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Picking the NCAA Tournament bracket based on WAR

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College basketball is king right now, so let’s fit some baseball in there.

Roger Clemens

Have you filled out a NCAA Tournament bracket this week? I bet you have. If you haven’t, then you only have a few more hours to do so. I filled out two brackets this year. The first was the one in which I tried to actually pick the winners. The second took me down a more interesting baseball-related rabbit hole.

Taking inspiration from the multitude of bracket-picking gimmicks littering the internet, I decided to go through and pick the tournament based on bWAR. To do this, I did some research and found (as best I could) the all-time leader in bWAR produced by each of the 64 schools (yes, I cut out the First Four) in the field. Feel free to let me know if I left anybody out in the comments, but here’s how the whole thing worked out.

South Region

Round of 64

No. 1 Virginia - Eppa Rixey (55.4 bWAR) over No. 16 UMBC - Buck Herzog (27.4)

Talk about a matchup of all-time great baseball names. Rixey is a Hall of Fame pitcher who played for 21 years with the Phillies and Reds. He went 266-251 with a 3.15 ERA (3.29 FIP) across 4,494 23 innings. Herzog had a fine career as well, playing 13 seasons and stealing 320 bases in 1,493 games. But he can’t steal this one from Rixey and Virginia.

No. 8 Creighton - Bob Gibson (89.9) over No. 9 Kansas State - Elden Auker (15.4)

A two-time Cy Young winner, Hall of Famer and someone on the short list for best pitcher of all-time, Gibson easily advances over Auker, even if he did play the 1939 season with the Red Sox.

No. 5 Kentucky - Brandon Webb (31.4) over No. 12 Davidson - Fred Anderson (5.0)

Webb was one of the best pitchers in the league for a little while there. He won the Cy Young in 2006 and was runner-up the next two seasons. However, he only pitched seven years, reaching 200 innings in five of those, and became one of the great what ifs in the sport’s history. Anderson played for the Red Sox in 1909 and 1913 and also served time with the Buffalo Buffeds and New York Giants. He led baseball in ERA (1.44) and ERA+ (177) in 1917, but was somehow worth only 5.0 wins in his career. Webb and the Wildcats move on.

ALCS: Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians - Game 5 Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

No. 4 Arizona - Kenny Lofton (68.2) over No. 13 Buffalo - Joe Hesketh (8.7)

Lofton received just 3.2 percent of the vote when he hit the Hall of Fame ballot in 2013. That is stupid. Hesketh was a serviceable arm for 11 years in the bigs, including five with the Red Sox from 1990 to 1994.

No. 6 Miami - Mike Piazza (59.4) over No. 11 Loyola-Chicago - Phil Weintraub (9.9)

On one side is the greatest hitting catcher in MLB history. On the other is a relatively solid first baseman and outfielder from the 1930s and 40s. I’ll take the former.

No. 3 Tennessee - Todd Helton (61.2) over No. 14 Wright State - Joe Smith (12.2)

Helton was going to win this one no matter what, but just note that the Raiders nearly had Carlos Pena, but I thought it unfair to make him a Raider since he only attended for one quarter.

No. 10 Texas - Roger Clemens (140.3) over No. 7 Nevada - Lyle Overbay (16.9)

Even if you only count Clemens’ Red Sox tenure (81.3 bWAR), he still crushes Overbay.

No. 2 Cincinnati - Sandy Koufax (49.0) over No. 15 Georgia State - Larry Jaster (3.7)

That’s right. Koufax is a Bearcat. (Shameless plug for Down the Drive). He also has a career 2.76 ERA and led the majors in ERA from 1962 to 1966 when he promptly retired. Jaster is also credited with going to Michigan State and New Mexico, but we’ll let the Panthers have him before being eliminated.

Round of 32

No. 8 Creighton - Bob Gibson (89.9) over No. 1 Virginia - Eppa Rixey (55.4 bWAR)

In 1968, Gibson produced an ERA of 1.12 in 304 23 innings. Goodbye, Mr. Rixey.

No. 4 Arizona - Kenny Lofton (68.2) over No. 5 Kentucky - Brandon Webb (31.4)

I mean, Lofton should have at least gotten enough votes to remain on the ballot for another year.

No. 3 Tennessee - Todd Helton (61.2) over No. 6 Miami - Mike Piazza (59.4)

You can blame the Coors Field effect, but Helton could really mash as well.

No. 10 Texas - Roger Clemens (140.3) over No. 2 Cincinnati - Sandy Koufax (49.0)

Too bad this is a quantity thing, because as good as he was, I don’t think I’d take peak Clemens over peak Koufax.

Round of 16

No. 8 Creighton - Bob Gibson (89.9) over No. 4 Arizona - Kenny Lofton (68.2)

Gibson received 337 Hall of Fame votes in 1981.

No. 10 Texas - Roger Clemens (140.3) over No. 3 Tennessee - Todd Helton (61.2)

When Helton was a rookie in 1997, Clemens had already won three of his seven Cy Young Awards.

Elite Eight

No. 10 Texas - Roger Clemens (140.3) over No. 8 Creighton - Bob Gibson (89.9)

Much in the same way that Clemens ousted Koufax, he will advance beyond Gibson. But feel free to throw an asterisk on this if you like.

West Region

No. 1 Xavier - Frank Robinson (107.2) over No. 16 Texas Southern

This was a pretty simple one and not just because of how good Robinson was. I could not find a player from Texas Southern with MLB service time.

No. 8 Missouri - Ian Kinsler (55.0) over No. 9 Florida State - J.D. Drew (44.9)

This would have been a good matchup even with backups for the Tigers (Max Scherzer) and the Seminoles (Buster Posey).

No. 5 Ohio State - Frank Howard (37.6) over No. 12 South Dakota State - Vean Gregg (23.6)

Howard was the 1960 Rookie of the Year and led the majors in home runs twice. He also had some dope nicknames, including “Hondo” and “The Capitol Punisher.” Gregg pitched eight MLB seasons from 1911 to 1918, including parts of three with the Red Sox, but no word on any cool nicknames.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

No. 4 Gonzaga - Jason Bay (24.3) over No. 13 UNC Greensboro - Brian Moehler (10.9)

Moehler was a journeyman pitcher in the late 90s to 2010, but that doesn’t compare with THE BAY STATE!. Yes, I am still fond of 2008 and 2009.

No. 11 San Diego State - Tony Gwynn (68.8) over No. 6 Houston - Woody Williams (30.9)

The Aztecs produce some fine ball players, as Gwynn just narrowly edged out Graig Nettles (68.0). Williams was actually a teammate of Gwynn on the San Diego Padres from 1999 to 2001, but he wasn’t the same type of once-in-a-generation talent.

No. 3 Michigan - Charlie Gehringer (80.6) over No. 14 Montana

Once again, a Hall of Famer beats out a school that has not produced an MLB player by my estimation. Michigan would have moved on even if Michigan lent Montana its second-best player (Barry Larkin).

No. 7 Texas A&M - Chuck Knoblauch (44.6) over No. 10 Providence - John McDonald (6.6)

While Knoblauch is perhaps best known in Boston for being a guy that committed errors, he was a pretty solid ball player. He beats out McDonald, a light-hitting infielder who actually played in six games for the 2013 Red Sox.

No. 2 North Carolina - B.J. Surhoff (34.3) over No. 15 Lipscomb - Don Blasingame

Surhoff was never a star, but he was a consistently solid MLB player for quite a long time. He was a thorn in the Red Sox side while playing for the Orioles from 1996 to 2000. Blasingame played in the infield and was kind of a poor man’s B.J. Surhoff with the bat.

On a semi-related note, UNC has had a healthy number of players with awesome old timey baseball names. I came across Snuffy Stirnweiss and Burgess Whitehead doing this research.

Round of 32

No. 1 Xavier - Frank Robinson (107.2) over No. 8 Missouri - Ian Kinsler (55.0)

Kinsler has black ink on his Baseball-Reference page twice. Robinson has it 35 times.

No. 5 Ohio State - Frank Howard (37.6) over No. 4 Gonzaga - Jason Bay (24.3)

The Bay State is a better nickname than The Capitol Punisher (don’t @ me), but Howard was worth more wins.

No. 3 Michigan - Charlie Gehringer (80.6) over No. 11 San Diego State - Tony Gwynn (68.8)

OK, let’s actually talk about Gehringer since he’s knocking out one of the greatest contact hitters ever. He has a career slash line of .320/.404/.480, won the batting title and MVP award in 1937 and was a six-time All Star. So, yeah, he was pretty good.

No. 7 Texas A&M - Chuck Knoblauch (44.6) over No. 2 North Carolina - B.J. Surhoff (34.3)

Knoblauch was an All-Star four times. Surhoff was only once.

Sweet 16

No. 1 Xavier - Frank Robinson (107.2) over No. 5 Ohio State - Frank Howard (37.6)

Xavier’s Frank > Ohio State’s Frank.

No. 3 Michigan - Charlie Gehringer (80.6) over No. 7 Texas A&M - Chuck Knoblauch (44.6)

Elite Eight

No. 1 Xavier - Frank Robinson (107.2) over No. 3 Michigan - Charlie Gehringer (80.6)

Frank Robinson won a Triple Crown. Charlie Gehringer did not.

East Region

No. 1 Villanova - Mickey Vernon (34.5) over No. 16 Radford - Phil Leftwich (2.5)

Vernon was an interesting batter, in that he didn’t have a ton of home run power, but he slapped together 490 doubles from 1939 to 1960. Leftwich didn’t even reach that many career innings pitched (202).

No. 9 Alabama - Joe Sewell (53.7) over No. 8 Virginia Tech - Joe Saunders (8.8)

Sewell got his start in 1920 and batted .312 over a 14-year Hall of Fame career. Saunders was an All-Star for the Angels in 2008, but bounced around from there and never really recaptured the magic.

No. 5 West Virginia - Charlie Hickman (25.0) over No. 12 Murray State - Kirk Rueter (16.7)

We have to go all the way back to 1897 to find Hickman’s rookie season. He led the majors in total bases and hits in 1902 while playing for the Boston Americans and the Cleveland Naps. Rueter’s rookie year was 1993 and he never led the league in anything.

No. 4 Wichita State - Claude Hendrix (31.4) over No. 13 Marshall - Rick Reed (21.1)

Wins are lame, but Hendrix won 29 games in 1914 when he threw 34 complete games. Reed threw 14 complete games in his career (1988-2003). Obviously the eras were different, but that is quite the contrast.

No. 11 St. Bonaventure - John McGraw (45.6) over No. 6 Florida - Robby Thompson (33.6)

McGraw was ahead of his time, walking 836 times in 4,940 plate appearances. He also batted .334 from 1891 to 1907 and is in the Hall of Fame. Thompson (1986-1996) played 11 years for the Giants and led the majors in triples (11) in 1989.

No. 3 Texas Tech - AJ Ramos (6.8) over No. 14 Stephen F. Austin Steven Hill (0.1)

This will probably be outdated in a few years, as Royals prospect and SFA alum Hunter Dozier is currently sitting at 0.0 bWAR for his very short career. Ramos has been a decent reliever for the Marlins, and now the Mets, but probably won’t lift his total all that much higher.

No. 7 Arkansas - Cliff Lee (44.3) over No. 10 Butler - Doug Jones (21.8)

No. 15 Cal State Fullerton - Frank Tanana (57.9) over No. 2 Purdue - Bob Friend (41.0)

Tanana made his MLB debut at age 19! He was incredible from that point (1973) to 1979, posting a 2.93 ERA in 1,411 13 innings. The rest of his career was less stellar, but those seven years were fire. Friend was a workhorse, who led the majors in innings pitched twice (1956 and 1957).

Round of 32

No. 9 Alabama - Joe Sewell (53.7) over No. 1 Villanova - Mickey Vernon (34.5)

The bWAR edge and the Hall of Fame advantage power Sewell over Vernon’s doubles.

No. 4 Wichita State - Claude Hendrix (31.4) over No. 5 West Virginia - Charlie Hickman (25.0)

Two players from the deadball era battle it out. Hendrix wins.

No. 11 St. Bonaventure - John McGraw (45.6) over No. 3 Texas Tech - AJ Ramos (6.8)

Once again, if you’re in the Hall of Fame, you’re probably going to go far.

No. 15 Cal State Fullerton - Frank Tanana (57.9) over No. 7 Arkansas - Cliff Lee (44.3)

Tanana is the next Florida Gulf Coast.

Sweet 16

No. 9 Alabama - Joe Sewell (53.7) over No. 4 Wichita State - Claude Hendrix (31.4)

Hendrix’s last season was 1920. That was Sewell’s first. Newer is better. Plus, Sewell walked 842 times in his career and only struck out 114 times. He walked 64 times in 1925 and had four strike outs.

FRANK TANANA TIGERS

No. 15 Cal State Fullerton - Frank Tanana (57.9) over No. 11 St. Bonaventure - John McGraw (45.6)

You can’t spell Cinderella without Tanana.

Elite Eight

No. 15 Cal State Fullerton - Frank Tanana (57.9) over No. 9 Alabama - Joe Sewell (53.7)

Do you believe in miracles?! Also, Sewell was caught stealing more than anyone in the bigs in 1927 (16) while successfully stealing only three bags.

Midwest Region

No. 1 Kansas - Smokey Joe Wood (40.3) and Bob Allison (33.9) over No. 16 Penn - Roy Thomas (40.3) and Doug Glanville (10.9)

A No. 16 has never beaten a No. 1 but a lot of folks think Penn could be the team to do it this year. Well here’s another straw of evidence to support this, as the all-time bWAR leader for Kansas (Wood) and Penn (Thomas) both registered marks of 40.3. That meant I had to go to the next-best player from each school as a tie-breaker. That got us Allison and Glanville. Kansas barely advances thanks to the 1959 Rookie of the Year.

No. 8 Seton Hall - Craig Biggio (65.1) over No. 9 NC. State - Mike Caldwell (18.7)

Biggio was a seven-time All Star who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015. Caldwell pitched for 14 years in the majors from 1971 to 1984, with his best year coming in 1978 when he went 22-9 with a 2.36 ERA and came in second in the AL Cy Young voting.

No. 5 Clemson - Jimmy Key (49.6) over No. 12 New Mexico State - Mark Ace - 0.5

Even though Ace has an absolutely fantastic baseball name, Jimmy Key strikes him out by a long shot.

No. 4 Auburn - Frank Thomas (73.7) over No. 13 College of Charleston - Brett Gardner (35.2)

Auburn has plenty of players to choose from, including Tim Hudson, Josh Donaldson and Bo Jackson. But the Big Hurt is the best of them all. Gardner is far and away the best CofC product, with 1,107 of the 1,172 hits ever recorded a the MLB level by a former Cougar.

No. 6 TCU - Jake Arrieta (21.7) over No. 11 Syracuse - Dave Giusti (19.1)

Arrieta is not just fortunate that he finally signed with a team, he is also lucky that Syracuse beat Arizona State in the First Four last night, because the Sun Devils produced Barry Bonds (and Reggie Jackson, Jim Palmer, Dustin Pedroia, Bill Buckner, Sal Bando and more).

No. 14 Bucknell - Christy Mathewson (101.7) over No. 3 Michigan State - Robin Roberts (86.1)

Mathewson pitched when William McKinley was president (and Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson). He recorded an ERA below two five times. Roberts never led the majors in ERA like Mathewson (five times), but he did reach 300 innings six times and throw 305 career complete games.

No. 10 Oklahoma - Bobby Murcer (31.9) over No. 7 Rhode Island - Dave Stenhouse (2.9)

A five-time All-Star and 1971 leader in OPS (.969), Murcer was a strong hitter for the Yankees, Giants and Cubs. Stenhouse was an All-Star in 1962 but he was out of the majors after 1964.

No. 2 Duke - Dick Groat (36.7) over No. 15 Iona - Dennis Leonard (26.3)

Marcus Stroman is coming for Groat, but the 1960 MVP and 14-year veteran takes it for Duke. He beats out Leonard, who was a 20-game winner in 1977 when he came in fourth in Cy Young voting.

Round of 32

No. 8 Seton Hall - Craig Biggio (65.1) over No. 1 Kansas - Smokey Joe Wood (40.3)

You don’t get Allison’s help this time, Smokey Joe.

Cubs v White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

No. 4 Auburn - Frank Thomas (73.7) over No. 5 Clemson - Jimmy Key (49.6)

These two were contemporaries, so they faced off more than a few times. However, Thomas was the more valuable player, even if Key won two World Series titles.

No. 14 Bucknell - Christy Mathewson (101.7) over No. 6 TCU - Jake Arrieta (21.7)

Welcome to Pennsylvania, Jake, but this is Christy’s state.

No. 2 Duke - Dick Groat (36.7) over No. 10 Oklahoma - Bobby Murcer (31.9)

Groat hits a buzzer beater over Murcer.

Sweet 16

No. 4 Auburn - Frank Thomas (73.7) over No. 8 Seton Hall - Craig Biggio (65.1)

Two Hall of Famers step into the ring, but only Thomas comes out.

No. 14 Bucknell - Christy Mathewson (101.7) over No. 2 Duke - Dick Groat (36.7)

If Mathewson just took his four best seasons (1908, 1903, 1909 and 1905), he would beat Groat 39.3-36.7.

Elite Eight

No. 14 Bucknell - Christy Mathewson (101.7) over No. 4 Auburn - Frank Thomas (73.7)

Somebody finally figures out how to strike out Thomas.

Final Four

No. 10 Texas - Roger Clemens (140.3) over No. 1 Xavier - Frank Robinson (107.2)

Boy this would be a great at-bat to watch.

No. 14 Bucknell - Christy Mathewson (101.7) over No. 15 Cal State Fullerton - Frank Tanana (57.9)

Your classic 14-seed vs. 15-seed Final Four battle.

National Championship Game

No. 10 Texas - Roger Clemens (140.3) over No. 14 Bucknell - Christy Mathewson (101.7)

I’m just as disappointed as you are. Congratulations, Texas.