Why do this? What is the purpose?

When I was a kid watching the baseball game of the week on TV, the announcer would invariably name a Player of the Game at the end of the telecast. Sometimes I did not agree with their choice, especially when they would choose the player who hit the winning home run in the bottom of the ninth, even though he may have struck out in three other at-bats. Granted, the team wouldn’t have won the game without his contribution. But what about his teammate who went 3-for-4, drove in two and scored three runs? And what about his team’s pitcher who threw seven innings of shut-out ball, striking out five and walking none, only to have a reliever come in and give up the lead in the eighth? It seemed to me that in some cases, the announcers were either being short-sighted or so swayed by the drama of a flashy play from a lesser player that they forgot who really contributed most to the win.

But all they had to do was to look at the box score.

The Box-Toppers metric gives credit to the player whose contribution—according to the box score—played the biggest factor in that team’s victory. In this example game, the seven-inning shutout pitcher was likely the top player in the game by Box-Toppers standards (even though in the actual game, he was not even eligible for the win). In other games, the batter who went 3-for-4 in a winning effort would likely be measured as the Box-Toppers Player of the Game. And in some instances, even the otherwise strikeout-prone, flashy player who hits a dramatic walk-off home run could indeed top Box-Toppers measures.

Further, as the season progressed and discussion moved to who was deserving of postseason best-player awards, the talk sometimes seemed (and seems) too driven by emotion, trumped-up and bally-hooed trends and other irrelevant information. Many times, the player on an August or September hot streak is touted for MVP or Cy Young awards while another player’s solid, steady performances often from early in the season—which did just as much to contribute to a team’s win-loss percentage—are overlooked.

Box-Toppers takes a longer view, taking the entire season into account. It not only measures which player contributed most to each win, but can determine which players contributed most to his team’s overall wins. Since a player’s Box-Toppers point total is accumulated through the season, the metric offers a data point which can be used to directly compare the performances of players with each other.

I begin the Box-Toppers website in 2013.

I actually formally began systematically tracking box scores with this simple, odd-seeming set of formulas in 1995. I started it because I felt out of touch with baseball. I grew up loving baseball in the 1970s, collecting baseball cards, trying and failing to play the game myself, but still coming back as a fan. My team was the Kansas City Royals who perennially lost to the New York Yankees in the American League championships.

During the strike of 1981, I lost touch with baseball. I stopped collecting baseball cards. My subscription to The Sporting News lapsed. I barely noticed when my formerly beloved Royals finally won the World Series in 1985. I tuned in to baseball now and again mainly during the postseason, but I found myself complaining about how boring the game had become.

It was odd that a strike in 1981 had pulled me out of baseball because it was the strike in 1994—the one that prematurely ended the season and caused the postseason playoffs and World Series to be cancelled—that brought me back to the game.

In 1995, when baseball finally resumed, I was eager for play to begin. But since I had not been following the game closely for more than a decade, I really didn’t know the players or the teams very well anymore. I didn’t feel I had the time to know the players as I had when I was a kid—poring over newspaper box scores and reading the backs of their baseball cards. I needed a shortcut.

So each day, I skimmed the box scores to find the player in each game who contributed most to his team’s win. That was interesting. But then I decided I needed to track these players, so I could determine which player contributed most to his team’s total victories over the season. I devised a simple database in a now-defunct program called Appleworks and spent a few minutes a day examining the data from my local newspaper and compiling it in the database. These few minutes a day helped reconnect me with the game. I discovered the players who were the stars of the game. I was able to spot the up-and-coming rookies. Overall, I felt I knew the players and the character of the teams.

While I was going through the years compiling this information, I thought it would be cool to share it with others. I talked to my baseball-loving brother, Andy, about it several times and sometimes showed him the top players, according to the measures I devised. It never went much further than that. 

I wish Andy were here to see this website finally see the light of day. Andy was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2005 and died in 2010 at the age of 40. While Andy may have been one of the few who cared about this, his love for baseball inspires me to share this with you, dedicated to his memory.

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