October means a lot of things. Fall is bringing its spectacular colors and weather to people throughout the Midwest. Pumpkin-spiced everything is available everywhere you look. The college football season is in full swing. And playoff baseball is heavily prevalent during the week when the boys of the fall are preparing for their weekend games.
While the Twins were sadly and unceremoniously swept from the American League Division Series two nights ago, the hunt for a World Series title continues for several other teams. Similarly, the season is already over for the likes of Rutgers, signaled by the firing of Chris Ash, and Illinois, whose officials I’m sure are examining the Lovie Smith contract and calculating buyouts as we speak. While they’ll still play games, they have no chance at really improving their conference outlook.
This week, we’ll rank the members of the Big Ten Conference on tiers based on baseball franchises. I combined general prestige, on-field success, and nation-wide appeal into an order that I think reflects the standings of baseball franchises somewhat accurately. Follow along and see if you hate me by the end of this exercise.
(Do with these rankings what you will. SP+ rank and FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index) rank is provided next to each team. Click these links for more information on SP+ and FEI. FEI hasn’t been updated to reflect games past Week 5.)
The New York Yankees Tier
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (2nd, 2nd)
Unarguably the best team in the conference much like the Yankees are the biggest name in the sport of Major League Baseball. Ohio State is a bonafide playoff contender who continues to impress via the eye-test, advanced statistical systems, and in the win column. Quarterback Justin Fields started slow against Michigan State last Saturday at The ‘Shoe but the Buckeye offense exploded in the second quarter and were their usual dominate selves from that point forward. This was against a defense that ranks 6th in SP+. And on top of all that, the dominate win over Cincinnati continues to age like a fine wine as the Bearcats defeated UCF in a night game on Friday. It will take something cataclysmic to move Ohio State from their perch in the power rankings.
The Los Angeles Dodgers Tier
#2 - Wisconsin Badgers (6th, 6th)
#3 - Penn State Nittany Lions (7th, 11th)
This tier is comprised of two teams who appear to be very, very good. They have both had surprisingly close calls against one lesser team thus far but have proven to be versatile and resilient. They are just outside being good enough to be talked about for an appearance in the College Football Playoff. Much like the Dodgers in recent years have been winning consistently and at an extremely high clip, they just don’t have quite enough to compete for the ultimate prize. Both Wisconsin and Penn State are still very good teams and currently stand alone in their own class.
The St. Louis Cardinals Tier
#4 - Michigan Wolverines (17th, 22nd)
#5 - Iowa Hawkeyes (21st, 12th)
#6 - Michigan State Spartans (18th, 15th)
#7 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (26th, 36th)
A bit of reshuffling in the upper middle of the conference has Minnesota joining a jammed tier represented by the team that has the second-most World Series titles in baseball: the St. Louis Cardinals. These teams all have very good aspects to them (Gophers’ offense, Michigan/Michigan State defenses, etc) but not enough proven quality across the board to jump to that next tier just yet. Iowa’s defense played admirably in Ann Arbor this past weekend but I’ll still bump the over-hyped Wolverines up to the top of the tier because it is possible the defense just got caught flat-footed in Madison and this team is still better than a large majority of the Big Ten including the fellow members of this tier.
The San Francisco Giants Tier
#8 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (39th, 71st)
#9 - Indiana Hoosiers (28th, 41st)
#10 - Northwestern Wildcats (70th, 60th)
#11 - Maryland Terrapins (36th, 88th)
These are teams that on any given Saturday could make all sorts of noise against superior opponents but I still have no idea how to fully interpret their past performances. Even the advanced systems have quite a bit of differentiation between their rankings of these teams. Northwestern has played a pretty brutal schedule but they also have one of the worst offenses in the country. Nebraska has tons of talent and high expectations but they have looked bad against great teams (Ohio State) and mediocre against mediocre ones (Northwestern). Perhaps I am giving Indiana too much credit but for the time being I’ll keep them near the top of this confusing tier. Maryland is another confounding squad but the fact that they didn’t score a single point against Penn State at home a few weeks ago still gives me pause in moving them up.
The Boston Red Sox Tier
#12 - Purdue Boilermakers (72nd, 78th)
#13 - Illinois Fighting Illini (71st, 89th)
Both of these teams are pretty bad. Purdue more so due to significant injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. Illinois is just bad because that appears to be the Illinois way. I don’t have much else to say about these teams. And that’s probably the biggest indictment on them.
The Seattle Mariners Tier
#14 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (98th, 120th)
Seattle has never won or been to a World Series in 52 years. And they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001. This lack of winning seems appropriate here...