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April 10, 2003

Box Lunch

Falling Through the Hole in the Page

by Keith Scherer

A box score's value is greater than the sum of its roto points. Weather, crowd size, umpiring crew, pitcher abuse, baserunning blunders, ball/strike and groundball/flyball ratios, substitution patterns, clutch hitting, clutch pitching--with enough time and a high enough geek quotient, you could nearly recreate an entire game from a box score.

Last Thursday night Minnesota beat Detroit 3-0 in front of less than 9,000 customers, a quick, two-hour game that produced a nice line for Kyle Lohse but not much else for the highlight reels. It's a box score you could scan in seconds if you were looking for roto events. But if you spent some time with it you could figure out nearly as much of what happened as if you had been there.

Here's a link to the box score, courtesy of ESPN.com, and what follows it is an illustration of the depth of information a good box score contains. I recommend that you print a copy of the box score and keep it at hand as we go through this. Not many employed people have time for an exercise like this, and it won't work for every game, but it works as an example of the kinds of things many of us overlook when we read box scores. It could also be something fun to do on a lunch break for those of us who are looking to fall down a rabbit hole for an hour.

The game summary shows that leadoff man Jacque Jones stole a base, one of the box score's few items of roto interest. He stole it off Franklyn German, who pitched the eighth only. This tells us when Jones stole his base.

Adam Bernero, Detroit's starter, faced 27 batters and Minnesota made no substitutions while he was in the game, so we know Bernero went through the lineup three times and that Jones led off the eighth inning. German pitched the entire eighth and faced five batters. This means that the number five hitter, Bobby Kielty, made the last out.

Jones didn't get a hit that night, German gave up no hits in the inning, and the Tigers committed no errors and hit no batters. That means Jones most likely reached on a walk.

Cristian Guzman followed Jones. He went 1-for-4 with no walks and had already tripled off Bernero, so we know he made an out in the eighth. Later on, we'll see if we can figure out what kind of out it was.

Torii Hunter batted next. German allowed two walks in the inning. The Twins walked four times in the game. Down at the bottom of the lineup, A.J. Pierzynski and Chris Gomez drew walks, but we know they didn't bat in the eighth. Since Kielty made the last out as the number five hitter, German's other walk must have gone to Hunter or Corey Koskie. The answer is obvious at a glance: Hunter drew a walk in the game and Koskie didn't. So Jones and Hunter accounted for German's two baserunners.

But German also threw a wild pitch. When did it happen? He couldn't have thrown it after Hunter's walk; if he had, then it would have forced Jones to third base, and we know he got to third by stealing it. The wild pitch must have happened some time during Guzman's or Hunter's at-bat.

German allowed two walks and faced only five batters, so Koskie must have made an out. Kielty's out ended the Twins' half of the inning, which means Koskie's out was productive, driving Jones home from third. Can we tell if it was a sacrifice fly or a ground out? We can. Koskie was lifted in the eighth for pinch-runner Denny Hocking, which means he reached base, so the RBI came on a ground out, which must have been a fielder's choice, scoring Jones and wiping Hunter off the bases.

We know Koskie hit into the fielder's choice, but we can also determine what kind of outs Guzman and Kielty made. German had one groundout and one flyout. Because Koskie hit into the fielder's choice, and Guzman didn't strike out that night, Guzman must have been the flyout. German had one strikeout, and that had to be Kielty.

It's an improvisation on chaos theory. From Jones' stolen base we can extrapolate everything that happened in the frame--who made the outs, what kind of outs they made, who reached base, how they reached base, when the wild pitch occurred, and how the run scored.

And once we know all that, for extra credit we can figure out what happened in the Twins' ninth inning as well. The Tigers' only ninth-inning pitcher, Jamie Walker, faced five batters, allowing one walk and one hit and striking out none. Since Kielty made the last out in the Twins' eighth, Doug Mientkiewicz led off the ninth and the fifth batter, Jones, finished the frame with an out.

Walker gave up his hit--a double--to Pierzynski. On the night, the Twins got four walks, with Pierzynski, Jones, and Hunter having walked earlier in the game, so Gomez must have gotten his walk in the ninth. The ninth began with a leadoff double and walk. Since Walker faced only five batters, the other three batters made outs.

The inning played out like this: Mientkiewicz led off with an out, followed by Dustan Mohr, who also made an out. Pierzynski doubled and Gomez walked, before Jones finished the wrap with an out. Walker got two groundouts and a flyout. We can't tell who made what kind of out against him as we could in German's case, but we can tell enough to know what the batting order was, who got on base, and who made the outs.

Related Content:  The Who,  Corey Koskie,  Bobby Kielty,  Bobby Jones

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