Intro to Tennis

In what will probably be the shortest series on the channel, because this pretty much covers the basics, here are two videos less than 25 minutes long about how to play tennis.

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How MLB Rosters Work

A baseball game will feature nine (or ten, if you have a DH) players on a team, but let’s look at how a typical roster is constructed.

In Major League Baseball each team is allowed to bring 25 players to a game, all of whom are eligible to play. It’s super rare that all of them will, however. There are no stipulations for minimum or maximum players in any given position, but teams will generally look something like this:

Nine position players – These are the guys in the starting lineup who will play most days. One or two may swap out consistently with a backup or bench player depending on how well they hit left- or right-handed pitching. A “position player” is a non-pitcher.

Five bench position players – These are backups who might come into the game at some point. Some will only play one position, while others called a “utility man” may be proficient in multiple spots.

The starting rotation – Almost always will consist of five pitchers. These are the guys who will start every game, meaning they will only play once every five games, and try to pitch as long as they can. The best pitchers, or at least the ones with the most stamina, are usually starters.

The bullpen – The balance of the team will be relief pitchers. These guys will enter the game after the starter is pulled and will often have loosely defined roles like long reliever (who will throw more innings if a starter gets knocked around early), closer (who will typically be the best pitcher in the bullpen and pitch the ninth inning), or the setup man (who will come in right before the closer). The “bullpen” is the name of the physical place where the relievers warm up before they come into the game, but it’s also sometimes used in reference of the relief pitchers themselves.

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A Thorough Introduction to Baseball Scorekeeping

Intent of this Guide

Keeping score does not require much knowledge beyond a general understanding of baseball. You can find many one-page guides on how to score a game. This brevity is nice, but seeing a few variations on the standard way of keeping score will help a beginner to grasp how they can go about developing their own system. The following guide includes not only the standard way to keep score, but numerous other options, tips, and tricks I have encountered while scoring games over the past 15 years.

We will stop short of examining how complex plays should be scored, but I have listed a few resources at the end that you might enjoy. You can also check out my YouTube series on how to play baseball for beginners. I have also included links a few of my own scorecards at the end, which you are free to use.

Pre-Game

There has been a lot of baseball played over the last 150 years: Over four million professional games and countless more between colleges, high schools, and little leagues. At least one person in attendance of almost all of those games was keeping score. Despite this similarity between all games, no two people keep score the same way. Scorecards, notations, and focuses change. What remains the same is the ability to look at a scorecard a day or a hundred years hence and being able to reconstruct the game in our mind, even if we were not in attendance. This introduction to keeping score is only the mound. It is your job to throw the pitch. You are no longer a passive observer. A scorekeeper is a participant in the game.

Scorecard

Keeping score starts with the scorecard. Like baseball games no two scorecards are designed the same, but most will have the same general layout: A place for game info like the teams and location of the game, a spot for the lineup, a separate section for the pitchers, lots of squares to write down what plays out, and a few columns to total up stats afterwards. Here is a simple scorecard:

Basic Scorecard

(Click for full size)

Down the left side of the scorecard will be the lineup, which you will write in before the game. Moving from left to right across the card, is a column for each inning. Each game will start with the leadoff hitter hitting in the first inning, so we will write down what the leadoff hitter does in that first at bat in the top-left square (we’ll talk about what to write in a moment). For the next batter, we will write what he does in the square in the square right next to his name, and so on. Rarely will all nine batters bat in any inning, so if the team goes 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning, the squares in the first column beside the 4 through 9 hitters will remain blank. When the clean-up hitter comes to bat to leadoff the second inning, we will write down what he does in his row, but in the second column.

Reaching base

Each at-bat will result in the batter reaching base or being put out. Scorekeeping is simply recording what each batter does. For example, if our leadoff hitter singles we would draw a line as if from home plate to first base in the top left square and write 1B, for single, under the line. Like this:

Ex1single

Some scorecards will have a diamond base path drawn in each square to make it clearer, but I prefer to leave mine blank. Neither way is correct, like many things in this guide after a scoring a few games you will figure out your own style and preferences.

Let’s say our next hitter, Freddy Sanchez, doubles and Young moves to third base. We would 1) draw Sanchez’s line to second base, 2) write 2B to show he had doubled, and 3) extend Young’s line to third base to show how far he had advanced:

Ex2double

You will probably have guessed by now the notation for a triple is three lines and 3B. Our final type of hit, the home run, means we will finally have a run scored. When a player scores a run, not only do we complete their trip around the base paths, we also color in their whole infield. This makes it easier to quickly glance at the card and count how many runs have scored. McLouth HR:

Ex3HR

Our team is off to a great start, but not every batter will get a hit. As you probably know, there are seven ways to reach base (which you can remember with the silly acronym Frank’s Irate Wife Suddenly Hid His Eggnog). Each one has an abbreviation that allows us to quickly write down how our player got on. There may seem to be a lot of abbreviations at first, but you will catch on after a game or two.

  • Hit – 1B, 2B, 3B, or HR
  • Walk (Base on Balls) – BB
  • Hit by Pitch – HP or HBP
  • Fielder’s Choice – FC
  • Error – E (There’s a second part to errors that we’ll get to in a moment.)
  • Interference – INT
  • Strikeout – K (in conjunction with wild pitch K-WP, passed ball K-PB, etc.)

Getting Out

A hitter won’t reach base every time though, so what about outs? There are three types of outs: Strikeout, ground out, fly out. As we just saw above, a strikeout is noted with a K. Some people will note a strikeout looking with a backwards K (my computer won’t let me type one, but you’ve seen them on a ballpark’s K-board), while a swinging strikeout is a regular K or a KS.

If a batter grounds out to the shortstop, we don’t have the space in our square to write ‘Grounded out to the shortstop.’ Instead, each defensive position has been given a number. They are as follows:

1 – Pitcher
2 – Catcher
3 – First baseman
4 – Second baseman
5 – Third baseman
6 – Shortstop
7 – Left fielder
8 – Center fielder
9 – Right fielder

DefensiveNumbers

Thus our groundout to the shortstop is noted as 6 – 3. The numbers are listed in the order of how the players touched the ball. This way we can quickly tell that the last player listed, the first baseman in this case, will get credit for a putout and the others will receive an assist. I also write which out of the inning it was in the square and circle it:

Ex4groundout

An unassisted groundout, most often to the first baseman, would be a UN – 3, U – 3, or just a 3.

Some people like to use a different color pencil to write outs in. It does usually end up looking nicer, but it can be tough to deal with multiple pencils if you are at the ballpark and trying to balance a scorecard and hot dog on your lap at the same time.

Our third type of out is the fly out. Most people will note a fly out to left with an F7 or a fly out to center with an F8. If there is a high pop up, usually in the infield, you might use a P, for pop up, rather than an F. Some will write FO or PO rather than F or P. Likewise, line drives are L5 or LO5. Due to the commonality of fly outs to outfielders, some people forgo the letters and just write 7. I also deviate from the norm on fly balls. On my scorecards you will find that routine fly balls to the outfield are PO – 7 (pop out to the left fielder) because I reserve FO – 7 for foul outs. Some record foul outs FFO – 7.

Another common mark that you will find is an exclamation mark for a great play or diving catch, F7!

Errors and Running the Bases

These defensive numbers can be used to record errors as well. If the left fielder drops a routine fly ball and the runner gets on base, this would be recorded as an E7. If a second baseman makes a good throw to first, but the first baseman drops the ball and the runner gets on, most would record this as an E3. Technically though, the play would be a 4 – E3, as the second baseman is still credited with an assist. That’s probably not something you need to worry about unless you are very particular about technicalities (if you are, there is a book at the end you might enjoy).

When my father keeps score, he adds a bracket on the bottom right of the square of the last batter of each inning. This will help you see exactly where you are in the order the next inning. It will also remind you to jump over to the second column for the next inning.

Ex5outs

For the bottom of the first inning, we would flip our scorecard over fill in what the home team does when they bat. Let’s say our leadoff hitter walks and then a few pitches into the next at-bat he steals second base. Like our players in the top of the first, we draw a line to second base in our square and then mark down SB for stolen base.

Ex6sb

While there are seven ways to advance to first base, there are even more to reach the remaining bases. Most are assumed—like when a player advances from first to second base on a single, force out, walk, etc.—but others like stolen bases, require their own abbreviations. If a batter reaches on a dropped third strike that bounces, you will write K-WP.

  • Stolen base – SB
  • Passed ball – PB
  • Wild pitch – WP
  • Interference – INT
  • Balk – BK

There are a few other abbreviations that are used in conjunction with the defensive numbers to show which player has made the out. A double play that goes from the shortstop to the second baseman to the first baseman would be a 6 – 4 out for the first runner and a 6 – 4 – 3 DP for the batter. A player who gets caught stealing would be marked as a CS 2 – 6. Others include:

  • Double play – DP
  • Caught Stealing – CS
  • Sacrifice Fly – SF
  • Sacrifice bunt – SH  (Sac bunts are sometimes known as sac hits as not to confuse SB with stolen bases)

If you want to be exact, you can label a player’s movement on the base paths with the jersey number of the player who was batting when they did so. So if Guzman were to score from second base on Johnson’s single, I would write Johnson’s jersey number 24 in Guzman’s square to show that he scored on Johnson’s single rather than Zimmerman’s. That way we will know who should get credit for the RBI. If there are multiple scoring plays in one half-inning, this can make it easier to see who scored on which play.

Ex7rbi

Substitutions, Batting Around, Balls and Strikes

Most games will feature at least one or two guys coming off the bench. Most scorecards are prepared for this by having two or three lines for each spot in the batting order. If Kearns pinch hits for Dunn in the first inning, we would write his name in and note that he is a PH (pinch hitter). I usually add the inning the sub enters the game in parenthesis beside his name. If Kearns were to enter the game on defense in the next half inning, we would write: PH, RF. A pinch runner would be PR.

Ex8sub

Pitcher substitutions can be trickier if they enter the game in the middle of the inning. I write the inning and the number of the first batter he is facing beside his name, so if Zimmerman was the first batter that our new pitcher faced I would write Wells (7-11) for seventh inning and Zimmerman’s number 11.

We only have one column for each inning, so what happens if a team bats around? Once we get to the tenth guy to come to the plate in the inning, we would continue in the next column over. We then cross out that inning’s number and shift each inning down a column. Most scorecards include 10 or 11 innings not only for extra innings, but so you have a few spares if this were to occur.

Ex9bataround

What about balls and strikes? If you want to step things up a notch, you can keep track of balls and strikes for each batter as well. Some scorecards come equipped with a special spot in this for each square. Alternately you can write the order of pitches along the top, bottom, or side of each square, using a letter or symbol for each pitch. For example, B-C-S-F would mean the batter saw a ball, a called strike, swung and missed, then fouled a pitch off. You really have to pay attention to a game if you want to track every ball and strike, but you will be able to total each pitcher’s pitch count if you do.

Alternate scoring methods

For a time I used a scorecard that did not use the standard column-per-inning, but rather had only six squares for each batter. The idea was that rather than jumping to the next column for each inning, you can draw a line between the last batter of one inning and the first batter of the next to note the inning break. This allowed each square to be larger so you had more room to write details in. You can also fit more game info in the margins. I have included a version of this card at the end as well. This is what it would look like between the final out of the third inning and beginning the fourth:

Ex10scorecard2

If you are bored with the standard way of doing things, like to have all the details, or are a robot, you might enjoy the Project Scoresheet way of keeping score. The system uses most of the abbreviations and positions numbers from the system we looked at, but there is no drawing of base paths involved. Instead everything is recorded in letters and numbers. How batted balls travel (line drives, ground balls) and the exact position on the field where the ball lands is recorded for every batted ball. It will take you longer to learn and require quicker thinking on each play, but it can be great if you want to know player tendencies and construct spray charts. You can find more here.

There is an increasing number of scorekeeping apps available for phones and tablets. I have never used one so I don’t have any specific recommendations, but I have heard good things about many.

More Resources

You are welcome to use my scorecards. This design is pretty standard; it includes spots for two subs per spot in the lineup, lots of pitcher sub spots, and even a box score proof. I mentioned this second design above. Rather than a column-per-inning it has six spots per batter; the inning totals are on the right side. You can also find my scorekeeping cheat sheet here.

You can also find many scorecards in all different shapes and sizes at BaseballScorecard.com.

If you go to a game, the error/hit calls and other scoring info from the official scorer will be posted on the scoreboard, but if you want to get into the complexity that can sometimes arise I cannot recommend the book Baseball Scorekeeping: A Practical Guide to the Rules by Andres Wirkmaa highly enough. I have yet to see a situation it does not cover.

It is also good to keep the official rules bookmarked. The official scorer’s duties are outlined and everything is defined in Rule 10. If there is a misunderstanding over a call or rule, it’s better to wait until you have some time after the game or during a delay to look it up in the rulebook rather than relying on what an angry fan claims the call should have been.

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MLB’s Home Plate Collision Rule

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about creating a rule to prevent collisions at home plate between runners and catchers. That rule has been put into effect for the 2014 season.

If you don’t mind reading rules in rulebook language, you can read it here. If you want to read the Standard English version, keep reading. If you want a video of me reading the Standard English version, it’s at the end.

Let’s take a look at what it says:

A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate).

So what can the runner not do?

He cannot lower his shoulder or push through with his hands, elbows, or arms towards the catcher.

What happens if he does initiate contact with the catcher?

First, the umpire will call the runner out. Second, the ball is dead. Third, all other runners will have to return to the last base they touched before the collision.

Does the runner have to slide?

No. Technically, this rule does not require the runner to slide as many rules in lower level of play do. As long as you don’t touch the catcher, you can still run around him or jump over him, but if you aren’t Ichiro, the best way to avoid being called out under the rule is probably by sliding.

The rule gets technical about what a slide in this situation would require:

A slide requires that a player’s buttocks or legs (if a feet-first slide) or his body (if a head-first slide) makes contact with the ground before he makes contact with the catcher.

The final part of the rule is directed at the catchers, who unless they are in possession of the ball “cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score.” If he does block the path without the ball, the runner will be safe.

Part two for the catchers:

It shall not be considered a violation… if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

Just like when a runner is running from first to second, if the second baseman is making a play on the ball, the fielder has the right to make the play and the runner has to get out of the way. In much the same way, the catcher here fielding a throw has the right to field the throw.

Finally, yes this type of play will be reviewable under the new instant replay rules.

All-in-all, the runner cannot initiate contact with the catcher, and while he is not required to slide under this rule, it is probably the best way to make sure you aren’t called out.

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World Series Obstruction?

The obstruction call was kind of a big deal last night:

The Play

(If that doesn’t work, try this one or this one.)

The Cardinals and Red Sox are tied 4-4 in the bottom of the 9th inning. There is one out and an 0-1 count on St. Louis’ batter, Jon Jay. Catcher Yadier Molina is on third base, and Alan Craig is on second.

The 0-1 pitch is hit to the right side, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia who is playing up on the grass makes a good throw home to Jared Saltalamacchia. At this point Jon Jay has reached first base safely on a fielder’s choice.

Saltalamacchia tags out Molina who was coming home from third base for the second out of the inning. And he immediately throws the ball down to third base to Will Middlebrooks. The throw was wide and Middlebrooks dove in an attempt to catch the ball, but he was unsuccessful and the ball rolls into left field. As Middlebrooks is diving, Craig is sliding into third base.

As Middlebrooks is lying on the ground, watching the ball go into left field, Alan Craig attempts to run home, but trips over Middlebrooks’s legs. Third base umpire Jim Joyce immediately points at the play and calls obstruction.

As we’ll see in the rule in a second, as soon as Joyce calls obstruction the ball is dead. Obviously in the mass-confusion the play continued and Craig was thrown out at home plate, and everyone within a two block radius that had facial hair ran onto the field to argue, but that was ultimately irrelevant.

The Rule

Rule 2 defines obstruction as “the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.”

But Middlebrooks didn’t do it on purpose!

I can see some people arguing both sides: That it was incidental contact and that Middlebrooks actually raised his feet off the ground on purpose in an attempt to do just what happened—and tangle Craig’s legs up with his. Whether it was done on purpose or not is irrelevant, there is nothing of intent in the rule, all he had to do was impede the runner’s progress. And being that Craig fell on all fours, it’s safe to say his progress was clearly impeded.

Who says Middlebrooks was not “fielding the ball”?

Who is to say that Middlebrooks wasn’t trying to get up to retrieve the ball? Wouldn’t that make him “in the act of fielding the ball”? The next part of the definition tells us that he is not.

“It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the ‘act of fielding’ the ball.”

And as if that wasn’t enough, it goes even further: “For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.”

If you want to claim that Middlebrooks was fielding the ball then you could also claim that Pedroia or the right fielder was too. I mean Saltalamacchia could’ve run out to get the ball in left field, if he takes out Craig on the way so what, he was in the act of fielding! No, you have to draw the line somewhere. The rules have decreed that the line is drawn when the ball gets by you.

It’s obstruction. What’s that mean?

Well we jump to our next rule, 7.06a, which says, “When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal ‘Obstruction.’” Jim Joyce did just this when Craig fell by pointing at him.

The rule continues, “If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, which in this case it was, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction.”

And it further clarifies that, “The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction.”

How is the play scored?

Because Middlebrooks was called for obstruction he is therefore charged with an error (as per rule 10.12c) on the play and Craig’s advancement from third base to home place is on the E5.

Umpires are often criticized for blowing calls, however, as we have seen, this was not one of them. This was as big of a situation as could have existed and the umpires were not only able to get the call correct, but call it as soon as the incident happened and in perfect accordance with the rules.

I can’t read, can you do a video explaining the play?

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The 2013-14 NHL Reallignment

You may have heard about the realignment to the NHL that will start during the 2013-2014 season. The days of the six divisions are over, so let’s take a look at how it will look.

There will still be two Conferences: The Eastern and Western.

The East will have 16 teams, and the West will have 14. Detroit and Columbus will be moving from the west to the east, primarily due to the time zones that they play in.

Both conferences will be divided into two divisions: The East into the Atlantic and the Metropolitan, which will have eight teams each. The West into the Central division and the Pacific division, which will have seven teams each.

But most importantly, how does this relate to the playoffs?

Sixteen teams, over half of the league, will advance to the playoffs. The top three teams from each of the four divisions will advance. There will also be two wild card teams from each conference, regardless of which division they are in.

Seeding will be based on points. The top team in the conference will play the wild card team with the fewest number of points. The other division winner will play the top wild card team. The second and third finishers in each conference will play each other in the first round.

The second round will consist of two series in each division. That will be followed by the conference finals, and finally the Stanley Cup.

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Substituting And Eliminating The DH

A not-very-common occurrence took place at a game I was at the other day, involving the switching of defensive positions as well as the designated hitter.

The players relevant to our example are:

  • DH – Doug
  • 1B – Frank
  • C – Charles
  • P – Paul

Frank doubles late in a close game, but his manager decides to pinch run for him with a faster player off the bench named Usain. Despite Usain’s speed, the team is unable to score and jog back out to play defense in the bottom of the inning.

Based on each player’s talents, the manager decides to move Charles from catcher to first base and inserts the designated hitter Doug into the game to catch. The reason this situation rarely pops up is because moving the designated hitter to a defensive position eliminates the designated hitter from the lineup.

Per rule 6.10:

The Designated Hitter may be used defensively, continuing to bat in the same position in the batting order, but the pitcher must then bat in the place of the substituted defensive player, unless more than one substitution is made, and the manager then must designate their spots in the batting order.

This means our pinch runner, Usain, cannot simply rotate into the DH role as if it were another defensive position. The pitcher, Paul, must now bat in Frank/Usain’s spot in the order. Usain is out of the game—unless he is brought in to pitch.

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