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Should Defensive Shifts Mean Scorekeeping Changes?

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Hey, I love to keep score and as you know, was an official scorer for one minor-league game. So this is quite interesting.

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Some of you might know that Cubs WGN radio announcer Pat Hughes, who keeps score while he broadcasts games, scores a bit differently when there's a defensive shift. If, for example, Kris Bryant moves over to what is closer to a "second base" position in a shift, and then fields a ground ball and throws to first from that location, Pat writes "4-3" on his scorecard.

I don't. To me, the fact that Bryant moves to somewhere else on the field doesn't mean he's no longer the third baseman. I'd score such a play (and have done so, because Joe Maddon loves to shift) "5-3."

Lindsay Berra (and if you didn't know, she is Yogi's granddaughter) of MLB.com has written an article that says that down the road, this might change the way games are scored:

In 2015, according to Baseball Info Solutions, the shift was applied in some form nearly 18,000 times in Major League Baseball. That's up from 2,400 times in 2010. Which means, countless times, that 5-3 was completed by a third baseman, standing to the first-base side of the second-base bag, who fielded a ground ball up the middle. Yes, the man designated as the "5" made the play. But his designated position was far, far away, and the 5-3 that we have always so faithfully trusted no longer tells the full story.

The shift, it seems, is here to stay. And it is changing the way we look at and judge defense. So, the debate ensues. Should official scoring change with it?

"We're aware that this is something new, and that it presents some scoring challenges, but as yet, we haven't had anyone who was unable to score it," said MLB senior vice president Phyllis Merhige, who oversees official scoring. "As long as we're consistent, no one is concerned about it."

But, Merhige adds, the topic of scoring the shift will likely be a part of the conversation when the official scorers gather for their annual seminar this winter.

Official scorers have an annual seminar? I did not know that. Very cool. Would love to attend that someday, if they'd ever open sessions to the public.

I can see Hughes' point, to an extent. In the example I gave above, Bryant is not playing anywhere near his normal position at third base -- he's playing closer to second base, although in a lot of these shifts it would be more like "short right field." The "challenges," as noted by Merhige above, is that defensive statistics are attached to the player, not the position. Would there be a time in the future where we'd need to keep separate statistics for infielders who shift, one set for their "normal" position and another for their "shifted" position?

Here are how two official scorers do it, from Berra's article:

Many scorers, like Howie Karpin of the Mets, are fine with the system as-is.

"I'm old school," Karpin said. "To me, if you move the guy around, he's still the third baseman. I don't care if he plays by the first-base dugout, he's still a 5 on my scorecard."

Others are embracing the need for a bit more information. Rockies official scorer David Plati adds a small dot to his scorecard when the shift is on, to show where on the field the ball was hit.

"That way, if someone asks me later on, I'll remember the shift was on and I can tell them where the ball went," Plati said. "I'm kind of into a change, because just putting down '5-3,' doesn't ever tell the full story."

Well... I'm kind of an old-school guy myself, and in that I agree with Karpin. But I can also see Plati's point in making a notation on the scorecard for exactly where the play was made. I already do this when an infielder makes a catch of a popup in the outfield, for example, if I see a shortstop go fairly deep into center field to catch a ball, I'll write "CF" next to the "6". That does make sense and I think I'll probably adopt Plati's idea on my scorecard starting in 2016.

Berra's article notes how Joe Maddon approaches this:

Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who helped popularize the shift when he was with the Rays, cares little about the scorebook. However, he does want to know where the ball is hit in every situation.

"The scorers can write whatever they want in their books," Maddon said, "as long as I find out where the ball went later on." For that info, Maddon relies on the latest defensive information kept by both individual clubs and independent stat companies.

I agree with that. These sorts of things are important for managers trying to devise defensive strategies. So perhaps, as Berra concludes, scoring itself and how things are listed in boxscores will likely need to be adjusted as the game itself changes.

So it's an issue beyond simple scorekeeping. It's something that's important to the game itself. Thought this might be an interesting discussion topic on a slow day.