Last Friday, Major League Baseball ruled on the New York Mets’ appeal of the scoring of the lone hit in R.A. Dickey’s one-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays, upholding the hit and keeping Dickey from notching the second Met’s no-hitter in less than two weeks (and also in team history). MLB’s decision was widely applauded. People said the Mets were getting greedy after finally notching their first no-hitter* behind Johan Santana (just kidding, Mets fans; I love Johan and even though his no-no came against my Cardinals and even though that ball was fair, it’s a no-hitter in my book). People cried foul and revisionism** over the potential that B.J. Upton’s 1st-inning infield hit might be changed to an error after the fact. They made it sound so cut-and-dry that postgame review of scoring decisions is unnecessary and potentially harmful to the game. I don’t see it that way.
**June 14 & 15 episodes
Many of the same voices that sounded off against potentially changing the scoring of that 1st-inning play are also adamant in their support of expanded use of replay in baseball. I likewise favor expanded replay and the same principle that argues for additional replay supports the idea of postgame scoring review. It may not have the impact that missed calls do game-to-game, but in the interest of getting it right official scoring should be subject to review (and is – I’m not arguing for the institution of review, but instead for its utilization and support) the same way that certain umpire calls currently are (and hopefully a broader subset of calls soon will be).
Critics will contend that three things differentiate umpire calls – and the need for expanded replay – and scoring decisions when it comes to review: the subjectivity of scoring decisions, their minimal impact on the game’s outcome and the general quality of official scoring. Let’s take those one at a time.
1) Scoring decisions are more subjective than the calls for which the replay crowd wants replay.
While there is a spectrum of viewpoints when it comes to the acceptable limit of instant replay in baseball, the types of calls most frequently discussed as targets for expanded replay – fair/foul, out/safe at a base, catch/trap – are not subjective calls. There are clear rules laying out the distinctions and the only controversy that comes into play is whether the umpire correctly sees the play or not.
The hit/error scoring decision is, by comparison, more subjective. A determination must be made by the official scorer as to whether the fielder had a reasonable chance of making a particular play. Nevertheless, there is strong guidance in the baseball rules that serves to standardize this decision-making to a point (see the bottom of this article for the full text of MLB Official Rule 10.12 on errors). Simple efforts by MLB could go even further toward establishing greater uniformity in delineating hit and error. While the line between hit and error may never be as clear as fair and foul, it can be closer. Tighten up the differentiation of hit and error and you eliminate much of the subjectivity that plagues the scoring decision. You are then left only with the way the official scorer sees the play, which – as with the way the umpire sees the play – would be subject to review.
2) Scoring decisions don’t have the impact on the outcome of the game the way umpire calls do.
Fair/foul, catch/trap, out/safe – any of these calls can impact the ultimate outcome of a game. Whether a play is scored a hit or an error, the runner reaches base and the inning (and the game) plays out the way it plays out. So in that sense, yes the scoring decision does not impact the game the way an on-the-field call does. That doesn’t mean that scoring decisions have no impact.
The hit/error decision comes into sharpest relief in the context of a potential or actual no-hitter. That is a small subset of games, but they are some of baseball’s most memorable and exciting. Baseball fans everywhere hope to be fortunate enough to see one in person. We tune in to late-inning no-hit bids hoping to see something rare and special. If a bid gets broken up, well that happens all the time. But if a play that should reasonably have been scored an error is recorded as a hit, that takes that moment away from us as baseball fans. And don’t underestimate the power a no-hitter can have in attracting new fans. In my opinion, the no-hitter is baseball at its best (OK, the perfect game, but still a no-hitter is pretty close) and while we shouldn’t be manufacturing them for the sake of more no-hitters, we also shouldn’t simply stand down as no-hitters are broken up in, um, error. Outrage and amplified calls for expanded replay greeted Jim Joyce’s missed call that cost Armando Galarraga his 2010 perfect game. The same dissatisfaction ought to greet a missed scoring decision that erases a no-hitter.
What’s more, the way we as fans and also analysts of the game evaluate players depends on hits and errors to a certain extent. It is rare that a few hits or errors more or less will have a significant impact on the perception of a player that might affect his compensation and/0r legacy (for awards or Hall of Fame purposes), but to the extent that it does, don’t we want the best information available?
3) Official scoring is high quality, rendering review largely unnecessary.
I don’t know if anyone is actually making this argument, but I certainly don’t hear the same sort of criticism for official scoring that I do for umpiring and I want to address the issue.
Advances in replay technology along with added cameras in-park, high definition, larger televisions and greater access to televised baseball as compared with less than two decades ago*** have brought increased scrutiny to umpire calls. The more missed calls noticed, the stronger the push for additional replay has become. It isn’t that umpiring has gotten worse, it’s that we are more acutely aware of the missed calls given the changes in the way we watch baseball.
***MLB Extra Innings debuted on DirecTV in 1996 and on most cable networks in 2001
Even with advances in the way we watch at home, along with added information available on state-of-the-art scoreboards at ballparks, most fans don’t necessarily keep track of each individual scoring decision in every game they watch. I do. I keep score at every game I attend. Pretty nerdy, I know, but I love it. And in keeping score (and watching at home with a scorekeeper’s mentality), something I have noticed is the general bias of official scorers for the hit over the error. It makes sense. The official scorers have relationships with the players and out of the three players impacted by each ball in play – hitter, pitcher, fielder – only one prefers the error to the hit. The error benefits the pitcher, but the hitter would rather have the hit and the fielder would rather not pick up the error. While the bias is understandable, it is not necessarily correct. Among my most common experiences as a scorekeeper is a disagreement with a scorer’s decision to award a hit when an error seemed the more appropriate call.
None of this is not to say that official scorers are incompetent or corrupt or just obtuse. Most proponents of expanded replay would not levy such criticisms at the majority of major league umpires, and I do not hurl them at the scorers. Sure, there are umpires who are simply not good at their job. The same can probably be said about a small subset of official scorers. For both groups on the whole, however, it is a difficult and thankless job that even when performed to perfection is likely to draw the ire of some fans, players and teams. The idea behind replay is to provide support for major league umpires. Replay on certain calls will give the umpiring crew the chance to get close calls correct and let the play on the field determine the outcome of the game. Review of official scoring decisions would do the same.
It might be clumsy at first. If in fact the Mets appeal had been successful and Dickey had been awarded a no-hitter, the decision would certainly have raised its share of eyebrows. The no-hitter would have been on a technicality and would have meant less to everyone involved. Furthermore, as R.A. Dickey himself pointed out, when that play was scored a hit in the 1st, it removed the pressure of a no-hitter from the game. There is no telling whether Dickey would have pitched the same if he had been nursing a no-hit bid as he did after Upton’s infield single. And there may be occasions where review and change of a scoring decision result in those type of questions. But the hope here is that through review, the hit/error distinction will become better-defined and will result in fewer misses in the future. The same way we hope that expanded replay will provide umpires with a helpful tool and result in the correct call being made more often, the hope with scoring review is that it will provide support and guidance to official scorers that results in the correct scoring decision being made more frequently. That’s why I support the decision by the Mets to appeal the scoring decision (whether the call was correct or not, the fact that it was close is reason enough for me – judge for yourself) instead of shouting it down as an affront to baseball.
In related news, R.A. Dickey notched another (less controversial) one-hitter Monday night against Baltimore. What a season. Long live the knuckleball.
Full Text of Official Rule 10.12
An error is a statistic charged against a fielder whose action has assisted the team on offense, as set forth in this Rule 10.12.
(a) The official scorer shall charge an error against any fielder:
(1) whose misplay (fumble, muff or wild throw) prolongs the time at bat of a batter, prolongs the presence on the bases of a runner or permits a runner to advance one or more bases, unless, in the judgment of the official scorer, such fielder deliberately permits a foul fly to fall safe with a runner on third base before two are out in order that the runner on third shall not score after the catch;
Rule 10.12(a)(1) Comment: Slow handling of the ball that does not involve mechanical misplay shall not be construed as an error. For example, the official scorer shall not charge a fielder with an error if such fielder fields a ground ball cleanly but does not throw to first base in time to retire the batter. It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error. If a ground ball goes through a fielder’s legs or a fly ball falls untouched and, in the scorer’s judgment, the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, the official scorer shall charge such fielder with an error. For example, the official scorer shall charge an infielder with an error when a ground ball passes to either side of such infielder if, in the official scorers judgment, a fielder at that position making ordinary effort would have fielded such ground ball and retired a runner. The official scorer shall charge an outfielder with an error if such outfielder allows a fly ball to drop to the ground if, in the official scorers judgment, an outfielder at that position making ordinary effort would have caught such fly ball. If a throw is low, wide or high, or strikes the ground, and a runner reaches base who otherwise would have been put out by such throw, the official scorer shall charge the player making the throw with an error.
The official scorer shall not score mental mistakes or misjudgments as errors unless a specific rule prescribes otherwise. A fielders mental mistake that leads to a physical misplaysuch as throwing the ball into the stands or rolling the ball to the pitchers mound, mistakenly believing there to be three outs, and thereby allowing a runner or runners to advanceshall not be considered a mental mistake for purposes of this rule and the official scorer shall charge a fielder committing such a mistake with an error. The official scorer shall not charge an error if the pitcher fails to cover first base on a play, thereby allowing a batter-runner to reach first base safely. The official scorer shall not charge an error to a fielder who incorrectly throws to the wrong base on a play.
The official scorer shall charge an error to a fielder who causes another fielder to misplay a ballfor example, by knocking the ball out of the other fielders glove. On such a play, when the official scorer charges an error to the interfering fielder, the official scorer shall not charge an error to the fielder with whom the other fielder interfered.
(2) when such fielder muffs a foul fly to prolong the time at bat of a batter, whether the batter subsequently reaches first base or is put out;
(3) when such fielder catches a thrown ball or a ground ball in time to put out the batter-runner and fails to tag first base or the batter-runner;
(4) when such fielder catches a thrown ball or a ground ball in time to put out any runner on a force play and fails to tag the base or the runner;
(5) whose wild throw permits a runner to reach a base safely, when in the scorer’s judgment a good throw would have put out the runner, unless such wild throw is made attempting to prevent a stolen base;
(6) whose wild throw in attempting to prevent a runner’s advance permits that runner or any other runner to advance one or more bases beyond the base such runner would have reached had the throw not been wild;
(7) whose throw takes an unnatural bounce, touches a base or the pitcher’s plate, or touches a runner, a fielder or an umpire, thereby permitting any runner to advance; or
Rule 10.12(a)(7) Comment: The official scorer shall apply this rule even when it appears to be an injustice to a fielder whose throw was accurate. For example, the official scorer shall charge an error to an outfielder whose accurate throw to second base hits the base and caroms back into the outfield, thereby permitting a runner or runners to advance, because every base advanced by a runner must be accounted for.
(8) whose failure to stop, or try to stop, an accurately thrown ball permits a runner to advance, so long as there was occasion for the throw. If such throw was made to second base, the official scorer shall determine whether it was the duty of the second baseman or the shortstop to stop the ball and shall charge an error to the negligent fielder.
Rule 10.12(a)(8) Comment: If, in the official scorer’s judgment, there was no occasion for the throw, the official scorer shall charge an error to the fielder who threw the ball.
(b) The official scorer shall charge only one error on any wild throw, regardless of the number of bases advanced by one or more runners.
(c) When an umpire awards the batter or any runner or runners one or more bases because of interference or obstruction, the official scorer shall charge the fielder who committed the interference or obstruction with one error, no matter how many bases the batter, or runner or runners, may advance.
Rule 10.12(c) Comment: The official scorer shall not charge an error if obstruction does not change the play, in the opinion of the scorer.
(d) The official scorer shall not charge an error against:
(1) the catcher when the catcher, after receiving the pitch, makes a wild throw attempting to prevent a stolen base, unless the wild throw permits the stealing runner to advance one or more extra bases or permits any other runner to advance one or more bases;
(2) any fielder who makes a wild throw if in the scorer’s judgment the runner would not have been put out with ordinary effort by a good throw, unless such wild throw permits any runner to advance beyond the base he would have reached had the throw not been wild;
(3) any fielder who makes a wild throw in attempting to complete a double play or triple play, unless such wild throw enables any runner to advance beyond the base such runner would have reached had the throw not been wild;
Rule 10.12(d) Comment: When a fielder muffs a thrown ball that, if held, would have completed a double play or triple play, the official scorer shall charge an error to the fielder who drops the ball and credit an assist to the fielder who made the throw.
(4) any fielder when, after fumbling a ground ball or dropping a batted ball that is in flight or a thrown ball, the fielder recovers the ball in time to force out a runner at any base; or
(5) any fielder when a wild pitch or passed ball is scored.
(e) The official scorer shall not charge an error when the batter is awarded first base on four called balls, when the batter is awarded first base when touched by a pitched ball, or when the batter reaches first base as the result of a wild pitch or passed ball.
Rule 10.12(e) Comment: See Rule 10.13 for additional scoring rules relating to wild pitches and passed balls.
(f) The official scorer shall not charge an error when a runner or runners advance as the result of a passed ball, a wild pitch or a balk.
(1) When the fourth called ball is a wild pitch or a passed ball and as a result
(i) the batter-runner advances to a base beyond first base;
(ii) any runner forced to advance by the base on balls advances more than one base; or
(iii) any runner, not forced to advance, advances one or more bases, the official scorer shall score the base on balls and also the wild pitch or passed ball, as the case may be.
(2) When the catcher recovers the ball after a wild pitch or passed ball on the third strike, and throws out the batter-runner at first base, or tags out the batter-runner, but another runner or runners advance, the official scorer shall score the strikeout, the putout and assists, if any, and credit the advance of the other runner or runners on the play as a fielders choice.
Rule 10.12(f) Comment: See Rule 10.13 for additional scoring rules relating to wild pitches and passed balls.