Keeping Score Part 2 – Ball Locations, Baserunners, and Pitches

In part two of our series on keeping score, we’ll take a closer look at ways to enhance your actual scoring system.

As mentioned in the first post, the suggested methods throughout this series were designed to fit my own personal system, and will be introduced as such for ease of explanation.  By no means, however, am I trying to force you to adopt my scoring system.  Our hope is that you find value in one or two (or more) of the “hacks,” and manage to incorporate them into the system you’re already using.

Below is a filled in scorecard and pitcher’s card from August 21st, 2016 in which the Winnipeg Goldeyes beat the Sioux City Explorers 6-1 on the road.

full-scorebook-filled-in-e14904674408071

(Note: to get the most out of this post, I recommend opening the photo in a separate tab or window so that you can flip back and forth as each section is discussed)

Direct Link to the above photo: https://growcasting.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/full-scorebook-filled-in-e14904674408071.jpg

We’re mostly going to focus on the scorecard portion on the right side of the photo (please disregard the four plays that are highlighted in yellow.  The highlighting earmarks the audio clips played back during our postgame show, and is not part of my actual scoring system).

The top of the lineup column indicates this is Winnipeg’s side of the scorecard (you would find Sioux City’s scorecard if you flipped the page over).  The players’ jersey numbers are listed on the left-hand side, while the players’ defensive positions are listed on the right-hand side.  I highly recommend writing both the position AND the jersey number of each player (it doesn’t matter where, but write both).  It will help you spot a pinch hitter (in the on-deck circle, or even in the batter’s box if it really sneaks up on you) or defensive replacement more quickly, especially for an opposing team that you’re not as familiar with.

Also, I know it’s common for broadcasters to write the defensive positions numerically (“2” for catcher, “6” for shortstop, etc.), but I recommend alphabetical abbreviations (“C” for catcher, “SS” for shortstop, etc.).  This comes down to personal preference, but I’ve found that using letters over numbers eliminates any confusion (for example, if the shortstop is also wearing the number “6” on his jersey).

Within the position column, you’ll see the letter “L” in the two-, five-, and seven-holes, indicating they are left-handed batters.  If you don’t currently mark down the handedness of the batters, it’s a really simple detail you can start incorporating right now.  It provides an illustration of the depth and balance in a particular lineup, and can help you in understanding managerial moves as the game progresses.  For example, if a portion of a team’s lineup features four consecutive left-handed batters, that could play a significant role in which relievers are used in the late innings.

There are broadcasters who like to mark down the handedness for every batter (an “R” for right-handed in addition to the “L” for lefties), but I prefer to record just the left-handed and switch-hitters (“S” for switch-hitters).  If there is no additional mark in the position box, then I know the batter is right-handed.  In the previous post, I mentioned how I prefer “blank boxes” on my scoresheets, as opposed to pre-printed graphics that you circle or fill in.  Your handwriting will “pop” off the page if the rest of the sheet is naturally blank, whereas your writing (even very neat handwriting) can get lost in a sea of pre-printed ink.  The same concept applies when it comes to only marking left-handed and switch-hitters.  I can see how balanced (or unbalanced) a lineup is with a quick glance at the position column.  If I added “R’s” for the right-handed batters, I’d have to read through the entire column to process that same information.  This is one of the rare instances where slightly less detail will actually make the job a little easier.

One more thought on helping your writing jump off the page: I always write with a blue pen since my scoresheets are printed in black ink.  Like everything else in this series, ink color comes down to personal preference, but I’ve used black pens in previous years, and the difference in readability was very noticeable after switching exclusively to blue.

At the bottom of the scorecard, you can find the defensive grid filled out for Sioux City.  The names are once again accompanied by the jersey numbers.  Consistently writing the numbers down will help reinforce your ability to identify players on the opposing team and/or more quickly recognize substitutions.

In terms of the actual scoring method, I use a traditional “diamond” for tracking the batter/runner around the bases.  Without knowing the precise number, I would estimate that more than 90 percent of baseball announcers use the diamond (whether they draw it themselves or fill in a pre-printed graphic).  It’s simple, easy to follow, and creates a visual representation of where the player is actually standing on the field.  For the sake of posterity, I have seen a “cross” system where a cross or “+” sign is drawn in the middle of the scoring box.  The bottom-right corner represents how the batter reached first base, and works in a counterclockwise direction with the bottom-left corner representing home plate.  I have also seen a “square” system, which is a blend of the diamond and cross methods.

For recording outs, I use the same numerical system as everyone else (“1” for pitcher, “2” for catcher, etc.).  A “6-3” represents a groundout to shortstop, a “7” is a putout by the left fielder, and so on.

You can add symbols that correspond with the ball’s trajectory, which will help you recall the full details of previous at bats.  In the fourth inning, Romanski (five-hole) lined out to the shortstop, as indicated by the straight line above the “6.”  In the fifth inning, Heisler (two-hole) pops out to the shortstop, as indicated by the “carrot” above the “6.”  I’ve seen broadcasters use the same line/carrot symbols, and others who prefer a lettering system (“L” or “LO” for lineout, “P” or “PO” for popout, etc.).  I like the symbols better, because they represent the actual trajectory of the batted ball.  Whichever method you choose, the point is that your scoring system should include a mechanism for easily recalling the trajectory of batted balls.  A popout and a lineout are two very different results, and just writing a “6” leaves the true outcome of the play ambiguous.

The same applies to balls hit to the outfield.  Just writing an “8” for a ball caught by the center fielder is too vague.  In the top of the first, Gonzalez (one-hole) flies out to the left fielder, but it was a short “popfly” as indicated by the carrot above the “7.”  In the fifth inning, Gonzalez hit a more prototypical flyball to left as indicated by the “arc” symbol.  I’ve seen broadcasters use the letter “F” next to an outfield position to indicate “flyout,” but I reserve the letter “F” for plays made in foul territory.  You can see this in the ninth inning where Gonzalez pops out to the catcher in foul territory (“F2” plus the “carrot” symbol).  There’s no example on this sheet, but a hard hit flyout receives the “line” symbol previously mentioned for infielders.  If you’re not already using them, trajectory symbols are really easy to incorporate, and bring you another step closer to capturing every game detail on your scorecard.

Like the numerical system for defensive positions, I use the same universal notation for strikeouts (K for swinging and a “backwards K” for looking).  I’ve seen a few broadcasters use “SO” for strikeout, but the majority of the industry prefers “K” for simplicity.  You should indicate dropped third strike plays that occur, even if the defense ultimately records the out.  There’s an example in the third inning (Abercrombie, four-hole) where you can see the catcher had to complete the strikeout at first base (indicated by the “2-3”).  You can use this to inform/remind the listener of the extra drama surrounding the play before the out was finally recorded (the dropped third strike may have also been the result of an extra nasty breaking pitch that was tough to block.  Either way, the detail is relevant).

The diagonal slashes found all over the sheet indicate the final batter of each inning.  I have seen several methods used for the end of an inning, including a straight line drawn through a column’s remaining blank space.  Yet again, this comes down to personal preference, but I find the diagonal slashes to be the cleanest looking.

The letter “E” stands for error along with the corresponding position number.  This is another close-to-universal method used by baseball broadcasters.  There is an example in the eighth inning where Hoopii-Haslam (eight-hole) reaches on an error by the catcher.  If there is an exceptional defensive play, I’ll “put a circle around it.”

For base hits, I use a “dash” system (one dash for a single, two dashes for a double, three dashes for a triple, and “HR” for home run).  Lettering systems work just as well (“1B” for single, “2B” for double, etc.), but I find the dashes are easier to write “in the moment” when multiple events happen on the same play (for example, a play at the plate followed by an overthrow to second that allows the trail runner to go to third).  RBI are accounted for by dots (you can see this in the sixth inning where Grider in the six-hole receives three RBI on his double).

In addition to ball trajectory on outs, I use a lettering system to determine the location of a base hit.  Just as only writing a “6” leaves you wondering if the batter popped out or lined out to shortstop, an unaccompanied “dash” or “1B” fails to paint the full picture of a single.  Tracking hit locations is easy to do, and it allows you to document spray chart tendencies for every batter.  You might be calling a game late in the season where a hit-and-run seems like a good strategy.  Imagine being able to supplement your broadcast with something like, “but this batter has only hit three balls to the opposite field all year, so the manager may not call for a hit-and-run.”

You can see the hit locations all over the scoresheet.  The complete location system I use is as follows (examples listed where applicable):

Number – “straightaway” hit to the corresponding position (sixth inning, three-hole)
LL – down the left field line
LC – line drive to left-center (sixth inning, six-hole)
RC – line drive to right-center
RL – down the right field line
MI – groundball single up the middle (first inning, two-hole)
LS – groundball single through the left side of the infield (sixth inning, one-hole)
RS – groundball single through the right side of the infield (seventh inning, five-hole)
B – bunt single or bunt attempt (fourth inning, six-hole)
I – infield single

Once a batter has reached, I use the jersey numbers to track how they advance around the bases.  If you already have a system for the complete tracking of baserunners, that’s outstanding.  If you don’t, then this is the one tip I really hope you find a way to incorporate, because it will drastically improve your ability to accurately recount a lengthy rally.  The benefits of this easy-to-use system are illustrated in the first inning.

After Gonzalez leads off the game with a groundout to shortstop, Heisler singles up the middle.  Rohm follows with a single through the left side, and Heisler advances to second.  The “12” (Rohm’s jersey number) in the upper-right corner of Heisler’s box indicates that Heisler reached second via Rohm’s single.  Abercrombie then singles on a line drive to center field that loads the bases.  Heisler advances to third (represented by the “11” in the upper-left corner of his box), and Rohm advances to second (represented by the “11” in the upper-right corner of his box).  On the next play, Heisler scores on a fielder’s choice by Romanski (represented by the “completion” of the diamond and the “23” in the bottom-left corner of his box).  Rohm advances to third (represented by the “23” in the upper-left corner of his box).  Abercrombie is forced out at second, denoted with the “x” (I use an “x” to represent an out made on the basepaths) and the “6-4” (shortstop to the second baseman for the force play).  Romanski is safe at first via the fielder’s choice (“FC”), and receives credit for an RBI (indicated by the single dot in the bottom-right corner of his box).

The jersey numbers tell you exactly where and when each baserunner advanced.  Below is an edited version of the scoresheet where I’ve whited out the jersey numbers.

Run Scores - No Jersey Numbers

Without knowing what actually transpired, you would have no idea if Heisler stopped at second on Rohm’s base hit, or if he went “first to third.”  Both outcomes are plausible, but you can’t tell without a tracking system in place.  Similarly, you might incorrectly assume that Heisler scored on Abercrombie’s single (whether it be from second or third base), as opposed to Romanski’s fielder’s choice.

This uncertainty is what causes baseball broadcasters to improperly recap previous plays.  I’ve heard it multiple times at all levels, including on Major League broadcasts.  I’ve even heard broadcasters provide incorrect rally recaps within the SAME GAME, so you can imagine how confusing it might be if you had to consult a scoresheet from several weeks back that had no system for fully tracking baserunners.  The frustration of making this mistake too many times early in my career is what prompted me to develop the jersey number tracking system.  This is what I was referring to in the last post when I used the phrase “easily recreate what happened” when describing the purpose of a baseball broadcaster’s scorekeeping method.

Our pitch tracking system is in full effect throughout the sheet.  We’ve already written an entire post on tracking individual pitches, but I wanted to highlight an example from this game that shows how valuable of a tool pitch tracking can really be.

In both the third and seventh innings, Abercrombie (four-hole) strikes out swinging.  However, while the result of each at bat is statistically identical, the at bats play out in extremely different ways.  In the third, Abercrombie strikes out on three pitches.  In the seventh, his at bat is eight pitches long.  An eight-pitch at bat is considered a quality plate appearance (QPA) by the majority of professional and college teams.  Even though both at bats resulted in a strikeout, the seventh-inning at bat was still productive.  Had the at bat in the seventh only been marked with a “K,” you would never know the at bat’s true value, and incorrectly assume both at bats produced outright negative results.

Another advantage of pitch tracking is the ability to check which counts teams or individual players like to steal bases in.  There is only one baserunning play on the example scoresheet (sixth inning, Romanski, five-hole), and it was a pickoff at first that was scored a caught stealing (the runner had taken off for second, so it was scored a “CS”).  The pickoff occurred before Grider (six-hole) saw a pitch, but had it taken place in the middle of the at bat, I would have circled the pitch in which Romanski had taken off.  This reveals some interesting trends later in the season, especially when it comes to studying the opposing team.  I use a similar system for runs that score on wild pitches and passed balls (by drawing a square instead of a circle).  This is useful information, since a critical run that scores on a wild pitch with an 0-2 count and two outs stings a little more than if the count had been 3-0 with no outs.

Tracking pitches also makes it very easy to keep cumulative pitch counts.  You can see how the numbers in the “Pitch” row at the bottom of the scorecard correspond with the “TP” column on the pitcher’s card (left-hand side of the photo).  Sioux City’s starting pitcher (Maxwell) only worked the first inning (27 pitches).  Sioux City’s second pitcher (Risse) worked four-plus innings, and totaled 67 pitches (63 through the fifth, plus four more to the two batters he faced in the sixth).  The darkened line at the bottom of Abercrombie’s box in the sixth inning indicates where the pitching change took place.

You might broadcast in a league where real time pitch counts are readily available, but that’s unlikely to be the case in the minor leagues.  Even if you have them at your disposal, though, documenting each pitch yourself prevents you from having to rely on a computer or other third party.  It ensures you’ll always have the most accurate pitch count whenever you need it, and it provides a safety net for balls and strikes in the event of a mistake on the scoreboard (happens frequently in the minor leagues) or if the home plate umpire is off the mark.

One other benefit of tracking pitches I’ll mention is that our method harvests pitch counts by individual batter.  You can start mining this data at the beginning of the season to keep tabs on which batters are the most patient/aggressive throughout your league (there will be a more detailed post in the very near future on how to easily calculate this).

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