Another weekend for MLP is in the books. While this may not be true for everyone, we find MLP to be the most compelling thing out there in pickleball right now. By adding the layer of transactions that occur between the events, it is easily most fun we have writing about pickleball. The fans can decide what they like best but all we are saying is that MLP is currently the most fun for us. We’re still not sure whether Rob Nunnery’s suggestion of trying to turn pickleball into a sports league instead of an individual sport is the way to go, but it is an interesting suggestion nonetheless. That’s something we can get into another time though because, as usual, we’re bringing the takeaways to the table on a Monday.
1. Getting Iggy With It (Slim) – While we were high on the Ranchers addition of Jackie Kawamoto, and high on the team’s overall talent level, we were down on their decision to drop Austin Gridley and pick up James Ignatowich. We did say that we thought the team could still win it all, but we felt like they had reached taking James, and that his game was not ready. Ranchers owner, Tim Klitch, owned up and took full responsibility for the move. If you are going to run/own any sports team, you should do things your way and not for others.
James, Tim Klitch and the Ranchers proved us wrong this weekend, as the Ranchers won it all and Ignatowich showed that he clearly belonged. He went undefeated in his mixed matches playing with Jackie Kawamoto and won his last 2 men’s matches with heat check specialist DJ Young.
It has always been clear that James has the talent, but it is now also very clear that he is putting in the work on his game, as he is improving rapidly. That improvement was most evident in mixed this weekend, as the men’s doubles game is still a work in progress, but he still more than held his own men’s doubles as well.
James is just the latest example of the fact that we are just on the cusp of a talent boom in pickleball and if you aren’t ready to put in the work you better be ready to get out. There are young, relatively successful tennis players who are now dedicating themselves to pickleball full time and they are improving at a rapid pace. Federico Staksrud is another guy who seems to be on a similar type path. What we thought we knew of the learning curve is totally different than it was even a year or two ago. One can only imagine where James’ game may be in a years time, if he continues on this trajectory.
2. Rule Controversy (Gritty) – In the final, loser leaves town match between the Bus and the 5s on Saturday morning, there was some major controversy that occurred. Prior to the Dreambreaker of this very crucial match, Nunnery, who had played all the doubles events prior to this for the 5s, was subbed out for Gabe Tardio to play the Dreambreaker. It appeared Kyle Yates was not aware of this rule and was visibly upset about the switch. Interestingly, Nunnery had talked publicly about this rule a couple of weeks ago saying that he was surprised more teams were not taking advantage of the ability to sub in an alternate for singles. The commentators also confirmed when the switch was made their understanding was Rob Nunnery could still play the next match should the 5s win and move on to the playoff round.
Neither of us were aware of this rule before I saw Nunnery on social media discussing this and sent a text to my co-founder of the blog. I described the rule as “insanity”. Insanity aside, that was clearly the rule going into the tournament and the 5s thought they had used itto their advantage. Tadio was very solid in the Dreambreaker and the 5s went on to win.
After the match, Nunnery announced on his social media that he was disqualified from playing the first playoff match for the 5s. Nunnery sent out this tweet below, which has since been deleted:
This is speculation on our part, but from an outside perspective it seems like what happened is that MLP realized they didn’t fully consider how the alternates could be taken advantage of. As a result, they made a change mid-event after getting pressure from players. This left Nunnery unable to compete in their first elimination match.
Even though the 5s won and you could have a really good debate as to whether Tardio was a downgrade based Nunnery’s health, changing the rules in the middle of the game was a terrible move by MLP. If they were going to change the rule, they needed to tell the 5s before the Dreambreaker that Nunnery would be out for their next match.
As much as we like MLP, there is still a lot of work to be done for them in terms of planning ahead and ensuring the public understands how things work. MLP is in its very early stages and trying to be innovative, which means that weird stuff will happen and considerations won’t be made. But there’s a fine line between being innovative and catering to the demands of loud voices when this weird stuff happens. Nunnery was not sneaky about this move. Someone should have seen him discussing it publicly and noticed that this could be a problem prior to the event. If you find out there’s a problem with a rule during an event, it seems obvious that you wait until after the event to deal with it.
Frankly, if you ever changing the rules between events or,*gulp*, during the event, you need to announce it publicly somewhere at a bare minimum. I’m pretty confident there was not one public announcement outside the broadcast that we saw about the Nunnery alternate situation. As another unrelated example, I’m also pretty sure there wasn’t one public announcement of the switch in scoring to freeze the losing team at 18 prior to the tournament. These things should be known because if we aren’t aware of it at NML, how is any casual fan supposed to know when they are tuning into a broadcast?
There’s been a lot going on with MLP this year and changes happening on the fly. However, if you want the public to treat you as a professional sports league, you need to do business the way other pro sports leagues do. Public clarity on rules and changes to the format are a no brainer and need to be prioritized more by MLP going forward.
3. Free Agents (Slim) – It would seem that there are still a number of players that likely belong in MLP, that have not found their way there yet. We had Ben Newell as a player that should have been drafted initially, but he was not drafted and was not picked up subsequently – although he was used as an alternate in Austin and the Mad Drops made the top 6. Newell showed this weekend at the PPA event that he probably should have been drafted, as he reached the men’s doubles final with Tyson McGuffin, which they made with an impressive victory over Matt Wright and Collin Johns, exhibition tourney aside.
Gabe Tardio is another player who we have felt has been overlooked by teams, and when he got his shot this weekend with the 5’s as a substitute, it definitely looked like he belonged. It will be interesting to see if any teams look to add Tardio to their roster for the final stop of the year in Ohio.
Finally, watching a lot of the matches this weekend you could not help but feel like a lot of teams could have used Bobbi Oshiro in their number two women’s spot. Bobbi probably went a little high at number 8 in the original draft but her getting dropped completely by the Lions is still mystifying and there is little doubt that she could have significantly elevated a number of teams this weekend as their number two female.
There’s a lot of room for improvement for most teams. It’ll be fun to see who wants to take a leap kind of the way the Ranchers did with Ignatowich.
4. Highway Robbery (Gritty) – The headline for this takeaway isn’t quite fair as only the Jackie Kawamoto for Maggie Brascia trade was true highway robbery. However, there was a clear theme that cut across all 4 teams that made the semi-finals: each team had, in some fashion, reaped the benefits of getting really strong value for their 2nd female player.
We don’t need to re-hash the Jackie Kawamoto trade in too much depth again – we already did that at the time the trade was announced – but for the Ranchers to get a #1 female pick for a player they were probably dropping anyway had the exact impact that was anticipated. Kawamoto didn’t lose a single match the whole weekend playing women’s with Anna Bright and mixed with James Ignatowich. Kawamoto was the 10th female selected in the MLP draft and somehow the Ranchers with a top 5 female pick got the benefit of having Jackie as their 2nd female.
Although Parris Todd’s injury really hurt the chances of BLQK to come through and Schneemann played lights out in the semi-finals, the Parris Todd selection as the 19th female has turned out to be the best value in the entire MLP draft. Susannah Barr, picked one spot ahead of Todd, was a steal as well. Finally, Padegimaite went as the 21st female drafted and is also a player we identified as a “steal” at the time. Lina didn’t have quite as good a performance in Newport as she did in Austin but she still proved her value.
Let’s go through the exercise of setting out picks #11 through #21 – Michelle Esquivel, Maggie Remynse, Lee Whitwell, Regina Franco, Mary Brascia, Sarah Ansboury, Corrine Carr, Susannah Barr, Parris Todd, Maggie Brascia. Lina Padigemaite. Look at that list. The benefit the 4 semi-final teams got from value picks highlight the importance of stealing value to gain an edge. How many of those women would you trade straight up for any one of Barr, Todd or Padigemaite before the Ohio stop?
Of course, the #2 females on the semi-final teams have the benefit of playing with stronger #1 women compared to a lot of those drafted ahead of them, but it doesn’t take away how important it is to not only make solid picks in the draft, but to make very good picks.
Or just have a really good player handed to you on a silver platter.
5. MLP and PPA Stream Wars (Slim) – There is little doubt that the PPA created their Selkirk Showcase this weekend to compete against MLP and most likely to keep their players tied up from being tempted to jump into MLP and its prize money.
The PPA seemed to dominate the stream numbers this weekend, suggesting that the casual fans are still drawn by the biggest names in games – notably the PPA had signifcantly less than their usual public Youtube stream numbers. While it seemed that many of the more hardcore fans who watch week in and out were much more interested in MLP.
We anticipated this would be the case in our MLP 5 Big Questions so it was no surprise it came out in the wash this way. The fact is that pickleball stream numbers are still tiny relative to the amount of money being poured into the sport at the pro level. MLP appeared to cut back on their budget in Newport as they had no announcers for Grandstand Court and the quality of the stream was lacking in crispness – not to mention the terrible late and choppy streaming on Friday. The PPA appeared to win this round based on the Youtube numbers, timeliness and quality of the dtream, but this is a very small battle in the grand scheme of things.
Also, I don’t know if anyone watched it but the Gamma Classic in Pittsburgh had the best quality stream of all the pickleball events this weekend. They may not be the flashiest, but Boxcar Productions has to have the most consistent streams in the business.
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