The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 21, 2013

Northwoods pitchers have struggled, but on predictable trend


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Having watched a few Mankato MoonDogs games this season, and seen plenty of other Northwoods League scores, you’d be tempted to conclude that the pitching isn’t very good through the first three weeks of the season.

Just last week, the MoonDogs won a game 10-7, then lost 18-2 and 11-4 on consecutive nights, frightening numbers if you’re a pitching coach.

But the pitching so far is about where it was last year. In the last five years, the pitching in this league has slowly been deteriorating so it shouldn’t be a shock.

In 2009, 13 of the 14 teams had earned-run averages of below 4.00, with Mankato leading at 2.50. In 2010, 10 teams had ERAs below 4.00, with the highest at 5.42. In 2011, nine teams were under 4.00, with the highest being 5.56.

Last season, the pitching dropped off significantly, with only four teams keep teams to less than 4 earned runs per game, with the lowest being 3.53 and the highest at 6.46.

So far this season, seven teams remain under 4.00, with a range of 3.19 by the Lakeshore Chinooks and Alexandria’s 7.16. Nearly 200 games have been played, with 30 teams scoring 10 or more runs in a game, and some of those have been makeup games that go only seven innings.

Obviousy, expansion has played a role in this pitching slide. Five years ago, there were 14 teams, and now there are 16, meaning there are about 25 pitchers in the league that wouldn’t have been here in 2009.

Part of the problem has been walks. In 2009, pitchers walked 3.6 batters per nine innings, while that rate is 4.3 this season. More pitches leads to more runs which leads to shorter outings which leads to tired bullpens. More walks lead to longer games, which is good for concessions, not so much for fan interest.

The Northwoods League is a microcosm of all levels of baseball, where it seems like the pitching isn’t as strong and the pitchers aren’t very aggressive.

The MoonDogs are actually pitching it better than they have since that amazing 2009 season, when six pitchers were under 2.00 and four more under 3.00. The team ERA this season is 3.75, down almost a run per game from last season. The ERA was 3.83 in 2011 and 3.94 in 2010.

Donovan Feenstra leads this MoonDogs team in ERA at 0.50, with three more pitchers under 2.00 and five that are under 3.00.

It’s far more fun to watch a well-pitched game than the one last week in which the teams combined for 23 walks and five wild pitches. On Wednesday, Mankato’s Sam Clay and Jared Carkuff combined on a two-hit shutout, a gem in any league.

The Northwoods Leage needs more outings like that one.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.