The Case for Walks: Shame is Good, Incentives Matter, and the Shannons are Always Right, Sometimes

Written by - Posted 2017-06-28 09:48 in News

Guest post by Jim Shannon

DISCLAIMER: I’m a lawyer, not a mathmatician. If you came here expecting more #FakeMath like the nonsense that my genetic counterpart has been spewing, you will be disappointed. This article lays out the case for walks in the Potomac Wiffleball League with good ole’ fashioned persuasion and logical fallacies. Feel free to skip to the bolded part if you don’t want to read 1,500 words of narcissism and self-worship.

To fully understand why the PWL needs walks and why the Shannons are always right, we need to go back to the early to mid 2000s. Around that time, when Silicon Valley was rapidly becoming the petri dish for technological innovation, a similar and equally important phenomenon was occurring in Manassas, Virginia. Twin brothers, shamed (shame is an important theme in this piece) by their parents for spending any time indoors in the summer, found themselves working tirelessly to perfect the game of wiffleball. Their game was rudimentary at first. The field was a literal sand lot; games were played on the sand volleyball court in the Shannons’ backyard. The strike zone was their little sister’s 2 foot tall slide. The two volleyball poles served as first and third base. Second base never really existed, but it was somewhere behind the pitcher. Importantly, games were 6 innings long, pitcher’s hand out, medium speed, with 2 outs per inning (the “Shannon Rules”). Sound familiar? I’m sure it does; the PWL has implemented nearly every one of the Shannon Rules (because, of course, the Shannons are always right).

Eventually, the Shannons created a strike board nearly indistinguishable from the strike boards you see at the Moose Lodge (the Shannons are always right), outlawed any non-official wiffleball bats or balls (the Shannons are always right), built a stadium next with dimensions nearly identical to those in the PWL (the Shannons are always right), and eventually even equipped the stadium with lights for night games (the PWL hasn’t caught up to the Shannons in this regard yet).

This is all largely useless background information, but I think that it’s important that you know it. I need you to understand that because Jack and I were right about a couple things, our authority or ideas can no longer be reasonably questioned when we opine about another thing. Therefore, if I suggest something, it must be right. I’m a hall of famer, after all. Are you really going to question me?

On to the issue at hand: pitching and walks. You may be wondering how “medium speed” was regulated under the Shannon Rules. Well, shame is a very powerful emotion. Under the Shannon Rules, Jack and I simply shamed each other into pitching within the prescribed speeds. If either of us continued to deviate from the maximum allowable speed after being told to slow it down, the other player had the option to simply walk away from the game. This was a very effective method at shaming the other in to pitching at the appropriate speed, because otherwise he simply would have nobody to play against. Walks were allowed under the Shannon Rules, and their inclusion (or exclusion) was never a point of debate. Ghost runners were used, and they advanced as far as their human counterpart did on any given plate appearance. Perhaps because it was a one on one game, meaning we were both one-man lineups, walks were never an issue, because there was no way to pitch around one of us. 

It wasn’t until the rest of the Barnburners began joining in the games that walks became an issue. Because we were the best hitters of the bunch, opposing pitchers had an incentive to pitch around us and attack the relatively weaker hitters.

However, because man is an adaptive and creative beast, this practice of pitching around hitters was immediately nipped in the bud. And I mean immediately. Jack simply refused to take 1st base after drawing 4 balls. Just like that, a new rule was born. Walks were now left to the election of the batter. Either the batter could take the walk or the batter could wipe the count clean. So if Jack had a full 3-2 count on him and Jake pitched ball 4, Jack had the option of taking 1st base or taking a fresh count at no balls and no strikes. 

PWL hitters have long been complaining about pitchers like Gannon and Crawford consistently and unapologetically throwing faster than 27 mph. The thought process of these pitchers is something like this: “I bet that I won’t miss the board 4 straight times, so unless you want to be at the plate all day, you’re going to have to swing.” This practice thrives because so long as these pitchers don’t throw four balls in a row, they are free to throw at whatever speed they want.

Another reason they do this is because the league does not shame this practice enough. In the Shannon backyard, calling the pitcher “Randy Johnson” or “Roger Clemens” (or “asshole”, “dickhead”, “jagoff”, etc) in response to the pitcher throwing too fast was quite effective at getting the point across. For an excellent example on how to shame a pitcher, please see this gif of Kyle Seager shaming Jared Weaver.

I should note that some of the league does shame pitchers. Desorrento, Nitto, and Tomko do their fair share of shaming, but when a pitcher like Gannon, for example, drinks 12 beers on a Sunday afternoon, his proclivity to feel shame is drastically reduced, which is what leads me to the following proposal:

Walks are now at the election of the batter. The count is to remain the same if a pitch hits the board over 27 mph. Thus, if a pitcher cannot hit the board 3 times under 27 mph before he throws 4 balls, the batter, at his election, can take a walk or wipe the count clean so that there are no balls and no balls.

The Shannon backyard did not have radar guns, but if a pitch was deemed too fast, it was treated as if it did not happen. That is a key aspect of this proposal: any pitch that hits the board over 27 mph is to be treated as if it simply wasn’t thrown. Perhaps 4 balls is harsh, and instead you want to make a walk either 5 or 6 balls. That’s fine, I guess. But the rules, as currently constructed, have created perverse incentives that opportunistic pitchers have seized. A pitch should only be a strike if it is 27 mph or under, and a pitcher should never be rewarded for an illegal pitch that is in violation of the speed limit. 

This is not a flawless proposition. Suppose that John Hamlett is at bat in a PWL World Series game with runners on 2nd and 3rd and 1 out. John is by far the best hitter on his team (sorry, Jerks). Couldn’t a pitcher throw endless balls to John if he refuses to take the walk? Yes, in theory. But this is where shame and social norms come in. The pitcher would eventually be shamed in to pitching to John, especially if the pitcher is the “ace” of a staff. The opponent and any bystanders would shame the pitcher in to pitching to John by calling the pitcher any number of colorful names. His first baseman and catcher will likely shame him in to pitching to John too. And hey, perhaps John would just take his walk. After all, in Major League Baseball, walks are mandatory. At least we’re giving John the choice. Standoffs like this were never an issue under the Shannon Rules, and I don’t anticipate them being an issue in the PWL, so long as pitchers and hitters are adequately shamed for deviating from established norms (the Shannons are always right).  
The Barrel Bruisers have suggested moving the mound back and eliminating the speed limit. That’s a fine alternative. We would occasionally move the mound back under the Shannon Rules to allow for full speed pitching, and it worked out fine. At that point, the rules just mirrored those of Major League Baseball, although walks were still at the election of the batter. Fast pitch is harder to control, so I suppose if you want a walk to be 5 or 6 balls instead of 4, that’s fine too. Full speed pitching was never incorporated under the Shannon Rules simply because throwing full speed hurt our arms too much.

The Barrel Bruisers idea is probably the most “fair”, if you believe in the word “fair” has any real meaning. This proposal at least tries to properly align incentives and resolves the issue of the current rules allowing for pitching fast without consequence. Allow walks and allow shame and social norms to govern how and when players choose to talk their walks. Implement the Shannon Rules. After all, the Shannons are always right, sometimes.

Spring 2017 Playoffs!

Written by - Posted 2017-06-21 12:31 in News

The final standings are out and we have a couple surprises — perhaps the biggest one being the defending champs Dupont Circle Jerks failing to make the playoffs and finishing 5-9. The second biggest surprise, mainly because new teams usually don’t make the playoffs, is that the Oldtown Barrel Bruisers are the 3 seed, finishing 8-5. These guys trained and it it showed — every week they got better and better, look out Strike Force.

Let’s take a look at the playoff schedule, both the DCS and World Series will be taking place on the same day — THIS SUNDAY! Feel free to come and enjoy the show!

1 Barnburners
2 Strike Force
3 Oldtown Barrel Bruisers
4 DC Twits

9:30 4 DC Twits AT 1 Barnburners
9:30 3 Bruisers AT 2 Strike Force
10:30 Strike Force AT Bruisers
10:30 Barnburners AT DC Twits
11:30 DC Twits AT Barnburners (if nec)
11:30 Bruisers AT Strike Force (if nec)
~12:30 World Series Game 1
1:30 World Series Game 2
2:30 World Series Game 3 (if nec)

NWLA 2017: This is Chess, Not Checkers! Tournament Favorites and Underdogs

Written by - Posted 2017-05-31 11:20 in News

Guest post from Jack Shannon

The loyal readers of the Potomac Wiffleball League website have come to expect the very best application of #SportsMath to wiffleball on the planet. Last summer, I wrote a series of articles (that I assume you have bookmarked) on rules structures, historic over and underachievers, and a sundry of other topics. The primary goal of those was to generate Facebook arguments, which I believe I succeeded in doing. THIS ARTICLE IS FOR DIE HARDS. The guys who spend all winter working on their screwball and watching WiffleBoy28 videos The guys who need to know exactly where their league stands in the national pecking order. For that, we’re going to have to use a little bit of #ChessMath. Strap in.

Those of you who play chess or watch soccer (my condolences if so) are probably well aware of Elo rankings. Essentially, an Elo system is a way to rank the relative performance of competitors. A team gains points by winning games and loses points by losing games (stunning, right?), but the gains and losses are weighted by the expected win percentage. That expected win % is based on the spread between the two teams’ point totals. If the spread is high –meaning a good team is playing a bad team – the good team will not gain a lot of points by winning since its expected win percentage is high. On the flip side, because of the high expected win percentage, the good team will lose a lot of points if it gets upset. The same is true for underdogs – they get rewarded with more points for beating favorites but are not harshly penalized for losing to the favorites. My readers don’t expect to get bogged down in the math, so those of you interested in finding out more about Elo rankings can CLICK HERE

In my model, everyone started off on an even level (1200 points). Once games are played, the rankings begin to shift. So the better teams begin to accumulate points and the bad teams lose points. A nice heuristic is to look to see if your league is above or below 1200. If you’re below 1200, you probably suck. If you’re above it, you’re not so bad. PWL is below it. Interpret that however you’d like.

“Hey Jack, where can I find those rankings?” Right here, buddy!

You should not be surprised by the top 5. Those five leagues have separated themselves from the pack as consistent winners year after year. The relative newcomers Leroy Wiffle and Hess Field also have impressive showings, as they have net gains in point totals, which generally means that they’re at least beating the teams they are supposed to. The same cannot be said for those below 1200.

Given that this is a PWL article, I guess I should write a sentence or two on our league. First, this ranking is not surprising. We’re just good enough to make even the best teams sweat if the good Shannon (me) is on the bump, but we’re also bad enough that Mequon wouldn’t bat an eye if they saw us on the schedule. Do you want to know what the probability of your league beating another league is? Of course you do. So here’s a nice matrix that shows you.

The way to read this chart is to start at the top or horizontal axis. The probabilities inside the table are the odds that the team on the top/horizontal axis would beat the teams on the side/vertical axis. So, for example, PWL has a 9.1% chance of beating OCWA, and a 57.1% chance of beating SRL.

What conclusions can be drawn from all this? Absolutely nothing. None of these probabilities exist in the real world. If you believe these, you’re probably an ESPNInsider subscriber. Or worse, a guy who calls into sports talk radio shows. Just because something has “math” in it doesn’t mean it contains any sort of real insight. Don’t fall for this.

The only possible use I find for this is as a reference point for anyone looking to get in on a little action on the games this year (Is gambling prohibited in the state of Michigan?)

So what are the odds for each league to win it all? See below. For those of you who do not gamble, the odds reflect how much money a $100 bet would pay out. For example, if you bet $100 on PWL to win it all, you would win $6800. That’s a hell of an investment. I’m more than happy to take that bet from you. For the gambling laity, I’ve also included in the table an MLB team with the equivalent odds of winning the World Series this year as a reference point. OCWA’s odds are much higher than any current MLB team, so I’ve made a slight adjustment for them.

We’re about a month and a half out from the 2017 tournament Lucky for you, the odds won’t change until another game is played. Place your bets.

Week 3 Postponed

Written by - Posted 2017-05-10 14:20 in News

Week 3 has been postponed due to some unforeseen circumstances. Between Mother’s Day, predicted rain, and damage to the fields at Moose, we will be moving week 3 games to June 18th. If games can be made up throughout the season, we can certainly do that in the 9:30 and 2:30 time slots if necessary.

Email the commissioner with any questions.

May 21, Week 4:
June 4, Week 5
June 11, Week 6
June 18, Week 3
June 24/25, Playoffs/World Series

Spring 2017: Around the League

Written by - Posted 2017-05-09 15:05 in News

If the smell of Parliaments, stale beer, and day-old fried food didn’t already give it away, I’m here to report that the PWL has returned to the friendly confines of the Springfield Moose Lodge. A few contenders have emerged from the pack through two weeks of play, while several teams have yet to awaken from their winter-long slumber. Let’s break down where each team stands through a third of the season.

Read the full entry

Spring 2017 Season Preview

Written by - Posted 2017-04-25 14:01 in News

Weather is warming up, grown men are tweeting oiled men in spandex at each other , must be wiffle season! This offseason has felt extra long due to the fall being a tournament but we are back. Allow us to offer some unsolicited but very valid musings on what we see for the PWL in 2017.

- Commissioner Hudson is retiring, moving his family (he has a kid now, congratulate him you jerks) to Richmond. This means we will have the first contested Commissioner election in PWL history pitting Alex “Haven’t I seen that guy walking through Arlington” Filides and Stephen “Unhittable when the radars are broken” Crawford. Vote!
- The Barnburners are back! We think one of the Shannons, not sure if the good one, is still in the Midwest but they’re all signed up. More on individual teams later.
- Thanks to a Capitals-esque opening day the PWL has already qualified for NWLA this year. Nevermind the meltdown on Sunday, what you need to know is that you need to play in 5 PWL games to qualify this year. They changed it.
- For the first time NWLA is not in rural Ohio; somehow that was too convenient for the mullet toting NWLA-ers so we have to go to Michigan. Thanks! Gallaway isn’t going, most likely because if you launch a Subway cup over your head it doesn’t satisfyingly smash and make everyone uncomfortable.
- Will this be the year of celebrity guests? Lots of long time players either aren’t signing up but staying on the peripheral of PWL news. Gagnon, Keeven, Higman, Burns, McNally, we’re looking at you.
- We’ve got a new team, a new old team, and the DC Twits trotting out the same lineup for the 87th consecutive season. In no particular order let’s get into it –

Blandsford Barnburners – We’re in trouble but somehow these are the good guys. Bringing back the original crew right as the Twits are due for their usual 4 year slump they are the team to beat. If they win expect to see Adriano shaking on a street corner mumbling to himself all summer.

DC Twits – We’re long out of original angles for the Twits. As shown in the tournament Crawford can take over, if Lockbaum’s one hit a game is a homer and Greg does everything else they can beat you. Or they can score 4 runs in a season. Yay Twits.

Master Batters – Another stalwart, love seeing these guys and the enthusiasm they bring. How the roster gets filled out is TBD but Grivnow will be there with his bike and hockey gear so all is right in the world. Welcome back fellas, the league needs more folks like you.

Janitors – Can’t talk about league fixtures without mentioning Iron Man Kerby leading his Janitors squad back for another go around. They were deceptively feisty in 2016, leaving a lot of teams very uncomfortable before usually falling in a one run contest. They need another piece to compete in a postseason series but count on them for some upsets.

Dupont Circle Jerks – Last we saw them they flamed out horribly in the tournament, before that they were raising the trophy. John Hamlett is a reliable leader but questions about the surrounding cast abound. How much frustration can he take before those always very visible quads go rogue and start beating people up? Only time will tell.

Strike Force – The new old team, this is Adriano’s latest attempt at dethroning the Barnburner empire. Got a new guy, no idea if he’s more Nick West or Sean Hendershot, but this team has the best 1-2 pitching punch with Jeff Nitto in the fold. This team symbolizes pretty much everything that has gone awry with the PWL in the past couple of years so we’ll see how it all comes together.

Oldtown Barrel Bruisers – New team! Leaked some video of practice session which is a bit pompous but we appreciate the enthusiasm. Hopefully they can give the old timers a run for their money. Their early season schedule will be key as they adjust to the nuances of the PWL game. Glad to have you guys, now prove you belong.

Signups are still open and several teams could use some free agent depth. If you know some folks who want to come out now is the time to get them in gear. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and keep checking the Facebook page for updates. Look forward to seeing everyone at the Moose!

Current teams and rosters HERE

Join today!

Team Name (or Free Agent):
Player Name for Website:

Hudson Announces Retirement

Written by - Posted 2017-04-18 15:30 in News

It is with a bittersweet feeling that I announce my retirement from the PWL, effective immediately after the Spring 2017 season.

Like all of you, I was shocked and panicked when I read the news of Chris Gallaway’s retirement. Who could ever fill those shoes? No one person loves wiffleball (and is willing to give money to it) the way he does. After forming a transitional committee of mostly eating amazing food, I took the task of becoming the second PWL Commissioner. Before I started though, I was given one last gift from Gallaway in the form of an angry Park Ranger — Gravelly was now “closed.”

What was to be an easy transition quickly turned into a fiasco of finding ANYWHERE that would let us play wiffleball consistently (and legally). After moving locations a few times, we finally found a deal with Moose. We gained a prime piece of real estate with the ability to do just about anything to it, but we lost the instant accessibility to DC and the roar of jets overhead. Piecing together what I could, I recruited more people to help me with the league. Without the help of people like Stephen Crawford, Michael Burns, Alex Filides, John Hamlett, and of course, Chris Gallaway — this league would have failed on day 1 of the transition. And that is why I am confident the league will continue without me. We are a league that loves to play wiffleball. Yes we are getting older, moving, going through life-changing events, but wiffleball will forever be what binds us together. The league might have to evolve, rebuild, or completely change — but the PWL will continue — and I hope the third commissioner is able to do that better than I could.

I will miss the camaraderie that came with those Sunday mornings on the field. You truly don’t understand how lucky you are to be able to freely discuss wiffleball until you come back to the office Monday and realize no one is interested in your strikeout pitch rotation. I will miss that.

The search for the next commissioner begins now. Please send me a note if you are interested in more information or helping out.

Never forget we beat the Barnburners in the World Series.

Spring 2017 So Far (Updating as Needed)

Written by - Posted 2017-04-10 14:05 in News

If you haven’t seen — sign ups for Spring 2017 are open and so far we have 4 teams coming back and 1 new contender. We expect at least 8 — managers are already being harassed by me to sign up. They LOVE that. So first things first — if you haven’t signed up yet, do so. The price will go up as we get closer. So do it now.


It has been too long since we have seen the Blandsford Barnburners suit up together. This Spring they return focused on only winning the championship, destroying everyone in their path. The ORIGINAL crew is coming back too, as Jake Tomko returns to the mound. Is he still good?

The Master Batters are currently returning — who will sign up? I have no idea. Who will actually show up? I have no idea. Either way, I look forward to seeing the team they assemble. Can Zach Carter come back already?

Last Spring, the Dupont Circle Jerks took home the championship — 3 of their players are now gone. Gagnon a FA, Jim Shannon back with Barnburners, and Alex now “retired.” Who will manager John Hamlett bring to defend the title this year?

New team alert — Oldtown Barrel Bruisers are already doing spring training in prep for opening day. From what we can tell, they are somehow related to a Crossfit studio. Do we consider them a threat?

“Fresh” off their Fall 2016 tournament win, the DC Twits organization has issued a new challenge to the league. Per star pitcher Stephen Crawford — “If you go deep off of me, I will give you $5. Shannon (the good one) can play for double, but then it is $4 per K.”

You are reading that right – you can make your money back this year by hitting home runs off the DC Twits. So again — you should sign up now.

Other notes of interest

  • The Wolfpack have collapsed.
  • Besley? Janitors? Where are you?
  • Notable free agents out there: Matt Gagnon, Adriano DeSorrento, Matt Curtin, Jeff Nitto
  • Super teams have died. Gone are Wolfpack, Jackhammers, I Want My Corners,
  • Remember you have to play to qualify for NWLA!

Spring 2017 Teams
Blandsford Barnburners
DC Twits
Dupont Circle Jerks
Master Batters
Oldtown Barrel Bruisers
Strike Force

Team Name (or Free Agent):
Player Name for Website:

REGISTER TODAY: Spring 2017 Sign Ups Open!

Written by - Posted 2017-03-22 12:08 in News

Registration is open, the PWL is back for 2017. Here is what you need to know –

- We return to the Loyal Order of the Moose for 2017
- Season opener April 30th
- We’ll play three games most weeks for a total of 14 regular season games (Schedule dependent on number of teams, could change)
- Price will open at $40 and go up as we get closer to the opening date

Get signed up and stay tuned for further updates…

Join today!

Team Name (or Free Agent):
Player Name for Website:

Spring 2017 Season in the Works

Written by - Posted 2017-01-06 09:39 in News

Start to get your team in mind, we will be back in the Spring — season to start mid to late March!

No weekend tournament, a full season. 14 games guaranteed (could change based on number of teams) at Moose. Happy New Year!

Join Today!

Team Name (or Free Agent):
Player Name for Website: