Jaywalking: Walker System needs tweaking

Monday, June 05, 2017

How about that Pioneer softball team?

In case you missed it, the 14th-seeded Panthers traveled to Monson Saturday and defeated the No. 3 Mustangs, 6-5. It was easily the biggest first-round upset of the WMass baseball or softball tournaments. It also begs the question: Was it really that much of an upset?

The issue that the Panthers’ win revealed is that the Walker System may be failing the WMass Division III Softball Tournament more than any other tournament. The rating system is currently used to seed all of the major team tournaments in the western past of the state. For everything from football and soccer and field hockey, to basketball and baseball and softball, the Walker System takes into account a number of factors to try and correctly seed teams.

I’ve actually come around to Walker-System way of thinking for a number of sports. The system weighs a team’s overall winning percentage, strength of schedule and record against other tournament qualifiers. Initially, I was not a huge fan because I believed the system weighed strength of schedule far too heavily. Teams are given credit just for playing tougher opponents, even if they don’t beat those opponents. It makes some sense, and in many cases, the Walker System does accurately seed teams for the most part, but the tournament with the most glaring issues has been the Division III softball field. Turners Falls coach Gary Mullins agreed, saying on Sunday, “I don’t think the Walker System is doing justice in Division III. I’m not angry about it, but I think the Walker System is failing our division.”

It should be noted that the Walker System is a much better system for ranking teams than what the rest of the state uses, which is to seed teams based on records alone. It generally gives teams that most deserve early-round home games the chance to play at home. And as I’ve said in the past when dissecting the system, I don’t have anything better, other than possibly incorporating a little bit of common sense into the equation.

I was at the WMass softball and baseball seed meeting last week and can remember grimacing as a few seeds were announced. Turners Falls was awarded the No. 1 seed, which was accurate, but according to the tournament committee, the perennial powers only got the top seed because of wins over Newton North High School and Hampshire Regional High School on the final two days of the season. Both Turners Falls and Mt. Everett had 18-2 records, but Turners Falls needed wins over Hampshire (the top seed in WMass Division II) and Newton North (the third seed in the North Division III field) in order to be seeded first. Many years, Turners Falls does not get the top seed but wins western Mass., which says the Walker is failing. On top of that, Monson is a perennial high seed, simply because it plays in the five-team Bi-County East Division, which has one Division I team (Central) and two Division II teams (Palmer and Southwick). Central is the league doormat, but Monson gets beaucoup points in the Walker System just for playing a team two divisions higher. It also picks up a nice bonus for the league’s two Division II teams.

Turners Falls and the rest of the Franklin County League does not have the luxury of playing opponents in a higher division for it’s in-league schedule. Only Frontier is a Division II team in the FCL, while every other team falls into Division III. That is going to change next season if the proposed alignments pass, because Athol, Greenfield and Mahar will all be moving up to Division II, but as it currently sits, the Franklin County League is basically awarded the same credit as the Tri-County League. And it’s no secret that top teams in the TCL struggle against even the worst teams in the FCL.

But Monson, which went 14-6 this season, picked up the third seed ahead of Greenfield, which was seeded fourth at 16-2. This happened even though Monson went 0-2 in the regular season against FCL opponents, falling 1-0 to Athol and 5-2 to Frontier, which finished sixth in the league and did not even qualify for the tournament. Greenfield, meanwhile, split with Turners Falls. Its only other loss during the season came to Athol, and that was on the heels of the victory over Turners, so a letdown was not a total surprise.

It means that Greenfield and Turners Falls will not get the chance to meet in the WMass finals, which could and maybe should have happened. Instead, the two will now meet in the semifinals. Although both coaches will likely tell you that they will play whoever stands in their way and not complain about it, there is something to be said about playing each other in the finals.

As Mullins put it, “Both teams walk away with some hardware after the championship game,” and he’s right. Which is not to say Greenfield would definitely beat Mt. Everett, but that should have been the semifinal matchup.

Then there are the rest of the FCL teams. Athol High School beat Monson and split with Greenfield this season, yet they were robbed of playing a quarterfinal home game because they were seeded fifth in the Walker. It would have been easily argued that the Red Raiders deserved the fourth seed and should have been hosting fifth-seeded Monson in the quarters. How about Mohawk and Pioneer? Pioneer was seeded 14th, below three teams in the TCL (Putnam, Smith Voke and Franklin Tech), despite the fact that Pioneer mercy-ruled Smith Voke (the 10th seed), 20-1, just over two weeks ago. Mohawk went 13-7 during the regular season but was seeded behind both Putnam and Smith Voke, two teams that finished 14-6 overall in a much weaker division. Mohawk mercy-ruled Franklin Tech twice during the regular season, proving that the Warriors had little trouble against TCL opponents.

Why did the TCL teams get a boost and finish seeded ahead of teams like Mohawk and Pioneer? Because Division I Sci-Tech (which finished second to last) is in the TCL, so each TCL team gets two free wins against a Division I school.

There are other issues, such as 18-2 Pittsfield picking up the sixth seed in Division I because it plays a Berkshire schedule that includes mostly Division II and Division III teams. Pittsfield promptly traveled to third-seeded East Longmeadow on Saturday and beat the Spartans, 5-3, to advance to the semifinals.

I’m not saying the softball tournament committee should do away with the Walker. It’s just interesting to look at how things worked out and dissect it a bit. I do believe that some tweaking should be done after the Walker System is employed, but that means people are making decisions, and those can also come under scrutiny.

That said, here’s how the Jay(Walker) System would have ranked the teams. The Jay(Walker) System uses both the Walker System, and some common sense from Jason Butynski: (Walker System seed in parenthesis)

1. Turners Falls (1)

2. Mt. Everett (2)

3. Greenfield (4)

4. Athol (5)

5. Monson (3)

6. Mt. Greylock (6)

7. McCann Tech (8)

8. Granby (7)

9. Mohawk (11)

10. Pioneer (14)

11. Hoosac Valley (12)

12. Putnam (9)

13. Smith Voke (10)

14. Franklin Tech (13)

15. Commerce (15)

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.