swinging at those pitches?” Then I figured it out -- the pitches must not look like they're going into the dirt, to the hitters! (That's the best I could come up with, anyway.)

Improbably, however, UCLA staged a rally in the final inning. Quoting from the UCLA article on the game:

All the drama came together in the bottom of the seventh inning. Toria Auelua led off for the Bruins, but became the 13th strikeout victim of Texas ace Cat Osterman. Senior Monique Mejia, whose error had created the lone Texas run, was next to the plate, and responded with a hit through the left side of the infield, her first hit of the day against Osterman.

From there, Andrea Duran was able to put down a critical bunt, advancing Mejia to second base. Another senior, Natasha Watley, then stepped in and put an 0-1 pitch up the middle of the Texas infield, just to the right of Osterman and just out of diving range to the left of Longhorn shortstop Chez Sievers. The hit scored Mejia from second base, and Watley advanced to second base on the throw.

With two outs and a tie game freshman right fielder Caitlin Benyi, who had struck out in each of her previous three plate appearances in the game,put the first pitch she saw into right field for a hit, scoring Watley from second base and ending the game with a 2-1 UCLA victory.


Fast forward to the 2005 WCWS

This time, Texas suffered a second-round loss to Michigan, my graduate-school alma mater. As shown in the following excerpts from the UM article, the Wolverines got to Osterman incrementally. Osterman also had to deal with virtually no offensive support.

Osterman looked to be cruising through three, striking out eight of the first 10 Wolverines she faced.

Michigan finally broke through in the fourth inning when centerfielder Alessandra Giampaolo... hit a ball off of an outstretched Osterman's glove, beating out the throw from Texas second baseman Chez Sievers to lead off the inning. Jessica Merchant... followed with a single before Samantha Findlay... laced an outside fastball off the left-centerfield wall, driving in Giampaolo and Merchant to put the Wolverines up 2-0.

Ritter continued to bear down on the Longhorns. The Wolverine hurler quietly racked up 12 strikeouts in a one-hit shutout. Ritter did not allow a hit past the first batter, and thanks to Becky Marx... throwing out the runner on a steal attempt[,] Ritter faced the minimum number of batters possible.

Merchant teamed up with Nicole Motycka … in the sixth inning to extend Michigan's lead to 3-0. With Merchant on second after a single and stolen base, Motycka drove a pitch into leftfield. As Merchant rounded third, Texas leftfielder Tina Boutelle fired to the plate. Merchant slid around the sweeping tag to score the run and chase Osterman from the Texas circle.


With the loss, Texas faced elimination for the rest of bracket play (i.e., leading up to the two-out-of-three championship series, where both teams started off with clean slates).

In the Longhorns’ next game, against Arizona, Osterman was positively heroic. She pitched all 11 innings of a Texas 1-0 win (note, again, her lack of run support). Also, she pitched herself out of some serious jams in the later innings.

Texas next faced UCLA, which had not lost yet, in the final part of their bracket (in a reverse of 2003, this time the Longhorns needed to beat the Bruins twice). In what many considered a very controversial decision, Longhorn Coach Connie Clark opted not to start Osterman. As summarized in the UCLA article:

UCLA jumped on Texas starter Meagan Denny in the bottom of the first inning, as Andrea Duran drew a lead-off walk. Tara Henry then grounded into a fielder[‘]s choice with the out at second base. After Caitlin Benyi fouled out and Emily Zaplatosch drew a two-out walk, Jodie Legaspi roped a single down the left field line, scoring Henry from second base before an errant throw from left fielder Tina Boutelle finished the play with Zaplatosch on third base.

Kristen Dedmon then hit an infield ground ball but a bad throw to first base by Texas shortstop Desiree Williams scored Zaplatosch, and put Legaspi on third and Dedmon on second base for Krista Colburn, who singled to right to score Legaspi for UCLA's third run of the inning.

After Colburn's RBI single, the Longhorns brought in All-America pitcher Cat Osterman, who retired all 16 Bruin batters she faced in the game.


As an aside, I believe Denny gets a bad rap for that game. If not for the aforementioned Texas infield error, the Longhorns would have gotten out of the inning having given up just one run.

After starting Denny in this year's opener of the Big 12 conference tournament, which did not go well, Coach Clark made the following postgame remarks:

I think we will come back stronger. We talked about it being gut-check time right now. You must give Oklahoma State credit. They came out and had to win back-to-back games today and they competed very well against us. In terms of pitching Meagan Denny tonight, you have to understand that she is as good as a lot of No. 1 pitchers on many staffs. She is capable of getting the game ball every time out. We ideally wanted Meagan and Cat to go every other game here; we are thinking about the big picture, the NCAAs, and you are not going to get through that tournament with one arm. We also don't want to wear out one pitcher. I was disappointed that I had to take Denny out – I thought, besides the home run pitch, that she was doing a great job out there. The problem was in us not scoring early enough. (my emphasis added)

Also, as Texas fans are painfully aware, in the Horns' two losses in the '05 World Series, they scored no runs. As I wrote about earlier this season, Texas brought in a new hitting coach this year, which has seemed to produce spectacular improvement (one notable exception is the aforementioned Big 12 tournament, where the Longhorns were dismissed in two straight).

So, as the 2006 Women's College World Series approaches, I'm sure softball fans are asking themselves questions such as:

Will Coach Clark deviate from her previously stated position, and use Osterman throughout the World Series?

Will the Longhorn bats remain hot, taking some of the pressure off Osterman to throw scoreless innings virtually all tournament?

If Texas's hitting does not help out, can Osterman consistently throw shutouts?

We shall see.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Few minutes after 6:00 pm Central: We now have our eighth team for the Women's College World Series, Oregon State (in the postings below, all WCWS qualifiers are depicted in bold). The Beavers defeated Cal 3-0 and then 1-0 today, to take the teams' super-regional series 2-1.

4:40 pm Central: We have the identities of two more teams going to the WCWS (bringing the total to seven), but Oregon State has stayed alive against Cal, forcing a third and deciding game to determine the one remaining team for the World Series. Leave it to the Beavers!

Here are the two teams (in bold) that have earned bids to Oklahoma City thus far today:

Tennessee, which edged Michigan 1-0 in what must have been a very dramatic finish to those who saw it live. The reason I say must have been is that ESPN cut away to show a live Barry Bonds at-bat in his quest for 715 home runs, a number that would surpass Babe Ruth for second on the all-time list. Sure enough, Bonds blasted one deep into the center-field seats (although since the pitcher was Byun-Hyung Kim -- remember him in the 2001 Arizona-NY Yankees World Series? -- the outcome couldn't have been that surprising).

When ESPN cut away from softball, I believe, Tennessee was coming up in the top of the seventh, leading 1-0 in the decisive Game 3 (Michigan apparently won the coin flip to be the home team). Had ESPN gone right back to softball after Bonds's homer, we probably could have seen the Wolverines' bottom half of the seventh (Tennessee, it turns out, didn't score in the top half). Instead, however, we were treated to a discussion among studio show participants Harold Reynolds and John Kruk on whether Bonds's home run totals were tainted by his alleged steroid use (gee, that's an original topic), followed by a Tim Kurkjian essay/video montage about Bonds's HR prowess over his career, probably the same montage that's aired heavily in recent weeks!

Meantime, as I gleaned from an internet game-tracker, Michigan had the bases loaded with two outs, literally putting the game -- and a berth in the WCWS -- on a tipping point. A Michigan single probably sends the Wolverines to Oklahoma City (especially with the baserunners able to run on contact with two outs, without fear of being doubled off). An out, and Tennessee goes. It was the latter that happened, via strike-out.

The Vols' Monica Abbott obviously recovered from her shaky outing in Game 2 earlier today, shutting out UM. The Wolverines' Jennie Ritter was a trooper, too, ending her Michigan career having pitched every inning of the super-regionals, the regionals, and the Big 10 tourney, as I've just gone and verified.

By the time ESPN got back to Knoxville, the announcers described how a "jubilant" Tennessee crowd was soaking in the victory, then they replayed the entire bottom of the seventh.

Also going to the World Series is top national seed UCLA, which completed a sweep over South Florida. The Bruins scored a 3-1 victory in Game 2, holding off a rally the Bulls got going in the bottom of the seventh.

Going back to the Oregon State-Cal series, I know that the Golden Bears' star pitcher Kristina Thorson has had tendonitis, so that might affect Game 3 (it appears she was removed around the five-inning mark in Game 2). I have been trying, unsuccessfully thus far, to find a game-tracker; someone on the Cal discussion site says that OSU has taken an early 1-0 lead, however.

While visiting the Cal discussion board, I saw where someone had posted a link to this article about Thorson and her quirky personality.

2:10 pm Central: Michigan has just finished off Tennessee 5-1, to even up their super-regional series. They will play a decisive third game in about 20 minutes. Game 3 will be televised on ESPN, as was Game 2.

In a nice gesture to those of us with ESPN, but without ESPN-U, the network is showing the UCLA-South Florida Game 2 on ESPN during the break between the Michigan-Tennessee games. UCLA received a homer from Andrea Duran in the top of the first to lead 1-0 (the Bruins are the visitors for this game, even though it's on their home field).

12:30 pm Central: Before discussing today's action, I just wanted to mention one late-night result from Saturday. I'm sure that all hardcore college softball fans already know this, but for the sake of completeness, Arizona became the fifth team to qualify for the Women's College World Series, with a 14-5 rout of LSU in Game 3 of their super-regional series (the other four teams that have made the WCWS thus far are listed below, also in bold). Kristie Fox hit two homers for U of A in the deciding game.

Getting back to today's play, Michigan has already knocked Tennessee ace Monica Abbott out of the game in the first inning, with Becky Marx homering to give the Wolverines a 2-0 lead (UM is the home team for Game 2, although it's being played in Knoxville).

Tiffany Worthy, who also homered yesterday, has gone yard again today, now making it 3-0 in the second inning off of Vol reliever Megan Rhodes. It's now 4-0, with the Wolverines squeezing in a run, after a Tennessee error gave UM a runner on third. Michigan has left the bases loaded at the end of the second inning; if Tennessee rallies, the Wolverines' missed opportunity for even more runs could come back to haunt them.

Given the difficulty some pitchers (specifically Brandice Balschmiter of UMass and Emily Turner of LSU) had yesterday coming back for a Game 3 after going in Games 1 and 2, I can see where the Tennessee coaches might have been thinking about preserving Abbott for a potential Game 3 (with the 2-0 score at the time of Abbott's removal, it certainly would have been premature to write off Game 2, but the possibility of a Game 3 would probably be on people's minds to some degree).

In the remaining super-regionals, two University of California schools -- Berkeley and L.A. -- will be going for sweeps of, respectively, Oregon State and South Florida, later today.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A little after 10:00 pm Central: It got a bit dicey at the end from LSU's perspective. But the Tigers, who led Arizona 3-0 going into the Wildcat (top) half of the seventh, were able to hold on for a 3-2 win, forcing a third and deciding game in their super-regional series later tonight.

It looked to me like LSU might have been able to end Game 2 a little earlier than was the case, as a Wildcat batter took a pitch with two outs and two strikes that easily could have been called for a game-ending strike (discussants on the Ultimate College Softball forums seem to agree). The pitch was called a ball, however, and the batter rifled the next pitch for a line-drive the LSU shortstop was unable to handle. LSU retired the next U of A batter for the win, though.

It's unclear to me whether Game 3 will be televised on one of the "regular" ESPN channels (ESPN or ESPN2), or only on the less-available ESPN-U. The recently concluded Arizona-LSU Game 2 was on ESPN2, but apparently only because ESPN2 had the time blocked out for a possible Texas-Washington Game 3 (which was not needed). ESPN and ESPN2 both have shows other than softball listed for the next few hours; whether they'll switch something around to put the decisive Arizona-LSU game on ESPN/ESPN2 is something we'll find out by tuning in shortly!

A little after 9:00 pm Central: Currently on ESPN2, we have LSU leading Arizona 2-0, bottom of the fourth. The Wildcats (for this game, the visitors on their home field) have left at least one runner on base in the top half of every inning. Update: It's now 3-0. Should the Tigers hold on and even up the series, the decisive third game would be later tonight.

Elsewhere in the Grand Canyon State, Arizona State has defeated Florida State 5-1 to join the field for the WCWS (I'm listing the World Series qualifiers in bold, as they're determined).

Lastly, for now, UCLA has taken a 1-0 series lead over South Florida.

5:30 pm Central: At this moment, we know three of the teams that will be playing in the Women's College World Series:

Alabama, which captured an 8-7 extra inning victory over Stanford, to render moot the embarrassment of blowing a 7-0 lead (2 games to 0 sweep);

Texas, which scored a 9-1 run-rule-shortened win against Washington (2-0 sweep); and

Northwestern, likewise a run-rule victor, stopping UMass 9-0 in Game 3 (2-1 series win).

The Cal-Oregon State super-regional, which the Golden Bears lead 1-0, has been rained out for Saturday and will resume Sunday.

3:30 pm Central: In the first game to get underway today, Tennessee took a 1-0 series lead over defending NCAA champion Michigan, defeating the Wolverines 5-3 in an ESPN telecast. The Lady Vols blended speed and power, along with some poor UM fielding, to take and maintain control for most of the game. Of Michigan's runs, two came on solo homers (one, a typically prodigious blast by Samantha Findlay, who later received the "Barry Bonds treatment" of being walked intentionally).

Also on ESPN, Texas's Tina Boutelle has just hit a grand-slam homer to give the Longhorns a 5-0 lead over Washington, in the top of the second. Barring a monumental U-Dub comeback against Cat Osterman, the Huskies will be "toast" for the series.

Talking about toast, that's exactly what Northwestern was very close to being, down 1-0 in the series and trailing UMass 2-0 after five innings in Game 2. The Wildcats scored two runs each, in the top of the sixth and seventh innings, however, to pull out a 4-2 victory. The decisive Game 3 has just gotten underway. UMass is starting Brandice Balschmiter for the third time this series, despite her apparent tiring in Game 2 earlier today. In Game 2, Balschmiter walked in both Northwestern runs in the top of the sixth.

Finally, Alabama looked to be well on its way to the Women's College World Series, having won yesterday's opener vs. Stanford, and putting up seven runs in the top of the first today. Not so fast. It's now going to the bottom of the seventh, tied 7-up (and I'm not talking about the soft drink).

11:00 am Central: We're moments away from the first pitch of the Michigan-Tennessee super-regional series, being televised on ESPN... Here it comes... The Lady Vols' Monica Abbott hits the Wolverines' Tiffany Haas with a pitch...

By the end of the day, we'll know several of the teams going to the Women's College World Series, which starts Thursday, June 1, in Oklahoma City (WCWS schedule).

As has become my custom, I'll do updates every couple of hours. As always, check out the sources in my links section, in the right-hand column of the page. Various gametrackers, audio feeds, and perhaps even video feeds, are available. Within the discussion forums of Ultimate College Softball, there is ongoing chat throughout the games. Enjoy your day of following softball!

Friday, May 26, 2006

9:45 pm Central: The 1-0 Texas score over Washington alluded to below indeed held up, so the Longhorns now lead the series 1-0. Other finals...

In Tuscaloosa, it was Crimson and Cardinal (sort of sounds like the Tommy James and the Shondells song, "Crimson and Clover"). Anyway, it was Alabama (the Crimson Tide) defeating Stanford, 4-1.

Rounding out today's action, Arizona went a game up on LSU.

In looking at the discussion forums at Ultimate College Softball (see link to UCS in the right-hand column of this page), it appears that additional series are being televised, beyond what I've noted so far. These additional games are on ESPN-U and College Sports TV (see link to the CSTV page, too).

8:20 pm Central: The Washington at Texas game is currently on ESPN, the Longhorns having just taken a 1-0 lead. The Huskies are now coming up in the top of the sixth. It'll be a busy softball weekend on ESPN and ESPN2, with the focus on the Michigan-Tennessee series, as well as on "U Dub" and Texas. The series between South Florida and UCLA will be televised on ESPN-U, the relatively new college sports-focused member of the ESPN family, which some of you may get.

Two additional final scores available at this time are: Arizona State over Florida State, 6-1, and, in the intra-Pac 10 battle, Cal over Oregon State, 2-1.

5:05 pm Central: We have our first result of the super-regional openers -- Massachusetts (UMass) has defeated Northwestern 1-0. Each super-regional series is two-out-of-three, so the Wildcats can still win the series and advance to the Women's College World Series. However, the Minutewomen need only one more win.

Brandice Balschmiter, who threw a no-hitter for UMass in the regionals, got the shut-out win over Northwestern, holding the Wildcats' usually powerful offense to four hits.

I happened to be in the Chicago area last weekend, visiting my sister and her family, en route to an academic conference I was attending at Indiana University-Bloomington. That allowed me to attend Northwestern's first victory over Notre Dame in regional action last Saturday, and visit with student broadcasters from WNUR (including Softball Bracketology co-author Dan Platt; see links section at right). I also took some pictures at the game...


Northwestern won this game 9-0 in five innings, thanks to the "run rule" (also known as a "mercy rule").



The Wildcats spent a lot of time at the plate, producing runs that launched celebrations by the team...

...and by some banner-waving fans.
















On the day I arrived in Chicago (Thursday, May 18), I went by Wrigley Field, about a half-hour after the Cubs' game had ended. One of the team's many traditions is to post a "W" or "L" flag atop the scoreboard after the game, to notify passersby of how the Cubs did. Sadly for Northwestern fans, their outcome against UMass today would warrant the same designation as the Cubs' result on May 18 against the Washington Nationals, as shown below.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A few tidbits from around the nation, as we await the start of super-regionals on Friday...

Northwestern University student radio broadcasters Dan Platt and Howard Tilman preview each of the super-regional series. In my links section on the right, go to Softball Bracketology--WNUR Sports, then when the page comes up, select Bracketology Week 8: Super Regional Edition. Our friendly bracketologists are also keeping a running count of how each conference is doing, complete with lines crossing-out eliminated teams.

The University of Michigan site has a photo essay of the Wolverines' regional-clinching win over Oklahoma last Sunday. UM's upcoming opponent, Tennessee, likewise has pictures from the Vols' win over Louisville to advance.

ESPN.com offers this overview of the past weekend's regionals and upcoming super-regionals. The apparent reference in this piece to Stanford losing to Tulsa in regional play is incorrect, however. As shown in this game-by-game log, the Cardinal's one loss was to Fresno State, against whom Stanford came back to defeat twice to move on.

The UCLA Daily Bruin has a feature article on the school's four softball seniors, who will be seeking their third NCAA title in their four years. With the Bruin men's volleyball and women's water polo teams recently winning national titles, UCLA's cumulative total of NCAA team championships currently stands at 99. Softball could well be the sport that brings UCLA to the century mark!

Monday, May 22, 2006

The opening weekend of NCAA tournament action is now on the books! The 16 surviving teams move on to next weekend's super-regionals (most of them, Friday-Saturday, May 26-27). There are eight "supers," each hosting two teams, who play a two-out-of-three series to see who qualifies for the Women's College World Series.

Here is a link to the official NCAA brackets, updated to reflect who will be meeting in the super-regionals.

In 13 of the 16 regions, things went according to plan, as the designated national seed was victorious. The three unseeded teams advancing are South Florida (from the regional in which the University of Florida was the national seed), Florida State (where Georgia was the national seed), and UMass (where Texas A&M was the national seed).

One of the most interesting super-regionals, if not the most interesting one, will send defending national champion Michigan (No. 9 national seed) to Knoxville, to face No. 8 seed Tennessee. The series will feature a rematch of elite pitchers from last year's World Series, namely the Wolverines' Jennie Ritter and the Vols' Monica Abbott. This series will be held Saturday and Sunday, and be televised by ESPN.

The Michigan article on the Wolverines' regional-clinching victory over Oklahoma noted that a Sooner rally midway through the contest "snapp[ed] Ritter's consecutive postgame shutout streak at 46.1 innings." [I think they meant "postseason," instead of "postgame."]

Saturday, May 20, 2006

5:50 pm Central: There have been several interesting developments in NCAA regional softball action thus far today.

We have our first qualifier for next weekend's super-regionals, the Washington Huskies.

In the only other regional on a Thursday-Saturday schedule, Arizona is seeking to join its fellow Pac 10 school in the "supers." The Wildcats just need to beat Auburn once, out of two opportunities, to win the regional. The Tigers have a loss (to Ohio State, which Auburn avenged, sending the Buckeyes home), so Auburn would need to beat the Wildcats twice to win the regional. Arizona-Auburn is currently on ESPN2, and the Wildcats seem comfortably ahead.

Jennie Ritter continues to carry defending NCAA champion Michigan, now the only undefeated team in the Ann Arbor regional and one win away (Sunday) from making the super-regionals. The Wolverines' win today wasn't easy, as they needed nine innings (two beyond the regulation seven) to edge Oklahoma, 1-0. According to the UM game story, Ritter:

...extend[ed] her postseason shutout streak to 42.0 innings, stretching back to the 2005 Women's College World Series.

Stanford, seeded No. 12 nationally, but forced to play at unseeded Fresno State, dropped a game to the host Bulldogs, 3-0.

Finally, Northwestern looked to be in fine form, routing Notre Dame 9-0 in a game that was terminated after five innings due to the "run rule" (also known as a "mercy rule"). More on Northwestern in the days to follow...

Late-Night Update (10:30 pm Central): ESPN.com's scoreboard for all of the softball regionals is the best I've seen. It's well-organized and appears to get updated in a timely fashion.

Arizona held off an Auburn comeback to win 4-2, and advance to the super-regionals.

Most of the regionals appear to be going according to the seedings. However, No. 13 national seed Texas A&M and No. 16 Florida -- both of whom lost yesterday -- lost again today, meaning that each is eliminated from its respective regional.

Friday, May 19, 2006

10:45 am Central: The bulk of regional action gets underway today. Two regions started yesterday, however (scoreboard). In the four games played, all of the losing teams were shut out.

In the Tucson regional, host Arizona won easily. In the other opening-round game, Ohio State edged Auburn 1-0 in 10 innings, the Buckeyes being helped by a dramatic triple play in the bottom of the seventh inning.

In the Provo regional (where Washington is actually the nationally prominent seed), the Huskies won their opener, as did Big 12 tournament champion Kansas.

There's going to be a ton of games today and over the weekend, with 14 additional regions beginning play, and winners', as well as losers', bracket games. As I did for last week's conference tourneys, I'll focus on the upsets that occur during regionals, thus allowing me to keep my summaries to a manageable scope.

Thus, if you're a fan of a highly ranked team and don't see me writing anything, "no news is good news" (if you're a fan of an underdog team, however, you do want to see me write something). You can use the links on the right-hand side of the page to follow the games via gametrackers and, perhaps, audio and video feeds.

And, as I just discovered via an Ultimate College Softball discussion thread, USA Today has come out with a major piece on Texas pitcher Cat Osterman.

***

There's one other thing I wanted to mention. I listened to Wednesday night's "Road to the Women's College World Series" on University of Alabama station WVUA, in its entirety. What an impressive show! Guests on the two-hour broadcast included Northwestern University "Softball Bracketology" co-author Howard Tilman, ESPN announcer Beth Mowins, Ultimate College Softball operator "Robo Coach," and coaches Patrick Murphy of Alabama and Sue Enquist of UCLA.

There will be another broadcast next week, at the same time, in anticipation of the super-regionals (see my posting immediately below for information on how to access the broadcast over the Internet). The WVUA people also posted the following note on UCS:

Anyone who wishes to listen to the recorded show can go [here]. Each of the seven segments is liste[d] on this page, and by clicking on the individual segments, it will open up another browser window in which you can listen. It doesn't allow you to download it to your computer, but you can listen to it through the browser. Eventualy, I hope to be able to upload it to our own webspace so you can download it to your desktop, but this is better than nothing.

6:20 pm Central: We've had two upsets thus far, with one pending. No. 13 seed Texas A&M has lost to Lehigh, and No. 16 seed Florida has lost to Florida Atlantic. No. 8 seed Tennessee is currently losing to Tennessee Tech, 4-2, with the Vols coming up in the bottom of the fourth.

The regionals are, of course, double-elimination events, so these seeded teams are still alive at this point.

These NCAA softball scores are being provided on cable TV via ESPNews, in the scroller at the bottom of the screen, seemingly a sign of the popularity college softball has achieved.

9:15 pm Central: Further developments today...

Tennessee came back in its game against Tennessee Tech to win 6-4.

This isn't an upset, but Michigan's Jennie Ritter pitched a no-hitter in the Wolverines' opening-round win over Youngstown State (the reference in the linked article to Ritter being a junior is incorrect, as she's a senior).

Addendum to Friday's summary: Ritter was not the only one to pitch a no-hitter. Brandice Balschmiter of UMass also tossed a no-hitter, at the expense of Albany (NY).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Here’s an interesting item I recently saw on the Ultimate College Softball discussion boards (I’ve cleaned up a few typos):

On Wednesday, May 17th from 6 pm to 8 pm CST, "The Road to the Women's College World Series" debuts on the internet. It's an idea put together by Nic Hoch, the Sports Director for WVUA-FM, 90.7 (the voice of Alabama softball). This is an idea that's long overdue, kind of like the road to the final four for basketball. There are going to be special guests and segments for callers to ask questions, make predictions, etc. This is the first year and I really hope this catches on as the game of softball continues to expand.

There are a couple of ways to access the show, but the easiest is as follows. The direct link to the web stream is [here]. Again, the show will air May 17th at 6:00 CST to 8:00 CST. Anyone that clicks on this link will be taken to an audio stream, most likely through Windows Media Player.

"If it goes over well and we get a good response, not only will it be a weekly program next spring, but we will also host a Super Regionals edition and perhaps a World Series edition as well," says Nic. So you the fans are in control. You want to hear more about softball, listen in and support an idea [whose] time has arrived.


WVUA has a feature called “The Student Section,” which appears to be the impetus for the softball show. Between this and the “Bracketology” postings by Northwestern University’s WNUR (see link on the right-hand side of the page), student radio really seems to be an important force in enhancing the popularity of college softball.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Continuing with the previewing of the NCAA regionals, the University of Arizona has received the No. 2 seed nationally (behind UCLA) and a lot of "buzz", thanks in good part to a 10-game winning streak to close the season (and, presumably, Texas's two-and-out collapse at the Big 12 tournament).

As shown in this U of A game-by-game log, the Wildcats defeated Washington, Stanford, Oregon, and Oregon State twice each, and Arizona State and Cal once each, during the streak.

One often hears about the importance of momentum heading into play-off competition, and the 2005 MLB World Series champion Chicago White Sox provide some anecdotal support for the proposition. The Chisox won their final five games of the regular season, then went 11-1 in the post-season, for a 16-1 close-out, overall.

In late September 2005, in fact, the baseball website Hardball Times published a piece analyzing many years of data to assess the degree to which September success carried over to championships in October, above and beyond overall season record. The article appears to show that any benefit to teams from momentum carryover is fairly limited.

I operate another website, in conjunction with my statistics teaching, called the "Hot Hand," where I investigate sports streakiness more generally. Demonstrating that an observed streak -- whether it's a baseball/softball hitting streak, basketball shooting streak, winning streak, or losing streak -- has any significance beyond chance is difficult. After all, if you flip a coin hundreds of times, you'll occasionally obtain streaks of several heads or several tails in a row.

The author of the Hardball Times piece raised the following question for the 2005 MLB post-season, which can also be applied to the Arizona Wildcats entering the 2006 NCAA softball tournament:

What does all this mean for this year? It means that some people will pick the hottest team (say, the Indians or Yankees) to win it all, because they have momentum on their side. Based on this study, I'd say that the postseason is still a relatively random event.

One obvious difference is that the MLB play-offs include only eight teams, meaning that ability levels are fairly similar and thus the role of chance is increased. In the 64-team NCAA softball field, most of the favored teams will likely advance on, in predictable fashion. It's only at the Women's College World Series (or perhaps just at the later stages of it) that the teams' ability levels will be sufficiently similar to allow a large role for chance and randomness.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The NCAA Division I softball selection show ended a short time ago on ESPNews. In this posting, I link to the official brackets for the 64-team field, and provide some initial reaction.

The official list of the 16 regionals (each a double-elimination affair), the teams comprising them, and the host sites is available here. Most of the regionals start this Friday, May 19, although a few start Thursday, May 18. Within each region, only one team has been given a national seeding, anywhere from 1 to 16.

The 16 regional winners are then paired off to compete a week later in eight super-regionals, each a two-out-of-three series. The winners of the super-regionals go to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City. As shown in the linked brackets (above), the regionals feed into the "supers" such that the national seed of the top team in one region, when combined with that of the top team in the "partnered" region, add up to 17 (e.g., 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, ..., 8 vs. 9).

Here are the 16 nationally seeded teams (arranged by potential super-regional match-ups, barring upsets). Unless noted otherwise, the listed team will host its region.

1 UCLA
16 Florida

2 Arizona
15 LSU

3 Texas
14 Washington (at BYU)

4 Northwestern
13 Texas A&M

5 Alabama
12 Stanford (at Fresno)

6 Arizona State (at Hofstra)
11 Georgia

7 Oregon State
10 Cal (at Iowa)

8 Tennessee
9 Michigan

For each of these 16 teams (plus a few others), you can access their official pages at their home universities via the links section in the upper right-hand portion of this page. Deviations from nationally seeded teams hosting may be based on inadequate facilities at the seeded schools and/or a desire to spread the tournament throughout the country.

Vigorous discussion of the brackets has now gotten underway at Ultimate College Softball (UCS). As suggested by one of the UCS discussants, teams' RPI profiles (rankings, best known in conjunction with college basketball, that take strength of schedule into account) appear to have played a large role in the seedings.

Northwestern, which beat a trio of Pac 10 powers -- UCLA, Cal, and Oregon State -- during the regular season (game-by-game log), really seems to have been rewarded by RPI. How else to explain the sizable gap between Northwestern's national seeding (4) and Michigan's (9)? Though edged out by the Wildcats in the Big 10 regular-season standings, the Wolverines captured two of the three head-to-head meetings between the teams, including in yesterday's conference tourney final.

Not only does Michigan get a fairly difficult initial regional -- featuring Big 12 tourney runner-up Oklahoma, probably one of the better non-seeded teams in the nation. If the Wolverines win their regional, they would then be matched up against Tennessee -- probably in Knoxville -- in the super-regionals. As one of the UCS discussants pointed out, last year Michigan and Tennessee advanced into the deep rounds of the World Series (the Wolverines winning it all, and the Vols being the last team Michigan beat to make the final round against UCLA), but this year, it is guaranteed that we will not see both maize-and-blue and light-orange uniforms at the WCWS (it's also possible, of course, that we could see neither).

As a Michigan alumnus (Ph.D., 1989), perhaps I'm viewing the brackets through maize and blue-colored sunglasses. Some of the UCS discussants seem to agree that Michigan got short-shrifted, however. Tennessee similarly didn't seem to glean much benefit from winning the SEC tournament.

I will continue previewing the NCAA tournament over the next few days, and then do a lot of updating once play actually begins, so keep coming back! You can e-mail me comments via my Texas Tech faculty webpage, at the top of the links section. Unless you indicate otherwise, I'll assume I can quote your comments in my future postings.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

2:10 pm Central: The CSTV broadcast of the Big 10 championship game between Northwestern and Michigan, which got underway a short time ago, can be viewed on the web for free at the following site.

Tennessee has won the SEC tournament, 3-0 over LSU.

In the Big 12, Oklahoma and Kansas will meet this afternoon at 3:00 (Central) in the final of the conference tourney. The game will be shown on Fox Sports cable, at least in the Southwest region.

8:20 pm Central: All of the major conference championships have now been determined, so it's on to the NCAA selection show tomorrow at 2:30 pm (Central) on ESPNews!

In the Big 10 tourney final, defending national champion Michigan dominated Northwestern 6-0, in Evanston. Two keys to the game were the stellar pitching of the Wolverines' Jennie Ritter, who allowed no runs at all over the weekend, and some defensive miscues by the Wildcats.

In the biggest surprise among the top conferences, No. 6 seeded Kansas captured the Big 12 tournament, defeating Oklahoma 4-2 in the final. The win gives the Jayhawks an automatic bid to the NCAA field. Although Northwestern student radio station WNUR's final "Bracketology" report, released earlier this week, had Kansas getting an at-large bid into the NCAA field (see link on right-hand side of the page), I'm sure KU softball supporters are relieved to have a place locked up in advance. Rock Chalk Jayhawks!

As I've already summarized, Tennessee won the SEC tournament earlier today, and UCLA won the Pac 10 regular-season title a couple of days ago (there is no Pac 10 tournament).

This message thread from Ultimate College Softball presents a running compilation of teams earning automatic NCAA bids from all of the nation's Division I conferences, not just the four that are the focus of my website.

Enjoy the NCAA selection show. I hope everyone's teams get the invitations, seedings, and hosting/travel assignments you're all hoping for!

Friday, May 12, 2006

I've just verified, from an NCAA TV listing, that Sunday's Division I softball selection show will air at 3:30 pm (Eastern) on ESPNews. As far as I know, ESPNews is available only if you subscribe to satellite or digital cable service. I'm sure that the brackets will be posted on several of the websites in my links section (right-hand side of the page), however. Talking about websites I've linked to, student radio station WNUR at Northwestern has been doing a "Bracketology" during the season, fearlessly forecasting who will be in the NCAA filed. Take a look, if you haven't already.

Here's where we stand at the moment (a little before 5:00 pm Central) in the major conference tournaments:

Starting at 9:00 am Saturday, the Big 10 tourney will have its semi-finals (Michigan vs. Indiana, followed by Northwestern vs. the winner between Ohio State and Penn State) and then the final.

As I did yesterday, I just checked the Weather Channel for Evanston and it's currently experiencing rain showers, 45 degrees (F.), feels like 40. Saturday looks like more of the same.

In the Big 12 tournament, which is a little more complicted because it's double-elimination, the four remaining teams (with their seeds) are: Nebraska (2), Oklahoma (5), Kansas (6), and Missouri (7). Two things that jump out at me are the near-absence of the highest seeded teams, and the fact that all four remaining squads are from the old Big 8 conference and none are from the old Southwest Conference (SWC), from which four schools were absorbed (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor) to form the Big 12. As an aside, the university at which I teach, Texas Tech, is home to the SWC Archives.

In the SEC tourney, after everything yesterday went according to seeding, today the opposite happened. Tennessee (4) beat Alabama (1) and LSU (3) beat Georgia (2), meaning that Saturday afternoon's final will match the Vols and Bayou Bengals.

As you'll notice from the documents linked above, some of these games will be shown on regional Fox Sports cable channels.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

2:20 pm Central: Today's a big day of softball, as the Big 12 tournament is in Day 2, action begins in the Big 10 and SEC tourneys, and there are some key Pac 10 games later in the day.

Right now, in a Big 12 losers' bracket game that should just have gotten started, Texas A&M (which lost earlier today in a 13-6 slugfest to Oklahoma) is now taking on archrival Texas. Pretty intense game for the losers' bracket, huh? The two teams split their previous match-ups this season.

You can follow the tournaments (and particular teams) via the links on the right-hand side of the page. More updates later...

5:15 pm Central: Texas is out. Cat Osterman started against A&M, but that didn't prevent a 5-0 Aggie rout.

In other news, Day 1 of the Big 10 tournament at Northwestern has been rained out (click here for announcement and updated schedule). I just checked the Weather Channel for Evanston, Illinois, and the current reading is rainy, 45 degrees (F.), feels like 38. Rain isn't such a surprise, but it sounds a tad cold for May!

9:00 pm Central: UCLA shut out Cal, 2-0, to clinch the Pac 10 championship.

In contrast to the upset-filled Big 12 tournament, the first round of the SEC tourney has gone completely according to form. In the eight-team, single-elimination bracket, the four highest seeds (in order, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee) all advanced, outscoring their opponents by an aggregate 18-1.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

If you're visiting this website at 9:45 pm Central time or shortly thereafter, go to the Big 12 tournament site at once, and then click on the Gametracker for the Oklahoma State-Texas game. The Cowgirls are batting in the top of the 7th, leading the top-seeded Longhorns 2-0.

The runs came off of UT starter Meagan Denny, who was relieved by Cat Osterman. OSU, seeded 8th, had to win a play-in game earlier in the day against 9th-seeded Iowa State to qualify to play the Longhorns.

One thing I noticed that had escaped me earlier is that for the play-in round, it's single-elimination (meaning that Iowa State, and 10th-seeded Texas Tech who lost to 7th-seeded Missouri, have to go home). From here on out, it's double-elimination, so even if Texas loses, it's not eliminated. More later...

9:58 pm Central: It's all over. The Longhorns come up with a run in the bottom of the 7th, but fall short 2-1 (box score and play-by-play).

No. 2 seed Nebraska has also lost, 3-0 to Mizzou.

Tomorrow's schedule is now showing on the Big 12 tournament page (linked above). It certainly appears that some of those games in the losers' bracket are going to be a lot more significant than originally anticipated.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

We're now exactly one week away from the May 14 NCAA selection announcement.

In the meantime, the Big 10, Big 12, and SEC will be holding conference tournaments. The Pac 10, which does not have a tournament, will have one more weekend of league play.

Because it's the only major conference whose standings are still in play, let's start with a summary of where things currently stand in the Pac 10. Today's UCLA at Oregon State game was rained out.

Arizona swept all three games this weekend against its visitors from northern California (beating Cal once and Stanford twice). Arizona State defeated Stanford, but lost two to Cal. Thus, the Golden Bears fared second best of the foursome and Stanford, the worst.

The Pac 10's softball page has fallen behind in updating the standings, so here are the most recent ones:

UCLA 14-3
Arizona 11-6
OSU 9-7
Cal 10-8
ASU 7-9
Stanford 7-11
Wash. 6-12
Oregon 4-12

With only next weekend's play remaining, UCLA appears to have the regular-season title firmly within its grasp, but there is at least a theoretical possibility that Arizona could slip past the Bruins. Arizona has four games remaining, all in Tucson, against the Oregon schools this upcoming Thursday-Saturday (two against UO, including a rain make-up, and two against OSU). UCLA is at Cal on Thursday, and at Stanford, Friday and Saturday. Thus, UA could finish 15-6 by winning all its remaining games. Further, if UCLA gets swept on its Bay Area trip, the Bruins would finish 14-6, in second place (unless the rained-out UCLA-OSU game gets made up, which seems unlikely).

Regarding the conferences that hold tournaments...

Northwestern, by virtue of its Big 10 regular-season title, will host the conference tourney this upcoming Thursday-Saturday, May 11-13. Only the top eight teams are included (click here for the schedule and match-ups).

In the Big 12, all 10 schools that field softball teams get to participate in the conference tournament, which starts Wednesday in Oklahoma City (schedule and match-ups). Regular-season champ Texas is the top seed.

Finally, Alabama, the SEC Western Division champion is the No. 1 seed in its conference tourney, whereas SEC Eastern Division champ Georgia (the host school) is No. 2. This tournament, which begins Thursday, is also limited to the top eight teams (schedule and match-ups).

The Big 10 and SEC each use a single-elimination format, which could make things more exciting by increasing the chances of underdog teams, whereas the Big 12 uses double-elimination. In NCAA tournament play, double-elimination is used throughout, either via a double-elimination bracket (in the regionals and in World Series pool play) or a two-out-of-three series (in the super-regionals and World Series championship round).

My reporting of conference tournament results this week will probably be fairly light, focusing on any upsets that occur. Of particular note will be any teams whose regular-season records did not appear to warrant NCAA bids, but who might be elevating their levels of play to threaten for automatic bids via winning their conference tourneys.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Many readers of this blog will be familiar with the "Sports Illustrated Jinx." If you appear on the cover of the famed magazine, misfortune has a good chance of following (SI actually did a study in 2002, tracking what happened to nearly 2,500 individuals and teams that had graced the cover; 37% of them experienced a setback, but no "control group" of non-pictured counterparts was studied, so there's no way of knowing if being on the cover actually increases bad outcomes above what the rate of occurrence otherwise would have been).

Perhaps my college softball blog has a jinx of its own. No sooner did I prominently feature Oregon State in yesterday's posting (below), than did the Beavers drop consecutive 1-0 games to Washington and to UCLA. OSU has one last chance Sunday against the Bruins to salvage a win for the weekend.

Northwestern, another team I recently featured, showed no signs of a jinx, however, defeating Illinois in the opener of the teams' series to clinch the Big 10 regular-season title. It was the Wildcats' first since 1987.

In a nationally televised ESPN2 contest, Tennessee shut out LSU 4-0 in the opener of a double-header. Then, in the non-televised second game, the Vols won big again.

Friday, May 05, 2006

In addition to the final weekend of Big 10 play (discussed in yesterday's entry, below), another highlight of this weekend will be UCLA's two games at Oregon State (single games on Saturday and Sunday afternoon). Both major national polls agree on the Bruins at No. 1 and the Beavers at No. 5 (see links on the right).

Within the Pac 10 standings, OSU (9-5) remains within striking distance of UCLA (12-3) with each team having six games remaining (today, OSU hosts Washington and UCLA is at Oregon; then, next weekend, UCLA plays the Northern California schools and OSU, the Arizona schools).

If this weren't enough to spur interest in the UCLA-OSU match-up, there's even more...

In the teams' one previous meeting this season, the Beavers came into L.A. and shut out the Bruins, something that rarely happens.

Also, as illustrated in a pair of ESPN.com articles, UCLA represents the "old guard" of collegiate softball, absolutely engulfed in tradition, whereas Oregon State is very much the upstart.

Behind every top team, it seems, is a star pitcher and, as discussed in the article about OSU, for the Beavers it's Brianne McGowan. (That softball appears to be so "pitcher-centric" is a topic I'd like to explore in a future entry.)



Finally, it's Senior Weekend for Oregon State. In the true spirit of Y-M-C-A, here are the seniors spelling out O-S-U (reproduced with permission from OSU Sports Information, whom I thank).

***

Update to a previous entry: This past Monday, May 1, I wrote about "Bracketology," a tradition in men's college basketball of forecasting (often well in advance) the exact match-ups for the NCAA field. I noted at the time that, "The best analogue I can find for softball comes from a discussion thread at Ultimate College Softball." Daniel Platt of Northwestern University's student radio WNUR e-mailed me to inform me of a weekly Softball Bracketology that he and his colleague Howard Tilman post on the station's website. I have now added a link to WNUR's sports page, where you can find their Bracketology write-ups. My apologies for the omission.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

One of the key storylines of this upcoming weekend's play will be Northwestern's attempt to win the Big 10 regular-season title for the first time under Coach Kate Drohan. The Wildcats, who go downstate to play single games at Illinois Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, have a "Magic Number" of 1, in relation to second-place Michigan, who goes to Michigan State for single games Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

Northwestern is 14-3 in the conference, whereas Michigan is 12-4. Even if, hypothetically, the Wolverines swept and the Wildcats won only one of two, Northwestern's 15-4 would still top UM's 14-4 (sometimes rain-outs work in your favor, sometimes they don't). Likewise, a single Michigan loss, even in the absence of any Northwestern wins against Illinois, would give the Wildcats the crown. Adding to the importance of winning the regular-season title, doing so allows you to host the conference tournament.

About a week ago, ESPN.com ran a nice article on the Northwestern program which, even as a Michigan Ph.D., I have to admire (I also want to thank the discussant on the Ultimate College Softball boards who brought this article to people's attention).

Given that I'm a college professor (at Texas Tech) who teaches statistics and is a member of SABR, it should come as no surprise that I'm a strong proponent of statistics-based decision-making, as exemplified in Michael Lewis's book Moneyball on Oakland A's GM Billy Beane.

(Just as an aside, I once attended a small conference on sports decision-making in Scottsdale, Arizona that was attended by several fellow academics, as well as Beane himself, and writers Bill James and Rob Neyer. Here's a group picture, without Beane, who had to go back to the A's spring training camp after his appearance.)

Anyway, given my Moneyball/statistical bent, I was pleased to see the following in the ESPN article about Northwestern:

Just seven years removed from her own playing career when she got the job, Drohan wasted little time hiring an assistant she knew she could rely on: Caryl Drohan, her twin sister and teammate at Providence. A proponent of the power game (the Wildcats have by far the fewest sacrifice bunts in the conference with 22 -- Purdue leads with 86 -- and Kate jokingly says her sister thinks bunts are a waste of time), Caryl has transformed the offense into a potent group that leads the Big Ten in both slugging percentage (.441) and on-base percentage (.375).

I don't have the statistics for softball, but for Major League Baseball, the book Curve Ball by Jim Albert and Jay Bennett contains a chart on p. 192 that tells us the following:

With no outs and a runner on first, a team can expect to score an average of .813 runs.

With 1 out and a runner on second (i.e., assuming successful execution of a bunt), the value for expected runs is only .671, thus suggesting the non-optimality of bunting.

This Washington Post article examines the controversy over bunting, in greater depth.

The above excerpt also mentions two offensive statistics -- slugging percentage and on-base percentage -- that go well beyond batting average in characterizing prowess at the plate by taking into account, respectively, the bases earned by a hit (e.g., double, triple) rather than just the fact that someone got a hit, and the ability to draw walks. The two statistics are commonly combined into one called "OPS" (On-base Plus Slugging), as elaborated here.

I always like to see a cerebral team do well, even if it's a competitor to Michigan.

Monday, May 01, 2006

If you're a fan of men's college basketball, there's a good chance you're familiar with ESPN's Bracketology, where during the season, "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi periodically projects what the NCAA tournament field will look like. No detail is spared -- you get to see expected head-to-head match-ups, seedings, and game locations. Lunardi even has his initial projection of the 2007 hoops brackets up and available for viewing, which for now at least provides some food for thought.

The best analogue I can find for softball comes from a discussion thread at Ultimate College Softball. It's mostly listings of whom people think will make the NCAA field from each conference, but you can also find projections of which teams will be placed together in regional tournaments. Not all the comments offer full-fledged projections; many simply offer concurrences and/or dissents from what others have posted.

For those of you who are new this year to following college softball, the NCAA implemented a play-off structure last year that duplicates what baseball has been doing for several years. The 64 teams in the softball field will be divided into 16 regional groupings, where the four teams at a given site (generally, the home of the highest-seeded team in that region) will play a double-elimination tournament. The only thing that probably would prevent a high seed from hosting is the lack of a suitable facility.

The 16 teams to emerge victorious from the regionals will then be paired off into eight super-regionals. The two teams at each super-regional (again, generally hosted by the higher seed) will then play a two-out-of-three series, to advance to the Women's College World Series. The WCWS has a permanent site in Oklahoma City.

Dates of the various rounds are listed here (the selection of teams will be announced Sunday, May 14).