British Baseball 2017 Review

As Christmas starts to approach, thoughts turn reflective on the year that’s been.

Whilst the hardy souls in University baseball and softball are still braving the elements, for most of the other teams the season has long since been over and plans for indoor winter training are being put in place.

The 2018 season is already in mind, but we shouldn’t let all that happened this year pass by without comment.  Here’s a round-up of the key developments from the British domestic leagues in 2017.

National Baseball League – London Mets win fourth national title

The London Mets and Southampton Mustangs contested the top-tier National Baseball Championships final for the third consecutive year.  The Mets prevailed by wining the best-of-three series 2-0, the first game being an amazing comeback from 14-6 behind to win 15-14 and the second game a 6-0 triumph.

The London Mets’ performances in recent years speak for themselves. Over the past five regular seasons, the Mets have a combined 103-24 win-loss record, good for an .811 winning percentage. They’ve contested the last four NBC’s, winning two of them (2017 and 2015), and have now put themselves on the brink of history.

London now have four national championships to their name, including their back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008.  This puts the Mets in exclusive company as being one of only five teams to have four top-tier championships, the others being the Cobham Yankees (1983, 1986, 1987, 1988), Hull Aces (1963, 1965, 1968, 1972) Liverpool Tigers (1948, 1962, 1971, 1975) and the London Warriors (1981, 1982, 1997, 2000).

They will enter the 2018 season not simply with the aim of retaining their title, but becoming the first club in British baseball history to win five sanctioned amateur national championships.

Azcuy and Collins

Although the Southampton Mustangs had a tough end to the season, they can be proud of two of their players furthering their account in the record books.

Maikel Azcuy (5) trailed the Mets’ Carlos Dominguez (8) in the season home run totals, but he increased his lead as the all-time leader in NBL home runs.  Azcuy now has 45 long-balls to his name, 10 ahead of the second-placed Simon Pole.

Former Bracknell Blazers stand-out pitcher Henry Collins returned to NBL action for the first time since 2014 (2013 in a full-time capacity) with the Mustangs and he led the league with 7 pitching wins.  That increases his career tally to 39, pushing him up into third place.

Collins trails Michael Osborne (45 wins over 17 seasons between 1998-2015 with the London Warriors, Richmond Flames and Herts Falcons) and the all-time leader Alan Smith (59 wins over 17 seasons between 1985-2007 with the London Warriors, Cobham Yankees, Sutton Braves, London Athletics and London Mets – noting that the total doesn’t include wins collected in independent league competition).

European competition

The Mets and the Mustangs once again represented British baseball in Europe, with both teams competing in the CEB Federations Cup Qualifiers.

The two teams had similar experiences, finishing their respective pools with 2-2 records and narrowly missing out on making their pool finals.

The London Mets’ Pool 3 in Stockholm, Sweden, was won by Spain’s Sant Boi, whilst Southampton Mustangs Pool 2 in Belgrade, Seriba was won by Austria’s Diving Ducks W.Neustadt.

Key BBF reports

SOUTHAMPTON SURVIVES THE NBL PLAYOFFS TO FACE THE METS FOR THE NATIONAL TITLE

LONDON METS WIN WALK-OFF THRILLER TO GRAB GAME ONE IN THE NBL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

LONDON METS REGAIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WITH A SECOND STRAIGHT WIN OVER SOUTHAMPTON

AAA – Richmond Retain

The Richmond Knights followed up on their 2016 AAA championship by retaining their title in 2017.

The Knights started their regular season with twelve consecutive wins before a 10-9 loss to Taunton on 11 June.  The London Mammoths were the only other team able to inflict a defeat on Richmond (13-5 on 2 July), meaning the reigning champions headed into the play-offs on the back of a 22-2 regular season campaign.

Once there, the Knights won their quarter-final against the London Meteorites 11-7 and then beat Northern representatives Cartmel Valley Lions 11-2 in the semi-final to set up a championship decider against the unbeaten Birmingham Bandits, playing-up in the play-offs from the AA-Central division.

It looked like Birmingham were going to live up to their nickname and end the Knights’ hold on the AAA crown as they took a 10-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, only for Richmond to mount an epic comeback that included an eight-run top of the ninth inning to win 15-10.

Having won back-to-back AAA titles, the question over the off-season will be whether Richmond will make the step up to the NBL in 2018?  Richmond, as the Flames, have won the top-tier national championship twice (2006 and 2010) and last competed in the premier class in 2011.  Based on their performances over the past two seasons, a return to the NBL would be well deserved.

AA – Third national title for Leicester

The story of the AA season has to begin with the Birmingham Bandits.  They put together an unbeaten 22-0 regular season campaign to win the AA-Central division and earn the right to compete in the Triple-A play-offs, only for Richmond to end their season for the second straight year in heart-breaking fashion.

Birmingham previously competed in the AAA-Central division before this became the AA-Central in 2016.  Geography inevitably plays a part in the way the amateur British leagues are constructed, but James Moran’s team has shown that they are certainly a AAA calibre group, regardless of what level their regular season division may be called next year.

With the Bandits out of the AA play-off picture, the Leicester Blue Sox took on the challenge of representing the AA-Central in that level’s post-season and they did so with distinction by capturing the national championship.

Leicester made short work of the AA-South Latin Boys, who won their AA-South Pool A with an 18-3 regular season, in the semi-final with a 17-3 seven-inning victory. That set up a final against Tonbridge, the Pool B winners with a 17-4 regular season, who earned their appearance in the final with a 10-5 win over Sidewinders.  Leicester’s Rikson Martina was the hero for the Blue Sox on the mound and in the batter’s box, as the Blue Sox prevailed 9-4.

It was the first time Leicester had won the AA crown and the third national championship in the club’s history, following two Single-A titles in 2009 and 2012.

A – The Perfect First Season for Norwich

Whilst the other 2017 national champions added titles to their previous triumphs, the Single-A victors captured their first trophy at their first attempt.

Norwich Iceni produced a perfect season in their BBF league debut.  They won the Single-A regular season with a 14-0 record to put their unbeaten run on the line in the play-offs.

If they felt any pressure of completing the job, they didn’t show it.  They made it 15 out of 15 with a semi-final victory over Cambridge Monarchs by a score of 11-4 (called after 4.5 innings due to bad light at the end of a long day of play at Farnham Park) and then made it the sweetest of sixteens by defeating Guildford Millers 16-12 in the final.

You simply couldn’t do better than what Norwich achieved in their first year and Mike Smith’s team will no doubt be eyeing up a potential new challenge in 2018 at a higher level of competition.

The same may also apply to beaten finalists Guildford Millers.  The Millers pushed Iceni all the way in the final, as they did throughout the year.  Guildford went 12-2 during the regular season, losing their second and third games (against Norwich and Forest Glade Redbacks) before reeling off 11 straight wins to finish second in the division.  They edged a close extra-innings semi-final with Northants Centurians 16-13 (10 innings) to end up with a 13-3 record combining the regular season and play-offs.

Key BBF reports

FINALISTS SETS FOR SINGLE-A, DOUBLE-A AND TRIPLE-A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

RICHMOND, LEICESTER AND NORWICH CAPTURE NATIONAL BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP TITLES

Looking across the BBF leagues

Whilst the trend in MLB has been an increase in run-scoring of late, the opposite happened in British baseball in 2017.

The two situations are very different, of course, and what we saw in 2017 was perhaps a welcome adjustment in the leagues that meant a more level playing field – with some exceptions, as always – across teams within each league.

As is expected, Single-A was by far the highest run-scoring environment when looking at average runs scored per game.

1. London Musketeers (A) 20
2. Guildford Millers (A) 19.7
=3. Herts Raptors (A) 17.6
=3. Essex Archers (A) 17.6
5. Norwich Iceni (A) 16.9
6. Kent Mariners (A) 15.8
7. Cambridge Monarchs (A) 15.7
8. Herts Hawks (AA-SA) 15
9. Forest Glade Redbacks (A) 14.5
10. Cambridge Royals (A) 14.1

Nine of the top ten teams were from that level of play, with London Musketeers taking top honours by averaging 20 runs scored per game.  Double-A Herts Hawks deserve a mention for being the only non-Single-A team in the top ten, sitting in eighth with 15 runs scored per game.

Keeping runs off the board is always important, but it’s especially significant at amateur levels where extra runs can often be gained through errors and relative freedom on the basepads. Looking at average runs allowed per game:

1. Birmingham Bandits (AA-C) 2.5
2. London Mets (NBL) 3.7
3. Richmond Knights (AAA) 3.9
4. Southampton Mustangs (NBL) 4.3
5. Norwich Iceni (A) 5.1

It’s no surprise that four of the top five teams in the average runs-against stakes won their division, with the NBL’s Southampton Mustangs also getting in on the act.  Southampton also had the biggest run difference of any team in the BBF regular season, scoring 200 more runs than they allowed across their 30 games.

Birmingham were the stingiest pitching and fielding outfit, allowing an average of only 2.5 runs per game.  You could reasonably peg Norwich Iceni right there alongside the Bandits based on comparing their runs-allowed with the average from their division. Norwich’s 5.1 runs allowed per game mark was 36% of the average from Single-A (14.3), exactly as Birmingham’s 2.5 runs allowed was 36% of the average 7 runs allowed per game in AA-Central.

We can also get a basic idea of the inter-league competitions by comparing the best and worst run differentials (the difference between the runs scored by a team and the runs they allowed).

DivisionBest run diffWorst run diffDiff between two
AAA154-134288
A164-141305
AA-SA145-177322
AA-C196-162358
AA-SB148-210358
NBL200-186386

On that basis, the AAA division was the closest, with the NBL seeing the biggest gap. In the latter case, that involves comparing the Southampton Mustangs’ +200 mark with the Brighton Jets’ -186; however, what plays into that is the Jets being handed a series of 9-0 and 7-0 defeats due to forfeitting games.

Elsewhere – Titles for Bristol Badgers, Liverpool Trojans and Glasgow Galaxy

The Bristol Badgers won the first ever SWBL Championship game over South Conference winners Exeter Sptifires 9-3 to take the SWBL title.

The club announced in November that the Badgers will join the BBF Double-A league in 2018, with the Bristol Bats ensuring the club will retain a presence in the SWBL.

Liverpool Trojans took the Northern AAA championship for the second straight year with an emphatic 19-0 victory over Hull Scorpions.

Glasgow Galaxy finished top of the Scottish Baseball League with an 11-1 record, their only loss coming at the hands of Edinburgh Cannons in their third game of the season.

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