Official Scoring Is “Officially” Meaningless

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.

4 Replies to “Official Scoring Is “Officially” Meaningless”

  1. I agree that official scoring is so subjective and inconsistent that it has become almost meaningless. Moreover, as you point out, if the stats that are derived from such a questionable set of data are too complex for virtually anyone but a PHD candidate to use, then what’s the point of the whole exercise?
    Nice post, Bill

  2. Joe,
    Nice post. I agree that official scoring is in a sorry state. However, my admittedly limited understanding of the Plus/Minus system is that it’s designed to assess and compare player performance based on a large body of work (such as a season, for example), and not to generate the “hit” and “error” judgments that determine whether runs are earned or not. That said, the system as you describe it has some merit, namely using standardized metrics to displace some of the subjectivity that everyone brings to viewing and judging defensive play, so I would not be so quick to dismiss such a system. In my view, the subjectivity can never be eliminated, but it can be reduced. Consistency could also be promoted. I, for one, would have no objection to a centralized review of game footage, with changes in scoring occurring perhaps hours or days after the game ends. I know this introduces complications (I don’t even want to think about the implications for hitting streaks and other records), but any increase in consistency would be a nice step toward reform.
    The cynic in me can’t help imagining that MLB marketing might have a hand in the trend toward official scorers calling more hits and fewer errors. “Hit” implies achievement and excellence. “Error” implies faulty, sloppy play. Has a team ever had a marketing campaign that boasted, “come out to the ballpark and watch millionaire infielders boot ground balls”?

  3. Bill,

    The value of James-style statistical pastimes is as a safety-valve. There are millions of highly intelligent white guys who are can’t honestly apply their intelligence to solving social problems without being denounced as “racists,” “sexists,” “xenophobes,” etc., and getting fired from their jobs—if they still have jobs. The busy-work of decadent statistical games is the only thing keeping these dangerous men from rioting in the streets! Think of the bloodshed they save.

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