Out of Left Field
by Bill Reznak
Loco about the LoCo Bat: A Trilogy
Part I: A Shout Out for the LoCo Bat
The only issue that is not up for debate when forming a Wiffleball league is the ball itself. But with options like fast pitch/slow pitch, base running/no base running, and walks/no walks, there are nearly as many possible combinations of playing styles for Wiffleball leagues as there are leagues currently involved with the National Wiffle League Association. No option is more polarizing and ignites more red-faced emotional responses than the decision of whether or not to allow bats other than the official yellow Wiffleball bat.
While I personally prefer the LoCo Bat to any other bat, I have no problem with yellow bat-only leagues and tournaments. People should organize and partake in activities that offer them the most fun, and it is natural for various people have different preferences. I am not attempting to change the minds of the official bat purists out there; however, I do believe that there is a bit too much of an elitist attitude among some of the traditionalists. Play the way that you want to play, but don’t put our way down.
Please allow me to explain why the LoCo Bat is the Susquehanna River League’s bat of choice. When forming the SRL, Beau Reznak’s main goal (in addition to organizing a league with lots of fun and good sportsmanship) was to simulate the gameplay of real baseball as much as possible while retaining the quirky nature of Wiffleball with elements like pegging and crazy curves. Issues like pitcher's poison and the elimination of baserunning were never even considered.
Additionally, we wanted our league to be fast pitch. A game where it's practically impossible to strike out did not appeal to us. While many leagues place their strike zone 42 feet from the pitcher’s rubber, ours is 45 to allow for a little more reaction time for the hitter. We made the strike zone larger than most we've seen (2’ x 3’) to compensate for the extra distance and to try to prevent too many walks.
We also set a 70 mile per hour speed limit because we did not want hitting to become impossible against a dominant pitcher. While some purists out there might criticize the mandated limitations of one’s talents, remember that our goal is to emulate real baseball as much as possible. Hitting an 80 mile per hour fastball from 42-45 feet away with the vicious movement that a Wiffleball offers is a considerably more difficult challenge than connecting with a 100 mph fastball against a major league pitcher throwing a baseball from 60 feet 6 inches away.
Games with scores of 4-2 or 8-5 can be an enjoyable experience for players and spectators alike. The stats for high scoring 25-22 affairs are just absurd while 1-0 extra inning yawn-fests only satisfy the winning pitcher and the one guy who hit the solo shot. Don’t get me wrong, I believe a 1-0 game can be very exciting, but only when it is the exception, not the rule. We want the most talented pitchers to be the most successful ones, but we don't want them to be infallible. There's no fun for 99% of a league when it can be dominated by an individual who can single-handedly win the championship for his team.
In the early planning stages, we also knew we wanted to construct a large field where defensive strategy was important and a pitcher could succeed without having to strike every batter out. We wanted home runs to be possible, but something you had to earn with a tremendous hit. We also desired a field that rewards contact hitters who can hit line drives. Speed and decision making (on the base path and in the field) are important. Our symmetrical field is 103 feet down the lines and close to 120 in the power alleys. These dimensions might not give us the largest field in the NWLA, but I bet we’re in a very high percentile rank.
This is where the LoCo Bat comes in. To satisfy our desire to emulate real baseball, the yellow bat would simply not work for us. First of all, there would be too many strike outs to suit our goal. I can attest to the fact that standing around in left field with zero fielding opportunities is not much fun, and I’m willing to bet there’s nobody who enjoys going down on strikes in every at bat with no hope of ever hitting it. In the SRL you still need to have talent to hit good pitching, and the LoCo Bat gives the hitter a fighting chance against great pitching. This is not, however, one of those toy plastic bats with a ginormous barrel that toddlers use to hit grandpa’s underhand tosses in the back yard. In fact, its measurements are similar to that of a major league baseball bat--perfect for suiting our needs.
Additionally, the LoCo Bat is not like those expensive bats that some people break the bank for to gain an edge at high-stakes tournaments. Some people refer to these juiced bats as P.E.B.s because their makers claim that anyone can hit tape-measure shots with them, while others claim they are a waste of money. The Loco Bat is not "juiced." It simply provides a better chance at making solid contact, which is very important on our large playing surface.
Josh Smith recently wrote an article about different Wiffle bats for the HWL entitled Going The Distance: An Evaluation of Various Wiffle Bats. As part of his analysis, he questioned whether non-traditional bats produce more home runs than the yellow banana bat. Although Smith didn't use the LoCo Bat as part of his study, I believe that some of the data is applicable. His investigation reveals that home run rates do not vary much from bat to bat when playing on smaller fields, but the difference in power stats become more pronounced as the distance of the fences increases. In a non-baserunning league with a short fence, the yellow bat makes sense. In a high-pressure tournament with money on the line, maybe some of those high-end models are worth the financial gamble. But with our field design, our quest to simulate the feel of actual baseball, and the $20 price tag, the LoCo Bat is the perfect option for the SRL.
A quick look at the stats from the first month of SRL competition might reveal that our plan isn't working. Although the home run numbers are right where we like them (37 in 28 games), overpowering pitchers are dominating the weaker teams with strike outs. Conversely, several players have an outrageously high batting average with a gaudy OPS. Some scores are blowouts, and some bear a closer resembles to a Lions/Packers overtime game than a Lions/Brewers nine inning contest.
These results, however, are deceiving. We have many beginning pitchers who are just learning to throw strikes consistently. Not only have walks inflated the number of runs scored, but these frustrated (and eventually fatigued) pitchers then begin to lob it when their confidence wanes. On top of that, it’s taking some teams a while to learn to play defensively with a Wiffleball. It’s much more difficult to catch a spinning Wiffleball in your bare hand than it is to catch a hardball or softball in your leather mitt.
It can be reasonably argued that Dan Rish, John Devers, Roger Legg, and Josh Sorber are currently the four best pitchers in the SRL. They all exhibit the combination of excellent speed, movement, and control while pitching with a good defense behind them. Here are the results of all matchups among these four:
- Devers over Sorber: 6-2
- Rish over Legg: 8-4
Legg over Sorber: 4-3 in extra innings (2-2 after regulation)
These are the scores we envisioned in the planning stages of the league when the best pitchers on the top teams would face off against each other.
There are noticeably fewer walks and fewer mistakes in the field from week to week, and the hitters are getting used to facing Wiffleball pitchers that are trying to get them out. As the level of competition continues to improve, there will be more results like the three detailed above and fewer high-scoring marathons and blowouts. Our dream of experiencing the excitement of real baseball combined with the child-like thrill that only Wiffleball can provide is quickly coming to fruition, and the LoCo Bat is a major factor in our realization of this dream.
This article is the first in a three-part series about my experiences with the LoCo bat. Click here for Part II.