Not short on Pitching
The flurry of activity at the onset of the 2018/2019 Mid Atlantic offseason has left all of us playing catch up and collectively asking, “Wait . . . who is on what team now?” Throughout the winter months we will sort through the madness by taking a team by team look at the some of the squads you can expect to see next season.
By virtue of forming after the Longballs, the Shortballs are technically the Ridley Park Wiffleball League’s second tournament team. The group also skews younger relative to their Longball counterparts by at least a couple of years which gives them a little brother feel. And yes, the odds are strong that the Shortballs will finish behind the Longballs in Mid Atlantic this upcoming season. What the Shortballs certainly are not, however, is a “B-team”. With several high upside pitching prospects and a 6-man roster that has been game-tested for several years, this is a team that should cause trouble for opposing offenses.
On many young teams, there is one flashy prospect or potential breakout player that stands out above the rest. That’s the not the case for the Shortballs where opinions on who their best pitching prospect is varies depending on who you ask. One veteran wiffler and MAW mainstay has been overheard fawning over the future prospects of Ryan “Teddy” Drecher, who allowed just two runs over 16 innings while facing the likes of the Jersey Lemon Heads, WILL Waves, and York Yaks in 2018. Another longtime wiffler with a keen scouting eye sees dollar signs in southpaw Nate Smith. With a deceptive delivery and a quality riser, Smith could be a bad match up for some of Mid Atlantic’s more talented left-handed hitters like Connor Young or Ben Stant. In RPWL last year, Smith thrived in a reliever role which may make piggybacking the righty Drecher with the lefty Smith a tantalizing option for captain Joey VanHouten late in tournaments. Complementing Drecher and Smith on the mound will be right-hander Frankie Campanile. While currently viewed as the team’s third starter, it would not be a shock if Campanile joins his two pitching teammates as a buzz worthy pitching prospect by mid-summer.
The Shortballs’ weakness is on offense. This past August, the team was shutout in three of their four games and struggled to consistently put runners on base. To address that apparent deficiency, the team added Jack Libero from the Ridley Park Wiffleball League. Libero was among the league leaders in walks in RPWL (42% walk rate between the regular season and playoffs) and showed some power potential with three home runs in 33 at bats. The Shortballs will also look for returning player “Big Sexy” Vinnie Alabanese to carry over his power output from the RPWL playoffs (3 homeruns in 23 at bats) to 2019 MAW competition as they try to find ways to put more runs on the board.
You are standing in the batter’s box on Sheff and unfortunately for you, Dan Whitener is staring back at you from 45 feet away. You have struck out twice this game already and have little reason to believe this at bat will end any differently. The batter before you managed a walk with no outs and your team’s two best hitters are coming up after you. You would love to get the runner over to second knowing that if you do, this might be your team’s best chance at scoring in this game. You just have to figure out a plan to make that happen.
Your first thought is to hope that the bout of wildness that befell Dan the previous batter will carry over to this at bat. No such luck. You take a first pitch riser that buzzes right by you and clanks off the zone. Now with just one strike to work with, you decide to choke up as much as you can with the hope of ambushing a pitch. You begin your swing before the ball has even left the pitcher’s hand and end your swing while the pitched ball – a changeup – is still spinning through the air. After picking yourself up and dusting yourself off, you return your bench – head down – wondering what if anything you could have done differently.
If taking a pitch doesn’t work and swinging out of your shoes doesn’t work, why not try laying down a bunt?
In two years, not a single player has attempted to bunt in Mid Atlantic. There is no rule against it in the MAW rulebook and runs are often at a premium, so why has this particular hitting approach remained on the shelf?
The notion that bunting in wiffleball is a cheap play only holds up if one believes that executing a bunt hit is easy. It isn’t. Laying down a successful bunt hit in Mid Atlantic requires eye-hand coordination (to even square up on a ball darting every which way), bat control (to keep the ball fair), and delicate precision (to get the ball past the 12-foot play line but not so far past that it can be easily fielded before coming to a stop). It is a skill and should be viewed as such.
Despite the inherit challenge in executing a bunt base hit, for some it might be a higher percentage play than swinging away against certain pitchers. For a player who is experienced with the art of bunting and continually sharpens the skill, the occasional bunt against a Whitener, Red, Soup, Lutick, Bingnear, Bush, or Robles might be a higher percentage play than swinging away or attempting to work a walk. It is all about scoring runs by any means necessary within the rules and the confines of good sportsmanship. If you can gain advantage by bunting, why wouldn’t you?
The trickledown impact of more bunt singles would be fascinating.
In the scenario described above, if the batter successfully laid down a bunt during that at bat, the infield – or at least one infielder – would likely draw in the next time he is up. The hitter has given no indication he can get a swinging hit against Whitener but has proven he can lay down a bunt, so the defense would be wise to adhere to the odds. Eventually this batter would have to prove that he can at least put the ball in play against Whitener while swinging away to get the defense to play him at normal depth. If not, the strategy will have a limited lifespan.
But what if a mediocre or even great hitter started to bunt on occasion? How would the defense react to that? A batter that hits a line drive single in his first plate appearance and follows up with a bunt single in his second would leave the defense with a decision to make. If it’s a three-fielder defense and the batter hasn’t shown to be much more than a singles hitter, perhaps the defense pulls one player in to take away the bunt and places the other two fielders on the infield line on both sides of the rubber. Imagine the chaos that would be caused by a hitter like Jordan Robles if he demonstrated both the ability and willingness to bunt for a single. How does the defense react to that – one player in, one traditional infielder, and one outfielder? Do they play straight away daring Robles to bunt since at least that would limit the potential damage?
The strategic possibilities and challenges that would come from players bunting for singles with some regularity are plentiful and could potentially add a lot of excitement – and maybe a few runs – over the course of the season.