My hackles went up before a single out was recorded in the first spring training game I watched.
With the Pittsburgh Pirates hosting the Toronto Blue Jays in Bradenton and with runners on first and second, no one out, Jose Bautista hit a sharp ground ball off starter James McDonald directly to third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
Let me clarify “directly”. Alvarez didn’t have to take a step in any direction. The ball hit him square on his glove. Alvarez muffed it. Instead of playing the ball cleanly as any major leaguer should, he kicked the ball around a couple of times before locating it in the dirt between his legs. As a result, a run scored.
Broadcaster Bob Walk wondered out loud if Baustista’s grounder would be scored a hit or an error. But I hadn’t the slightest doubt: Hit!
When Walk announced the official scorer’s decision, he offered the age old baseball excuse that Bautista’s easy out was “too hot to handle”.
Later in the game, Bautista was credited with a double when left fielder Matt Diaz butchered a pop up. Really, you would be disappointed if you Little Leaguer didn’t make the play Diaz mangled.
More than the nonsensical save, the laughable “quality start,” or the absurd pitch count, nothing annoys me more than the watered down official scoring wherein any hard hit ball or any fly that turns an outfielder around is automatically designated a hit.
I don’t know when or why it happened but generous (to the batter) scoring is baseball’s unspoken disgrace. There’s no explanation because while it may, in my example today, help the terrible fielding Alvarez maintain an artificially high fielding average or give Bautista’s offensive stats a boost (a single and a RBI), it also works to the detriment of the pitcher, in this case McDonald, who should not have been charged with an earned run.
Here’s an exercise for those of you who score or are casual observers of baseball games. As the game you’re watching progresses, make a notation of how many balls put into play that should be converted into outs are scored as hits. Your total will vary from game to game but by the end of the season, I’ll estimate that you’ll average at least two.
Since baseball has developed a whole new set of statistics for pitching and hitting, the time has come for different and more realistic official fielding standards too. Bill James has his Fielding Bible which, it strikes me, is too complex for the average (or even advanced) fan.
This, for example, from James’ overview of his Plus/Minus system:
“The computer totals all softly hit ground balls on Vector 17, for example, and determines that these types of batted balls are converted into outs by the shortstop only 26 percentage of the time. Therefore, if, on this occasion, the shortstop converts a slowly hit ball on Vector 17 into an out, that’s a heck of a play, and it scores at +.74. The credit for the play made, 1.00, minus the expectation that it should be made, which is 0.26. If the play isn’t made—by anybody—it’s -.26 for the shortstop.”
I have in mind something much simpler. In Alvarez’s case, it would be BEGB [HH]/CTR= Booted Easy Ground Ball [Hard Hit]/Cost Team a Run.