How does Box-Toppers work?

For every game played, the Box-Toppers metric determines the Player of the Game based on the objective analysis of that game’s box score.

Each Box-Toppers Player of the Game earns 1.0 Box-Toppers point.

How Box-Toppers works 1 col.jpg

Player of the Day

All the day’s Players of the Game honorees are compared and the player with the highest Box-Toppers game score is named Player of the Day. This player receives 2.0 Box-Toppers points (1.0 for being Player of the Game and 1.0 bonus point for being Player of the Day). 

AL or NL Player of the Day

Other partial bonus points are awarded depending on the circumstances. If the Player of the Day is in the American League, for example, the National League’s top player earns an extra 0.7 points, earning 1.7 points for the day. (The converse is true: If the Player of the Day is an NL player, the top AL player would earn the extra 0.7 points.) 

AL or NL Batter of the Day

And if the top player or top league player is not a batter, then the top batters named Players of the Game in each league would earn an extra 0.5 points each, earning 1.5 points for the day.

An example: Box-Toppers Player of the Game

The graphic on this page shows how a Box-Toppers Player of the Game is determined from an actual game on April 24, 2017 in which the Chicago White Sox defeated the Kansas City Royals, 12-1.

Box-Toppers Player of the Game comes from the winning team, in this case, the White Sox. (Players on losing teams receive no Box-Toppers points except in very rare circumstances.)

In the game, pitcher Miguel Gonzalez had the highest Box-Toppers game score of any White Sox player (+9.0) and so earned Box-Toppers Player of the Game honors (8IP 2H R 0ER BB 5K) worth 1.0 Box-Toppers point.

The Box-Toppers game scores are determined as follows:

For batters:

Runs+Hits+Runs batted in-At bats=Box-Toppers game score.

 

For pitchers:

Innings pitched-Hits-Runs-Earned runs-Walks+Strikeouts=Box-Toppers game score

 

An example: Box-Toppers Player of the Day

The Box-Toppers game score of all the day’s Player of the Game honorees are then compared to determine overall Box-Toppers Player of the Day.

In the example shown above, nine games were played on April 24, 2017. The Player of the Game in each of the nine games received at least 1.0 Box-Toppers point each.

Gonzalez, Player of the Game in the White Sox win, had a Box-Toppers game score of +9.0, tied with another Player of the Day, Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke (6IP 6H R ER 0BB 11K). But Gonzalez ranked ahead of Greinke on a tiebreaker (he had more innings pitched that day) and so earned Player of the Day honors, worth an additional 1.0 Box-Toppers point for a total of 2.0 points he earned that day.

An example: Other players earning bonus points

Also on that day:

  • Greinke had the highest Box-Toppers game score among all National League Player of the Game honorees and so earned NL Player of the Day honors, worth 1.7 total Box-Toppers points (1.0 for Player of the Game and 0.7 bonus points).
  • Eric Thames of the Brewers had the highest Box-Toppers game score (+5.0) among NL batters who earned Player of the Game honors and so earned NL Batter of the Day honors, worth 1.5 total Box-Toppers points (1.0 for Player of the Game and 0.5 bonus points).
  • Adam Jones of the Orioles had the highest Box-Toppers game score (+3.0) among AL batters who earned Player of the Game honors and so earned AL Batter of the Day honors, worth 1.5 total Box-Toppers points (1.0 for Player of the Game and 0.5 bonus points).

Note that Jones earned AL Batter of the Day honors even though another AL batter in the White Sox game example shown here (Matt Davidson) had a higher Box-Toppers game score than Jones. But even though Davidson’s +5.0 Box-Toppers game score was better than Jones’ +3.0, Davidson did not qualify to earn AL Batter of the Day because he did not win Player of the Game, losing to teammate Gonzalez. So while Jones earned 1.5 Box-Toppers points with his Box-Toppers game score of +3.0, Davidson received 0.0 Box-Toppers points with his higher Box-Toppers game score of +5.0.

Box-Toppers points

Box-Toppers points accumulate through the season. The points can be used as a data point to compare player performance and contribution to team wins over the season.

Gonzalez ended 2017 with 7.0 Box-Toppers points, 31st among AL pitchers. April 24 was the only time in 2017 he earned overall Player of the Day honors worth 2.0 Box-Toppers points. He also earned Player of the Game honors (worth 1.0 Box-Toppers point each) on April 18, May 28, Aug. 9, Aug. 20 and Aug. 25

Greinke, meanwhile, earned 20.1 Box-Toppers points in 2017, eighth among all players, fourth among NL pitchers and first among all Diamondbacks players. He earned Player of the Game honors 14 times, including four times earning Player of the Day honors (worth 2.0 total points each) and three times—including April 24—as NL Player of the Day (worth 1.7 points each). 

 

Answers to never-asked frequently asked questions

Q. What happens in cases of Box-Toppers game score ties?

A. Two or more players on a single team can have a tie Box-Toppers game score, necessitating tie-breaking rules to determine Player of the Game. In addition, two or more Players of the Game can tie and in cases where it effects who wins Box-Toppers bonus points, those ties also need to be broken. There are a variety of ways to break the ties: 

First, a batter always beats a pitcher. 

In cases where batters have the same Box-Toppers game score, the batter with more at bats wins. If that is tied, then the following criteria are used until the tie is broken: More hits, more RBIs, more runs, more home runs, more triples, more doubles, more sacrifice flies, more sacrifices, more stolen bases, starting player beats a pinch hitter or pinch runner, a pinch hitter beats a pinch runner, a pinch runner beats a defensive replacement player, more walks, fewer strikeouts … and the list goes on to rarely if ever used criteria.

In cases where pitchers have the same score these criteria are used until the tie is broken: A winning pitcher beats a player with a save, a save beats a pitcher with a no-decision, more innings pitched, more strikeouts, fewer home runs allowed, fewer earned runs allowed, fewer errors committed, fewer batters hit by pitch, fewer wild pitches, fewer pitches, more strikes … and the list goes on.

Q. But wait. You are comparing batters to pitchers. Aren’t you comparing apples to oranges?

A. Yes. But consider the fact that baseball writers each year give a Cy Young Award to each league’s best pitcher. They also give a most valuable player award to each league’s best player. Usually the MVP is reserved for a batter, but sometimes writers award the MVP to a pitcher. When Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander was named American League MVP in 2011, what objective criteria did writers use to compare him to the league’s top batters and determine that he was better? Probably none. It “felt right.” It “looked right.” (And to be fair, Box-Toppers determined Verlander to be the American League’s best overall player in 2011.) Box-Toppers makes an attempt to use an objective criteria to compare batters and pitchers on a game-by-game basis. And like the baseball writers who picked Verlander for MVP, in my opinion the Box-Toppers system, for the most part, “feels right.” I’m not saying the Box-Toppers system is better. I’m not saying the Box-Toppers system is without flaws. I’m saying that I, like the baseball writers, run the fool’s errand of comparing apples and oranges and batters and pitchers. And over the years, the results from Box-Toppers to determine the top players have not been too far out of line with the top players chosen by the baseball writers. So I’d like to think that the Box-Toppers metric at least provides an interesting, though not necessarily deciding, data point for fans (and possibly even for voting baseball writers).

Q. What other flaws exist in the Box-Toppers system?

A. Pitchers often score higher, are more often named Player of the Game, are almost always named Player of the Day, and the top pitchers generally earn more Box-Toppers points over the season than batters.

In 2017, pitchers earned Box-Toppers Player of the Game honors in 55.1 percent of all games (1,339 out of 2,430 games) played and earned 55.6 percent of total Box-Toppers points awarded (1,600.4 out of 2,879.3 total Box-Toppers points).

There are attempts to even this out a bit. 

For example, in cases of ties with daily Box-Topper scores, batters beat pitchers.

Also, in the Box-Toppers daily scoring formula, both runs and earned runs lower a pitchers score. Quite often, runs and earned runs are the same number and account for the same actual runs. So in other words, a very similar statistic is counted against the pitcher twice. It is a very artificial way to lower a pitcher’s score, but on the other hand, it is an intrinsic and practically eternal element of the the box score.

Also, in the Box-Toppers system, bonus points are awarded to top batters in each league, as a kind of “points subsidy” to make up for the comparative lack of points given to batters.

(In 2017, batters were awarded league Batter of the Day honors 290 times, giving them 145.0 more Box-Toppers points, which was about 11.3 percent of the batters’ total 1,278.9 points earned in 2017.)

But on the other hand, starting pitchers only play every fifth or sixth day, while batters often play every day. So you would think pitchers’ limited performances would reduce their scoring opportunity. But in Box-Toppers, it doesn’t and it hasn’t. Pitchers still rack up more points than batters, even though they may only appear in 20 percent as many games as the batter.

But on the other hand: Is the fact that pitchers earn more points actually a flaw?

Consider that pitchers are involved in every play, every at-bat, while they are on the mound. A batter, in the best of circumstances, is at the plate 15 percent of the time during his team’s time at bat. A pitcher has more opportunity to contribute more to his team’s wins than a batter. (They also have more opportunity to give up a lot of runs and walks and contribute to that team’s loss, too.)

Other possible flaws: Box-Toppers doesn’t account for fielding. Point taken. Great strides have been made in recent years to better statistically account for players’ fielding. But my feeling is if players are good enough to make a Major League roster they have either the talent or training to be considered practically equal. Sure, there are some who shine above others and some who actually make a run-saving difference in a game or two. But more often than not, runs are scored by batters far more than they are saved by fielders. Even if a way were devised to account for fielding in Box-Toppers, it would likely rarely change who earned Player of the Game honors.

Another possible flaw: Only Players of the Game can earn Box-Toppers points. If a batter puts in a great game and has a Box-Toppers game score of 7.0, but his teammate, a pitcher, scores 8.0, then the pitcher who scored 8.0 is named Player of the Game and gets 1.0 Box-Toppers point and the batter who scored 7.0 gets nothing. In fact, the batter who scored 7.0 does not receive any Box-Toppers points even if his score is better than all batters in the league that day. For example, in another game that day, a batter scores 4.0 and is his team’s Player of the Game. Further, let’s say no other batting Player of the Game scored higher than 4.0. That means he is named Batter of the Day for his league (earning a total of 1.5 Box-Toppers points). And yet, the batter who scored 7.0 may have had a better game, but because he was not Player of the Game, he was not eligible to compete for league Batter of the Day. He gets 0.0 Box-Toppers points for the day, while the player who scored 4.0 gets 1.5 Box-Toppers points.

But again: Is this really a flaw? Box-Toppers is set up to award the player who contributed most to his team’s win. The player who scored 7.0 may have had a great game, but by Box-Toppers standards did not contribute the most to his team’s win—the pitcher who scored 8.0 did. Blow-out games often have multiple batters with high scores feasting off sub-par pitching. On the other hand, the batter who had a score of 4.0 may have earned his Player of the Game score in a close game off superior pitching.

Q. But of course, no flaws exist in the baseball statistics we have used for more than 100 years to determine superior players. Right?

A. Don’t get me started. One example: The win for a pitcher is a terrible and misleading statistic.

A starting pitcher can earn a win if he pitches five innings, leaves the game with the lead and have the lead maintained through the close of the game. A relief pitcher can earn a win if he enters the game tied or behind and leaves with the lead.

So let’s say the starting pitcher goes seven innings of one-hit baseball and leaves with a two-run lead. The reliever quickly gives up a three-run home run in the eighth but stays in the game. His team comes back in the ninth, scoring two runs to take the lead. And to close the game in the bottom of the ninth, the same reliever loads the bases with none out and his wild pitch, which seems destined to at least tie the game, ricochets off the backstop to the catcher, who tags the runner from third and somehow manages an unassisted triple play to end the game and secure the win for his team. The reliever, whose incompetence I have purposefully magnified, is credited with the win, since he was in the game when his team took the lead. Never mind that he is also most responsible for putting the team behind. And meanwhile, the pitcher who provided seven great innings of one-hit ball, who is truly most responsible for the win, gets a no-decision.

That’s just stupid.

In Box-Toppers, that pitcher would likely be Player of the Game, even with the no-decision.

Pitchers who did not earn a win or save won Box-Toppers Player of the Game honors 213 times in 2017. That means no-decision pitchers won 15.9 percent of all 1,339 Player of the Game honors won by pitchers in 2017

Yes, wins are taken into consideration in Box-Toppers, but they are often used as a tie-breaker. The win statistic relies on a lot that is out of the control of the pitcher—such as the team’s offense and the relievers. Box-Toppers tries to give them credit for their actual contribution to the game. Box-Toppers also gives credit to other relievers—especially well-performing long relievers—who but for the vicissitudes of fortune, leave the game with their team tied or trailing and who earn a no-decision, even if their team wins.

In Box-Toppers, a non-decision pitcher can win Player of the Game honors if they pitch three or more innings and have the high Box-Toppers score. They can also be named Player of the Game if they have a higher score than a pitcher who won or saved the game (or is otherwise named Player of the Game) and have the same or more innings pitched. In other words, a middle reliever who pitched 1 1/3 innings and struck out three but got no decision would likely beat the closer who pitched the ninth and struck out three and got the save (and the statistical glory).

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