Late last January the Futures Collegiate Baseball League announced that for the 2017 season they would be using a Home Run Derby to determine winners of games that went longer than 10 innings. The idea was to help limit the number of innings pitchers would throw and to reduce the need for teams to find additional pitchers as the season went on.
“We wanted to make sure that we could come up with a way to protect our pitchers,” Commissioner Chris Hall said via press release. “Each year, our teams struggle to find pitching that can last the whole summer due to the number of innings that each pitcher would have to throw. The ‘Derby’ will help alleviate the number of innings our pitchers will have to throw while reducing the pressure placed on our coaches in using pitchers on short rest.”
The whole idea of summer college baseball is so players can continue to develop their baseball skills in a competitive environment. To have pitcher throwing so many innings in a short period of time that a long extra inning game causes is counter-productive to development, so limiting those situations is key to any summer league’s success in attracting NCAA teams to send its players there.
But the idea of the Home Run Derby deciding games wasn’t thought out all the way through.
The FCBL decided that winning a game in “regulation” or the 10th inning would be worth two points for the winner, and like hockey decided in the Home Run Derby the winner would still get the same two points while the derby loser would get one. That system would be fine except for one thing…
…in baseball, sometimes games that get postponed by rain aren’t rescheduled.
So now you have the issue of a point based system deciding playoff spots where some teams are going to end up playing fewer games than others. There’s no way that’s going to work out, so at some point Commissioner Hall decided that “points percentage” would determine playoff spots.
That’s the right way to do it, but determining that while the season was going on and then not clearly communicating that decision is an issue. On top of that, the FCBL’s current tie-breaking procedure was based on the old standings system. So while head to head was still a good first option, the second tie-breaker of record against the other playoff teams fails on one point:
The two teams tied could have a different number of wins.
And that’s the issue fans of the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks are having, because in the standings they had 26 wins and missed the playoffs while the Worcester Bravehearts had 25 wins and qualified for the post season on the second tie-breaker.
Seeing as the FCBL is using the same system to determine playoff teams as pro hockey does, maybe they should apply those tie-breakers to the situation. In hockey the tiebreaker is “regulation/OT wins”, or ROW. They take the number of shootout wins from the total and then compare. Removing home run derby wins gives Martha’s Vineyard 23 wins and the Bravehearts 25.
In any case, the FCBL needs to get rid of the Home Run Derby. It’s not baseball, and like the hockey shootout real fans–at least the ones I spoke to–really dislike it. It was great PR to announce it, but it’s got to go.
Instead the FCBL should replace the Home Run Derby with the rules the International Baseball Federation uses. You’d play the tenth inning normally, and in the 11th inning teams get to decide where in the current batting order they wish to start. The first two batters are then placed at second and first, respectively. The inning then begins at the third batter with no one out.
If neither team scores in the 11th, call the game a tie.
Now before you start screaming “there’s no ties in baseball!”, yes, there is. A quick search of summer college leagues shows many of them have ties. It’s not an ideal situation to have ties, and I can see how people might not like it.
Another option would be to arrange the schedule so there’s days where missed games can easily be made up, like maybe having the whole league off a couple late July Tuesdays and Thursdays to facilitate all the games fitting into the allotted time.
No matter what’s done, communication between the Commissioner’s office and the teams needs to improve to avoid the playoff catastrophe the FCBL faced at the end of this season. You can’t have teams using social media to question the impartiality of the league office, which is what happened this season.
The FCBL puts on a great show that attracted nearly 280,000 fans to their games this season. Hopefully all parties will learn from this past season and will make 2018 their best season yet.