Thursday, February 7, 2013

For Those Of You Scoring At Home: Counting Pitches - Part One

Presenting a new series of posts where I share some intermediate-to-advanced scorekeeping methods and tips.  The assumption here is that you’ve already made it through “Scorekeeping 101” and are working out ways to improve your skills and expand your enthusiasm for scorekeeping.  I’m also assuming you are using the current version of my CUSTOMIZED SCORESHEET, which you can download for FREE, as I will use it for all of these examples unless otherwise specified.  Get your pencil ready, the game is about to start!



Counting pitches in a game was an early self-imposed dare; when I first started getting serious about keeping score, I felt that someday, I would feel comfortable with this task.  The fact of the matter is, I tried it once, was legitimately confused (but only briefly) and once I started counting, I couldn’t make myself stop.  I believe that counting pitches is both a necessary aspect of solid scorekeeping, and a useful tool to support the recounting of a variety of events within any baseball game.  After all, that’s what scorekeeping is all about; without a record of pitches there’s a great deal of data missing.

A formidable example of this would be a 10-pitch at bat, we call those “great at bats” and with pitches counted and recorded, this is evident on your scoresheet, even if the AB ended in a swinging strikeout.  Without a record of the pitches, all you have documented is the strikeout itself.  That’s something less than a historical record of the event, right?

To get started, on my scoresheet there are small boxes in the upper left-hand corner of each Plate Appearance box.  The top three are used for “balls” and the bottom two are used for “strikes”…both are intended to be used from left-to-right, just like we read (you may consider this a quaint point of discussion, but it will be important in Part Two!).  There are 3 and 2 boxes, respectively, because obviously there’s no higher count than a 3-2 count.  This doesn't provide any restriction for foul balls though, as we’ll soon see.

The remainder of the PA box looks like a lot of scoresheets; a diamond, a small bubble for outs or runs, etc.  You may have seen other scoresheets with the pitch boxes before, and you may be using them as well; my method for recording the pitches isn’t unique, a piece-at-a-time.  However, my holistic application is, for the most part, a system I’ve implemented with influence from other scorekeepers’ work that as far as I know, is somewhat unique.

I use graphic notation to describe each type of pitch in a manner that can be easily recorded as well as reviewed quickly, in order to capture the plate appearance accurately, one can’t rely on simple tally marks.  Here’s the notation legend:

To illustrate my methodology, let’s pull some actual game data and start recording pitches…we’re in the bottom of the 1st inning of Game 1 of the 2012 World Series, October 24, as the San Francisco Giants take on the visiting Detroit Tigers at AT&T Park.  The starting lineup has been recorded on the scoresheet, Justin Verlander is on the mound, and we’re ready to go!
FYI: The small filled-in dots next to the player’s name indicates “switch hitter.”

The lead-off batter Angel Pagan steps into the box, and Verlander’s first pitch is taken for a ball.  The forward stroke slash-line is marked in the first “ball” box on the left.
You’ll notice another small filled-in dot next to the “plate” on the diamond…this notation indicates the handedness of the batter (dot on the right side = left hand, dot on the left side = right hand), this is how I record RH and LH batters, the “switch hitter” notation next to their name reminds me to be careful, they may change sides of the plate during the game.

The next pitch is a foul tip, strike one.  The “X” goes in the first “strike” box on the left.  The count is 1-1, and eureka, this is graphically evident!

Pagan swings and misses at Verlander’s next offering, a swinging strike is recorded with the forward stroke slash-line in the second “strike” box.  The count is 1-2!

Pagan fights off Verlander’s next pitch, but now we are out of “strike” boxes!  Not really a problem, the strike count is 2, and will stay at 2…but a foul ball and/or foul tip is still a “strike,” and we need to count that.  Use the “X” again, in the same ‘row’ occupied by the “strike” boxes, but record it next to the second strike box, outside of the 3-2 grid.

Next pitch, same as the last.  Use the “X” again, right next to the previously recorded foul ball.
As these marks add up, you can see how this method allows you to easily observe how many pitches have been used in this AB so far, and after the game you can quickly review how many ABs were taxing the pitcher in this manner.

Pagan puts Verlander’s 6th pitch into play, a short-tapper that bounces a couple of times and is fielded by the first baseman to the pitcher for the out at first.  I mark the bubble in the lower left corner with the out (“1”).  The ball in play is counted as a strike, so in this AB there were 7 pitches total; 1 ball and 5 strikes.
Observe my artwork!  In addition to recording the out in traditional scorekeeping notation (“G3-1”), I also draw the path and direction of the ball in play in a manner that illustrates the way the ball was hit (a couple of nice bounces), and where the ball was fielded (just on the edge of the infield, closer to 1st base than 2nd).  Path and direction are traditional notations, the illustration is less than traditional…imagine reviewing this sheet 10 years after the game, and having the graphic depiction help you re-enact the event!

The next batter to face Verlander is Marco Scutaro.  He takes Verlander’s first pitch for a ball.  Use the forward stroke slash-line again.
Note Scutaro’s dot on the left side of the plate…he’s batting RH of course, but you may forget this later in life…now you have it on paper.

The second pitch is a called strike, use the filled-in dot in the very first “strike” box to indicate this.
I call this mark the “hinomaru,” and this is probably the most unique of all the notation I use.  I’ve never seen this used by anyone else.  Aside from the fact that it’s easy to record, and also easily reviewed on the scoresheet (called strikes and swinging strikes are NOT the same thing!), it has personal significance to me.  It was my enthusiasm for Japan and Japanese culture, including but not limited to Japanese Baseball, that re-energized my passion for baseball as an adult; I pay tribute to this by using the “hinomaru” for called strikes.

Verlander’s second pitch is a ball, so a second forward stroke slash-line is recorded in the second “ball” box from the left.  The count is 2-1.

Scutaro breaks his bat on the next pitch, the ball in play is a shallow bouncing ball that barely clears the infield, is fielded by the shortstop-to-first baseman, and the second out is recorded.  I record this out with a “2” in the bubble.  The ball in play is a strike, and the total count of pitches in this AB is 4.
Once again, check out my artwork…both balls in play were short hoppers, but at a glance you can see that one had more “bounce” than the other.  Another thing you might have noticed is the “BLS” in the upper right corner, that stands for “Broken Louisville Slugger” and I record this for every bat that breaks, shatters, splinters, or sounds like it may have done so.  Every scorekeeper has their own special idiosyncrasies, this one is mine.

Pablo Sandoval steps into the box, on the right side of the plate.  He’s a switch hitter, so the scorekeeper has to pay close attention to this.

Verlander’s first pitch is a called strike.  The “hinomaru” goes in the first “strike” box on the left.

Panda fouls off the second pitch, you know what to do here!  The count is 0-2.

POW!  The first of Sandoval’s 3 historic home runs in this game is a line-drive jet to right-center field, just over the wall.  Of course, that ball in play is also a strike: 3 pitches, 3 strikes, HOME RUN.  Note my drawing now, it’s a flat, slightly arcing line that hooks at the end.  If it were a higher-hit ball, the line would have been loopier.

Panda rounds the bases, I complete my notation with a HR in the diamond, and an outline that indicates he traversed all four bases.  The bubble where we’ve been recording outs is filled in with a dot, that’s a run scored by that batter.

Let’s count ALL of the pitches in the inning so far, first count everything…balls, strikes, and balls in play (which are all strikes). It only takes a second or so: 13.  How many of those pitches were strikes? 10.  Just like that!  Pagan has seen the most pitches! Sandoval has seen the fewest!  Counting pitches is excellent FUN!

Buster Posey approaches the plate, and sees, in order: a called strike, a ball, a foul, a second ball…using the notation for each, here’s what the PA looks like with the 2-2 count:

The 5th pitch of the AB, Posey takes for a called strike 3. The strikeout is notated with the infamous “backwards K,” the out is recorded (“3” in the bubble) and a forward stroke slash mark is added on the lower right corner of the AB box, to indicate where the inning ended and who’s up in the bottom of the 3rd.

The called strike 3 was not a ball in play, yet is naturally recorded as a strike.  Now that the inning has ended, a full count of all the pitches can be compiled at the bottom of this section of the scoresheet.  18 pitches total, 13 of them strikes.  1 run scored, 1 base hit, no errors and nobody left on base.

Regarding the balls in play that aren’t in or near the boxes that we’ve been counting as strikes, including the called strike 3 (or swinging strike 3, or ‘foul-tip-to-mitt-caught-for-strike-three,’ there is another type of pitch not recorded in or near those boxes that isn’t in play and still needs to be counted.  That type, of course, is a ball…and it usually happens on the 4th ball of a walk (BB) or the ball that hits a batter (HP), even if you think that ball was a strike.

Here’s a fictional representation that illustrates this event.  Posey is walked on four pitches, the fourth pitch is a ball, and obviously isn’t counted as a strike.  Hunter Pence is next, and after a ball and a called strike, he’s hit and takes his base.  That pitch is counted as a ball also.  In these 2 PAs: 8 pitches total, 1 of them was a strike.  If you strive for accuracy, this is important only if you don’t want to inadvertently count these as strikes…the BB and HP notation should help determine the difference.

Here are my completed scoresheets for this game in its entirety, with complete use of this notation, and all pitches counted and recorded. 


The totals for each inning are additive, so where the count was 18-13 in the bottom of the first (18 pitches, 13 strikes) there were 14 pitches, 9 strikes thrown in the bottom of the 2nd, so the number recorded was 32-22 (18+14, 13+9), and so on.

Of course, you can count pitches if you want on any scoresheet you like, with or without boxes.  I want to reiterate the somewhat addictive nature of this task; after counting pitches for 3 or 4 games, I personally found two things to be true.  First, I didn’t get as much out of the finished scoresheet, in terms of information, without those pitches counted and recorded…it was akin to opening Pandora’s Box, wide open if you have any interest whatsoever in this type of metric.  Second, I found myself counting pitches almost instinctively, making marks on scoresheets without boxes, making marks on napkins at a game, and I’ve even found myself counting pitches while scoring games on the radio (where it’s not as easy, but not impossible, to count pitches).

The notation I use is easy for any scorekeeper with limited experience to implement, and it’s another part of the art of scorekeeping that helps the scorer not only pay attention to detail throughout the game, but also in recording a document that’s not only accurate, but that presents the most information possible in the amount of space provided.

If you have any questions or comments, leave a note below, or follow me on twitter (@yoshiki89) and let’s talk about scorekeeping!

Coming up next:

Here, I will use the notation strategy described in this post and expand it into a method by which you can not only count the pitches and the various results (ball, strikes, etc) but you can also record the precise order of those pitches!

Part Three: Who’s pitching now?
The conclusion of counting pitches; what notation I use on how to keep track of who’s pitching, and how to tally their pitches on the scoresheet.

5 comments:

  1. Hey bud, I was recently reading articles on The Eephus League as I just purchased their new Halfliner scorebook. I came across a link to your article and was surprised to find that you have a very similar way of keeping track of pitches. I use the same marks except the "hinomaru" is a foul, an "X" is a swinging strike, and a forward slash represents balls or called strikes. It's strangely difficult to find much written about the art of scoring baseball on the internet so I've developed my style from a mixture of using techniques from other scorers and creating my own. Have you any knowledge of any internet baseball scoring communities? If so, lemme know. It was pretty awesome stumbling upon your blog and I'm excited to read about keeping track of the pitch order (something I have thought of doing but unable to think of the best way).
    -Andrew
    ah.freeman@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Andrew, thanks for your great comment! Years ago, there was a rather intense scoring community and discussion forum at "The Baseball Scorecard," but the founder (Patrick McGovern) suddenly gave it up. Soon, I will be publishing the second part of my counting pitches series, and as long as you use a similar system to track pitches in "boxes," regardless of what notation you use you'll be able to keep track of the order as well. I struggled with it for years, and then realized the answer was as plain as the nose on my face!

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  2. One remark. You could consider using numbers to record balls. That way you can see the excact order in which the balls and strikes occured in the at bat. So for example if the first pitch is a ball then you put a 1 in the first box for balls. If the next two pitches are strikes you mark 'm down using your method. If the next pitch is a ball then you put a 4 (4th pitch in the sequence) in the second box for balls.
    This way you can read back the excact order of the balls and strikes sequence. With your method this excact order is lost, unless I fail to see it somehow.

    Greetings, Mark.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never mind, just read part two.

      Mark.

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