Lucky or Good?

By now you are probably very aware that South Carolina swept Tennessee over the weekend, and you are probably also aware that on Saturday Carolina won two games with walk-off home runs. As a Gamecock I’m happy to conclude that the real Carolina finally showed up and, of course, won the game, but is that true?

Were the walk-off home runs and the rallies they capped flukey happenstance or was the futility of the rest of the games an aberration? We can draw some preliminary conclusions, and as the season goes on, we’ll have a better idea. If Carolina keeps winning, those home runs will look like par for the course. On the other hand, a few too many losses make those special rallies look like good luck and nothing more than good memories.

We can already look back at this season and see the rallies against Clemson and Ole Miss to see that while the Gamecocks may have gotten some good breaks against Tennessee, those breaks weren’t rare. In fact, it’s that rarity that points to USC being a clutch team. They seem to perform best when the pressure is on. That’s certainly been the MO of their most successful progenitors.

There’s something else to look at to see how lucky the Yardcocks were: the numbers. Sometimes it seems that your team just isn’t pushing runs across even though they are putting men on base. If that is what is really happening we can see that in the hits per run metric.

An admittedly simple measure, take the number of runs and divide it by the number of hits it took produce. For last season, Carolina scored 377 runs on 601 hits. That’s 1.59 hits per run. This season, before the Tennessee game, Carolina scored 173 runs on 280 hits, 1.61 hits per run. So, if nothing else Carolina’s offense has been fairly consistent. For comparison MLB teams were anywhere from 1.67 hits per run to 2.45 hits per run over the last two seasons. One would expect their numbers to be slightly higher than the college numbers since they don’t score as much, but I digress.

Back to the Tennessee series: in Game One South Carolina had 2 runs on 13 hits before the last inning. The hit per run ratio was 6.5, way more than their historical or seasonal norm. Put simply Carolina wasn’t playing as well offensively as they usually did, and it would only be a matter of time before their numbers would begin to regress back to their expected values. The result? Eventually USC was going to break through, but a home run made it more dramatic.

Fast forward to Game Two, and you see the same thing. Through eight innings South Carolina had 3 runs on 8 hits, a 2.67 ratio. That’s much better than Game One but not as good as usual. As could have been predicted the numbers began to work themselves out, and Carolina scored 6 runs on 3 hits in the final inning.

All this isn’t to say South Carolina was destined to win. Rather, eventually South Carolina was going to start pushing more runs across as long as they kept getting hits. South Carolina’s two comebacks look a lot less like luck, and a lot more like the Gamecocks finally breaking through.