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.
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.
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:
(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.
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:
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:
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:
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.)
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.