One interesting aspect of the Frontier League, or independent baseball in general, is planning for the future is a risky proposition.
In major league baseball, or even college and high school ball, planning for the future is easy. At those levels, you know what your roster will look like in the following season and can plan accordingly.
Because rosters in the Frontier League turn over as quickly as omelets, planning for the future is very difficult. The best-designed plans often awry in a hurry. Players retire. They get 9-to-5 jobs. They quit playing to return to college. They request trades to another league or a team closer to their hometown.
At the end of last season, the Wild Things' starting rotation appeared to be in good shape for 2016. Luke Wilkins and Ernesto Zaragoza each were in the rotation all of last year and Matt Fraudin was very good after being signed out of Gardner-Webb University. Jon Klein, who had a stellar career at Mercyhurst College, was picked up from Southern Illinois in the trade that sent Tim Flight to the Miners. Wilkins, Zaragaoza, Fraudin and Klein each would be able to return to Washington in 2016 and be classified as R2. If you understand the roster rules in the Frontier League, having an effective starting pitcher who is classified as an R1 or R2 is a huge bonus. Having four before the season even begins is a rarity.
But let's look at what happened to those four players:
* Wilkins had elbow surgery (fortunately, not the reconstructive variety) in the offseason and is currently on the suspended list. It is not known when he'll be ready to pitch.
* Zaragoza signed with a Mexican League team and has a 3-1 record with a 1.97 ERA in five starts. It doesn't look like he'll be released and re-signing with Washington any time soon.
* Fraudin is back with the Wild Things.
* Klein was placed on the suspended list. Who knows if he will ever play again.
Losing Wilkins, Zaragoza and Klein, who combined for 17 wins in their rookie seasons in the Frontier League, is a big hit to the Wild Things' pitching staff. Add in the loses of relief pitchers Matt Purnell, Steve Messner and Jonathan Kountis, and Washington will have a pitching staff that is almost entirely newcomers.
Fraudin is the only pitcher on the active roster who has won a game in the Frontier League. He was 3-2 in his half-season pro career.
You might be thinking those pitchers can be easily replaced because at the end of March there was a whole new crop of pitchers who were released from minor-league spring training. That is true, but it's difficult to find four or five good starting pitchers, as the Wild Things are trying to do. If you look at Frontier League rosters since 2002 -- when Washington joined the league -- the best teams usually had several holdovers on their pitching staff from prior seasons or acquired Frontier League veterans to boost their starting rotations.
If you look at some of the best Washington teams, they had Frontier League veterans who contributed mightily to the pitching staff. In 2003, Dave Bradley, Ben Ally and Jared Howton were FL veterans. Aaron Ledbetter and Tom Cochran were FL veterans when they joined the Wild Things and helped Washington to the 2007 championship series. When the Wild Things had only 11 returning wins in 2009, they posted a 43-52 record.
Here is a breakdown of the number of Frontier League pitching wins Wild Things pitchers had entering each season:
2002* -- 14
2003* -- 27
2004* -- 13
2005* -- 15
2006* -- 25
2007* -- 58
2008 -- 46
2009 -- 11
2010 -- 13
2011 -- 14
2012 -- 32
2013 -- 41
2014* -- 68
2015 -- 23
2016 -- 3
* = playoff team
In the seven seasons in which Washington made the playoffs, the Wild Things' pitchers entered that year with an average of 31.4 Frontier League wins. In the seven years in which they missed the playoffs, Wild Things pitchers averaged 25.7 wins, with 58 of the wins coming from Aaron Ledbetter and Justin Hall.
Having a staff with only 3 FL wins -- until Wilkins returns -- shows that Washington can't miss on the starting pitchers they signed in the last five weeks. Those pitchers can't have an long adjustment period to Frontier League hitters.
Here is a breakdown of how many Frontier League pitching wins each team has on its current active roster:
82 -- River City
68 -- Lake Erie
61 -- Gateway
51 -- Southern Illinois
50 -- Schumburg
46 -- Normal
35 -- Evansville
35 -- Florence
22 -- Traverse City
21 -- Windy City
17 -- Joliet
3 -- Washington
I was curious how many FL pitching wins Southern Illinois had on its roster last year during spring training. The Miners had the league's best record last season at 63-33. A quick check of baseball-reference.com showed the Miners with 39 FL wins as of opening day. League champion Traverse City had 27 FL pitching wins on opening day 2015.