So You’ve Decided to Follow Baseball – Part Three

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers
With his last introductory piece on the language and terminology, Say Hey! to Darius Austin.
As ever, follow Darius on Twitter @dariusA64
You can find Part One here and Part Two here
Box Score, Part 3: Pitchers

Hello again! If you’re still with me after parts 1 and 2 of this dissection of the box score, it’s a good sign for your future as a baseball fan. If you haven’t checked those out yet, I’d recommend doing so before you read this, as a number of definitions refer to terms we’ve previously examined. The pitchers table contains several stats that we’ve already seen elsewhere in the box score, so there’s not too much left to explain that I haven’t already covered, but there are still a few pitcher-unique features here.

IP: Innings pitched. Like the case of percentages that aren’t percentages, the decimal point here isn’t anything to do with decimals. Instead, the number after the point represents the number of outs, so you will only ever see a 0, 1 or 2 after the point.

PC-ST: Pitches-strikes. Yes, I know there was already another abbreviation for pitches. I don’t make these up. This shows both how many pitches the pitcher threw, and how many of them were either in the strikezone or got batters to swing and either hit the ball foul or miss it altogether. Generally speaking, a strike percentage of just under 65% is average. The best number to look at to see how effective a pitcher was at actually getting batters to swing and miss altogether is the ‘Swinging strikes’ total, which is included in the stats underneath the table itself. Here, around 10% is average, so Samardzija did a good job of fooling Reds hitters while Lamb didn’t fool many Giants.

ERA: Earned run average. One of the very first acronyms that caused me to scratch my head, first trying to work out what it meant, and secondly to understand how anyone might designate a run as ‘earned’ or not. ERA is another rate stat and is calculated on a per nine innings basis, so you divide the number of earned runs by the number of innings pitched, then multiply by nine. As for how an earned run is actually designated, this comes back to our errors section: essentially, if the scorer determines that the pitcher should have got an out, but the defence failed to complete that out and the batter gets on base, that batter will not count as an earned run if he scores.

It is instead marked as – surprise – an unearned run. ERA is the pitcher stat you will see most frequently, along with WHIP: walks and hits divided by innings pitched. Both are useful descriptive stats if you simply want to know how a player’s season is going, but there are large contextual problems: for instance, a pitcher on a team with a bad defence, or who plays in a park that’s easier to hit home runs in, will suffer unfairly in these stats relative to their peers.

 

WP: Wild pitches. Yes, I know it was winning pitcher earlier. This is the problem when you have hundreds of stats and only 26 letters in the alphabet. A wild pitch occurs when a pitcher throws a pitch that is impossible for the catcher to deal with, either by making it bounce in the dirt before it reaches him, or throwing it high or wide of the catcher’s reach. These go along with passed balls (PB), which are pitches that the catcher theoretically should have been able to handle, but instead let them go past.

Game Scores: A formula originally devised by Bill James, one of the early sabermetric pioneers, to measure how good a starting pitcher’s performance was. It involves adding or subtracting points from a starting score of 50 based on how many positive events (such as recording an out) and negative events (such as allowing a hit) occur. 50 is around average, 60 is considered good, and over 90 is exceptional. If much of that was baffling, don’t worry; we’ll jump back into this when we get to the more advanced stats.

And that’s the box score. If you’re brand new to the sport like I was, at first you’ll find yourself checking what letters stand for a lot, or looking up calculations for the stats 3 or 4 times just to make sure you’ve got it right, so hopefully this helps you along the way a little. I can also recommend getting into fantasy baseball; it may be bewildering at first as there’s a lot more information than you get with fantasy football (yes, I do mean soccer) but it can ultimately be a very educational way to engage with the stats and learn the teams & players. Most importantly, watch some games and highlights. It’s not always the easiest thing in the world to do when you’re not in US timezones, but it’s a lot easier in 2016, and in my next post I’ll cover the best ways to engage with the sport as a fan living overseas, as well as offering some thoughts on how to choose a team to follow.

Image Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

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