January 24, 2012
The Latest in Baseball Lingo
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Cecilia Tan is the Publications Director for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), where she edits the Baseball Research Journal. Her next project after Baseball Prospectus 2012 is launching a new digital magazine, Yankees Yearly: An Annual Look at the New York Yankees.
New terms seem to me to arise from three distinct populations: the players, the scouts and sabermetricians, and the media. The players and coaches use specialized language among themselves for teaching purposes but also as part of the sociological fabric of the clubhouse. Slang terms define cultural boundaries, as well as generational ones, and current players want to seem "hip" to the language of their peers. The "dinger" or "round-tripper" of the past became the "big fly" in the 1980s. What was a "nasty" pitch in the 1980s had become a "filthy" one by the year 2000. The first player I heard describe a changeup as a "Bugs Bunny ball" was Jason Giambi, who said it came from a Looney Tunes cartoon that ballparks often show during rain delays in which Bugs strikes out the whole lineup with a pitch so slow that all three men swing at it three times each as it floats by.
Scouts have a language all their own, as they should, since they're the ones who have to talk about players more than anyone and describe them in technical terms to people who haven't seen them. Scouts borrow lingo from sabermetricians and the stats community but also lend it in the other direction. Phrases like "misses bats" (for a pitcher who gets a lot of swinging strikes) and "bounce around guy" (for a player who has been traded often) come out of scout chatter. The sabermetricians and baseball analysts, meanwhile, are the population most likely to be inventing new stats and the words for them. We especially seem fond of turning acronyms into words. WHIP, WARP, VORP, and BABIP are typically used in the running blather at any of our favorite watering holes. Unlike the "old style" stats like RBI, ERA, and even OBP, you won't hear anyone spelling out Vee-Oh-Arr-Pee for VORP. (Besides, "vorp" is just fun to say.) We've also got phrases like the "Three True Outcomes" (walk, strikeout, home run). But not every term that is common parlance in the stat community makes it out to the mainstream fans or media.
The media these days includes so many former players in its ranks as commentators, analysts, and talk show hosts that clubhouse terms have accelerated into the mainstream. Simultaneously, we have many veteran commentators and play-by-play announcers still using the jargon they learned half a decade ago, resulting in what may be a richer and more varied stew of baseball vocabulary than ever before.
Much of my time this winter has been spent huddled not over the Hot Stove, but my laptop, editing the forthcoming Baseball Prospectus 2012. The BP Annual combines the efforts of a full roster, 25 people, and each writer comes from a different background. Some started in newspapers, some in blogs, some have writing degrees, some have scouting experience. All these voices strive to make the annual readable and fun. I couldn't help but notice quite a number of colorful terms in use throughout the book, terms that are not yet found in the Dickson Baseball Dictionary. I thought it would be fun to share some with you.
So here you have it, a collection of cutting-edge baseball terms from BP's writers, some of which might make their way into common parlance (and Dickson's next edition), or which might not.
Now if only someone would come up with a snappy, memorable epithet for "strikeout-to-walk ratio," next year's annual could be even more colorful.