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Pushing a Giant Baseball Up a Hill and Watching It Roll Back Down Since 2008
On Keeping Score
January 9, 2014Posted by on
My mom taught me how to keep score at Mariners games in the Kingdome in the ’90s using the dollar scorecards that you can buy from the team. Somehow, despite all odds, they’ve been untouched by inflation; you can still buy those scorecards from the team for a dollar. However, my understanding of baseball has grown so much since then that it just can’t be captured in the small boxes those cards have to offer.
After spending years reading articles at USS Mariner, Lookout Landing, and Fangraphs, just making note of the conclusion of a play just doesn’t do it much for me anymore. Many scorecards these days also include a small pitch-count indicator, usually a set of two boxes for strikes above three boxes for balls like the Grand Salami’s scorecard does, and that’s a start, but it still didn’t satisfy me, so I started working on my own design.
My scorecard may take a minute to explain to most people due to its complication, but I’ve also given myself enough space for nuance and detail. Instead of the regular 10 innings that most scorecards offer, mine go past 11 all the way to 13. I can also keep a pitch count for a 12-pitch at bat and not get cramped. I like having this level of detail so I can call out information as we get to the later innings like they might recall on TV or Radio.
As an example, I framed the scorecard I kept for Felix’s Perfect Game. Based on all the information I take, I can tell you that Felix struck out the side in the 8th against Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Carlos Peña with 13 pitches, just three balls, two fouls, and six swinging strikes including all three strike-threes.
John Jaso famously said at the end of that game that he had a good idea of Tampa Bay’s game plan against Felix, saying that they weren’t going to try to hang around into deep counts. Sure enough, of the 24 pitches Felix threw his first time through the Rays order only four went into the book as called strikes, with two fouls, three swings and misses, and seven balls put into play. One of those called strikes was a 3-0 pitch to Zobrist, too (one of three 3-ball counts the entire game, I might add). In total, seven Rays swung at the first pitch of their at-bats, including four of the first nine. That’s more detailed information than you’re going to get off of Retrosheet or the Baseball Reference Play Index, and I have this information on-the-fly at the game.
Logging information like this keeps me paying attention to every pitch and can make the game more interesting as trends start to emerge during play. While Safeco Field’s LED ribbon on the façade of the second level will tell you a pitcher’s balls and strikes, as well as his first-pitch record for the game, that information is somewhat limited in its predictive power. Keeping track of pitches like I do is my way of measuring if a pitcher has his “stuff,” if he’s getting batters to swing and miss. I don’t get a really good idea if a breaking ball is biting from 400-plus feet away in the right-center-field seats, but logging swinging strikes can certainly tell me if a pitcher has been effective in this outing.
The scorecard also serves as an interesting interaction piece with other fans. Those who are around me but don’t know what I’m doing do ask from time to time what this page I’m working on is all about. I can also refer to it when interacting with opposing fans and get a quick retort to any heckling or use it to help educate newer fans or people who don’t have a good handle on understanding of the nuance of the game. Let’s face it; baseball games are three-hour marathons for people who aren’t as into it. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have Hat Tricks and Hydro Races. By paying close attention to the game and keeping score, I may be able to turn fans attention to a crucial moment on the field or let them know that an interesting or unusual event just took place like a swing and a miss by a guy with a high contact rate like Dustin Pedroia.
I keep my scorecard in .pdf format, and if watching sometimes awful baseball intently and trying to avoid bathroom breaks sounds fun to you, I’ve be happy to send a copy your way and explain the unusual features about my design if you’d like a little help.