Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Scorekeeping Meanderings

The absence of baseball from mid-March to late July resulted in me spending a lot of time pondering the art of scorekeeping. This is somewhat counterintuitive, I suppose, as scorekeeping is an activity that usually is predicated on live baseball being played, whereas other baseball-adjacent interests like sabermetrics, baseball books, baseball cards, and your OOTP game (go Squires!) can be pursued just as well without a season in-progress. However, one of the ways that I sought to connect with baseball was through examining my old scoresheets. I wouldn’t say that I “relive” a game through reading scoresheets – I don’t, for instance, start at the top of the first and walk through the play-by-play. It is more of a survey of the scoresheet, looking at the names in the lineup, scanning first vertically for the flow of the game, then horizontally for the performance of individual batters. Given the manner in which I keep score, focusing on pitching performance is more of a chore, but usually the first ways of ingesting the scoresheet provide direction on whether there is anything of note. At the very least, I feel like I accomplished something – I now at least have weekly posts scheduled at Weekly Scoresheet through some time in January 2022.

What follows is a collection of disjointed opinions on priorities in keeping score, many of which I’ve previously written about. Of course scorekeeping is a deeply personal activity, and so these are my priorities – they need not be the priorities of any other scorekeeper. I have much enjoyed perusing the BaseballScorecards subreddit, which is the best repository of examples of personal scoresheets that I have found.

1. My primary goal in keeping score is to record as much information as possible about the game. In the Statcast era, it may be necessary to caveat this by saying that what I really mean is “as much information as can be gathered by the human eye watching on TV or at the park” – the amount of information that can be collected about a baseball game now far exceeds the capacity of our basic senses. There are some additional caveats about what this means for practical scorekeepinmg.

I want to have the entire account on one side of one sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper. I think that scoresheets read easier when they are broken up by innings. One of the innovations of the Project Scoresheet system and its offshoots (more on other aspects of these later) was to only provide for six scoreboxes for each player rather than nine, which increases the amount of space available for recording each plate appearance at the cost of losing the clear distinction between innings. I choose to retain the distinction at the cost of sacrificing some space.

I am always confused by the manner in which a team batting around causes some scorekeepers to lose their minds, and start crossing out the numbers in the subsequent innings. This happens in a small number of innings, and usually resolves itself after the following inning if we’re talking about high-level baseball. I simply draw some additional lines at the top and bottom of the scoreboxes that have been used as overflow and move along with my life.

The desire to maximize space is a reason why I don’t like using a pictorial representation of a diamond in a scorebox. In addition to not having artistic talent (you would think this wouldn’t matter when you are just tracing, but you’d be surprised), it renders the inside of the box of limited value for recording information.

2. Since requiring that the entire scoresheet be contained on a single side of a single sheet of paper limits the amount of available space, I completely eschew with any space in which to total individual statistics. It’s just as well – I don’t really want to spend time after the game on this – box scores are readily available, and more importantly, with batters only getting 3-6 plate appearances in a typical game, I can quickly scan horizontally across the scoresheet to take in his entire performance.

This doesn’t work as well for pitchers, as tracking a starter requires scanning over multiple innings. For this reason, when I use an alternative scoresheet that uses one side of a 8.5 x 11 sheet for each team, I devote some of the additional space to track pitcher’s statistics.

3. In recording the game action, I focus primarily on describing what happened rather than adhering rigidly to the rules of scorekeeping as laid out in section 9 of the official rulebook,. The reasoning behind this is that, as above, I am primarily concerned with capturing an accurate account of the game rather than using a the scoresheet as a means to compiling a statistical account of it (thus my preferences here would not serve an official scorer well to adopt). And if I am successful at the former goal, the latter will be recoverable even if it is not immediately evident from the notations on the scoresheet. This is not to say that I intentionally flaunt section 9, but rather disregard it at my convenience.

A few examples will make my point more clear. One is a strikeout/throw out double play. This is a double play, but nowhere on the sheet do I indicate it is a double play through a symbol like “DP”. It will be evident from my scoresheet that the batter struck out, and the runner was caught stealing on the last pitch of his plate appearance. Thus it is not necessary to note that it was a double play – the information recorded is sufficient to work this out after the fact.

Another is catcher’s interference (of which it certainly feels as if I have seen Sandy Leon commit more of in 2020 than multiple Indians catchers have over a number of campaigns). This is technically an error on the catcher, but I simply mark it as “INT”. The “E2” is implied; no need to take up space recording it.

Additionally, some times I will deviate from the official scoring if I think the official account obscures the matter. The most obvious examples are judgment calls like hit/error or wild pitch/passed ball; sometimes my judgment differs, and I’ll go with my opinion. Usually I don’t, though, because I generally favor eliminating as many of these judgment calls from the official record as possible. I would prefer to see a category “Battery Errors” rather than WP/PB; as such, I’m usually content to jot down the official scorer’s ruling even if I might have seen it differently.

A more arcane example can be summed up by this play which ended the Indians/Cardinals game on 8/29/2020. You watch the play and tell me how you would score the putout of Molina.

The official scoring for this play, at least as shown on MLB Gameday, was 353. I do not for the life of me understand why Carlos Santana is credited with the putout of Molina. I have not even attempted to understand it because it is not worth my time – either it is an error in Gameday, or it is an asinine rule to which I refuse to give any credence. It is true that Molina was not putout by the act of Ramirez tagging him, as the umpire ruled him out for leaving the baseline first. I understand that a defensive player must be credited with the putout, but why a phantom putout would be awarded to Santana, rather than the closest defender (Ramirez) or the closest defender in the direction in which Molina was originally oriented (Perez) or the next closest defender in the direction in which Molina turned (Lindor) is beyond me. I have this scored as “DP35 [OBL]” – the putout to Ramirez, and “OBL” indicating that it was a technical putout credited as a result of the out actually occurring when Molina left the baseline (I realize that there are some technicalities about baseline v. established running lane, etc.). I find this to be a much better representation of what actually transpired on the field, official scoring be damned. 

4. I know that I’ve written this missive before, but one of the arguments for the Project Scoresheet system is that it eliminates backtracking. “Backtracking” is defined as the act of having to go back to a previous scorebox to record events that occur as the result of a subsequent plate appearance, which is a long-winded way of saying “tracking baserunners”. Perhaps it is simply being used to it after nearly twenty-five years of scorekeeping, but I’ve never felt this is a great burden. At most you have four boxes in play at any given moment, and I don’t find it unnatural to monitor the progress of baserunners individually.

The Project Scoresheet system introduces a different type of backtracking, which I find much more troublesome – what I would call “readback backtracking”. Since the Project Scoresheet account is entirely linear, you have to go back to try to figure out which runner is which – in the plate appearance of the #6 hitter, who is the runner on first base? It takes reading through the prior boxes to figure it out, which makes it very difficult to tell quickly which player actually stole a base or scored a run.

This is not a knock on the Project Scoresheet system. Because it is an entirely linear system, it is 1) the quickest way to record the information and 2) the easiest format with which to enter it into a computer. The latter is the reason why Project Scoresheet used that format, as it started as a volunteer effort to first record and then to computerize accounts of all major league games. With regards to #1, I will occasionally start scoring a game before I am ready to use my normal scoresheet, and just need to jot down the events of the game in order to copy over later. When I do this, I use as strictly linear approach.

An offshoot of the Project Scoresheet system is the Reisner system, in which at the start of each plate appearance the location and identity of the baserunners are recorded. There is limited backtracking to note batter-runners who wound up scoring, but while readback backtracking is reduced, it’s still present. Personally, I find it tiring to keep repeating the location of baserunners that never advance (e.g. a leadoff walk that stays put will result in noting that the runner is at first base three times).

5. Nomenclature – you may note that I usually refer to a “scoresheet” rather than a “scorebook” or a “scorecard”. The reason for the first is simple – I prefer loose leaf sheets rather than binding them in a book. Sheets are easier to store (I have entire filing cabinet devoted to scoresheets), but most importantly they reduce risk. If I spill something on a single sheet, or it slips out of my binder on the way home from the park, that is unfortunate but not a catastrophe as it would be if an entire scorebook met a tragic end.

“Scorecard” is certainly the more romantic term, but to me it implies one of two things: 1) the Official Scorecard they try to sell you at the park, which is always an abomination if intended for actual scorekeeping or 2) printing on heavier stock, whereas for ease of storage and reproduction I prefer a standard sheet of printer paper backed by a clipboard.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

29 Runs

 Estimated probability of scoring >= 29 runs for various levels of R/G, (using Enby distribution with Tango Distribution c = .767):

R/G Prob 1 in…
3.50 0.00006% 1,719,611
3.55 0.00007% 1,520,381
3.60 0.00007% 1,343,511
3.65 0.00008% 1,197,110
3.70 0.00009% 1,058,359
3.75 0.00011% 939,653
3.80 0.00012% 836,424
3.85 0.00013% 745,271
3.90 0.00015% 664,698
3.95 0.00017% 594,326
4.00 0.00019% 531,900
4.05 0.00021% 476,471
4.10 0.00023% 427,207
4.15 0.00026% 383,962
4.20 0.00029% 345,397
4.25 0.00032% 310,973
4.30 0.00036% 280,638
4.35 0.00040% 253,096
4.40 0.00044% 228,784
4.45 0.00048% 207,280
4.50 0.00053% 187,670
4.55 0.00059% 170,297
4.60 0.00065% 154,651
4.65 0.00071% 140,549
4.70 0.00078% 128,012
4.75 0.00086% 116,513
4.80 0.00094% 106,275
4.85 0.00103% 97,006
4.90 0.00113% 88,732
4.95 0.00123% 81,106
5.00 0.00135% 74,290
5.05 0.00147% 68,093
5.10 0.00160% 62,454
5.15 0.00174% 57,319
5.20 0.00190% 52,713
5.25 0.00206% 48,508
5.30 0.00224% 44,665
5.35 0.00243% 41,153
5.40 0.00263% 37,991
5.45 0.00285% 35,046
5.50 0.00309% 32,391
5.55 0.00334% 29,956
5.60 0.00361% 27,719
5.65 0.00390% 25,664
5.70 0.00420% 23,805
5.75 0.00453% 22,065
5.80 0.00488% 20,490
5.85 0.00525% 19,037
5.90 0.00565% 17,697
5.95 0.00607% 16,480
6.00 0.00652% 15,336

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

1994 Topps, pt. 3

Moving on to the regular cards, one thing I thought was odd were two “Bob Clemente”-esque names, which you don’t really expect in 1994. Benny Santiago (#370) and Denny Martinez (#440). The latter is especially odd, since Dennis is a common American name, while the former was famous – maybe someone thought Benito was too associated with fascist dictators?

I already touched on the demographic info and statistics on the backs of the cards, but the backs also feature another picture of the player and usually some kind of anecdote. What’s interesting is that the longer the player’s career, the less likely they are to have an anecdote, since they have to squeeze in all of the stats real tight. Usually these blurbs are asinine statistical trivia or a personal story that Topps considered interesting but usually is not given in enough detail due to space limitations to land with the reader. A typical example of the former is Bill Haselman (#138):

“In 19 games from June 6 to August 8, Bill hit .328 with 11 of his 13 extra-base hits for the season”.

And of the latter, Tony Pena (#85):

“As a kid, Tony was transported to his games by 4 donkeys pulling a wagon.”

There are handful that fall between the ridiculous and the sublime; these are my favorites, with a limited amount of my own snark interjected:

Phil Plantier (#13): “Phil’s home run total was the 4th-highest in Padre history. Amazingly, he had two-HR games on the second-to-last days of May, June, July, and August – an anomaly he attributed to ‘biorhythms’”.

Greg Gagne (#151): “One of Greg’s home runs last season was the 10,000th ever hit at the site of Detroit’s Tiger Stadium.”

It took me a minute of back-of-the-envelope figuring to concede that this was even possible. It is in fact possible.

Graeme Lloyd (#187): “Graeme was the definition of a ‘rubber-armed’ pitcher, as he worked in an amazing 43% of the Brewers’ first 103 games.”

Curtis Leskanic (#191): “Quickly Curtis shaves his right arm before starts because, he says, it reduces resistance and increases his arm speed.”

Julio Franco (#260): “Julio once promised his mom he’d hit .300 for her every season; he’s done so in 9 of 16 pro seasons”.

So apparently he’s 44% a terrible son.

Eric Helfland (#363): “In Eric’s short career he has played at two colleges, been drafted by two teams, picked in the Expansion Draft and then traded.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a “Future Star”.

Arthur Rhodes (#477): “Arthur was born eight days after the New York Mets upset the Orioles in the 1969 World Series.”

What a fun, uplifting, relevant to Arthur Rhodes fact to put on the back of his card, which presumably was primarily collected by Orioles fans!

John Hope (#491): “John’s hopes for a no-hitter were ruined on 9-16, when he had to leave his hitless game against Florida after 4 IP with leg cramps.”

And my hopes of winning the lottery were ruined when the second number on my ticket didn’t match after the first did.

Brad Holman (#631): “Brad held foes to a mere .208 AVG, getting revenge for suffering a grisly facial injury when struck by a line drive on 8-8.”

That’ll learn ‘em!

Felix Jose (#672): “Called by manager Hal McRae ‘the most serious guy I’ve ever seen in spring training’, Felix’s March shoulder injury plagued him all year.”

Pedro Martinez (#676): “Pedro’s real last name is Aquino but, because his passport listed his mother’s maiden name, he kept the name Martinez to avoid the hassle.”

Given that this is the OTHER Pedro Martinez, this was a case of winning the battle only to lose the war and be occupied by the enemy’s troops for the next five centuries.

But my favorite, which I will show here so that you can see the back of a 1994 Topps, is for Ricky Jordan (#86):

What’s more disgusting, that or his walk rate?

Now for the best part of any baseball card set – the front of the cards. Throughout this series I’ve been talking about how great 1994 Topps looks, but have been holding back on just what it is about these cards that I find so aesthetically pleasing. It’s difficult to articulate - I suppose that as often is the case as a rational-minded person trying to describe aesthetic feelings, I just have to chalk it up to a certain je ne sais quoi. A lot of it is just that they were the cards of record at the time that I fell in love with baseball. They have what I might in another context consider excessive borders, but the truncated home plate shape feels baseball-appropriate, and the colors are coordinated with the player’s team. The script for the player’s name is just right – it’s more exciting than print, but it uses proper punctuation, and it’s always clean and readable.

While I long ago moved on from Ken Griffey as the most desirable card in this set in terms of player identity, I can’t move on from Ken Griffey’s card (#400) being the best looking in this set. Not sure whether it was burnt into my subconscious that way, or if it is just that it looks great:

Most of the cards show an action shot of the player. Three of my favorites are Tom Gordon (#66), Orel Hershiser (#460), and Fred McGriff (#565):

A fair number of the cards are laid out as landscapes rather than portraits; I find this annoying when looking at the set in a binder, but some are very nice. A good example is John Olerud (#10):

I will attempt to classify the unique cards that I like into a few buckets. One theme that I particularly enjoy is “plain girl with hot girl”. I’m sure you’ve seen an online dating profile where a less-attractive person displays a picture of themselves with one or more relatively more attractive people, hoping for some misplaced swipes (I’m not sure what step two in this plan is, but I digress). There are a number of cards that fall into this category, usually involving a middle infielder pivoting/making the relay throw at second while a more famous runner slides in:

- Felix Fermin (#36) is shown on the pivot with Rickey Henderson sliding in
- Bret Barberie (#132) gets the pseudo-Sportsflics treatment as Jeff Bagwell slides into second
- Jeff Kent (#424) paired with Chris Sabo (of course, Kent would eventually a much bigger star than Sabo, and regardless of how unpopular he may have been, he was also not a minion of the forces of darkness as Sabo was)
- Bip Roberts (#733) paired with Eddie Murray
- Honorable mention: the featured player of the card is more prominent than the slider, but Roberto Alomar (#675) is paired with older brother Sandy

Two in this genre don’t occur at second base. In one, Tino Martinez (#693) catches a pop-up at Cleveland Municipal Stadium with the baseball decal on the wall showing Bob Feller’s retired #19 getting prominent treatment. But my favorite in this whole genre (other than possibly Fermin because it includes Rickey) is #122, Jeromy Burnitz:

Burnitz is dwarfed on his own card by Bonilla, who not only had three inches on him but gets the foreground of the shot. I also imagine that pairing these two up infuriates Mets fans, Bonilla for obvious reason and then Burnitz was dealt away to Cleveland with Joe Roa for Jerry DiPoto, Paul Byrd, Dave Mlicki, and PTBNL Jesus Azuaje. At least the Indians didn’t benefit, flipping Burnitz to Milwaukee for Kevin Seitzer during the 1996 stretch run at a point where Burnitz was a better hitter and almost a decade younger. No, I'm not bitter about the Indians giving away Burnitz, Brian Giles, and Richie Sexson, the hitters who could have extended their competitive window into the early 2000s. Why do you ask?

Some of the best action shots:

- Todd Frohwirth (#242) and one of my future favorite players of the era Steve Reed (#627) are both delivering from down under on the front and backs of their cards. Someone at Topps shared my aesthetic preferences for relievers.

- Spike Owen (#297) leaping in the air on the pivot
- Ryne Sandberg (#300) getting the pseudo-Sportsflics treatment on the pivot
- Charlie Hough (#625) gripping (front) and throwing the knuckler (back)

Perhaps my favorite card in the set, then and now (ok, then was behind the Manny Future Star and Griffey), is Kenny Lofton (#149):

The counterpart to action shots are fish out of water shots, in which a player is featured doing something that is not their forte:

- Mike LaValliere (#147) running
- Doug Drabek (#220) and Dave Winfield (#430) in catchers’ crouches during warm-ups
- Mark Grace (#360) fired up on the mound during a pitching change/visit
- Devon White (#511) reading fan mail while wearing a Blue Jay pullover so teal that he must have known he would eventually be a Marlin
- Jose Rijo (#705) aiming his most ‘90s of contraptions, a Super Soaker, at the fans (?)

My favorite of these is Doc Gooden (#150):

A few that I don’t have a defined bucket for:

- Fernando Valenzuela (#174) is caught at the trademark “eyes pointed up” part of his motion, but seeing him in a Baltimore uniform is a little discomforting
- George Brett’s final card (#180) is a zoomed out shot of him hitting it the other way, but with the distinctive Royals Stadium scoreboard visible in center, I think it works and is a very nice card.
- Texas wore some kind of alternate uniforms; I don’t know that they’re throwbacks as the “T” looks like a cousin to Detroit’s olde English “D”. But someone at Topps loved these as they figure prominently on three Rangers’ cards – Dean Palmer (#136), Kevin Brown (#345), and the back of Craig Lefferts (#288)

- Rey Sanchez (#422) is signing autographs, holding his own 1993 Topps card.
- Geronimo Pena (#444) straddling the back of a Dodger baserunner
- Almost all of the amusing pictures are on the front of the card, but on the back of his card, Alvaro Espinoza (#726) is wearing his goggles and a panama hat. It’s pretty great.

One of the premium sets of the day was Studio, which generally pictured players in posed portraits. 1994 Topps features three cards that look as if they might be trying to encroach on Studio’s territory. Maybe someone caught the San Francisco clubhouse on a good day, because both Willie McGee (#534) and Barry Bonds (#700) are so depicted. But they both had a certain amount of gravitas given their career accomplishments, which made this treatment seem non-ridiculous. I'm confused by what the thinking was on #522, though.

The pictures are generally so good, though, when you get an unflattering one, it makes you wonder what Topps had against the guy. My first reaction when I saw Larry Casian (#543) was that he was getting pulled, but upon looking at it further it seems far, far more likely that he's receiving the ball from Tom Kelly. But Casian's experssion is dire, and it seems weird to me that the catcher appears to be walking up onto the mound when he should have been standing there for a while waiting for Casian to trot in from the bullpen.

Bob Ojeda (#93) had a truly terrible year on a human level in 1993. He was injured in the spring training boating accident that killed teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews, and only appeared in nine games after missing time due to his injuries. You would have hoped that Topps would show a little more humanity than this image:

In a class all by itself, though, is what I think is the most erotic baseball card I’ve ever seen, #80:

I’ve had enough fun with this that I’ll have to consider collecting another set as an off-season project in the future. The hardest part would be finding one that can hold a candle in any respect to 1994 Topps. It’s all downhill from here.