Utility Players need more liberal recognition by Scoresheet
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The new reality with player rosters is that almost every team has a bench consisting of a back-up catcher and three utility players. National League teams tend to have a pinch hitting specialist in lieu of a DH. (That is why inter-league play heavily favours National League teams. They carry a DH type, anyway, while A.L. pitchers have the distinct disadvantage of never normally getting a chance to bat.) There is no set combination of utility players. You’d expect one outfielder, one corner infielder, and one middle infielder. However, most teams now have a couple of players who can play infield or outfield. It seems teams have decided it is too risky to have just one back-up for two positions. Each position must be covered potentially by, at least, two bench players. If one of those bench players lacks such versatility, then the team makes up for it by having a regular with the versatility to slide over to another position.


I had made a rough draft of this article long before Steven Goldman had something to say about it in this Baseball Prospectus article. I have an entirely different point to make about it:


Is there some way Scoresheet Baseball should adapt to this new reality? I believe there is. I would like to see lower additional position qualifications for non-regulars. Even if 20 games from the previous year or 10 games in the current is still ideal for regulars, it is unfair to bench players who do not play regularly to tally up that numbers of games – even if it is their most suitable position from their not too distant past.


The Barton Brothers are plenty smart enough to see this. However, they likely also see the prohibitive business cost of having a looser system and of changing the system. They certainly have preferable ways to spend their time than to be pestered with customers complaining this guy or that guy should qualify at X because . . . They don’t want to further complicate Scoresheet by having a complicated rule over positional qualifications. They get plenty of questions regarding it already. However, our 30 man Scoresheet teams have benches which no longer resemble modern day teams. We have room for nearly unlimited platoons and defensive subs. The line-up card construction even emphasizes these strategies – which are fun, but antiquated. Modern teams rarely use the rightly/lefty platoon anymore and defensive subs are down, too, I think. Remember those Bobby Cox Blue Jays that platooned Ernie Whitt and Buck Martinez at catcher, Rance Mulliniks and Garth Iorg at third, Dave Collins and Barry Bonnell in the outfield, and Cliff Johnson often sitting for Jorge Orta at DH? That couldn’t happen today. There haven’t been any clear platoons in Cox’s recent Atlanta teams.


These utility players who are not starters have almost no value in Scoresheet unless they can play all the positions they do in real life. Yet, because they aren’t regulars, they don’t play enough to qualify at all the positions they can play in real life. I think it would greatly add to our enjoyment (or, at least, reduce our whining) to come up with a new objective system for qualifying players at different positions. Here is one way it could be done:


You could keep the current rule for players with as much as 500 At Bats in the previous season.

Apply the rule using games played at each position over the previous two years, if the player had less the 500 AB, but over 500 combining the previous two seasons.

For players with less than 500 AB in the last two years, look at the games played at each position over the last three years.

For rookies and players with less than 500 AB over the previous three years, I’d be in favour of some liberalization of the position qualifications. For example, I wouldn’t be against using minor league data for position qualifications, although, I know the Bartons have good reasons for not using minor league experience for positional qualifications. For me, the pros outweigh the cons – especially when it comes to separating the centerfielders from the corner outfielders – but that’s another essay.


If all of the above overcomplicates matters, than just make only one new rule: combine the previous two years of position qualifications for players with less than 500 AB. Fielding ranges are based on two years worth of data, anyway, so this shouldn’t be a radical change.


Let’s look at the impact such a change might have had on this season. Doesn’t it seem absurd that Victor Martinez had to wait until the fourth week to qualify at first base? He’s been playing between 20-25% of his games there for the previous three seasons. He didn’t qualify there at the start of the year this year, because he was hurt during most of last year and only played 10 games at first base in 2008. Since, he had far fewer than 500 AB, his games there should have been combined with his previous year’s total (30 g. at first-base), which would have easily qualified him at the position. Then it took until this week for Omar Infante to qualify at second base. This is a perfect example of why we should have this smarter rule. Of course, Infante is a capable second baseman. He has been a utility player for the last 5 years. During those years, he has played more games at second-base than any other position. Yet last year he was needed for 36 games in the outfield, 32 at third base, 20 at shortstop, and only 10 at second-base. It was his first season since he was still a rookie that second-base was not his primary position. If Infante can still play shortstop, he can certainly still play second-base. Utility players get their game totals spread out amongst all the positions they can play, so last year he only happened to have those 10 games at second-base. With only 348 AB, his game totals should have been added in with his previous year’s total easily qualifying him at second with 30 games. (Infante only had 178 AB in 2007.)


When a player gets shifted to another position because he can no longer play it, he won’t be given a second year to still play his old position, if he has over 500 AB at his new position.


You may argue that 500 AB is too much. A player might have 450 AB at a new position and none at his old and should not qualify at his old position. I would agree with that. I was trying to keep the rule change as simple and small as possibly. I agree 400 AB would be a more ideal qualifying cut-off before combing the previous year’s worth of games at each position. However, if that is the cut-off, I would also want the qualifications for getting a Scoresheet range dropped correspondingly, say, from 20 games to 15 or 16.


I know the Bartons have thought this out thoroughly as they have almost every aspect of this game. It may be part of the fun for some of us customers to think of how we would perfect the game and may feel a little frustrated we can’t affect any such change. It is similar to why we play fantasy baseball in the first place. We would think of ways to improve our favourite teams, but had no way of seeing those ideas tried. Anyway, Scoresheet Baseball has been a very solid product for a long time. I am just suggesting that the real life game has changed a little over the years and, perhaps, it is time to make this small adjustment.

John Carter