College Batting Leaders from 2007-2009

February 18, 2010

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What a wonderful time of the year. Baseball is starting to get underway, but I'm not talking about pitchers and catchers officially reporting to Spring Training. I'm talking about the college baseball season which starts this weekend. To celebrate, how about we take a look back at some of the best offensive seasons of the last three years?

For the last year or so, I've been collecting and adjusting offensive statistics for 13 Division 1 college baseball conferences: the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Big West, Conference USA, Mid American, Mountain West, Pac-10, SEC, Sun Belt, WAC and West Coast Conference. Tracking and collecting data for these conferences for the 2007 through 2009 seasons leaves me with just over 4,700 individual seasons. Here's an article I co-wrote at Baseball Analysts last winter that outlines everything I've done with these numbers. I have adjusted my "score" category a few times by tinkering with the way I weight things. But, on the whole, my methods are the same as in that article.

Before we dive into things, I just want to touch on what statistics I'll be using. I track strikeout and walk percentages per plate appearance (K% and BB%). I also use Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) as well as Isolated Power (IsoP) and I adjust both for park and strength of schedule. By using wOBA, I'm able to convert the number to a runs above average statistic as I collect the conference averages in these categories. I've also added a Adjusted Weighted Runs Created (wRC+) in the same way that Fangraphs calculates theirs. On the whole, my adjustment of college offensive statistics mirrors the work that Lincoln Hamilton's done here before.

The major thing to keep in mind when you read these is this: these are simply rating the players seasons in college and aren't being used as predictions of future success in professional baseball. There are some red flags you can look at (mainly in K% and BB%), but aside from that, these are just ranking the greatness of the season in as objective-terms as we can get.

Below are the top 25 college hitting seasons from 2007-09 with at least 150 plate appearances sorted by adjusted wOBA (wOBA*).


Eric Thames PEPP WCC 2008 250 50.69 0.628 0.423 0.154 0.132
Matt Laporta FLA SEC 2007 238 49.53 0.608 0.441 0.225 0.066
Gordon Beckham UGA SEC 2008 208 59.09 0.596 0.425 0.159 0.088
Buster Posey FSU ACC 2008 214 58.07 0.594 0.421 0.175 0.089
Tim Wheeler SAC ST WAC 2009 187 36.81 0.571 0.409 0.116 0.112
Josh Satin CAL Pac 10 2008 192 34.67 0.570 0.388 0.187 0.179
Kyle Jensen St. Mary's WCC 2008 216 39.28 0.569 0.337 0.100 0.170
Grant Desme Cal Poly Big West 2007 235 41.57 0.568 0.360 0.129 0.181
Bryce Brentz MTSU Sun Belt 2009 198 44.77 0.564 0.443 0.114 0.118
Adam Buschini Cal Poly Big West 2009 202 32.66 0.560 0.340 0.095 0.118
Todd Frazier RUT Big East 2007 231 55.76 0.559 0.401 0.197 0.162
Tony Thomas Jr FSU ACC 2007 203 47.20 0.555 0.310 0.137 0.124
Shane Peterson LBSU Big West 2008 204 39.42 0.548 0.223 0.164 0.175
Kyle Conley WASH Pac 10 2008 178 26.25 0.546 0.471 0.126 0.193
Justin Smoak SC SEC 2008 181 38.86 0.545 0.396 0.191 0.094
Dustin Ackley UNC ACC 2009 188 43.81 0.540 0.355 0.133 0.108
Troy Channing St. Mary's WCC 2009 194 32.11 0.539 0.377 0.107 0.181
Jeremy Hazelbaker BALL ST MAC 2009 189 37.12 0.536 0.286 0.186 0.136
Kyle Russell TEXAS Big 12 2007 163 27.77 0.535 0.508 0.160 0.223
Ryne White PUR Big Ten 2007 201 34.18 0.535 0.219 0.111 0.047
Tyler Townsend FIU Sun Belt 2009 182 35.52 0.532 0.413 0.100 0.120
Vince Belnome WVU Big East 2009 181 33.52 0.530 0.249 0.157 0.131
David Cooper CAL Pac 10 2008 169 27.15 0.530 0.364 0.141 0.133
Brett Wallace ASU Pac 10 2008 169 31.46 0.530 0.338 0.157 0.108
Mike McGee FSU ACC 2009 182 32.37 0.529 0.397 0.159 0.187


Here we see a lot of familiar names. Eric Thames had a great junior season at Pepperdine and he comes out atop these rankings because of a great unadjusted wOBA becomes even better when you include a very pitcher-friendly ball park (80 total park factor) and a tough schedule (108.8 SOS). His wRC+, which is like OPS+ you find elsewhere for Major League players, is the highest in my system as well -- a full 12% higher than Matt Laporta's great 2007 season. Thames was in High-A ball last year and had a decent showing with a .378 wOBA. Until he does it at a more advanced level, though, he's not all that intriguing.

Gordon Beckham was a phenomenal hitter in college. He showed signs that he'd be able to handle a quick ascension to the majors, something he accomplished with the Chicago White Sox. In college, he hit for power, displayed elite contact ability, and an demonstrated an uncanny ability to control the strike zone. He was nothing short of phenomenal.

It's very possible that the Colorado Rockies got a steal with the 32nd pick of the 2009 draft in former Sacramento State star Tim Wheeler. But I find some worriesome traits in his statistics. Firstly, his junior season was far and away his best in college. Secondly, he wasn't ever good at drawing a walk -- 4.9% in 2008 (247 PA's) and 6.3% in 2007 (221 PA's). He improved this in 2009, but I wonder if that's real strides in pitch recognition or more opposing pitchers in the WAC pitching around the biggest threat in the Sac State lineup. Thirdly, his gigantic power surge last year. He had posted adjusted IsoP's of .114 in 2008 and .170 in 2007. Suddenly his adjusted IsoP skyrockets to .409 among the ranks of Matt Laporta, Todd Frazier and Buster Posey? Color me skeptical. He didn't exactly light the world on fire in his pro-debut at a very low level, either. He's going to be an interesting one to watch.

Speaking of Mr. Do Everything, Buster Posey was phenomal at Florida State, but I don't need to tell you that. His Runs Above Average total in 2008 is the second highest in my entire system -- right behind Gordon Beckham. Being just a good college hitter didn't cut it in 2008.

Now, to touch on some of the lesser-known names here:

Kyle Jensen out of St. Mary's of the West Coast Conference put together a great 2008 but followed it up with a bad 2009. His wOBA*, adjusted IsoP, were all substantially lower than his stellar 2008. I think this might be a case of BABIP as he posted a .483 BABIP in 2008 versus just .324 in 2009. This is reflected in the fact that he lasted until the 12th round of the 2009 draft when the Florida Marlins called his name. He had an all right showing in short-season ball last year but contact problems that plagued him at St. Mary's continued in pro ball. He's very all-or-nothing with an okay eye at the plate but I wouldn't expect much of him in the future.

Josh Satin of Cal is another case of a BABIP run rampent in 2008. It was easily his best year, but I think there's enough in him to keep an eye on him. He showed very good walk rate in college and it's carried over to pro ball. Granted, he was old for the levels (just turned 26 in December) and is only at High-A ball, but if he maintains good walk rates, coupled with league average pop, there might be enough to get him some looks at the major league level. That's a lot of "if's" though.

Finally, we land on Bryce Brentz. He's, in my mind, easily the best Division 1 college bat in the draft his year. His 2009 was no fluke -- he hits for power, draws the walk, and doesn't strike out much. Some rumblings of bad make-up could hurt his draft stock but I think that's a mistake. An apparent above-average throwing arm means he's likely a right fielder in pro ball where his bat will absolutely play at the major league level, he's going to put up some gaudy numbers in Murfreesboro, Tennessee this year.


Mike Rogers blogs on the Tigers at Bless You Boys