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Category — baseball

Tasks for youth baseball scorekeepers

There are three distinct tasks that baseball scorekeepers perform:

  1. Base charting
  2. Judgement of errors
  3. Compilation of statistics

Base charting is the act of recording plays as they happen, on the players/innings grid of the scorecard. It is, by far, the most important part of scorekeeping for youth baseball.

It is the scorekeeper’s responsibility to judge whether a particular play is counted as a Hit or an Error or a Fielder’s Choice, and in the case of a batter reaching a base beyond first, whether it is some combination of these. The scorekeeper determines whether a run is an Earned or Unearned run, which can include a reconstruction of the way an inning would have proceeded had an error not taken place. The scorekeeper also decides between a passed ball and a wild pitch, and whether a baserunner advances on a steal or defensive indifference.

In leagues where statistics are important, where statistics feed into salary negotiations, or where scouts for professional teams look over them, these judgements are tremendously important. In youth baseball, this is not the case. Assigning errors is of little use, and it is complicated by the often terrible field conditions on which youth games take place. It is really not fair to charge a fielder with an error when the ball takes a strange bounce on a stray rock on the field. And what should define “ordinary effort”–the benchmark by which errors are determined–when youth games have such a wide range of skill?

The compilation of statistics is to be done after the game is over–confusingly, not all instructions point this out. Most commercial scorecards have separate columns for recording player statistics, after the columns for innings. Typically, these include At-Bats, Hits, Runs, Runs Batted In, and Errors. These are a subset of the 18 separate statistics that the official scorer is required to provide to the league, as defined by Rule 9 of the Official Baseball Rules1

In a youth game, statistics may be useful to a coach, but they also may be a distraction. It may be useful to have a count of a player’s total plate appearances, if a coach wants to organize the batting order to give players as close to equal chances at bat as possible. The coach of my son’s travel team didn’t want any statistics, with the occasional exception of pitch counts. But in any case, the compilation of statistics is done after the game, and since the numbers will end up on a computer one way or another, one might as well start that way. That is to say, in a youth scoresheet, I’d rather devote extra space to clearer base charting than to the post-game compilation of statistics.

Back to base charting. In the best-case scenario, nobody needs to ask the scorekeeper anything throughout the entire game. But questions do arise, and by far, the most important thing a scorekeeper keeps track of in a youth game is the score. The coaches and umpire usually know the score, but it isn’t the umpire’s job to know the score. You need to know the score in a close game, of course, but also in a blowout, to determine whether a mercy rule applies. A scorekeeper should adopt a system that allows the immediate recall and announcement of the score at any time, without needing to tally up runs.

It is the umpire’s job to keep track of balls and strikes, and of outs and innings. Very rarely, an umpire has asked me as a scorekeeper to verify the count. More commonly, but still rarely, a scorekeeper will verify the number of outs, when, for example, a coach and the umpire disagree. When I’ve needed to do this, I give a brief narrative summary: “lead-off batter was number 53, who struck out. Number 6 walked, number 8 hit a double, number 9 grounded out to short, number 9 walked, number 13 struck out.” Umpires and coaches alike are often unsure of the inning, and will ask the scorekeeper where the game is.

For any aspect of the game, the clearer one’s scorebook is, the better evidence one can supply to bolster one’s version of the game, even in the face of rules that give preference to the home team scorebook. I’ve had a case where, as the visiting team scorekeeper I kept a full scorebook, while the home team just used tally marks to record runs; the umpire trusted my book. Fortunately, in the end, it was a decisive win for our team, so it didn’t matter much.

Finally, the scorekeeper is a check on the batting order. Despite rules that say to give an umpire a copy of the lineup, most youth umpires don’t want a copy and don’t check for inconsistencies.2 A travel team usually knows its batting order, even if it changes from game to game, but on rare occasion I’ve seen the wrong batter on-deck and alerted the coach.

  1. formerly, Rule 10, before the 2015 reorganization of the rulebook. Most publications about scoring, having being written before 2015, refer to it as Rule 10. []
  2. Catching out-of-order batters is the opposing team’s responsibility anyways. []

June 15, 2017   No Comments

You should score youth baseball, even when you don’t need to

Back when I started this blog, I could have hardly imagined that baseball would be what brings me back to blogging after several years of blog dormancy. But my older son has become obsessed with baseball and has been playing since the second grade.

I’ve been keeping scorecards of his games, even back in the machine-pitch league where there is no record of scoring and no standings. It might seem against the recreational spirit to keep a scoresheet for a game where there isn’t supposed to be a winner or a loser. But even in such a game, there are many things to keep track of, and keeping a scoresheet using some version of the traditional scorekeeping methodology is the best way to do this.

Without an electronic scoreboard, it turns out to be easy to lose track of the inning, and even the number of outs. Youth baseball innings can last a long time; in the bottom of the 2nd you might wish it was the bottom of the 4th. In a machine pitch game, there are no balls or called strikes. There is usually a maximum number of pitches per plate appearance, but if your pitching machine keeps placing balls way out of the strike zone, you’re reluctant to charge the batter with pitches if the adult pitching machine operator is struggling to tweak and adjust the machine. Your memory can only hold so many events, and before you know it, you’ve forgotten how many are out.

Likewise, games can tediously drag on in the first season of kid pitch as well, when most pitchers are wildly inaccurate. You’ll have a sequence of several walks in a  row, occasionally interrupted by a strikeout and maybe a hit-by-pitch. Youth baseball games have a two-hour time limit, and even so, I’ve been at games that barely get into a third inning. And most everyone–players, coaches, parents–would expect that more of a game could have been played in that timeframe. And so without a scoreboard to glance at, one loses track.

 

So at the youngest levels, it’s not so much scorekeeping, but outs-and-innings-keeping. One could do this with the sort of click-wheel counter that umpires use. I’ve used these, but it’s not that difficult to get an extra errant click. Or to forget whether you’ve clicked, especially on a drawn-out play.

In addition to outs and innings, a scorecard also tells you who is up next to bat, and if your team uses a different batting order each game (which it probably should), then the players will likely not always be aware of their turn to bat. There is a lot of sitting around in baseball, and young players will often find ways to amuse themselves which don’t involve paying attention to the game. So somebody needs a definitive record of who is up next to bat.

Many leagues have rules to keep a game from becoming too lopsided: a team might be restricted to hitting once through the batting order in an inning, or there may by a maximum number of batters. There’s also a common rule that limits a team to scoring 5 runs in any inning that’s not the last inning. In all of these situations, you’ll need some sort record of what’s happened, and they’re automatic if you’re keeping a scorecard.

Perhaps one could come up with an alternative method of tracking outs, innings, runs, and batters, but it’s hard to imagine a system that would be simpler than the traditional baseball scorecard. At its essence, a baseball scorecard is a grid with columns for each inning and rows for each batter. Defensive players are numbered 1-9, and a strikeout is a K. The result of a batter’s plate appearance in a particular inning is recorded in the appropriate box on the grid. There are many common conventions but little else is standard. As a player grows older and the game becomes more competitive, you might need to track more things; the scorecard can become as complex as need be. And an advantage of using a traditional scorecard from the start is that it gives you practice for the more sophisticated scorecards that will come later.

So, keep a scorecard, even if you aren’t keeping score.

 

May 25, 2017   No Comments