Monday, April 15, 2013

Scorekeeping Meanderings

One of my favorite things about baseball is keeping score. I like keeping score enough that I feel compelled to attempt to devote at least one post annually around Opening Day to some aspect of the practice. It is somewhat common to find paeans to the aesthetic elements of scorekeeping. I would be lying if I claimed to not share any of those feelings (and this would give me up if I tried), but it’s not my favorite format, so instead I will focus on some more utilitarian aspects of scorekeeping.

Namely, I’m going to briefly discuss my preferences on a number of aspects of scorekeeping. Please allow me to issue a disclaimer up front that the manner in which I do things is not “correct”, nor better than what others may do. Scorekeeping, so long as it is only being done for your own consumption and not for any sort of official record, is whatever you want it to be. There is no right or wrong way to go about it, only what works for you.

The discussion that follows is a bit jointed, as I’ve broken it into discrete pieces related to a specific aspect of scoring, even though some of the distinct points are related philosophically.

Backtracking

The major scoring systems now in use can be divided broadly into three categories:

1. Traditional - each plate appearance is represented by its own scorebox, in which the actions of the batter is recorded, including whatever he does should he reach base.

2. Project Scoresheet - the account of the game is kept in an entirely linear fashion so as to facilitate entering the play-by-play into a computer system. Any baserunner advancement is recorded in the box of the plate appearance in which he advances, making it a chore to tie back to the individual baserunner.

3. Situational - this method, developed by Alex Reisner, is something of a hybrid between the traditional and Project Scoresheet systems. Recopying of baserunner locations is sometimes required, while baserunner actions are tied back to the responsible player through use of uniform number (or lineup position in some variations).

I don’t find backtracking to be a nuisance, and think that grouping all of the actions of a particular player together makes good sense as the individual nature of the game makes it desirable to be able to quickly identify each player’s performance. And it’s not as if you have to go back to scoreboxes that were initially filled out innings ago--the maximum lookback is to five batters earlier.

Of course, this discussion is limited to offensive performance--pitching and fielding results are necessarily scattered all over the opponent’s side of the scoresheet.

Squares and Diamonds

If you decide to use the Traditional scoring method, the next big question regarding the layout of your sheet is whether to put any pre-printed marking in the scoreboxes. The most common is a diamond used to trace the batter-runner’s progress around the bases. However, I prefer no pre-printed markings--no diamonds, no ball/strike boxes, and certainly no position numbers printed around the diamond or the “multiple choice quiz” of how the batter reached base (as Bill James so fittingly called it).

To me, the visuals just aren’t helpful. I like having maximum freedom to record what I need in the box, without having to fit that information in around the markings. When the batter doesn’t reach base, which of course is around 2/3 of the time, there is no need for a big diamond which has to be written over. When the batter doesn’t reach base, as many others do, I mentally divide the scorebox into four corners and trace his progress counterclockwise starting from the lower righthand quadrant.

Diamonds are nice if you need to quickly track runners around the bases and don’t care much about how or why they advanced to each base (a little league game or slow pitch softball come to mind). But when I’m scoring a game, I still want to know how each runner got to the base, which requires some kind of notation in addition to simply tracing the diamond. Thus, tracing the diamond requires additional pencil strokes plus uses up some of the room in the scorebox that might be used to record the means of advancement.

Tracking Pitches

I have been tracking pitches when scoring for almost as long as I have been scoring. The only time I don’t do it is in those circumstances in which I know I will not be able to devote my full attention to the game and thus the probability of an error has increased. However, even that has become less of a consideration in the era of GameDay, where for any major league game you can quickly catch up or clarify anything you may have missed.

Having a record of the count (and sequence, as well as the type of strike--swinging, called, foul) makes your scoresheet a much more complete record of the game, and that’s enough justification for me. However, it is understandable that some folks don’t want the added burden that comes with recording every pitch. What is odd to me is that you will sometimes see comments from a segment of serious scorekeepers that tracking pitches is only for crazy people.

I have not found tracking pitches to be in any way a nuisance. I’ve done it so much that now, on the rare occasions in which I am not tracking pitches, I find myself distracted during the course of an at bat, wanting to write something down but realizing there is no place on my scoresheet on which to do it. And as you gain experience, scoring tends to become second nature regardless of the detail level--after some practice, I think you’ll find you are still able to talk to your friends or eat a hot dog or whatever activity you’re afraid will be disrupted.

Columns

Many of the more recent scoresheet designs, like Project Scoresheet and Situational, have eschewed the use of nine columns, one for each inning. This allows for larger scoreboxes, but you lose the very clear organization by inning that the traditional format provides. My preference is to stick with tradition so as to see all events clearly on the inning level (just as I want to be able to see all events clearly when broken out by offensive player).

It’s true, though, that a lot of space is wasted by doing so. Giving each batter a spot to bat in every inning results in 81 scoreboxes, of which only 38 will be used in the average major league game. Allowing for six plate appearances for each batter is usually more than enough for nine-inning games.

One thing I do to maximize space is to eschew any columns for batter statistics at the end of the game. Many people don’t fill these out even if they are available, and from my perspective it is just busy work. I am not the team statistician, and if I can look up the boxscore on line very easily (even if you can recreate the scoring from a gametracker, it is not in a format conducive to easy readback.

When a team bats around, I simply continue scoring in the next column and draw a heavy line to indicate where the previous inning ends and the inning that is actually supposed to be scored in that column begins. I typically only have nine innings columns on my scoresheet (so as to maximize space), so renumbering the columns is not an option. I’ve never understood the impetus for that practice, though--to me it’s an overreaction for what is generally a one or two batter nuisance.

No Dashes

The traditional scorekeeping approach indicates a throw with a dash (i.e. 4-3). The Project Scoresheet system eliminated this use of the dash, and I adopt this approach wholeheartedly. Not only does it save a pencil stroke and clutter, but it frees up the dash symbol to be used for other purposes. For me, the dash is a symbol of a deflection, so 1-63 is a ball deflected by the pitcher on which the shortstop goes on to retire the batter at first.

Similarly, I don’t use a F to indicate a flyout (i.e. F7). If I just mark 7, I know that this is a flyball caught by the left fielder. If it is something more unusual (such as a line drive, a foul, or a sacrifice fly), then I can note this using some other code, but I see no reason to note the mundane.

Writing Utensil

Simple #2 Bic mechanical pencil with .5mm lead. I bought a pack of five of these pencils in 2004 and am currently on pencil number three (with many lead refills along the way, of course). They are simple, no fuss pencils. The continued use of traditional wooden pencils personally mystifies me (not just for scorekeeping but any application).

Scoring in ink is nice as it offers some permanence (although my pencil scoresheets from fifteen years ago appear to be holding up just fine), but I like the ability to erase with ease that pencil provides. It’s hard not to make a few slipups when scoring a game, especially if you want to match the official scorer, who will sometimes change his mind.

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