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Article: Working As Official Scorer At The World Baseball Classic

stew thornley
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#1 John Bonnes

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Posted 13 April 2017 - 07:56 AM

I’ve often pointed out that official scorers affect only statistics, not the outcome of a game. However, recently official scorers were put in a position in which they could affect the outcome of the World Baseball Classic, when earned runs were used as a tiebreaker in deciding which team moved on to the next round.

In the first two rounds of the World Baseball Classic, two teams advance to the next round. In the event of a tie for second, a tiebreaker game is played. However - with four teams playing round robin - the only tie for second place has to be a three-way tie. So a tiebreaker procedure is used to either anoint one team to move on and have the other two play it off (if the tied teams are 2-1) or to eliminate a team and have the other two play (if the tied teams are 1-2).The latter is what happened in Jalisco, Mexico. I was the official scorer. My wife, Brenda Himrich, made the press box announcements in Spanish. She was in the modified press box in the upper deck while I was in a room at the top of the first deck. I’d tell her my scoring decision via walkie-talkie, and she announced it to the press in Spanish.

Brenda is obviously a lot smarter than I am. Not only can she speak Spanish, she was up on the tiebreaker procedures more than I was. As we walked into the stadium on Sunday, the final day of scheduled games, she told me that earned runs could be used as a criteria for the tiebreaker. “No way,” I thought, but it was “Way.”

I was glad I wasn’t aware of that over the first three days. Official scorers try to ignore situations in which their call could have a bigger impact than just a player’s batting average (a hitting streak, no-hitter, league leadership, etc.). It’s hard to ignore these things sometimes. But for me, my ignorance over the first four games served the same purpose.

At least earned runs weren’t the first step in the tiebreaker.

The first was runs allowed per number of innings (including partial innings) played in the field. The runs allowed would be only in games against the other teams involved in the tiebreaker. I liked that it included innings in the field; otherwise, the team batting last more often than another team had was at a disadvantage.

The next step was earned runs allowed per number of innings in the field.

The next step was team batting average.

If there were somehow a tie after this, the standings would be determined by the drawing of lots.

In the first game on Sunday, Puerto Rico beat Italy to go 3-0.

If Mexico beat Venezuela in the second game, the tiebreaker would have to be used to eliminate one of the teams.

I calculated the situation at that point, which the MLB public-relations rep took in case it was needed. Here was the situation:

Download attachment: stew 2017-04-13 graph 1.jpg

It looked bad for Italy. Even if Venezuela lost to Mexico, Italy would lose out if Venezuela gave up 9 or fewer runs. If Venezuela lost and gave up 10 runs (and if they were all earned), Italy would prevail on the basis of fewer earned runs. If Venezuela gave up 10 runs but one were unearned, the teams would be tied for earned runs per inning, and it would come down to team batting average. Venezuela had an edge there, but a bad night at the plate and in the field could do them in.

Venezuela fell behind 8-1 after four-and-a-half innings against Mexico, and I focused on how many runs it would give up. Mexico got another run in the top of the sixth and had runners at second and third with two out in the top of the seventh when Chris Roberson hit a grounder off Jose Altuve’s glove (clear hit) to score both runners and make the score 11-6. I figured Venezuela would have to win the game, and it almost did, making a series of comebacks that fell short and losing 11-9.

Brenda called me on the walkie-talkie to report that the media, including MLB Network, were announcing that Mexico and Italy would play in the tiebreaker Monday night. I wasn’t needed in the meeting to confirm this, so we took off. (The Venezuela-Mexico game had gone 4 hours, 44 minutes and ended at 12:52 a.m.)

Other officials hung around for the post-mortem, which wasn’t quick. The issue was that Mexico had put itself in a position of elimination by allowing 9 runs.

The meeting went at least three hours and culminated with a call to Commissioner Rob Manfred. Mexico thought it was credited with 9 innings against Italy, but it was only 8 innings.

The issue of the partial inning made the difference. Italy had allowed 1.05 runs per inning in the field, Venezuela 1.11, and Mexico 1.12. Had Mexico been credited with 9 innings against Italy, Mexico’s total would have been 1.06.

Download attachment: stew 2017-04-13 graph 2.jpg

By a thin margin, Mexico had the highest runs allowed per inning. Mexico protested that it should receive a partial inning against Italy; even 1/3 more of an inning would have been enough for them to move ahead of Venezuela. But innings are measured in outs, and Mexico didn’t record any outs in the ninth against Italy, so it did not get credit for a partial inning.

Venezuela and Italy played the tiebreaker, a great game in which Miguel Cabrera tied the score with a home run in the top of the ninth. Venezuela scored two more runs and held on for a 4-3 win, eliminating Italy and sending Venezuela to the second round.

In the post-game reception MLB had for us, we discussed other missed opportunities for Mexico. In the top of the ninth, Mexico had runners on first and second with no out. Another run for Mexico would mean another run against for Venezuela. However, pinch-runner Manny Rodriguez didn’t advance on a long fly to left-center. He did when the next batter flied out, but had he advanced on the former he would have scored on the latter.

I was happy that I scored the first four games (from Thursday to Saturday) in blissful ignorance about the possible impact of one of my scoring decisions. But when we got home, I looked at the tally a little closer and also at the scoring decisions I had made. Two things stood out.

First, we came really close to having earned runs per inning become a factor. If Mexico had given up fewer runs in its final game, it would have made it to the tiebreaker game. The tiebreaker steps would have been used to determine whether Italy or Venezuela was eliminated. And if Venezuela had given up just 10, instead of 11 runs, to Mexico, then Italy and Venezuela would have been tied in the first tiebreaker step, total runs allowed.

This would have brought it to the second step, earned runs allowed per innings in the field. Italy would have prevailed by 1 run over Venezuela (had Venezuela would have given up only 10 runs to Mexico).

Later I went over the scoring decisions I had made, and one stood out. In the Saturday game between Italy and Venezuela, I called what I would describe as a “tough” error on Italy shortstop Gavin Checchini on a hard grounder hit by Jose Altuve. Altuve scored, and, because of my decision, the run was unearned rather than earned.

With just a couple of tweaks in the score of the Venezuela-Mexico game, this call could have been the determining factor.

Teams have the right to appeal scoring decisions immediately after the game, and I was surprised that Venezuela did not appeal it. I thought they might appeal for the purpose of getting a hit for Altuve, the normal reason a player or team challenges a scoring decision. In this case, though, the stakes were greater.

One of Venezuela’s competitors was getting off without an earned run, which could be, and nearly was decisive. All I could think of was that Venezuela hadn’t paid attention to the tiebreaker procedures. It seemed others had not, either, until it was time to do the final tally.

The tiebreaker steps were different from the previous World Baseball Classic, in 2013. According to Society for American Baseball Research member Bob Timmerman, the first tiebreaker step used then was “Team Quality Balance,” which was runs scored per innings at bat minus runs allowed per innings pitched.

This run-differential method was less likely to produce a tie and send it to the second step, whatever it was.

However, in 2013 a brawl broke out in a Canada-Mexico game. Canada, with a large lead, broke one of those sacred unwritten rules by bunting, and the Mexico pitcher threw at the next batter, setting off a fight. Beyond that these unwritten rules are a load of crap, the World Baseball Classic organizers apparently switched the tiebreaker steps to discourage running up the score.

However, that ignores that teams should still score as much as possible for the purpose of adding runs allowed to their competitors’ totals.

However they do it, in my opinion, anything influenced by the official scorer should be out of it. Scoring decisions are subjective, and it shouldn’t come down to a 50-50 call being decided one way or another.

The games were long but were exciting. It was a great tournament and experience.

 Stew Thornley is a baseball historian and one of the official scorers of the Minnesota Twins home games. You can find more of his research and writing at StewThornley.net.

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#2 John Bonnes

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Posted 13 April 2017 - 07:59 AM

It kind of blows my mind that this could happen. Official scorers calls are already the cause of so much (mostly faux) outrage. Can you imagine if it meant a team like Venezuela missed the WBC playoffs? Holy cow.

 

It also is amazing to me that Mexico didn't advance because they didn't get one out before a walkoff hit. I had no idea.

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#3 gil4

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Posted 13 April 2017 - 10:41 AM

That has to be about the worst tiebreaker ever. Just running through some possibilities, run differential, head-to-head run differential (among the three tied teams), runs scored per inning (total and then head to head), baserunners and baserunners allowed  per inning (again, both total and then head to head).

 

Can you imagine a team advancing because a scorer decided to change a ruling from hit to error?A coin toss is a better second tiebreaker than ER/inning. 


#4 hybridbear

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Posted 13 April 2017 - 11:42 AM

Wow! What an insightful article! Thanks for sharing!

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#5 ashburyjohn

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Posted 13 April 2017 - 07:58 PM

Moving on in the tournament, in a close case, because your defense was judged a little worse than the other team, seems like an unintended consequence of making the tiebreaker earned runs. Except, I don't see what the intended consequence was, versus just using "runs".

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#6 IndianaTwin

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Posted 13 April 2017 - 08:46 PM

Thanks for the behind-the-scenes insights.

 

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#7 theBOMisthebomb

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Posted 13 April 2017 - 10:19 PM

Another reason the WBC is a farce.

#8 stewthornley

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Posted 14 April 2017 - 10:10 AM

I gotta say I didn't pay much attention to the WBC in the past but, being involved, did this year.  For promoting the game internationally, I think it's a good thing.  I just don't think scorers' decisions should be a factor in the tiebreaker.

 

I also suggested that they clarify the partial inning, that innings are measured in outs.  Even though this should be obvious, it wouldn't hurt to get it in writing to avoid the controversy that happened.

 

Also, I hope they will clarify how the extra-inning rules could affect this.  Starting in the 11th inning, teams begin the inning with runners on first and second.  The scoring on this is clear - the placed runners (or any replacing them as a result of an out on a fielder's choice) are unearned.  For the tiebreaker, it would seem to make sense to not have these placed runners count at all.  And it would be better to have this spelled out in advance in the tiebreaker procedure.  Otherwise, each team involved would argue for whatever benefited it.

 

But I came to like the WBC.  

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#9 ashburyjohn

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Posted 14 April 2017 - 02:50 PM

Note: If you are reading this article from the forums, the author is actually Stew Thornley (as noted in the footer) and not John Bonnes.

You don't automatically get my respect. You have to get down and beg for it.




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