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March 19, 2013

Skewed Left

Baseball's Great Unresolved Debates

by Zachary Levine

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The American and National Leagues are two distinct leagues in name only. They act more like conferences than leagues, with no league presidents, relatively newfound player mobility, and now constant interleague play. But they continue to operate under a different set of rules, and to some that makes no sense. The DH debate must be settled, the argument goes. Standardize it in, say the progressives, and standardize it out, say the traditionalists, but standardize it soon.

It’s among the most difficult problems facing the union and management over the coming years, as it impacts rosters and player salaries. While the role of full-time designated hitter may someday wash away completely, the average primary designated hitter in 2011 made $8.3 million.

Yet, as the game faces calls for the NL to give in after 14 decades of pitchers hitting or for the AL to cave on what was by many accounts a successful 40-year experiment, there are far more important debates that have still not been settled. Vital issues that challenge baseball every day and that have laughably seen no resolution.

Before even considering what should become of the DH rule, Major League Baseball must take a long and hard look at its real foundational debates or face a future that it probably does not want to envision.

1. What is the singular of Red Sox?
Or White Sox, for that matter, but there is a more pressing issue on the South Side that we’ll address later.

Is Xander Bogaerts a future “Red Sock” or is he a future “Red Sox?” Is it different if you’re saying it or typing it? Should it just be avoided at all costs in favor of saying that he’s a “future member of the Red Sox” or just a “Honkbal wizard?” And what is the possessive, “Red Sox’” or “Red Sox’s?”

For one point of view from somebody who deals with this problem in writing and presumably in speech every day, we turn it over to Providence Journal Red Sox beat writer, BP guest author, and good human being Tim Britton, who is a reluctant member of Team “A Red Sox.”

Obviously, the grammatical quandaries posed by a colloquial misspelling is the absolute worst thing about covering the Red Sox, and it took me fewer than three days on the job to realize this. Strunk and White—and even Bryan Garner—offer zero guidance. I don't want to speak for the New England media as a whole, but the general consensus appears to be that the singular of Red Sox is...Red Sox (i.e. Jacoby Ellsbury is a Red Sox through 2013); I say this largely because I was roundly mocked for a tweet that said "Red Sock" early in my tenure. In speech, though, most everyone pronounces it as "Red Sock." I'm wary of this construction.

The possessive is even worse. I've seen "the Red Sox' streak," "the Red Sox streak," and "the Red Sox's streak" in about that order of popularity. I most often opt for the last of the three—is there precedent for just x-apostrophe? We can't just ignore the possessive, right?—but in all honesty, avoid it at all costs. I will circumnavigate that mess no matter how many extra words it takes. So the only real acceptable possessive of Red Sox is "Boston's," which makes me retroactively thankful the Braves moved out of town.

2. How many games over .500 are you?
The Philadelphia Phillies last season finished 81-81, which was 17 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals. Yet, in exactly the same season, the 98-64 Nationals set a franchise record by finishing 34 games over .500.

Please fix this at your earliest convenience, baseball.

3. What is the proper abbreviation for the White Sox?
You see these little three-letter abbreviations everywhere—on out-of-town scoreboards in the outfield, on crawls at the bottom of the TV screen, at the tail end of URLs—and for the most part, they’re pretty standard. Atlanta is ATL. Colorado is COL.

Some are inconsistent, though, and the most maddening of these is how to abbreviate the Chicago White Sox.

  • Baseball-Reference.com uses for its data on the South-SidersCHW,” which is a pretty common notation. “Sox” gets a bit of a short stick by being excluded, but as we saw in item one, that word probably deserves it.
     
  • MLB.com, whose official status may be the tiebreaker, uses “CWSin the URLs. It’s the most sensible as the traditional acronym, but it’s already taken as the abbreviation for the College World Series.
     
  • We at Baseball Prospectus use “CHA” to distinguish it from the National League’s Cubs, who are “CHN.” It’s the same with “NYA” and “NYN” in New York and even “SLN” for St. Louis with the AL’s Browns long gone. CHA is logical even though it’s more often seen in the wider sporting world for Charlotte, which happens to be the White Sox’ (White Sox’s) Triple-A home.

To help sort this out, SBNation.com columnist, BP alumna and real-life White Sox sympathizer Cee Angi offered her services.

The South Side will continue to be the red-headed step child of Chicago baseball, but that doesn't mean that they don't deserve some respect when it comes to their box score abbreviations. "CHW" "CWS" "CHA"? Which one is right is anyone's guess, though I'll admit I'm partial to CWS. But, really, there's only one way I can think to settle the debate: Instead of 'Dance 4 Da Burger', an event in which three participants show off their dance moves for the chance to win a free Da Burger, a pork patty burger available near Section 113, the dance-off on top off the White Sox dugout on Opening Day should be to settle which abbreviation is best. It'll be a small sample size, given attendance issues, but it's better than nothing. Also, the White Sox should find another catcher. That seems important, too.

4. Do the standings have to go East, Central, West?
When Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller started out on the road to 30 team previews on the Effectively Wild podcast, the order almost went without saying.

It goes East, Central, West pretty much everywhere that doesn’t have a home division. (My old paper, the Houston Chronicle, listed the Central first and will have to shake that up this year when the hometown Astros are shipped west without moving.)

It’s the order in which baseball moved, with the original teams mostly in the East and then the game spreading westward. It’s also the opposite of how you’d expect to see it, combining how we traditionally read a map with how we read the English language.

But is it time for East-Central-West to be codified?

5. Is it on-base percentage or on-base average?
The people have clearly spoken on this one too even if, like East-Central-West, it’s counterintuitive.

It’s not a percentage. Percentage has that root for 100 right in the middle there, and we’ve just decided to ignore it. A good on-base percentage isn’t .350. It’s 35. It’s an average, though barely an average. It’s an average of 1s for times reaching base and 0s for times not.

On-base average, which has really caught on only with wOBA or weighted on base average, is a great way to sound intellectually superior and also sound like kind of a jerk. But it’s also right, unlike the idiotic RsBI plural.

We’ve just come too far with OBP to try to change it now. Sort of like we have with the DH.

Feel free to use the comments section to weigh in on these vital debates and suggest more that need to be addressed. For the children.

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

Related Content:  Designated Hitter,  Dh,  Abbreviations,  Debate

32 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

BurrRutledge

It's not too late to rebrand OBP to increase its market appeal. We should definitely crowd-source a better solution in the comments.

NGO. Not Getting Out (pronounced 'Engo'). He's a tough out against lefties this season, with a .384 NGO.

GOB. Getting On Base (credit to Ken Funck for this one). Old school charm. His GOB has improved dramatically since his rookie season. Elite pitchers can be hailed as GOB stoppers.






Mar 19, 2013 05:08 AM
rating: 13
 
jdeich

I have used "Not out" percentage to describe OBP to casual fans with success. It's more accessible than batting average, because there's less denominator weirdness with walks, etc. With a few exceptions, it's the chance that the batter won't cause an out to happen. (This also makes fielder's choices more intuitive.)

Maybe the acronym isn't needed if you're trying to appeal broadly. Also, percentages are more accessible than decimals. If broadcasts listed a hitter as "2012: Not out: 38.3%. League average: 34.2%", anyone with even a basic understanding of the rules can guess what it means. It might be a compromise between making analytical people happy (a useful stat is on the screen) and bringing in new fans. Fair or not, filling up broadcast space with decimal places doesn't scream "Welcome, new person."

I'd make a similar argument for supplementing or replacing ERA with "Runs per 9 Innings". Explaining earned vs. unearned runs is complicated, and there's good evidence that pitchers have plenty of responsibility for unearned runs. (And conversely, we don't penalize the pitcher when a run is prevented by an amazing defensive play.)

Mar 19, 2013 06:57 AM
rating: 2
 
thephilipbrown

When I think NGO, I think of non-governmental organizations like the UN, WWF or Canadian rapper Snow's 'Pure Snow NGO' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_%28rapper%29

Mar 19, 2013 13:44 PM
rating: 0
 
Michael
(736)

Issue #2 definitely bugs me. In my opinion, the usage should be that the Nationals finished 34 half games above .500, but that's obviously not the common usage.

Mar 19, 2013 06:00 AM
rating: 3
 
ttt

My dad once told me it's how many games you have to win/lose to get to .500. I don't know if he's right, but a six-year old me thought it made sense.

Mar 19, 2013 06:50 AM
rating: 3
 
Adam Hobson

Yes, the Nationals at the time they have a record of 98-64, would have to lose the next 34 (hypothetical) games to have a .500 record. Games over/under .500 assumes that you can't change the outcome of the games already played (a generally good assumption), so it refers to future games.

Mar 19, 2013 07:32 AM
rating: 1
 
Jeff P

I think of GB as how many times you would have to beat the other team in order to tie them in record. You're 81-81, and they're 98-64? Then you need to beat them 17 times until you're both 98-81, so you're 17 games behind them.

Mar 19, 2013 08:28 AM
rating: 3
 
gjhardy

While we're at it, could we please either redefine the strike zone in the rule book or call the actual strike zone?
"The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball."
The next time I see a strike called at "the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants" will be the first time.

Mar 19, 2013 08:00 AM
rating: 1
 
Jeff P

Red Stocking. Nu?

Mar 19, 2013 08:37 AM
rating: 1
 
prs130

Every player on the Red Sox has two red socks, so I wouldn't have any problem calling a single player "a Red-Socks" and therefore no problem calling a single player a Red Sox. "Red Sock" makes no sense unless the team signs a one-legged player or stops issuing socks in pairs.

Any all-caps abbreviation with a W in it is automatically problematic because in most fonts, a W is wider than all the other letters. I would write "SOX" for the White Sox.

Mar 19, 2013 08:51 AM
rating: 0
 
greg26

Seriously? "SOX"? And confuse them with BOS?

Mar 19, 2013 11:25 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

The possessive for the Red and White Sox is dealt with in the SABR Style Guide, at least, and declares the usage to be apostrophe, no s. This fits with the verbal usage, for what it's worth (I'd argue lots). Nobody says "the Red Sox's ballpark is old" -- they say the "the Red Sox' ballpark is old." (Contra "Greg Maddux's fastball.")

Mar 19, 2013 09:24 AM
 
SC

Greg Maddux's fastball may be old, but it's still right on the corner at the knees.

Mar 19, 2013 15:49 PM
rating: 7
 
gpurcell

And a strike only for him.

Mar 19, 2013 21:24 PM
rating: 0
 
therealn0d

You're thinking of Tom Glavine and his Personal Strike Zone.

Mar 20, 2013 13:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian24

Actually, I'd say that "Red Sox's" and "Red Sox'" should be pronounced exactly the same way. Contra your "Nobody," I pronounce it that way.

Mar 22, 2013 10:35 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

That's precisely the point. "They are pronounced the same" means you don't say the "s". By the lights of many, that means you should also not write the "s".

Mar 22, 2013 10:37 AM
 
dianagram

I (heart) this article.

Mar 19, 2013 09:28 AM
rating: 3
 
gdragon1977

I usually say "Red Sox player" and avoid the issue entirely.

Mar 19, 2013 10:18 AM
rating: 1
 
djwells

At least OBP is based on a maximum of 1.000....what on earth do we do about slugging percentage? Slugging average? Total Bases per at bat? It sure ain't a percentage!

Mar 19, 2013 10:47 AM
rating: 0
 
greg26

I'm 110% certain that it is not a mathematical problem to have a percentage over 100% (or 1.000).

Mar 19, 2013 11:27 AM
rating: 4
 
kmbart

#4 isn't due to the historical procession of teams from the East to the West (after all, the oldest professional team hails from the midwestern metropolis of Cincinnati), or a bias towards the NY-Boston-Philly-DC print media capitals, but simply a reflection on the transit of that glorious orb, the Sun, and it's effect on the start and end of games. In other words, the Eastern games generally start earlier than the Central, and those of the Central before the West. Timezones, gentlemen and ladies, timezones.

Mar 19, 2013 10:56 AM
rating: 2
 
WaldoInSC

Actually, that glorious orb transits not, at least not as far as we can tell. That our little marble rolls around it is the cause of earlier starts on the Atlantic.

Mar 20, 2013 18:36 PM
rating: -1
 
Brian24

Copernican Heresy! Down in the dungeon with you, say hi to Galileo.

Mar 22, 2013 10:38 AM
rating: 2
 
fsgillispie

Here's an issue: Respectable ballpark hot dog condiments. Supply those cool onion grinders, and get rid of those nasty 'onion slop in leftover ketchup packs' things. If Costco can do it for $1.50, so can professional baseball for $5 (or more).

Mar 19, 2013 12:26 PM
rating: 2
 
Matthew Trueblood

How did what to call plate appearances not come up? I mean, I know no one is really talking about it, but plate appearances is God awful, and at bats describes a subset of what we really want. This issue demands address!

Mar 19, 2013 13:26 PM
rating: 1
 
Llarry

A Boston player is a "Red Sawx" (at least when spoken).

In fact, the Sox play in Chicago, the Sawx play in Bawstin.

Mar 19, 2013 15:11 PM
rating: 1
 
SC

Simplify:

Xander Bogaerts is the future.

Mar 19, 2013 15:50 PM
rating: 2
 
CrashJones

GOB Stoppers!

Mar 19, 2013 21:29 PM
rating: 1
 
WaldoInSC

6. What is the plural of RBI?
7. Can a $20 million player in Cincinnati be a Red?
8. If four balls is a walk and three strikes is an out, isn't a pitcher ahead in the count at 0-0, 1-1 and 2-2?
9. What exactly is a Met?
10. Are they of L.A. or Anaheim?

Mar 20, 2013 18:42 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

9. A Metropolitan! They are players of a city.

10. This is definitely not an open question.

Mar 20, 2013 18:44 PM
 
bigbart

#2) Thank you. Baseball is a game with a history steeped in numbers- how on earth can we say a team is 34 games over .500 when in fact they are only 17 games over .500. It's just not that complicated.

Mar 20, 2013 21:04 PM
rating: 0
 
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