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.

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