Josh Pagano

End of the Summer Special: Notable Players from the Summer Months

By: Paul Cooke

Later this year, The Drop will award the Player of the Year award to the player – among ten finalists – that the editor determines was the best all around wiffler in unrestricted pitch speed competition for the 2018 season. Plans are also in the works for a comprehensive “Top 100” list to be released towards the end of the calendar year.

In July, we highlighted the stories of twenty players who for one reason or another stood out for their performances during the first six months of the calendar year. This time we look at the stories of fifteen additional players who caught out attention during the third quarter of 2018. As a reminder, the award, list, and this article only looks at performances in unrestricted pitch speed environments.


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Did any other hitter do more in fewer games this summer than Ben Stant? In ten spring & summer games between Mid Atlantic and Palisades Ben collected 29 hits, 12 walks, and 8 home runs while striking out only 15 times in 68 trips to the plate. Lest you think he was feasting on subpar competition, Stant did his damage against an array of quality arms: Jarod Bull, Jimmy Cole, Matt & David Herbek (Naturals), Tim McElrath, Adam Milsted, Chris Owen, Johnny Costa, and Jordan Robles. On a per plate appearance basis, Stant very well might have had the best year of any hitter in the sport. Unfortunately, the sample of games is a little too small for Stant to place highly on year-end lists – as his placement in the Mid Atlantic Hitter of the Year category demonstrated – but its an impressive output nonetheless. Stant’s season appears to be done, but everyone – well, expect for opposing pitchers – hope to see him and his bat on the field more frequently in 2019.

One of the coolest things about any Wiffle Ball summer is seeing players from the past that faded from the scene suddenly pop up in unexpected places. Dereck Anderson was the heart and soul of the Los Angeles-based Gunners – who finished runner up to In the Box in the 2005 Fast Plastic NCT – in the early to mid 2000’s and won a GSWL Fast Pitch title in 2010. Dereck faded from the public eye shortly thereafter but re-emerged mid-2018 in the Washington based JAL. Anderson is having a fine JAL XVIII season at the plate, with more than double the number of walks (64) than strikeouts (31) to go with three doubles and three home runs. On the other side of the ball, Anderson has been a solid number two pitcher for the first place Castle Rock Rapids, forming a top notch 1-2 combo with Rapids’ ace Jeter Larson.

I had the opportunity to chat with many players this summer who participated in the NWLA Tournament. When I asked these individuals to name the players from the tournament that impressed them the most, almost to a man the name Gus Skibee came up. The St. Louis based player finished top three in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, and totals bases at the yellow bat, fast pitch tournament. Skibee did at least some of his damage against known commodities including Austin Berger (WILL), Anthony LaValley (AWAA), and K-Von (AWAA). Gus was solid on the carpet as well, throwing six shutout innings for his Cardinals team. Skibee’s 2018 unrestricted pitch speed resume is diminished by it’s relative brevity, but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who saw him play in Morenci that was impressed with his bat. Certainly, participating in a major fast pitch tournament or league outside of the NWLA tournament would go a long way to assessing just how good of a hitter this NWLA Tournament standout is but there is little doubt that he has the tools.

Only two pitchers so far this year have managed to hold the dangerous McElrath brothers hittless over a full 5+ inning game. One is the Palisades’ Dodgers Tim Trenary. The other? The Jersey Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick. And oh yea, if that weren’t enough Ray also has head-to-head victories over Jordan Robles, Conor Young, and Chris Sarnowksi this year. The Lemon Heads were one of the busiest and winningest teams during the back-half of the summer with Ray leading the charge. During four MAW tournaments this summer – including September’s Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament – Ray ran over opposing batters to the tune of 267 strikeouts and 18 ER in a whopping 104 innings pitched. The Lemon Heads’ workhorse pitched nearly every game for his team, using a power drop pitch - reminiscent of Dan Cryan - to befuddle hitters. In addition, Ray went 5-1 for the Lemon Heads at the tournament formally known as National Wiffle. On September 8th at the Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament, Ray had a tournament for the ages as he pitched at least a part of all nine of his team’s games on the way to a second-place finish and tournament MVP honors.

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Speaking of the Lemon Heads, Ray’s teammate Dave Clark is another player to keep an eye on in 2019. Clark’s numbers in MAW – both on the regular season and in the Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament – don’t jump off the page by any means, but he has all the makings of a top flight Wiffle Ball hitter. Until running into Robles – who he did hit up for a triple and a single – Clark had a heck of a Championship Tournament, including eight hits in twenty at bats against Young and Blake Hoffman. Clark is a line drive hitter and tends to keep the ball in the middle of the field – which limited his home run totals – but he is nonetheless a major threat at the plate with a great swing and effortless power. Now that he has a full season under his belt, 2019 could be a breakout year for Clark. Keep him on your radar.

Ryan Bush has been on the radars of most serious players for years now but his performance during the second half of the 2018 calendar year is going a long way towards reaffirming his spot as a top tier pitcher. It began for Ryan at the NWLA Tournament in July when he threw 14 shutout innings over the course of three games for OCWA. His underlying numbers were just as good. The tall righty allowed a measly three hits and nine walks while striking out 36 batters throughout the course of the two-day tournament. After disappearing for a year from Palisades following a great rookie campaign and tremendous 2016 post-season, Ryan re-emerged this year throwing 20 innings of two-run ball for the pennant-winning Giants. Although he has been far less impressive at the plate this season, Bush has already proven this year that he can shut down hitters no matter what the environment. A good showing at the Fast Plastic Texas Open would only add to his impressive and diversified pitching resume.

It was a bizarre summer for the Ridley Park Red Sox. The team began the 2018 RPWL season 0-6 and needed a 6-2 run to sneak into the playoffs. Lefty Tyler Nachbar had an inconsistent season on the rubber but pitched three shutouts down the stretch to get his team into the postseason. A power threat every time he steps to the plate, Nachbar sent seven of his eleven hits during the RPWL regular season out of the park for home runs. In the playoffs, Nachar’s pitching woes continued and he eventually came down with a sore shoulder following an impressive pitching performance – 11 innings of one run ball – at MAW’s August 4th tournament. With nowhere else to turn, Nachbar handed the ball to his team’s number two pitcher – Cam Farro – who only had 8 2/3’s innings of pitching work to his name during the regular season. That lack of experience mattered little to the high school senior. Farro took the ball for his team’s next five games and threw 27 innings of 2-run ball on the way to clinching the title for the Red Sox. Farro is still a raw flame thrower but was picking up new pitches as the playoffs rolled along. With plus velocity already, he is another pitch or two away from joining what seems to be an endless supply of quality pitchers to come out of the Ridley Park Wiffleball League.

Correction 9.19.18 7:00 PM:

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The minor league arm of Palisades WBL is only three seasons old, but it may have already found its poster boy in Vinny Lea. Lea had a cup of coffee in Palisades proper back in 2015, was missing in action in 2016, and returned in 2017 on the minor league Dragons. Lea had a tremendous season for the Dragons last year on both sides of the ball. He picked up hits in almost half of his plate appearances and worked 33 innings on the carpet while allowing just 11 runs. Despite his minor league success, Lea made it to just one Major League in game ’17 for the Mariners. This year, however, Vinny was not to be denied. In 25 1/3 innings with the Dragons this season, Lea did not allow a single run. He carried that success over to the majors for the first time, pitching to a 0.71 ERA in 60+ regular season innings to lead an underdog Royals squad into the post season.

Two veteran players made good in Tennessee the weekend of July 22nd at the aforementioned National Wiffle tournament.  David “Toast” Wood – back in action for the first time since last year’s Fast Plastic Texas Open – pitched both the semi-finals and finals for the all-star Golden Sticks squad, defeating both the Mothmen and Chicken ‘n Wiffles (a team name of the year contender) to capture the championship. Toast did not allow a base runner the entre championship game. His teammate that weekend – Josh Pagano – took care of the rest, smacking a walk off homerun in the last of the sixth inning. The multi-time Fast Plastic National Champion has been very good at the plate in fast pitch competition when he played this year – including a 10 for 17, four-homerun performance in two games in Palisades – and will no doubt be looking to build off that in a few weeks in Texas.

It takes a special kind of player to be universally known by a nickname. It also doesn’t hurt when your last name is such a mouthful that a nickname becomes a necessity. Kyle “K-Von” Vonschleusingen spent the prior five seasons in Palisades WBL blossoming into one of the league’s cornerstone players, which culminated in back-to-back sub 1.00 ERA seasons in 2016 and 2017. This season, K-Von took another step forward towards becoming one of the game’s best. While his Palisades’ ERA is up over the prior two seasons (1.45), his walk rate is significantly down, his strikeout rate is up, and his batting average has remained virtually unchanged. More importantly, K-Von took a major step forward at the plate by adding nearly .110 points to his ISO (slugging percentage less batting average) this season. Also for the first time, K-Von ventured to a few tournaments outside of Palisades where his plus movement wowed more than a few people. It began in April at AWAA’s Opening Day tournament, continued at the NWLA Tournament where – despite some command issues – K-Von impressed with his ability to throw non-scuffed, and wrapped up with a victory in a late season 2 on 2 tournament in New York. His biggest accomplishment this year might be yet to come as the Palisades Padres – which K-Von is owner/manage of – has a very good shot at winning the 2018 championship.

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On the subject of pitchers who proved adept in both the clean ball environment of the NWLA Tournament and elsewhere, you can add Austin Berger of the Wiff is Life League Waves to that list. Some felt that Berger’s NWLA Tournament performance – where he pitched to a 2.12 ERA over 17 innings of work including the championship game – should have earned him tournament MVP honors. In a tournament with a lot of walks, Berger bucked that trend allowing just 5 walks to 69 batters, for a walk rate that was a fraction – a fifth to be exact – of the overall tournament rate. After relying mainly on an uncut slider in the NWLA tournament, one month later Berger showed off a still developing but already above average cut screwball while pitching in the MAW Canonsburg Classic. In games against the Lemon Heads and Stompers, Berger allowed only a single run. Whether pitching with clean or cut balls, Berger attributes his success not just to his ability to throw strikes, but to his ability to work both sides of the zone effectively.

The Frisco Braves ran over the competition in the Texas Wiffleball League, finishing with an 8-1 regular season record in the league’s top division and then capping things off by winning the league playoffs. The Braves owe a fair amount of their 2018 dominance to right-hander Brian Simpson. Simpson was a force at the dish all season long, batting .500 and reaching base in 62% of his plate appearances – rankings that bear out to the top of both statistical categories in TWBL – while hitting eight home runs. It was his work on the mound, however, that truly made a difference. As his team’s main pitcher, Simpson allowed run one in his first start of the season on June 13th and nothing more the rest of the regular season. Simpson went 21 straight innings without allowing a run to finish out June and July. His best pitch appears to be a hard, sweeping slider that combines velocity and movement in a way not often seen from that particular pitch.

When Nate Cruz left the house on Sunday mornings this summer, he probably had to do a double take to make sure he was wearing the right t-shirt. Cruz played eight games in Palisades over four weeks, which would not be unusual if not for the fact that he did so for FOUR different teams. This year alone, Nate suited up for the Giants, Padres, Cardinals, and Expos for weekend series in Palisades. He proved to be more than just a warm body, hitting a respectable .222/.333/.352 in 54 plate appearances. The ultimate utility player enjoyed more regular playing time at the NWLA Tournament in July as a member of the AWAA Blue Kamikazes. Cruz made the most of it and finished the tournament as arguably his team’s best all around hitter, leading the Kamikazes in OBP while finishing second in batting average and slugging percentage to K-Von and Jimmy Cole, respectively. Here’s hoping Nate can find himself a permanent Palisades home next season.

FP Texas Open Wrap Up - Results & Notes

Daniel Haverty (Remember the Rookies) waits for a pitch.   (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

Daniel Haverty (Remember the Rookies) waits for a pitch. (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

FINAL RESULTS

1.     Cloud9 (6-1)  PA  (2-0 in total base games)
Sean Steffy (tournament MVP), Ed Packer, Kevin Norris, Ty Wegrzyn

2.     Remember the Rookies (6-1)  CT  (2-0 in total base games)
Josh Pagano, Matty Griffin, Dan Haverty, Evan Lazur

3.     Wiff Inc. (5-1)  NY
Jordan Robles, Anthony Didio, David "Road Toast" Wood, Kenny Rodgers

4.     GSW (4-3)  CA  (0-2 in total base games)
Mike Cross, Joel DeRoche, Ryan DeRoche, Billy Owens

5.     BWC (4-1)  NY (1-0 in total base games)
Rob Longiaru, Sean Handahl, Dave Wegrzyn

6.     Master Batters (3-2)  TX  (2-0 in total base games)
Jon King, Will Marshall, Paul Marshall, Craig Freeman

7.     LV Wifflers (2-3)  NV  (0-1 in total base games)
Matt Trzpis. Steve Trzpis, Adam Bohnet

8.     Moonshots (3-3)  AZ
Jim Balian, Randy Dalbey, Sylvie Serrano, Robert Colon

9.     Jager Bombers (2-3)  TX  (0-1 in total base games)
Hunter Berry, Seth Herridge, Tye Weber, Christian Falkenberg

10.  Freaky Franchise (2-3)  NY  (0-1 in total base games)
Justin Tomkins, Ryan Bush, Jim Cole, Tyler Flakne

11.  Jim's Pub (1-3)  NY  (0-1 in total base games)
Danny Lanigan, Ben Stant, Jimmy Flynn, Chris Sarnowski

12.  Cosby Show (1-3)  TX (0-1 in total base games)
Cooper Ruckel, Logan Swink, Nick Wanzer, Cade Zastoupil

13.  West Coast Wiffle Report (0-4)  AZ
Jim Dalbey, Brock Drazen, Andrew Balian

14.  Wiffle Jam (0-4)  TX
Cameron Carricker, Donovan Mousel, Andrew Damin

15.  Whose Your Daddy (0-4)  TX
Scott Herridge, Jeff Down, Kyle Herridge


NOTEBOOK

The DeRoches Still Got It

Joel DeRoche (GSW) fires a pitch during pool play. After nearly a decade long layoff, Joel and brother Ryan proved they still have plenty of quality years ahead of them. (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

Joel DeRoche (GSW) fires a pitch during pool play. After nearly a decade long layoff, Joel and brother Ryan proved they still have plenty of quality years ahead of them. (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

So maybe Joel DeRoche was not quite as dominant as he was from 2003 – 2009 on Saturday, but that’s a rather impossible standard to be judged on. The right-hander – as he is accustomed to doing – handled the bulk of the workload for his GSW team and for the most part kept the opposition in check. For a guy that hasn’t played in nearly a decade, that’s impressive. Joel’s brother Ryan also seemed right at home back on the playing field. As the brothers exited the Shawnee Trail complex after the tournament, they were already bouncing around ideas on how to best simulate high quality, live tournament pitching so they are better prepared at the plate next go around. Watch out for them next year.

Nobody runs a tournament like Tim Dean runs a tournament

There are few sights that make you think of a “Fast Plastic national tournament” quite like seeing Tim Dean leaning against a chain link fence while updating the master tournament bracket. Tim ran the old Fast Plastic National Championship Tournaments in Austin every year between 2003 and 2009. His ability to keep the tournament on schedule while simultaneously chatting with and making every player feel welcomed is as much of the FP national tournament experience as anything. Thanks to Tim, the tournament ran ahead of schedule the entire day. Whether in Austin, Frisco, or somewhere else, it would be hard to imagine a FP national tournament without him.

Freaky Franchise: A Throwback

Once upon a time, wifflers formed teams and then those teams traveled around to all sorts of different places to take in as many unique tournament experiences as possible. For the most part, Wiffle® Ball is a far more local experience now than in those days. However, there are some current teams – like Rochester’s Freaky Franchise – that take that approach to the game. This decade, Freaky Franchise has entered GSWL tournaments, participated in the NWLA leagues, participated (and twice won) the NWLA tournament, had players compete in Palisades, traveled to standalone tournaments elsewhere in the northeast, and now can add a Fast Plastic national tournament to their resume. Their willingness to travel and experience different styles of play sets them apart in the current scene. Only New Jersey’s Way Too Beautiful might be comparable in that regard. Although I am sure they were hoping for better results, the sport sure could use more teams just like them.

Fewer Innings, Better Results?

Since FP last ran regularly in 2009 and utilized six-inning regulation games, there has been a trend towards shorter games. Very few organizations using FP-style rules had a regulation game length of more than five innings in 2017. Quietly, FP adopted a 4-inning regulation game (round robin) and 5-inning regulation game (elimination round) format for the tournament, similar to that used by MAW. The results were overall positive. With fewer innings to play, the games moved faster and arms remained fresher longer. For the most part, Fast Plastic stuck to its traditional rules for this tournament but the choice to adapt in this situation appears to have been a smart one.

The Wind Factor

The wind was gusting all day long, sitting anywhere between 12 and 20 MPH. Naturally, the conditions impacted the play on the field. There were several wind blow home runs during the tournament plus a few moonshots that were no doubt aided by the elements. Remember the Rookies’ Evan Lazur hit a monster shot that cleared the center field fence and landed on top of a pavilion about twenty feet away on Field #4. The wind also impacted the pitchers. Both the Master Batters’ Will Marshall and Wiff Inc.’s David Wood noted to us that they had to pocket their drop pitches while playing on Field #3 because the horizontal wind kept knocking the pitch down. Nobody used the wind as an excuse and the elements impacted every team in some form or fashion.

Injury Report

While there were undoubtedly plenty of sore arms and legs on Sunday (and Monday), we are happy to report that no serious injuries were reported during the tournament. The only player who may not have made it out of Texas unscathed was Remember the Rookies’ Josh Pagano. Between the semi-finals and finals of the tournament – during an interview with The Drop – The Rookies’ Lazur revealed that Pagano tweaked his leg while warming up to face GSW in a final four game, which necessitated that they reconfigure their line up. Pagano still pitched both the semi final and championship game, but there is clear video evidence that he did at time favour the injured ankle. The Rookies – as expected – never used the possible injury to explain away their title game loss nor did they even mention it beyond that one passing comment.

A Bright Future

The Texas Open served as a showcase for some of the more talented young players in the game.

The rosters of both Jim’s Pub and Wiff Inc. were heavy on players under 25. 17-year old Ben Stant from Delaware is what you might call a “young veteran”, having competed in GSWL Yard League since 2014. In some ways it was a disappointing tournament for Stant, who threw only twenty pitches on the day as Jim’s Pub finished with a disappointing 1-3 record. Despite that, the future is bright. Earlier this season, Jordan Robles told us that Stant is the best “Yard League pitcher” he has ever seen. He also proved he could get it done on the mound in an unrestricted pitch environment in the Mid Atlantic this year by going 6-2 with a 1.53 ERA as a member of both Way Too Beautiful and the Barrel Bruisers.

Jordan Robles (Wiff Inc.) fires a pitch during round robin. Robles is one of several players under 25 years old who impressed in Frisco. (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

Jordan Robles (Wiff Inc.) fires a pitch during round robin. Robles is one of several players under 25 years old who impressed in Frisco. (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

Stant’s teammate, Chris Sarnowski, fits into the same “young veteran” category. Competing in GSWL Yard since 2013, Sarno has proven himself to be one of the best Yard League hitters around. He has the pedigree to go with it, as his father is the former State of Mind star of the same name. El Hijo del Sarno sat out the 2017 season but will hopefully be a more consistent presence in 2018. The talent is there.

Wiff Inc. was home to arguably the nation's best player under the age of 24 in Jordan Robles. The multi-talented Robles – who turned 23 just days before the tournament – is a threat on the mound, at the plate, and in the field. While Jordan would likely concede that his hitting lagged behind the other two facets of his game in Frisco, he still had what any impartial observer would categorize as a strong tournament. Robles is the Freaky Franchise of players – a player willing to travel to tournaments of all different shapes and sizes in order to play. This was evident in the results. Jordan led his teams to semi-final appearances at the Texas Open and in the Palisades WBL, a finals appearance in the GSWL National Yard League Tournament, and a championship in Mid Atlantic.

Last but not least on the young players to watch list is the Rookies’ Daniel Haverty. Haverty handled most of round robin and the quarterfinals for his team and was arguably one of the best pitchers in the tournament. While he tired late, Haverty never gave in and successfully got the ball to Pagano for the semi-finals and finals. If Remember the Rookies return in some form in 2018, it wouldn’t be surprising if the highly athletic Haverty was given a more prolific role.

Gas Left in the Tank

One of the questions we posed in our tournament preview article was how well would the players with long layoffs perform in a high quality tournament? The answer is “generally, rather well”. As previously mentioned, the DeRoche brothers performed well and you do not have to squint very hard to see them doing even better next year with a little more practice (Joel and Ryan's practice time this go around is said to have been limited to one practice a week in the month leading up to the tournament). Their teammate Mike Cross had a strong defensive tournament and looked more and more comfortable at the plate as the tournament progressed. The Las Vegas Wifflers finished in the top eight and seemed to be a pitcher away from a higher finish. The veteran Rookies looked like they hadn’t missed a beat.

It was a mixed bag for the Moonshots – comprised of former Viper players Randy Dalbey and Jim Balian and veteran California players Sylvie Serrano and Robert Colon – who went 3-3 en route to an 8th place finish. The Moonshots were solid, but missing the extra spark that defined the Vipers during their back-to-back championships in 2002 and 2003. An 8th place finish is nothing to scoff at but given the talent on this team it feels somewhat lackluster.

Playing the Total Bases Game

While winning total base games it not exactly a function of luck, teams are definitely playing with fire when they leave the outcome up to such a flimsy metric. A couple of walks or an infield hit could and often does decide the difference between a win or loss. Seven games during round robin were decided this way. The eventual champions, Cloud9, started their run with back-to-back total base wins versus GSW and the upstart Cosby Show. Both games were scoreless and a couple of walks and hits in the other direction could have greatly altered the rest of the tournament. Cloud9 wasn't alone in using a couple of total base victories to jump start a deep run in the tournament. Their title game foes - Remember the Rookies - also won two games decided by total bases, as did the seventh place Master Batters. On the opposite end of the spectrum, GSW was the hard luck victim of a pair of total base defeats. With so many games decided by the most narrow of margins, its probably safe to say that if the tournament was played over 100 times the actual results might not be repeat even once.

On Cloud 9

2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open Champions Cloud9 (L-R: Sean Steffy, Ed Packer, Kevin Norris, Ty Wegrzyn) celebrate with their winnings. (Photo: Paul Cooke)

2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open Champions Cloud9 (L-R: Sean Steffy, Ed Packer, Kevin Norris, Ty Wegrzyn) celebrate with their winnings. (Photo: Paul Cooke)

The tournament champions, Cloud9, were in quite the celebratory mood following their big victory. How could they not be? With $5,000 in their hands, not to mention the tournament trophy, the champions gladly posed for photos on the field after being congratulated by many of the approximately 100 spectators that watched the tournament finale. After receiving their spoils, the Cloud9 foursome celebrated by breaking open four beers, only some of which found its way into their mouths. Why beer and not champagne? As tournament sponsor Jon King put it - like only he can - "I thought about getting champagne but this is Texas. We drink beer in Texas."

On the other hand, the tournament runners up - Remember the Rookies - weren't in quite as festive of a mood after coming so close to the title. The disappointment was palpable. When the Rookies received their second place plaque, one of Josh Pagano's children quickly grabbed it. "It's all yours, buddy," Pagno told him. "You can keep it," one of the Rookies added from the sideline. "None of us are going to hang it up."