Let me be blunt: reading a traditional box score sucks.
Even if you’ve managed to combine your MLB.tv subscription with two screens worth of games on quad view, there’s no way that you can digest a full slate of games live, so we rely on views like these to process the action that we aren’t able to watch live. We’ve been reading these all our lives, so we all have a routine of dodgy eye movements we employ to gather the information we want from this archaic method of displaying information. The problem is, even with a page full of tables jam-packed with names and numbers, we still can’t recreate what happened in the game. All of this is lacking the most important part of baseball, and all sport for that matter: sequence. What happened when? We might be able to piece something together based on the inning numbers behind the extra base hits, but beyond that, we have to load yet another table of text and numbers (the play-by-play) to get a sense of the drama, or lack thereof, that we could have seen had we been able to add yet another quad view screen to our collection.
Baseball is a game of tradition, and there may be no tradition stronger than the standard box score. Even the briefest run-in with Ken Burns’ Baseball (now on Netflix!) will show you that these tabular views haven’t changed much in over a century of printing. It’s time for a new method of game digestion. I propose, what I have not-so-humbly decided to call, the Modern Box Score.
In the opening day edition of “Write-Up for Yesterday” on this very site, the lead story was Sonny Gray’s near no-hitter. Had you not known that he was holding on to a no-no going into 8th, the box score for the game most certainly would not have told you. In a box score, there’s no difference between a hit in the 1st and a hit in the 8th. Here’s what the Modern Box Score for that game looks like:
Hang with me here, because this is going to take some explaining:
- Each rectangle is one batter and each ring of rectangles is an inning.
- The innermost ring is the first inning and the plot moves outward as the games progresses.
- The top half of the plot is the top half of each inning; the bottom half is the bottom of each inning.
- When a batter makes an out, the plot turns a corner to the right.
- When a batter reaches, the rectangles continue in the same direction.
For this game, the top of the first was a one, two, three inning. In the bottom of the first, the first batter recorded an out. The second batter hit a triple, represented here by three black dots. The third batter hit a home run, shown as a black diamond. This means that both those players scored, which is why their rectangles are outlined in dark green (it’s hard to tell, but that’s the official A’s green). The third and fourth batters of the inning were both outs. Walks are shown as a single white dot. The first batter faced by a new pitcher is marked with a triangle. The color of the rectangles shows the batting order, getting darker as we progress from hitters 1 through 9. Missing rectangles occur when there is a double play, since there is not a batter between outs 1 and 2 or 2 and 3. A runner with no marks in a rectangle means that the batter reached one of three ways: an error, a fielder’s choice or a hit by pitch.
Here’s what I can tell from this image that I could have also gotten from a traditional box score:
- The A’s won 8-0
- The A’s used 2 pitchers and the Rangers used 4. The starter for the Rangers pitched 4 innings, while the starter for the A’s went 8.
- The Rangers hit into one double play.
- Rangers’ pitchers walked 4 and gave up 11 hits, including 2 home runs.
- The 9th spot in the A’s order (the darkest rectangle) went 2-4 with two singles and a run scored.
I’ll stop there, even though there’s more. Here is what I can get from the Modern Box Score that I couldn’t from a traditional one.
- The A’s scored early and the game was never really close. They reached based and scored consistently throughout the game (runs in innings 1, 4 , 7 and 8 and base runners in every inning).
- The lead-off batter for the A’s reached in 3 innings, scoring twice (in the 4th and 8th).
- The A’s recorded 4 two out hits, including 3 for extra bases with 2 doubles and a home run.
- The Rangers had base runners in the 3rd and 6th but didn’t record a hit until the 8th.
Your lead story is completely hidden in a traditional box score, but not in a modern one. The four bullet points above are where all the nuance of the game is hiding.
Let’s look at another.
Here’s another game where a team (the Mets in this case) didn’t get a hit until deep into the game. What’s interesting here is that the three runners that scored for the Mets (the ones outlined in oranged), reached base without a hit. They took advantage of the runners that they were gifted. In a traditional box score, you could see that the Mets scored 3 unearned runs, but this tells you the full story. It also shows you that they were lucky to score at all, since, with a few exceptions, almost all of their runners came with two outs in the inning.
So what’s missing? Names.
We get a perfect picture of the game action and we can deduce individual performance generically, but it takes some attention to detail. But we still have no names.
One of the choices I made when I created this plot was to keep it free of a legend. Listing 18+ names on a plot like this one makes it messy, automatically. In my opinion, there’s no way around it. The solution I came up with was Player Spotlight.
Jason Heyward had a great night at Wrigley on Sunday with his new team. Here’s that game with his AB’s highlighted in red:
Heyward reached in his first three at bats, scoring after his double in the 1st. All three of his hits came against the starter, going 0-2 against the bullpen. Other interesting things about this game:
- The Cubs hit three lead off doubles (and a single) and managed to strand all of them.
- Seven of the 8 relief pitchers used in this game (by both teams) started with a clean inning. Three of the four Cub relievers starting the inning got 2 immediate outs, allowed one runner to reach, and then retired the fourth batter of the inning for the third out.
During the development of the Modern Box Score, I have looked at hundreds of games in this plot form. I can get all the game action contained in a traditional box score, and much more, in a fraction of the time it took with a traditional one. Plus, looking at pictures is inherently more fun than looking at tables of names and numbers. Reading traditional box scores is, at best, boring and, at worst, terribly aggravating. The Modern Box Score fixes that.
I’ll be posting Modern Box Scores on Twitter and Instagram (@modboxscore) daily throughout the season. If you have any comments or questions, or are interested in using Modern Box Scores for any purpose, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.Next post: Ranking the MLB Player Agency Hustle
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