Welcome to Box-Toppers—Play ball!

On this, the opening day of the 2013 Major League Baseball season, welcome to Box-Toppers.

What exactly is Box-Toppers? Well, it’s a system I’ve used since 1995 to track the game’s top players based on daily box score statistics. Box-Toppers uses a simple formula to determine a Player of the Game for each game played. That player is the person who contributed most to his team’s win.

Players earn Box-Toppers points for being named Player of the Game and these points accumulate through the season. These point totals can be used as a data point to compare players. The idea here is that the players who most contribute to their teams’ wins most often will have the highest Box-Toppers point totals and could arguably be deemed baseball’s best players.

What to expect from Box-Toppers?

The plan is to include a daily update on the games of the day, showing each Box-Toppers Player of the Game and Players of the Day. For example, here is the post on Sunday’s opening night game. (There are also daily results from some spring training games you can see via the Blog link. Those games don’t count for Box-Toppers points, but just as the players need spring training to get into baseball shape, Box-Toppers needs spring training to get into baseball analyzation shape.)

Also in Box-Toppers:

As the season progresses, Box-Toppers will have more features on players in the news, such as Santana, including analysis of their status in Box-Toppers.

I launch this web site in 2013, though I have been following baseball using this system since 1995. I figure I have analyzed more than 43,000 box scores in that time. (But don’t worry, I don’t do this by hand. Early on, I devised an automated system to rip through stats to analyze box scores—it’s kind of like the steam drill that put John Henry out of the driving-railroad-spikes-with-a-heavy-hammer business.)

So is this crazy what I’m doing? Is this a weird obsession? Well, yes. But in my defense (if any is necessary) I did it to save time. 

Frankly, baseball can be a time-consuming passion. The games are long. The time between pitches is interminable. The mounds of stats to plow through can be overwhelming.

Several years ago, my brother Andy invited me to be part of a fantasy baseball league he was in. I was pleased he asked, but I politely declined because I didn’t want to spend the time required to take part—scouting players, drafting a team, following my team, following the fantasy league, making trades. It seemed exhausting to me.

Yet, at the same time I declined Andy’s invitation, I was daily analyzing each game’s box score for the system that has become Box-Toppers. The beauty for me about Box-Toppers is that it doesn’t take a lot of time. It is a shortcut for me to let the game’s basic data format—the age-old agate-type-in-newspaper box score—reveal to me baseball’s top players.

And not to be too maudlin, but as I break the bottle of champagne over the bow of this vessel today, I dedicate Box-Toppers to the memory of my brother, Andy Plank. Andy and I grew up baseball fans together, collecting baseball cards and attempting to play the game in the yard. When he got into fantasy baseball, I thought he was a bigger nerd about the sport than me, but it was always a close race. 

In 2005, Andy was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS. At the time, we were all too shocked to make the inconsequential leap to say how ironic it was that Andy, such a huge baseball fan, was diagnosed with a disease named for a baseball player—Lou Gehrig. We would have given anything to have his diagnosis changed to an ailment named for another baseball player—say, Tommy John.

But it was not to be.

Andy died in May 2010. He was 40.

Even before Andy was diagnosed, while he was alive and in good health, I could not go to a ballpark or think about or talk about baseball without thinking of Andy. Now that he’s gone, that hasn’t changed—only intensified.

So as I post about Box-Toppers, I’ll think about you every day, Andy. Like I always have.

Play ball.