In the sabermetric era of baseball, the statistic “WAR” has become the overarching determinant of a player’s value. WAR, which stands for Wins Above Replacement, measures the value of a player’s production while putting it in terms of how many wins they generate above a replacement-level player. It is important to note that this replacement-level player is not whoever falls next on the depth chart, but rather a theoretical estimation of how a standard replacement would produce. While player evaluation is a rather nuanced science, WAR is a strong estimator of value that comes in an easily-interpretable form.
We decided that it is essential to design a College Baseball WAR metric that focuses offensive production, defensive position, and strength of schedule. To demonstrate our WAR metric in practice, below lies a list of the Top 10 SEC Position Players in bcWAR last season. bcWAR is scaled to 162 games (the length of the Major League Baseball season), so a bcWAR of 2.0 can be interpreted as the following:
“Player X was worth 2 wins more than a theoretical replacement-level player over the course of a 162-game season”
Without further ado, here are the Top 10 SEC Position Players in 2022 bcWAR!
10. Spencer Jones, Vanderbilt, OF/INF (3.6 bcWAR)
After a demoralizing stretch of injuries, Spencer Jones put it all together last season. The 6’7” lefty posted a remarkable .370/.460/.643 slash line with 12 bombs, 14 stolen bases, and 60 runs batted in. Although we did not see the same firepower from the Commodores that we are used to seeing, Jones helped lead them to a decisive winner-takes-all game against Oregon State in their regional. Despite falling to the Beavers 7-6 in that final game, Jones made his mark on the game by sending a 3-2 changeup over the right field fence to put Vanderbilt on the board.
While bcWAR is a reflection of production stats, Jones’ underlying peripherals suggest that his performance was no fluke. Jones posted a 65% Hard Hit rate last season, which falls 10% above the Division I average. Perhaps Jones’ most impressive figure is the 100mph average exit velocity he posted against breaking balls last season. Numbers like these are likely part of the reason that the Yankees selected Jones in the first round of the 2022 draft. Upon the selection, Yankees fans quickly compared Jones to another tall slugger named Aaron Judge. While this comparison may be ambitious, it is easy to see why a fanbase should get excited over having a guy like Jones in their system.
9. Dominic Keegan, Vanderbilt, OF/INF (3.6 bcWAR)
Slotting in at #9 on the list is Jones’ teammate, Dominic Keegan. Keegan made the decision to return to school for his senior season after being selected by the Yankees in the 19th round of the 2021 MLB draft. His decision paid off handsomely. Keegan’s final season was his best by a comfortable margin, setting career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and runs batted in.
Keegan may not hit the ball quite as hard as Jones, although his exit velocity numbers are still strong. The biggest improvement in Keegan’s game came in the strikeout department. Despite tallying more plate appearances in 2022 than 2021, Keegan struck out 23 fewer times. Quality of contact is certainly important, but sometimes people underestimate the value of quantity of contact. Keegan gambled on himself by returning to school, and he was rewarded with a 4th-round draft selection from the Tampa Bay Rays.
8. Jacob Gonzalez, Ole Miss, INF (3.9 bcWAR)
All eyes have been on Gonzalez since he set foot in Oxford, and boy has he exceeded everyone’s expectations. Gonzalez’s freshman season garnered the attention of MLB scouts country-wide. In 67 games played, he recorded a .355/.443/.672 slash line. While he may have taken a slight step back last season with regard to his holistic statistical production, he displayed improvement in areas that will certainly appeal to professional organizations. In fewer plate appearances, Gonzalez raised his home run total from 12 to 18, and his walk total from 38 to 50.
Gonzalez is an athletic freak who is quite difficult to get out. It is rather uncommon to see a true shortstop post a .682 slugging percentage with 18 more walks than strikeouts in the SEC. The biggest success of Gonzalez‘s sophomore campaign occurred in Omaha, as the Rebels were crowned as the 2022 NCAA Division I Champions. With one more season remaining before he becomes draft eligible, Gonzalez will look to build on his already-illustrious collegiate career.
7. Austin Bost, Texas A&M, OF/INF (4.0 bcWAR)
Bost’s 2022 campaign was his best one yet, as he paced the entire SEC in hits during conference play. Bost isn’t your standard slap hitter who only racks up singles. Bost hit double-digit homers for the second consecutive season, while setting a career-high of 14 doubles. This impressive combination of hitting for average and hitting for power is buoyed by much-improved plate discipline. After running a 34:12 K:BB ratio in 2021, he cut his strikeouts to 29 while boosting his walks to a lofty 34.
Bost set Aggie nation ablaze by announcing that he plans on returning to College Station for one more season. It was a successful 2022 season for Texas A&M, as they battled all the way to Omaha before falling to the Oklahoma Sooners. The outlook is bright for next season, and Bost is set to lead the way for the hopeful Aggie squad.
6. Jacob Berry, LSU, INF (4.0 bcWAR)
Berry began his remarkable college career down in Tuscon, Arizona. In his first and only season for the Wildcats, Berry posted a remarkable 1.115 OPS while solidifying a spot on the Pac-12 All-Conference Team. Berry opted to transfer to LSU for his sophomore season. Expectations were high for the switch hitter entering Baton Rouge, but he quickly showed Tiger fans why he generated so much buzz. Berry slashed .370/.464/.630 while slicing his strikeout rate in half.
It is rather fitting that Berry falls in at #6 on this list, as the Marlins selected him with the 6th overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. Berry’s exit velocities may not stand out all the time, but he has an advanced ability to spray line drives. Berry has shown little issue barreling up fastballs. The next step for him as a hitter is producing similar quality of contact against breaking balls and off-speed pitches, especially as he faces higher-level pitching. While some question if he will stick at the hot corner long-term, few question the potential that he possesses at the plate.
5. Dylan Rock, Texas A&M, OF (4.2 bcWAR)
After a stellar four years at the University of Texas-San Antonio, Rock traveled a short distance to play his final collegiate season in College Station. Rock had no issue winning over the Aggie fanbase, as he paced the team in runs scored, runs batted in, and homers. On top of Rock’s tremendous power, he put together an impressive 18% walk rate. When Rock reached first, he often felt that he wanted more. The 6’1” righty swiped 16 bags last season as well.
The word that scouts frequently used to describe Rock was “toolsy”. He possesses a rare combination of power, plate discipline, the ability to hit for average, speed, and defense. The term “toolsy” is often used to describe players who are talented but have yet to put it together. Rock does not fall into that category. In his lone season as an Aggie, he showed the country that he can produce at a high level. He also showed the Toronto Blue Jays, who selected him in the 8th round of the 2022 Draft.
4. Dylan Crews, LSU, OF (4.6 bcWAR)
Many were shocked that Dylan Crews even made it to Baton Rouge, but boy are Tiger fans glad that he did. Crews is a stud. After a 1.116 OPS freshman year, Crews found a way to improve in 2022. His .349/.463/.691 slash line earned him Co-Sec Player of the Year honors. Crews ran a .374 batting average on balls in play least season, which some may view as a sign of future regression. However, given his mature ability to spray line drives to all fields, he should have no issue maintaining high success rates on batted balls.
Crews hits the ball hard. His 66% Hard Hit rate ranked him among the elite bats across the country. Entering his likely-final season in Baton Rouge, Crews is on the shortlist for the prestigious Golden Spikes Award. Moreover, when the 2023 MLB Draft comes around, there won’t be many hitters (if any at all) who hear their name called before Crews. He projects to have a long and fruitful career in this game.
3. Wyatt Langford, Florida, OF/C (4.7 bcWAR)
Wyatt Langford is a jack of all trades. How many players do you see labeled as an outfielder and a catcher? Most of the Florida MLB Draft attention this past year revolved around outfielders Jud Fabian and Sterlin Thompson. Thompson was snatched up by the Colorado Rockies with the 31st pick, while Fabian fell to the Baltimore Orioles’ pick at #67. What if I told you that a different Gator outfielder paced the team in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage?
That outfielder goes by the name of Wyatt Langford. After a rather non-existent freshman season, Langford burst onto the scene last year in a huge way. Langford posted an absurd 70% Hard Hit rate, which beats Crews by 4%. Hitting the ball hard certainly helped Langford lead the SEC in homers with a whopping 26. Langford has played himself into conversations regarding the first overall pick in the 2023 draft. One quick glance at his statistical profile and it’s easy to see why.
2. Trey Lipscomb, Tennessee, INF (4.8 bcWAR)
The Tennessee Volunteers were historically good last year. The Vols went 57-9 last season. No other SEC team lost fewer than 20 games. They may not have raised the trophy in Omaha, but they were certainly the most dominant team in the country for most of the season. While it was a true team effort, Lipscomb was their most productive offensive player. The third baseman posted a .355/.428/.717 slash line, while leading the dynamic Vols in homers.
The senior leader was scooped up in the third round of the draft by the Washington Nationals. Lipscomb’s statistical portfolio was more than enough to warrant high interest from MLB clubs, but there was more to the picture than that. A winning culture is brewing in Knoxville that was a rather unfamiliar sight. The Vols had experienced a dry spell over the past two decades that had seen little success within the SEC. Turning the program around was not the result of one man’s work, but Lipscomb surely played a role in establishing a winning culture.
1. Sonny DiChiara, Auburn, INF (5.4 bcWAR)
Every conversation about offensive production in the SEC must start and finish with Sonny DiChiara. After three strong seasons at Samford University, DiChiara transferred to Auburn for his senior year. His numbers were simply off the charts. Who led the SEC in batting average last season? Sonny DiChiara. On-Base Percentage? Sonny DiChiara. Slugging Percentage? You guessed it. Sonny DiChiara. The righty slugger put together one of the most impressive offensive seasons in SEC history, splitting Co-SEC Player of the Year honors with Crews.
Despite the overarching narrative that DiChiara likely projects as a designated hitter at the next level, the Angels selected him in the 5th round of the 2022 Draft. Even if his defensive value is minimal, his offensive upside is through the roof. DiChiara also led the SEC in walks. His discipline at the plate is well beyond that of a college-level hitter. Teams were cautious to pitch to him, which certainly makes sense. DiChiara played like a man amongst boys last season, and his offensive upside at the next level is sky high.