Why Kasey Cooper Should Have Won USA Collegiate Player of the Year
Call it being a homer. Call it sour grapes. I am totally OK with it. Kasey Cooper not winning the USA Collegiate Softball Player of the Year didn’t sit well with me.
Being a life-long Auburn fan and the resident softball fanatic, it should come as no surprise that I was miffed that No. 13 didn’t walk away with the most prestigious award given to the best college softball player in America. But, before you click the “X” in the top right hand corner, let me tell you why I believe Cooper was shafted and Michigan’s Sierra Romero was reverse Peyton Manning’d.
What is reverse Peyton Manning’d? If you weren’t around in the mid- and late-90s, Manning had a fantastic career at Tennessee. But in his last year, the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prestigious award, went to Michigan’s Charles Woodson by 262 votes. Many people, especially in the South, believed that Manning was the best player in college football and deserved the trophy based on his body of work.
Sierra Romero is a terrific player, and her body of work is simply outstanding. She’s a career .444 hitter, has an on base percentage of .586, 301 hits, 304 RBI and 82 home runs. Her career fielding efficiency is .935 with 40 double plays. 2016 isn’t even her best year as 2015 was easily better in almost every category.
Romero’s a THREE TIME USA Collegiate Softball Player of the Year finalist, and that’s crucial. Why? Because I believe this award selection was based upon a body of work, not on being 2016’s best player.
Consider the following.
Auburn’s Kasey Cooper had one less hit, two less RBI, the same number of homers, a higher on base percentage and more extra base hits. Is that even? Which player would you rather have?
With 12 more at bats, Cooper was walked 18 more times than Romero, though Cooper had 14 strikeouts to Romero’s 11. Cooper also held a higher fielding percentage at .962 to Romero’s .961, essentially the same. What isn’t the same is that Romero plays 2nd and Cooper 3rd. Romero had more fielding opportunities than Cooper, though the number of attempts may be offset by the difficulty of the plays, and Cooper has made ESPN-like plays (and frequently had ESPN Top 10 nominations).
In addition, with no disrespect to Romero, Michigan and Romero didn’t get their wins and statistics against the same level of competition as Auburn and Kasey Cooper. While it may be splitting hairs when looking at stats to evaluate Cooper and Romero, the level of competition isn’t even close. The difference, I believe, is downright shameful.
Michigan was 8–3 against ranked opponents. Of those wins, THREE came against one team, Missouri. Conversely, Auburn was 12–8 against ranked teams, four of which are in the USA Top 10. Auburn won three out of five games against No. 4 Alabama and No. 1 Florida.
Against Florida, Romero hit 0–2 in an 8–0 loss, and Cooper hit 4–11 with 2 RBIs, 2 walks, and 2 runs scored. Against Alabama, Cooper walked an astounding four times, with the first two setting up five of Auburn’s six runs to beat Bama.
Furthermore, Michigan played in the Big 10, which has just six teams in the top 50. Conversely, the SEC had 10 teams in the top 25, all 13 of its participating teams were in the top 50, and Auburn played ten of them.
Michigan played 36 straight UNRANKED teams from March 3rd to May 14th. Conversely, when Auburn started its regular season against Tennessee State on March 9, its maximum span between playing ranked teams was eight. Impressively, Auburn played an astounding 14 straight contests against ranked opponents to end the regular season and go through the conference tournament. Michigan, on the other hand, never played back-to-back ranked opponents until super regional play. It then beat Notre Dame and the aforementioned Missouri Tigers.
Throughout her stellar four-year career, Romero was a record-setter at Michigan, where she was a three-time finalist for the award before winning it. She is an amazing player, and her team’s schedule isn’t her fault. However, Kasey Cooper not only kept pace in 2016, was as good or better in almost every statistic that matters, and did it against the best competition in college softball. Voters may have looked at stats to decide Romero was the better player, but it seems obvious that strength of competition was not considered and/or the award was given as a “body of work/lifetime achievement” award. I don’t think that is right.
Am I biased? Certainly. I am an Auburn and Kasey Cooper fan.
Kasey Cooper is the embodiment of an Auburn woman. Kasey Cooper has a 4.0 GPA as a mechanical engineering student at one of the nation’s best engineering schools. Regardless of what I and other Auburn fans feel, she won’t be outwardly upset that she didn’t win. She will accept it with grace and humility, pointing to her real goal, a national championship.
In the meantime, she has hoisted a lot of hardware, including both the ESPNW National Player of the Year Award and the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Award. And, while awards are great, nothing can replace her work ethic in the classroom or the diploma she will earn.