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On keeping score and the shift

When a 4-3 groundout is nowhere near the second base.

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins
Because scorers rarely get photographed.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Late in Monday’s loss to the Orioles, one Twin sent a ground ball up the middle, where the second baseman fielded it and threw the batter out. This groundout, though a routine play, sparked a multi-minute discussion between play-by-play announcers Marney Gellner and Dan Gladden, simply because the Orioles had shifted their infield. Baltimore had three players to the left of second base, and second baseman Chris Bostick had fielded the grounder on that side of the bag, leading to a minor debate on how to properly score the play.

Interestingly, Gellner said she’d marked the play as “G6” on her scorecard, recording where the ball had been hit rather than who had fielded the ground ball. While viewers (among them, me) may have disagreed with that particular scoring, she did justify it, pointing out that marking it as “4” rather than “6” would suggest to a fan - or an announcer - rapidly reading through the sheet that the ball had been hit to the right side of the infield.

Take a walk around any baseball diamond and you will find fans with scoresheets keeping their own records of the game. While no two fans keep the same scoring system, this question should be considered. So, how can we score the shift?

Scoring Basics

If you’re a fan who hasn’t or doesn’t keep score, you may not know what I meant by “4” and “G6” above. Here’s a quick summary of the scoring symbols used in this article.

Every position player on the field is represented by a number: pitcher is 1, catcher 2, first baseman 3, second baseman 4, third baseman 5, shortstop 6, left fielder 7, center fielder 8, and right fielder 9. (While there is a lot of variety in scoring systems, this position numbering is universal.)

Outs are designated by the fielder(s) who touched the ball during the play; some systems designate different types of outs with a leading letter. An example: the leadoff hitter grounds to the shortstop, the second hitter pops right back to the mound, and the third man up skies one to left but the ball is caught. This sequence might be designated as 6-3, 1, 7; or it might be written as 63, P1, F7; or possibly G6, P1, F7. (As I said, there is a lot of variety in scoring systems.) These are all the scorekeeping symbols that will be used in this article.

Existing Opinions

Fortunately, others have already considered the question of these confounding factors - the position of the fielder handling the ball, and his position on the field - and come up with solutions individual to their own scoring systems. In the January 2017 issue of the SABR Official Scoring Committee newsletter, two persons addressed this question: Don Plavnick, a longtime D.C. baseball fan, and Stew Thornley, one of the Twins’ official scorers and editor-in-chief of the newsletter.

Plavnick gives his solution:

First, I will indicate the normal position of the fielders involved.... Then, in order to indicate where the ball was initially fielded, I will note in the same scoresheet box in smaller print and in parenthesis the number of the actual physical location. For example, a groundout from 3B to 1B fielded behind 2b would be something like G5(4)-3. The (4) would frequently be marked under the 5-3, or wherever space allows.

By adding the parenthetical number, Plavnick identifies both the fielder and the location while making it clear which number is which. Later in his response, Plavnick mentions that he does the same for all batted balls, using letters or numbers to mark the location; marking the number of the location in parentheses is a logical step in this system.

Thornley’s idea is different:

Regarding the shift, if there is a 5-3 with the third baseman on the right side of the infield, I note the 5-3 and write SHIFT under it. That doesn’t indicate if the third baseman moved around the shortstop or both the shortstop and second baseman, but it at least shows that he wasn’t in his normal position.

This is also a simple solution. Like Plavnick’s, this notes a fielder out of position and signifies that the defensive alignment was not an ordinary one. My one tweak is with the use of the complete word “SHIFT,” as scorekeeping nearly always uses abbreviations rather than whole works. For a 5-3 groundout, perhaps an up arrow, like that on a keyboard’s shift key, to the left of the five would do the trick. Or maybe a capital 5.

My Conclusion

In my own scoring system, I do not note the location of batted balls that result in outs. For hits, I do record the location using the position number in parentheses, similar to Plavnick’s shift solution (so a double to right-center would be marked with “(89)” under the symbol for a double). Because of this, I’ll probably use an up arrow by the fielder’s number to note the shift.

But of course this is only my solution to my own scoring system. If you have your own way of keeping score and prefer Plavnick’s or Thornley’s to mine, or if you have an idea that isn’t any of ours, use it. Every scoring system is unique; if at the end of the game, you can look back over your sheet and recreate the action, you’ve done well.