Rowley: Searching for weirdness in the Baseball-Reference Play Index

From SABR member Meg Rowley at Baseball Prospectus on September 8, 2016:

On August 21, the Mariners lost 6-7 to Brewers after a sloppy, four-run ninth inning. If you missed the game and only looked back at the play-by-play, it might seem like a typical late collapse. You’d see that Tom Wilhelmsen pitched poorly (with Vidal Nuno faring only marginally better after him) and that the Mariners offense couldn’t muster up any runs in the home half. You’d see that they lost, and be happy or sad but probably indifferent, and move on to the next game. And if you did that, you’d have missed the inning’s weirdness. To be clear there was a lot of weirdness: an almost-robbed home run, Nori Aoki listening to circus music and failing to catch a very catchable fly ball in the outfield. But the greatest weirdness came a little later.

With two outs and the bases loaded, Jonathan Villar came up to bat. The play-by-play says he did this: Flyball RF (Short RF Line)

And he did, but that doesn’t capture what came after he flew out. That is just a normal fly out. This is what Chris Iannetta chose to do once Shawn O’Malley got the ball back to the infield.


Wait, what are you doing? Manny Pina got halfway down the line before realizing he couldn’t score and Scooter Gennett was almost at third when Pina decided to retreat. Nuno is pointing to Cano at second. Cano is calling for the ball. Kyle Seager is pleading with him to do something. All Iannetta had to do was throw over to second and end the inning. But instead, he let Gennett scooter speed back to the base, leaving them loaded for Keon Buxton. There’s a moment when the infielders all go still. Cano puts his hands on his hips. Why are we still here? Nothing in the baseball record books will make note of Iannetta’s odd decision; he wasn’t charged with an error. You can’t really even search for these things if you want to. They aren’t Play Indexable.

The actual Play Index (use Promo Code BP!) is an indispensable tool, and this piece does not aim to besmirch it. Asking a database to track frivolity isn’t realistic. How on earth would you ever record and categorize this look on Scott Servais’ face a few moments later as he considered his catcher?

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Originally published: September 8, 2016. Last Updated: September 8, 2016.