Following Wednesday night's win over UAB, Ole Miss baseball is 17-1 (a winning percentage of .944) heading into this weekend's SEC opener against Tennessee. The bullpen has been dominant in every facet, the bats are coming along, and the team looks poised to make some real noise this season. The weekend rotation features talented pitchers who have gotten out of jams and generally looked pretty solid. The weekday starters have improved a lot. The team has already won two more out-of-conference games than it did all of last year and still has eight games remaining. Things couldn't really be much better (sure, Ole Miss could be 18-0 and batting .500 on the year. Don't "well, actually" me).
But isn't that just more of the same for Mike Bianco's teams of late? Don't they always tear it up out of conference, only to look slightly better than average in SEC play? The short answer is, it depends how much you value a few extra wins. Let's take a look at some of the numbers to find out.
Most Bianco teams roll out of the gates
I looked at the data from 2010 until now. I realize that's not Bianco's entire tenure, but I think it's a valid sample size. The scope of college baseball was a little bit different when Stephen Head et. al. were at Ole Miss, and I wanted to analyze teams that, like this year's squad, aren't full of superstars.
2015 is an obvious outlier, but as you can see, Bianco's teams generally do very well before SEC play begins. They're usually looking at something between 14 and 16 wins with four or fewer losses. That hasn't always yielded tremendous success by year's end though, as you can tell by the 2013 season. That year, the Rebels raced out to an 18-1 record before taking a series at Fayetteville. Bobby Wahl, Mike Mayers, and Sam Smith looked like a solid combination, and the Ole Miss bats were pretty good. That team lost six SEC series though and ultimately was knocked out of the Raleigh (NC) regional by William & Mary. I was at that game. It was quite sad.
The next year, the team started 16-2 and ended up hosting a regional and making it to Omaha. I was there as well. it wasn't sad.
Is there correlation between OOC starts and total wins?
I could do complex math to show this, but... look at the chart. It doesn't seem like out-of-conference starts have dictated total wins much at all. Sure, 2015's awful start led to a bad record, but the rest of the years in this data set just didn't really correlate.
And that's why I don't think this start really dictates much about the way the year will go. Will the team finish better than last year's? Almost definitely, but that's not really saying much.
Still, the hot start could pay off
Ole Miss is currently on pace to win 94 percent of its games against non-SEC opponents. If that holds up, it will finish at 24-2 in OOC play, which would wreck every other Bianco team's output. In fact, if the Rebels finish just 4-4 in the remainder of their out-of-conference games, their win percentage in such games would be 77, besting every year in the data.
Those wins aren't meaningless -- they could very well be the difference when it comes to hosting a regional or super regional at the end of the season.
The season has started well, and could be wonderful, but there's a lot of time left for adversity to strike. Baseball is a game about consistency as well as "getting hot", and whether the Rebels can be consistent enough early and get hot late remains to be seen.