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The Most Valuable Player In College Softball, By The Numbers

(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

If we told you there may be a player more valuable to Oklahoma's 2022 season than Jocelyn Alo, what would you say?

The superstar senior will no doubt have all eyes on her this year, and is sure to put on a show. But her teammate, Jayda Coleman, may just give her a run for her money. What might indicate this battle among titans? The answer lies in sabermetrics.

Sabermetrics are an empirical analysis of statistics that measures in-game activity. In particular, there is a statistic that allows us insight into key players that help to secure wins for teams.

So, let’s go to war.

From a metaphorical standpoint, you could view college softball as a war among teams. The goal in every war? To win, of course. But you can’t win a war without soldiers.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an all-inclusive statistic used in sabermetrics to determine a player’s contribution to their team. By using the WAR statistic, we can predict standout players for the 2022 season.

But what is the WAR statistic?

The WAR statistic is a calculated comparison of nearly all statistics between a single player and the overall league. Adjusted hitting, fielding, scoring and baserunning are all taken into account, although there are some statistics that are arguably more impactful than others. Taking the top teams from the Power Five conferences, the WAR statistic differentiates players that may otherwise run under the radar as key components to a team’s winning record.

For reference, any WAR number that is computed to six and above is the kind of performance we would see from an MVP. In other words, that player would be responsible for approximately six wins for their team.

Take UCLA, for example. While all eyes may have been on Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles during the 2021 season, and for good reason, there were two women who proved to be significant assets in keeping UCLA as a top five team. Namely, Kinsley Washington and Maya Brady.

Together, the senior and sophomore helped account for nearly 12 wins in the UCLA season. These wins not only helped solidify the Bruins as a top five team nationally, but as the number one team in the Pac-12.

Looking at other top teams in the Power Five, we can see similar results, and therefore, identify who may be the standout players to watch this season.

The Big Ten can expect much from Michigan’s Lexie Blair, whose WAR number is comparable with some Oklahoma superstars. Likewise, in the SEC, Alabama’s Kaylee Tow will surely be one to watch for, with an all-star average of above four wins alone.

Then, of course, we come to the ACC and Big 12. Sydney Sherrill of Florida State accounts for nearly 12 wins alone. Oklahoma’s Jayda Coleman, on the other hand, accounts for an astonishing 16 wins.

This is where the most minute details come into account. While Alo’s number is still clearly MVP status in accounting for approximately six wins, it pales in comparison to Coleman’s 16. But, why is that?

Jocelyn Alo is, without a doubt, a generational hitter unlike any other. However, where this statistic comes into play, and where Coleman takes the lead, is in both baserunning and fielding. Alo is assessed as a primarily designated hitter, and as such, is at a disadvantage when calculating the WAR statistic. That being said, the fact that the senior is able to account for such titanic numbers without factoring in stolen bases or fielding speaks for itself. But this is also why Coleman is so far ahead of her teammates, let alone fellow all-stars across the nation.

Overall, the sophomore collected 20 stolen bases during the 2021 season, and with the positional adjustment, her .979 fielding percentage certainly made an impact on Oklahoma’s performance as a whole. These statistics, among others, are what helps to set Coleman apart, which brings up a question becoming more and more common in softball.

Who is more valuable to a team, a power hitting offensive juggernaut or a lockdown defensive player with speed to change situations for their team, and find their way on base enough to do so? What matters more? Launch angles or speed?

It depends who you ask.

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