We are just a week into the Frontier League season, but already, we have seen some trends develop, some good, and some bad. Between teams, players, and rules, there have been numerous compelling storylines that have the attention of baseball fans in the northeast, Ontario, and Quebec. A week in, there are three big winners and three big losers.
Winner – Ottawa Titans Hit the Field
There are a couple of reasons why the Ottawa Titans could be considered winners early in the season, but you need to look no further than them simply getting on the field for a reason to celebrate. It took 600 days from the time they were announced as a franchise until they finally played their first regular-season game in Joliet last Friday, and the franchise survived a pandemic before they ever played a baseball game. Despite just about every sign in the universe telling them no, they stuck it out, and finally, they have baseball once more.
The results have been good for the young franchise, earning three wins in their first five games, all of which have come on the road. Their schedule has been tough, starting in Joliet against the Slammers, before heading to Chicago for a series against the Windy City ThunderBolts, but their road trip doesn’t end there. Before they finally come home for their home opener on May 24th, the Titans take a trip to Florence to take on the Y’alls.
Loser – Empire State Greys Travell to be Throttled
Life in independent baseball is hard, especially when you have an extended road trip. Imagine if the entire season was one long road trip. That’s exactly what the Empire State Greys are, the perpetual away team. It’s easy to sympathize with the Frontier League’s only travel team, but at the end of the day, a look at the stats and the standings leaves a worrying impression.
The Greys are 0-5 to start their inaugural campaign, but that only tells you so much about them. In their five games, the Greys have only pushed 14 runs across the plate, while hitting just .150 as a team. In 160 at-bats as a team, the Greys have just 24 hits with 10 walks, while striking out 55 times. On the mound, the Greys aren’t having any more success, allowing a staggering 65 runs against, while surrendering 18 walks, 68 hits, and holding a 13.28 ERA as a team. In their five games, the Greys have allowed crooked numbers to be scored by their opposition, including run totals of 13, 17, 12, 3, and 20 in each game.
The Greys only exist as a replacement for the folded Southern Illinois Miners to keep the league balanced, and if former interactions of the Greys (Frontier Greys who played three seasons from 2013 to 2015) tell us anything, it’s that we should expect more of the same.
Winner – Jack Harris Crushing for Crushers
The Lake Erie Crushers might only be 3-3 to start the season, but Jack Harris hasn’t felt any of the downs the rest of his team has. In 2021, Harris split his time between the Morehead City Marlins of the Coastal Plain League and the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League, finishing the season with a .350 batting average, 21 home runs, and 52 RBIs through 62 games. Harris has played five games this season with the Crushers, and already, he’s starting where he left off.
Harris’ pace to start the season has been torrid, lighting up opposing pitchers for four home runs, a number that is tied for first in the league. He has also knocked in 11 runs, good for the league lead in RBIs, and sits in third for batting average at a lofty .524. Harris ranks inside the top five across the league in home runs, batting average, hits, RBIs, total bases, runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and fielding percentage.
Of course, Harris is eventually going to cool off. It would take a superhuman to keep this up for the entire season, but just how much is he going to cool off? Based on what we saw from him last season across two different leagues, his cool-off will likely still keep him an above-average hitter.
Loser – New York Boulders Caught Looking
Just six games into the season, the New York Boulders have put up big strikeout totals, and not on the side you would want it. Their batters have struck out 63 times in their 205 at-bats, making up nearly 31 percent of the outcomes of their at-bats. The Boulders are still hitting a respectable .249, and have 51 hits this season, but the strikeout totals are nearly double that of the Schaumburg Boomers, who have a league-low 36.
In a sense, the Boulders are lucky. Their strikeout totals haven’t set them back so far this season, as they currently stand with a 3-3 record, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference. The Boulders batters are still getting on base nearly 35 percent of the time, but that number is still lower than the vast majority of the teams in the league. Reducing those strikeouts will definitely be a priority for the Pomona, New York-based side.
Winner – Sussex County Miners Nabbing Bases
If you’re a fan of small ball, you’re a fan of the Sussex County Miners this season. The Miners have nabbed 16 bases this season, topping the Frontier League with the next closest team five behind them. Their 16 stolen bases have come on just 19 attempts, leaving them with an 84 percent success rate on the young season.
Sussex County is stealing just over 2.5 bases per game, and that has powered them to a 5-1 record to start the season, good for the top of the Eastern Conference standings, and the top of the league standings overall. If they can keep this up, they will continue to run themselves into runs, and earn themselves wins in close games.
Loser – Frontier League Extra Innings
This one might be the most controversial thing on the list. We have only seen the Frontier League’s new extra-innings rules once this season when the Windy City ThunderBolts beat the Ottawa Titans by a score of 3-3. Yes, you read that right. The score ended tied, but the ThunderBolts officially took the win. You might not need any more reason than that why this extra innings format is a loser, but here’s how it actually works.
When the game is tied after nine innings of traditional baseball, the 10th inning is played the same way it is in Major League Baseball. With a runner on second to start the inning, both teams have a chance to hit, and after the inning, if one team has more runs, they win. If they remain tied, the game goes into sudden death, and the home team has the choice of either offence or defence.
The top of the 11th innings marks the final half-inning, no matter what. The offensive team starts with a runner on first base, and if they score a run before three outs are recorded, they win the game. If the defence holds them to nothing, they win the game. This does provide one positive, however. It ends games quickly, and allows the teams to travel to their next destination or get some rest before their next game.
There are a couple of big issues with this format. Of course, for baseball traditionalists, this is a radical change that isn’t going to be liked. For the casual fan, this is a confusing format. Perhaps this is something that will change my mind going forward, but for now, this new format is teetering on the loser side of the bracket.
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