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Who broke the softball team?

 R/G RA/G
2006 4.0 2.2
2007 4.3 2.8
It would seem that the main difference is on the pitching side of the ledger. But wait a second...
 ERA IP HR/7 H/7 K/7 BB/7 K/BB WHIP FIP AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO
2006 1.83 485 0.42 5.4 7.5 2.5 3.0 1.13 3.14 .210 .294 .303 .597 .087
2007 2.09 298.7 0.40 4.8 7.9 3.0 2.6 1.11 3.21 .189 .290 .269 .559 .078
Those numbers look awfully similar. Thanks at least in part to a lower batting average on balls in play, opponents are actually hitting worse off of NC State pitching this year than they did last year (see OPS column). The FIP column lists the Pack's fielding-independent ERA.

What about looking at conference games only?
 R/G RA/G
2006 4.2 2.4
2007 4.3 3.8
Okay, but...
 ERA IP HR/7 H/7 K/7 BB/7 K/BB WHIP FIP AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO
2006 2.01 143 0.54 5.2 6.8 2.5 2.7 1.10 3.69 .205 .298 .316 .614 .105
2007 3.37 79 0.53 6.3 7.8 3.5 2.2 1.41 3.74 .234 .337 .330 .667 .092
I expected to see some bigger differences here. Conference foes are hitting for less power so far this year, but they're hitting for higher average and getting on base more often. The staff is allowing an an extra walk per seven innings but also striking out an extra batter, and FIP ERA suggests that the pitching performances have, again, been roughly equivalent. Where are those extra 1.4 runs allowed per game coming from?

Is it the defense? (Conf. games only:)
 DER BABIP
2006 .700 .246
2007 .630 .304
Defensive Efficiency Ratio (DER) is the percentage of batted balls that are turned into outs by the defense (i.e., 63% of the balls put in play by conference opponents this season were turned into outs by State's defense). For whatever reason, State's DER has taken a major slide in conference play--we were much better last season, and even in non-conference games this year.

Conference opponents are also hitting .300+ on balls put in play, and my highly unscientific research (read: I found the average BABIP of the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10, and Big XII) indicates that the average BABIP is somewhere in the .270-.280 range. So the pitching staff has been a bit unlucky with balls in play (maybe in part due to a slow-footed defense?).

Abbie Sims has pitched the most innings for the Wolfpack in ACC play, and she's felt the brunt of the misfortune. Prior to her two-hit shutout of Boston College yesterday, her in-conference BABIP was north of .350 (it's now .320). Must be payback for that .213 BABIP she had in conference games last year.

Bottom line: this year's pitching is right in line with last year's. Abbie Sims, in particular, is remarkably consistent from year to year. NC State has played a much more difficult schedule this season (#4 in the nation) and hit a spot of bad defense/bad luck in conference play. Those factors have contributed both to the underwhelming 27-16 record and to the apparent degradation of the pitching staff.

Notes:

-- There is an "analysis statistics" section on the softball season stats page, and this section includes pitcher peripherals like K/7, BB/7, etc. There are ground out/fly out columns so that you can see the ground ball/fly ball tendencies of the pitchers (though they really need to include all batted balls, not just the ones turned into outs). Shaina Ervin is an extreme ground ball pitcher--sort of a Brandon Webb softball equivalent. None of these data are available for the baseball team [insert frowny face].

-- Shaina Ervin managed to halve her career walk rate (BB/7) in 2006. This apparently wasn't indicative of some newfound control, as her 2007 walk rate is back up to where it was in 2004 and 2005.

-- Since we're talkin' softball: