Box Score, Bruce Make Maddon, Rondon Look Bad

Box scores are invaluable to the baseball fan. They are the Cliff’s Notes of games, cheat sheets to the books you don’t have time to read. They are the fossilized remains of extinct contests and we the archaeologists sifting through them to piece together a picture of what life was like in Chavez Ravine on Friday night or in Houston when Carlos Correa debuted there.

So important are these tiny windows to the immediate past that one of the preeminent baseball minds of our time, Tim Kurkjian, actually cut and pasted each and every box score from 1989-2010. And I’m not talking Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V; he literally cut out each box score from the pages of the newspaper and taped them into spiral notebooks. For 21 years.

In all, that means Kurkjian spent roughly as much time reconstituting abridged ballgames as Noah and his family spend aboard the ark. That’s, uh, well…it’s something. Even if you didn’t originally feel so inclined, I’d recommend taking a look at the story linked above, if only to fathom the obsessive nature of the task the man undertook.

Predictably, Kurkjian turned, albeit reluctantly, to the internet for his scores, leaving behind the process of parsing pressed pulp into page after page of pad after pad. The tools of the trade had changed, though some of the same holes remain.

You see, a box score paints a black-and-white picture devoid of the nuance necessary to truly describe what took place inside the numbers. Of course, the modern-day versions give us the option to view highlights, read a wrap, or even pull up play-by-play details. But how many people take advantage of those features?

I’d be willing to be that quite a few people decried Joe Maddon’s choice to use Jon Herrera in a pinch-hitting situation, seeing only that the light-hitting utilityman made an all-too-expected out. What they didn’t see was that Herrera battled hard, fouling off four J.J. Hoover fastballs before lining what should have been the game-winning hit into right.

Then this happened:

Absent a diving catch on a dead run, Herrera is a hero and Joe Maddon a genius. But according to the box score, the pair may have cost the Cubs the game. And what’s worse, the failure to score in the 9th forced an inconsistent Hector Rondon into the game to face the Reds.

The box score will tell you that Rondon allowed two hits and the game-winning run, leading to exasperated sighs of, “ugh, again?” It will also tell you that Kris Bryant committed an error, but it won’t tell you when. Bryant misplayed a routine grounder off the bat of leadoff hitter Todd Frazier in the 10th to put the winning run aboard.

Then, with Anthony Rizzo holding the runner at first, Jay Bruce punched a grounder through the expanded gap and into right field to push Frazier to third. Bruce then stole second, giving the Reds two men in scoring position with only one out and forcing the Cubs to pull the infield in.

Eugenio Suarez then singled softly through the drawn-in defense to score Frazier and set up the eventual win. Rondon kept the ball on the ground and likely would have gotten out of the inning unscathed were it not for that early error, but the box score only tells us that he allowed three baserunners and a tally.

And now, a bit of digression if I may. I don’t mean to lay blame for this loss at the feet — or the glove — of Kris Bryant. Far from it. In fact, the concept of creating some sort of metaphysical effigy doll for each defeat is something I find tiresome and unwarranted. Do we really feel as though dissecting the fallout from a single play will help our team to play better in the future?

If Jay Bruce has a first step that is six inches shorter, the game is over. If Kris Bryant fields and throws cleanly, the game might have continued into the 11th. But we can’t simply go in and extract the undesirable play(s) like a plastic bone in Operation, nor should we try in vain to perform the necessarily mental acrobatics to do so.

I can’t say it better than a couple of friends did last night, so let me just share their words.

Thanks for the assist, fellas. If you’re not following either of the gentlemen above, I highly recommend it. Both have great intellect and are possessed of bitingly sarcastic wit, but neither takes himself too seriously. They’re like me, only probably a little smarter.

But back to the lecture at hand, which is that you can’t simply look at a box score and draw hard conclusions from it. Given the myriad ways we have to consume games, whether live or posthumously, there’s simply no excuse for getting a good look at the whole picture.

The exception to this rule is where fantasy baseball is concerned, but those results are mutually exclusive from the actual results of actual baseball games. Over the course of a 162-game season, weird things are going to happen and some decisions are going to work while others will be second-guessed by those of us with less knowledge and experience than those making the calls.

I’m not here to tell you to stop questioning the methods employed by Maddon or the Cubs front office, but I simply ask that you at least arm yourself adequately prior to doing so.


Back to top button