How Box-Toppers is figured, plus never-asked FAQs

Player with highest Box-Toppers score total is named Player of the Game.

The Box-Toppers game scores are determined as follows:

For batter:

Runs+Hits+RBIs-AB=Box-Toppers score.

For pitcher:

IP-H-R-ER-BB+SO=Box-Toppers score.

The player on the winning team with the highest Box-Toppers score is declared Player of the Game and receives one Box-Toppers point. (And yes, pitchers and batters Box-Toppers scores, though derived from different statistics, are directly compared.) Players on losing teams receive no Box-Toppers points (except in very rare circumstances).

The highest scoring Box-Toppers Player of the Game for the day is named Player of the Day and earns an extra point (for a total of two). 

The highest scoring Box-Toppers Player of the Game in the opposite league (American or National) from the Player of the Day, is named AL or NL Player of the Day and earns an extra 0.7 points (for a total of 1.7).

If neither of those two players are batters, then the top scoring batters in each league named Players of the Game are named AL and NL Batters of the Day and earn an extra 0.5 points (for a total of 1.5).

Points are accumulated through the season to determine player and team strengths in various calculations, including league and MLB MVPs, all-star teams, etc.

Q. What happens in cases of ties?

A. Two or more players on a single team can have a tie 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 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.

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 pitcher's 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 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.

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 win 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.)

Another possible flaw: Intangibles—such as “clubhouse leadership”—by it’s very intangible and unquantifiable nature, is not taken into account, though it is often used as a squishy criteria for baseball writers determining most valuable player. 

Fielding is barely taken into account in Box-Toppers. 

I am not too broken up that neither of these two are included.

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 one 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 zero 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.

One other possible flaw: Box-Toppers greatly favors players who are power hitters or power pitchers. In other words, batters with lots of home runs and RBIs and pitchers who strike out a lot of hitters. Cases in point: Randy Johnson, the all-time Box-Toppers points leader, is second all-time in strikeouts and Alex Rodriguez, the Box-Toppers points leaders among batters, is fourth all-time in home runs. Finesse and speed are not heavily rewarded. For example, Ichiro Suzuki, while a valuable player, does not have many Box-Toppers points (though he had as many as 8 points in a season in 2007). Yes, power is more valued in Box-Toppers. But on the other hand, power really does have a great effect on the outcome of games.

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. Hmm. Let's take a look at the win for a pitcher—an often 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, gives up one hit 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.

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). A non-decision pitcher who threw fewer than three innings can also win Player of the Game honors if they are the only player on their team with a positive Box-Toppers score, a fairly rare occurrence.

 

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