Heyyyyyyyy Natty peeps, last year around this time I got a taste of what Nationals was about. I went on a go meeting app with a bunch of people I never met or knew to discuss rule changes about the NWLA tournament. It was great to see an open table format that allowed all leagues to have a say in how the tournament is played. It had its moments, like when someone asked if newcomers should have a vote. I then said, I feel like this is ironic that I am voting, and chose no. Whether new leagues should have a vote isn’t the purpose of this, but going to the tournament last year changed my idea of what NWLA is all about. I loved the atmosphere, the comradery of teams, and to be honest just a weekend away with the guys. (I’m not a big fisherman). Those were the key things for me and what I loved about the weekend, it made me instantly regret not taking Friday off so I can make it early to watch the All-Star Game and meet everyone. Those are the things I am going to mostly look forward to as long as this tournament goes on in the future. With that being said I have some rule changes I believe could propel this tournament from great to just a little greater and to spark some chatter.
The first rule I want to propose has been around the works for a while and going back even a year ago, I would have said I hated it and never wanted to play with this rule: The first pitch strike rule. After studying the pro’s and con’s I feel like it could be used as a positive in the format now, but even more so in my next rule proposal. The minimum amount of games played is 6 and there is no debate that this tournament destroys arms. In 2,662 plate appearances in the 2017 Tournament, 726 were walks…. That’s 27.27%. That means a quarter of this tournament is batters getting awarded for literally doing nothing. If you adapt this rule there will be 100% chance that number goes down, whether its 1% or 10% at this point anything is better than 27% I mean seriously. Second it would help save arms, pitchers would attack the board and less pitches will be thrown. The downfall and con to this is seeing batting averages drop even further below an already ridiculous number of 0.199 last season.
(List of batting stats for 2017 Tournament)
This leads to the second rule, I call it the Pitching Tier Rule. From the get go nothing changes, there is no pitching restriction, this is called the “Fast Pitch Tier”. It is a 5-3 count and this will showcase the best pitching from every league. The tier ends when a pitcher reaches 5 balls. The current format awards the batter a walk, and the next batter comes up to bat. The rule I propose is switching to pitch to hit for the remainder of the at bat. The pitcher must throw a lob pitch with the ball having to be above the batters head at one point during its trajectory. The pitcher than continues in the “Single Tier” with the a reset of balls and the amount of strikes from the Fast Pitch Tier. The majority of the time the ball will be put in play during this Tier, but to limit pitchers from throwing idiotic pitches the other Tiers are created. If the pitcher reaches 5 balls in the “Single Tier” the batter has a choice of taking first base or continuing his at bat. If he continues his at bat he enters the “Double Tier”, the strikes from the first two tiers will transfer over and the balls go back to zero again. The batter won’t get a chance to accept a base till 5 more balls are thrown, he is then offered a double. The same happens again to get a triple and then a home run if 25 balls are thrown. The only reason the double, triple, and home run tiers exist is basically to force the pitcher to throw something to hit instead of lobbing pitches in there with no purpose.
The first thing it does is add a ton of entertainment to the game play. The odds of having a walk off walk drops dramatically. Instead of a quarter of this tournament being people walking to first for watching a pitcher miss the strike zone 5 times, more balls will be put into play with more pegs, more dives, more ridiculous catches, and so on.
Next it changes the importance of each aspect of a team. I would say arguably the format now is 75% pitching, 20% batting, and 5% fielding if that. The numbers prove that with a 0.199 batting average, but I digress. I think this could bring those numbers to say 50%, 30%, and 20% per say respectively. I think the key to growing the tournament with quality teams is giving teams an option of competing other than just pitching. Notice I said competing, and not winning. I think pitching is the most important part of wiffleball and I think that should determine the majority of a team’s success, but not all of it. I think teams with good hitting and fielding with average pitching should be able to compete and make deep runs in the tournament.
The next is wearing out of arms, although this change doesn’t guarantee less pitches thrown, it does guarantee less fast pitches thrown. When a batter walks there is an 100% chance another batter will come up to the plate, with the new pitching rule this isn’t the case. The majority of the time the ball will be in play in the next couple pitches with the opportunity for the defense to make a play and get them out. So, let’s dive into some numbers. I disagree with the notion of comparing not only the NWLA, but wiffleball in general to baseball, but in this case I will. The reason I will is because arguable the MLB has a great balance of pitching and hitting. The average batting average last year was 0.255, which means on average you will see 1 hit per inning. This is obviously, if you can do basic math, around 9-10 hits a game, or 6-7 for a 6 inning game. Although I think that number is a little low, its reasonable, not to high, not to low. Last year the NWLA total was 0.199. Of the 16 teams that played at Nationals, 3 were above that 0.255 mark: SWBL – 0.264, KWL 0.257, and OCWA at 0.256. The Hitmen were fourth at 0.252, then fifth place dropped all the way down to 0.229. That means 12 of the 16 teams averaged less than 4 hits a game. The best part is if you go back with me to a couple of paragraphs when I gave out the walk totals. There were 726 walks in 2,662 at bats, that would be a 0.272 batting average if it were hits. What does this tell us, well that its smarter to literally just walk up to the plate, pull up a chair, and watch the pitcher rather than try to swing because there is a 7% chance higher rate you get on from walking rather than trying.
For all you who are saying I want to change the rules to better Leroy, you’re so far from wrong. Actually, it would hurt us more than help us based on last year’s stats. Here’s Leroy’s stats from last season (The number in parenthesis is per game stat, not totals.): Hits (2.29) 14th, Doubles & Triples (0) 16th, Home Runs (0.29) 14th, Runs Scored (3.29) 11th, Average (0.142) 14th. You want to know how we finished top 8 last year. Walks (8.43) 3rd. Many will say well you can’t win Championships without hitting that doesn’t happen in the final rounds. In the Championship game, there was a total of 6 hits, which per team is 3/game. Ironically 5 of the 6 hits in that game all were from the losing team, but I continue. The Championship game had 14 walks, 13 of those walks came from SWBL. So, we learn two things from this. A: Chris Roeder had a hell of a game, 1 ER, 1BB, 12k’s. Listen if you have that type of game you deserve to win and this system will make sure that happens. Chris would have gone into pitch to hit 1 time that entire game. ONE TIME. B: The part that pisses me off is the fact OCWA won this game by getting 1 hit. They won this Championship single handily by Chris. They could have put my 1 year old son at the plate to bat and still would have won this game.
I am going to continue with more numbers, the NWLA on base percentage was 0.416. Compare this to MLB’s 0.321 and we are once again way out of line. This is unwatchable pure and simple, if the MLB had 0.199 and 0.416 numbers it would cease to exist in 2017. Not only is there no action going on due to 1 out of every 5 at bats being a hit, the games would be 4 hours with the number of walks. The notion this tier system will add time to the game is false. When you walk a batter, there is an 100% chance you will face another batter. The batter has to walk to first and a new batter comes to the plate. In this system that is not the case, the majority of the time in the next couple of pitches a ball will be put into play with a chance at getting that batter out. So, the next question is what will the numbers look like incorporating this style. I am going to be generous and say half the time the batter get a hit whether that be homer, single, whatever from those pitches to hit pitches. We stated earlier we had 726 walks, multiple that by 50% and you get 363 hits. Also, I want to point out that we would have less at bats, which would lead to less fast pitch arm usage. So we would take 363 + the amount of hits in the tournament which was 383. That number totals 746, divide that by the total plate appearances which equals 2,662 and you get: 0.280. Let’s reference back to the MLB who had a .255 batting average, and .322 on base percentage. What is the average of those two numbers…. 0.288.
I enjoyed this tournament greatly, but the biggest concerns I have, and have heard are the following. Pitching is to dominant, the gameplay is boring at times, this tournament destroys arms, and hate when walks win games. This system improves dramatically in every single one of those categories without taking away from what makes this tournament great already. You won’t see a digress in dominant pitching, because the best pitchers will pitch less “pitch to hit” at bats. The only con to this system is the actual pitch to hit pitch, because it will fall on the umpire’s digression. The same umpire who makes a call if a batter is safe or out on a slide, the same umpire who makes the call if he is past the half line, the same umpire who says yes or no if the batter goes around or got the check swing in, the same umpire who has to determine if a runner is out on a peg. Another con could be people would wait for the pitch to hit, which I could still argue in saying we as a league basically did that anyway last year waiting for walks. Also if you incorporate the first pitch is a strike rule that could eliminate some of that as well.
The third rule piggy backs on the last in incorporating more excitement into the gameplay. Putting a max innings pitched limit to 5 innings per game. If forces every double elimination game to use two pitchers. It adds multiple managing options of how to use pitchers. Should I put a guy in for the first inning and put my ace in for the 2nd inning, what if it goes to extra’s and I have to use a third pitcher. Should I split it 3 innings each between 2? Should I just put my ace in for 5 and designate a closer to shut the sixth inning down? Most importantly it will showcase the league better being able to see a minimum of 2 pitchers rather than 1 per game. Will we lose game's like the historic HRL vs. WWF last year, yes. I think the pro's still out weigh the cons, i believe more games will come down to the wire and the 6th inning will prove to be more interesting.
My final rule is to DH a fielder, if more hits are in play we would need the best fielders showcasing themselves as well. The best batters don’t have to pitch or field if they don’t please, the best pitchers don’t have to bat or field if they don’t please.
I will always enjoy this tournament and will look forward to it every year. I want something to watch later that I can enjoy as well, or plays I can remember. I personally batted 0.000 last tournament, that’s right I had 0 hits the whole tournament in 23 plate appearances. My on base percentage was 0.478, I had 2 runs and actually had 3 rbi’s never getting one hit. I had a better on base percentage by far in a tournament of the best leagues, than I had in my own league. I think this tournament will continue to grow the next couple years, because the idea of it is still fresh and the core focus remains. I think it will begin to see digress when teams continually go 0-5 with a 0.100 batting average, the Galloway Glitz and Glam is gone. It's about gameplay now and going 0-5 with a chance to hit a couple homers off some pitch to hit sounds better than getting get k'd 7 out of 10 times with 2 walks and a miraculously hit.
Anyway that’s my two cents I think the core values of having some fast pitching, social interaction, and prestige of being a tournament of just leagues should be the foundation of the tournament and continue year after year. The rest should welcome change if needed and adapt year after year for the better, learning from the previous tournament and not being afraid to try new things.