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The end of boxcores? Is it Pfxible?
2008-05-22 21:28
by Bob Timmermann

Darren Everson of the Wall Street Journal thinks that the baseball boxscore as we know it is obsolete. Instead, it will be a brave new world of pFx and radar guns.

Everson attended a Pitch f/x "summit" in San Francisco last month as rolled it out in every park this year.

Since sportswriter Henry Chadwick ushered in the modern age of scorekeeping in the 1860s, the chief tool baseball analysts have used is the naked eye. Statistics in the box score cover only what can be observed: the number of runs the pitcher allowed, for example, or the doubles a hitter collected. Even the advanced "Moneyball" statistics developed in recent years also rely on what can be seen and recorded by hand.

Pitch f/x starts baseball down the path of learning how players do things -- which batter hits the ball the hardest, which shortstop has the quickest reflexes, what pitcher has the nastiest slider. It showed, for instance, that St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright had one of baseball's most violent curve balls in 2007, with up to nine inches of vertical drop and more than seven inches of horizontal movement. Perhaps consequently, Mr. Wainwright had an unusually high rate of swings-and-misses against his curve (38% versus a league average of a little more than 25%), according to a sampling of data by Harry Pavlidis, a baseball analyst who writes a prominent blog about the Chicago Cubs.

Nearly everyone at the conference believed such advancements in measuring fundamentals could finally bring a "why" to the "what" of box scores and stat sheets. The same technology will spread to hitting and fielding, they say, and could be applied to other sports.

"Instead of saying, 'There's a hard smash to third base' we could say, 'That ball was hit 106 mph and the third baseman had a third of a second to react.' " says Peter Jensen, a statistician and summit attendee who has written for the Hardball Times, a baseball analysis site. "That adds some context that's been lacking so far."

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