Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Segura the scourge of scorers

If you’ve ever kept score of a baseball game in Britain, you’ll probably consider scoring an MLB game as being a relatively easy task.

The professionals understandably have a greater grasp of the fundamentals of the game and plays generally unfold in a straightforward way, unlike on the fields of the U.K. where the ball can fly around a bit more at times.

Even when you do get a complex scoring play in MLB, anything you’re not quite sure of can be reassessed via numerous TV replays and, if all else fails, you can simply wait for clarification from the official scorer before updating your own scorecard.

It will all make complete sense to somebody and you can then take your lead from there.

However, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Jean Segura conspired to confound all observers last Friday with some bizarre base-running against the Chicago Cubs.

Segura was on second base, with Ryan Braun on first, when he tried to advance too quickly and got caught in a rundown between third and second. Braun got himself to second base while Segura was between bases – as all good baserunners should do – but then found himself sharing the bag with his teammate. Somehow it ended with Braun sitting back in the dugout having been called out and Segura standing on first base despite having stolen second base earlier in the inning. Segura brought the madness to a conclusion by attempting to steal second (again) on the very next pitch and being thrown out.

If it sounds confusing, that’s because it was. Take a look at the video.

Such a bizarre turn of events is perfect fodder for ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, the master of writing about baseball oddities, and his article on the matter is essential reading. As a keen scorekeeper, my favourite part is when Stark gets the views of “longtime official scorer and SABR historian David Vincent” on how the computer-based scoring systems reacted to Segura ending up back on first base.

“”All the computer software — none of it will handle that,” Vincent said. “You don’t run the bases [from] second to first. Any software that processes play-by-play won’t accept that.”

So because it’s theoretically impossible, the official box score of this game listed Segura as having been thrown out stealing third — even though he slid into second. Huh?

“That’s because the play-by-play listed him as staying at second base [because it couldn’t compute that he was actually on first],” Vincent said. “So then he had to be caught stealing third. But that never happened. So that has to get changed.”

Right. But that’s not all. The official box score and play-by-play also said that Braun got caught stealing second.

“That’s not right either,” Vincent said. “He was just out trying to advance to second base on a play being made on somebody else. So I’m pretty sure that has to get changed too.”

Amazing the havoc one madcap baserunner can wreak on this sport, isn’t it? But that is why we love it”.

It certainly is, Jayson, it certainly is.

More scorekeeping

I consider myself fortunate that I wasn’t trying to keep score of that Cubs-Brewers game. I like to keep a neat scorecard and reducing an inning to one big smudge on the page would have been demoralizing.

I did keep score of a Cubs game one week earlier though. There were no difficult plays to note down, but it was a fun game to score.

Completed scorecard of Giants v Cubs, 12 April 2013

 

The Cubs’ starter Carlos Villanueva pitched extremely well against the San Francisco Giants and, with the help of James Russell inducing a double-play groundball to end the eighth inning, allowed his team to take a 2-0 lead into the top of the ninth inning.

It was at this point that the game took off. The Cubs had demoted Carlos Marmol from the closer role a couple of days earlier and turned the job over to Kyuji Fujikawa. The Japanese pitcher came into the game against the Giants and promptly gave up three runs, much to the frustration of the Wrigley Field faithful (in fairness to Fujikawa, he didn’t look at all comfortable on the mound and was subsequently put on the Disabled List with a strained right forearm).

Seeing a 2-0 lead turn into a 3-2 deficit is the stuff of nightmares for fans, but from a neutral’s perspective it turned an otherwise straightforward victory into a dramatic conclusion.

Pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro tied the game with one swing of the bat to lead off the bottom of the ninth and Starlin Castro completed the comeback with a walk-off double that brought David DeJesus around to score the winning run. The crowd sang ‘Go Cubs Go’ as they filed out of the ballpark, which was quite a different sentiment to that being expressed about their team a few minutes earlier.

And then it comes to the stats

The two above mentioned games provide a useful reminder that the basic stats doesn’t always tell the whole story.

The fact that Ryan Braun was ‘credited’ with being caught stealing second base was unfair on the outfielder – who did everything right – but was explainable from a scoring perspective due to the uniqueness of the play in question.

However, when you see the pitching ‘W’ against Fujikawa’s name, it’s worth remembering just how useless that distinction came be at times.

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