Defense wins championships in football. On the baseball diamond, the equivalent is strong pitching. Or so we think.

Below is a chart looking at the college baseball programs to lead the nation in earned run average in each of the past 25 years and how they fared in the Division I tournament, according to stats collected by NCAA.org. How do the results line up with your expectations?

Top pitching staffs over past 25 years (Finished No. 1 in ERA)

Season School ERA Record Round reached
2016 Cal State Fullerton 2.22 36-23 Regional
2015 UCLA 2.17 45-16 Regional Final
2014 TCU 2.22 48-18 CWS Second Round
2013 Arkansas 1.89 39-22 Regional Final
2012 Missouri State 2.57 40-22 Regional
2011 Virginia 2.24 56-12 CWS Runner-up
2010 Texas 2.45 50-13 Super Regional
2009 Arizona State 2.90 51-14 CWS Semifinals
2008 North Carolina 2.92 54-14 CWS Semifinals
2007 Charlotte 2.64 49-12 Regional Final
2006 Cal State Fullerton 2.73 50-15 CWS Semifinals
2005 Long Beach State 2.53 37-22 Regional
2004 Rice 2.64 46-14 Regional Final
2003 VCU 2.54 46-13 Regional
2002 Rice 2.79 52-14 CWS First Round
2001 Delaware State 2.99 37-10 Did not appear in tournament
2000 Nebraska 3.14 51-17 Super Regional
1999 Florida International 3.07 44-19 Regional
1998 St. Francis (NY) 3.46 26-12 Did not appear in tournament
1997 Arkansas State 3.14 35-18 Did not appear in tournament
1996 Clemson 3.03 51-17 CWS Semifinals
1995 Florida International 2.40 50-11 Regional
1994 Delaware 2.53 19-8 Did not appear in tournament
1993 Kent State 2.37 41-15 Regional Final
1992 Le Moyne 1.95 28-9 Did not appear in tournament

That's zero national champions to crack the list. Surprised?

That's not to say there haven't been deep runs during this stretch. Six of the 25 ERA champs advanced to the eight-team College World Series. Five of those six have come in the past 11 years, showing that perhaps there is a greater correlation in today's game between pitching and postseason success.

On the flip side, 11 teams on this list failed to advance past the opening Regional round, including five that didn't even qualify for the 64-team tournament. 

Now let's look at the teams that did go on to win the College World Series during this period and how their pitching staffs lined up:

CWS champs from 1992-2016:
Season School ERA ERA national rank
2016 Coastal Carolina 3.41 31st
2015 Virginia 3.49 56th
2014 Vanderbilt 2.90 25th
2013 UCLA 2.55 6th
2012 Arizona 3.70 71st
2011 South Carolina 2.45 5th
2010 South Carolina 3.45 7th
2009 LSU 4.01 9th
2008 Fresno State 4.64 56th
2007 Oregon State 3.48 11th
2006 Oregon State 3.41 14th
2005 Texas 2.80 4th
2004 Cal State Fullerton 3.73 22nd
2003 Rice 2.74 2nd
2002 Texas 2.83 2nd
2001 Miami (Fla.) 3.87 26th
2000 LSU 4.43 Outside top 35 *
1999 Miami (Fla.) 3.88 11th
1998 USC 5.03 Outside top 35*
1997 LSU 4.62 35th
1996 LSU 3.38 5th
1995 Cal State Fullerton 3.40 13th
1994 Oklahoma 3.73 Outside top 25 **
1993 LSU 3.73 25th
1992 Pepperdine 3.04 10th

* NCAA.org lists only the top 35 in team ERA this year

** NCAA.org lists only the top 25 in team ERA this year

It's a mixed bag among this group of champions. Eight teams finished within the top 10 in ERA their respective years while seven came in outside the top 30. All together, this field averaged a combined 3.55 mark — almost a run more than the average among the past 25 ERA leaders (2.62).

More interesting facts and notes from these two charts:

  • Pitching is on the rise, if the ERA leaderboard is any indication. The No. 1 pitching staff in the nation hasn't had an ERA over 2.99 since 2000.
  • The team with the lowest ERA in the past two and a half decades did not see any postseason play that year. That 1992 Le Moyne squad finished atop the MAAC regular season standings (28-9, 16-2) but did not qualify for the Division I tournament.
  • 1998 USC's 5.03 ERA is the high-mark among CWS champs in the past 25 years. With an offense that scored more than seven runs a game, led by future Major Leaguers Eric Munson and Morgan Ensberg, the Trojans prevailed. Fittingly, in the national championship game against Arizona State, USC won an offensive affair 21-14.
  • Rice led the nation in ERA in both 2002 and 2004 but failed to advance past the CWS Semifinals. In between those years, the Owls lifted the trophy in 2003 with the country's second-best ERA. That's an impressive three-year stretch.

 

So what do these past results mean as we creep closer to the 2017 tournament? Well, No. 1 Oregon State currently leads the nation by a wide margin in ERA (1.74, as of April 20) behind an electric rotation and a shutdown bullpen.

Opponents will likely have to scrape and claw for each and every run when going up against the Beavers in a postseason setting and Oregon State will rightly be one of the favorites heading into the tournament, barring any prolonged slump in the final two months of the regular season.

But, assuming the Beavers stay atop the ERA leaderboard, they will have to fight against recent history in order to capture their first title in 10 years.