Ratings Shake Up: A New Base Running Frontier
Wholesale ratings questions changes were up for debate at the 2015 NAGAAA Summer Meetings in Columbus, Ohio this August and after all was said and done the international delegation decided that indeed, there would be some changes coming to the questions that NAGAAA member city board members and managers rate their players by.
The agreed upon changes will take effect for the 2016 year and will fundamentally change the way players are rated in the areas of base running and advanced hitting. In this post, we will dive into the changes that were made to base running.
Most of us that have traveled to tournaments in different cities, states and regions have noticed an increase in protests involving base running (questions 15 – 18) and the “advanced” hitting questions (questions 23 – 26). There are many schools of thought as to why these questions have been on the rise in relation to protesting, but one of the chief reasons has to be the ambiguity that surrounded the questions that are on their way out. When we break down the questions one can see why changes were needed.
For your consideration (from NAGAAA IOG – Appendix 2 Player Rating Guidelines) :
BASE RUNNING Questions #15-18 are linked. A player who gets Question #17, for example, automatically gets #15 & #16.
Question #15 – go from base to base using rudimentary knowledge of the rules?
The thing about this question is that even if you don’t know what ‘rudimentary’ means you can sort of glean that it means elementary or basic from the fact that it’s the first question in a line of questions that progressively get harder and harder to get for weaker players. However, just in case the word possibly stumped someone and they had no other device to look up a definition we turn to Softball Code 1.49 where it says the following…
Rudimentary Knowledge – no definition required
Really? No definition required? Hmmm…. Literally everything else is defined, but this. Everything.
So, here’s the definition of ‘rudimentary’ from our good friends at http://www.dictionary.com:
Okay, so now that we have ‘rudimentary’ defined and we have a handle on what the ‘spirit of the question’ is we can move on (sort of).
Question #16 – run with average speed and occasionally take extra bases on good hits or errors against a limited level of defense?
There’s a lot going on here. Let’s break it down by definitions first so that we’re ‘clear’ on what the player must do and what other factors affect whether the player must have the question.
Average Speed – a batter, at the point of contact being able to run from home to first in 4 – 5 seconds.
Occasionally – (in terms of the rating guidelines definition of occasionally on base running) – 3 out of 5 times
Take Extra Bases – advance at least one base beyond what the opportunity would typically provide a base runner with average speed.
Limited Level of Defense – A limited level of defense is a theoretical set of players having the following skills – 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8
Alright, where to begin… The subjectivity and complexity of this question truly can be baffling. For example, many people would probably ask how someone could actually get this question put on them when playing D Division competition? The way the question reads is important because at the 2015 Gay Softball World Series in the D Division, no teams…repeating…no teams had enough players to field a defense having both questions 3 and 8. The only team close was the Phoenix Rage (congrats to your 7 players having both 3 and 8). So, in effect nobody in the D Division at the 2015 GSWS played even a limited level of defense. The defenses displayed on D Division fields were 100% BELOW a limited level of defense.
The point is that if we try to assess this question in real life it is impossible in certain divisions and just plain difficult in other divisions. Using your imagination and presenting a good case to a voting committee shouldn’t put a question on someone.
When a question has ‘theoretical’ within it the question is inherently flawed from the get go. The way this question is worded makes one think that they should shut their eyes and imagine that if said player’s running skills were up against a team having all 6 of the qualifying questions at every position, could said player reach safely on a good hit or an error. In addition to the limited level of defense issues with the question, there is speed factoring in along with a certain number of times the player must display the skill (but they actually never have to display the skill in a game against real competition because it can be ‘theoretical’ in nature).
Question #17 – run aggressively with average or better speed and occasionally take extra bases on good hits or errors against an intermediate level of defense?
The same kind of issues from Question #16 arise with this question. Imaginary criteria and too much subjectivity/complexity.
Question #18 – run very aggressively and occasionally take extra bases on good hits or errors against an exceptional level of defense?
As in Questions 16 & 17 we see the same repeat issues.
Looking at the now former rating guidelines regarding base running really shows how important it was for the voting delegation of NAGAAA to fully commit to making a change in this area of player ratings. The delegation did the right thing by allowing something else to take the place of what we had. The game has evolved, our players skill levels are changing on a yearly basis and the majority of folks that travel and love to play, spend too much money and time to have a player from their team get protested out of a tournament because five people on a protest committee are told by the guidelines in which they are trying to uphold to forget about what they did against real competition and to hypothetically figure out if their skills match up to what the question says. Taking the guesswork out of it makes it fair, which is what we should all be striving for in the ratings and protest process.
Now, you might be asking what the old questions were replaced with?
The system name of rating base running will probably gain traction as “Speed + 1”. This name comes from the fact that there will be basic speed guidelines that a player must hit to receive a question and then the player must also display one of a set of three skills to be awarded the corresponding running question.
The great thing about the way we will rate our base runners moving forward is that the new criteria takes away not just an imaginary defense’s role in the questioning, but it takes away the defense’s role period. The questions focus strictly on what the player can do and sometimes what the player can do with the help of a base coach.
To get base running questions, as it was explained at the 2015 NAGAAA Summer Meetings you will need the following:
Question #15: Below Average Base Runner
Criteria: SPEED (greater than or equal to 5 seconds between bases) + one of the following: BASE RUNNING KNOWLEDGE (runs past first base, but doesn’t run past other bases), USE OF BASE COACH (does not generally use base coach), SLIDING (does not slide).
*Okay, here are some gripes with the new ratings criteria and everyone can form their own opinions on it too. Having a speed component is great and should be used first and foremost. However, I take an exception to the sliding component and how it is administered in relation to a below average runner. Sliding is quite simply not an advanced skill. On the other hand, sliding properly, using a certain technique is an advanced skill. Also, in several base running scenarios the ASA rulebook requires runners to make an attempt not to interfere with a defender’s opportunity to make a play. Sliding is a large part of getting out-of-the-way not only to stay within the rules of the game, but also to provide some safety to both the runner and the defender. The point being made here is that just because someone mentally chooses not to slide for whatever reason, that doesn’t mean they are a below average runner. Conversely, just because someone occasionally slides that doesn’t make them an average runner. Just food for thought. Remember, you only need one of the other three criteria to gain the question if you have the qualifying speed.*
QUESTION #16: Average Base Runner
Criteria: SPEED (4.00 seconds to 4.99 seconds between bases) + one of the following: BASE RUNNING KNOWLEDGE (gets solid jump-start out of the batters box; tags up; goes half way on a fly ball; rounds bases with proper technique), USE OF BASE COACH (sometimes utilizes base coach), SLIDING (sometimes slides to be safe).
*D Division players will be at risk the most in accordance with gaining this question. Many times, managers in the lower division give running questions based on the fact that their players are in the lowest division. Accordingly, many players in the D Division have one running question and nothing else. Think about how long 5 seconds is to a base. There will be many D Division players that will qualify for the average base running speed and then will also qualify for one of the three other criteria. This change could be the final nudge over the edge into the C Division for D Division players that are trying to find their place in a rapidly changing division under the recent ratings changes.*
QUESTION #17: Above Average Base Runner
Criteria: SPEED (3.00 seconds to 3.99 seconds between bases) + one of the following: BASE RUNNING KNOWLEDGE (aggressive jump-start out of the batters box; makes a turn at first and goes about half way to second base on an outfield base hit; advances on a slightly bobbled ball), USE OF BASE COACH (uses base coach’s directions or has enough awareness of the ball’s position to make decisions for him/herself), SLIDING (executes several different slides to avoid tags; slides with a deliberate attempt to break up a double play).
*The cautionary tale I see here as the questions become harder for players to get due to the speed component coming in first on every question, is that the questions almost seem to assume that a slower player wouldn’t have the base running knowledge. However, in reality there are many players that possess below average speed or average speed and possess above average base running knowledge. It’s just something to think about as we all move forward on this new journey in rating base runners.*
QUESTION #18: Exceptional Base Runner
Criteria: SPEED (2.99 seconds or less between the bases) + one of the following: BASE RUNNING KNOWLEDGE (makes an attempt to turn a routine base hit into a double on a ball hit to a player who is adept at fielding and throwing), USE OF BASE COACH (willing to take a chance for an extra base against base coach’s advice), SLIDING (similar skills to the above average player but achieves greater frequency of success).
*Finally, the last nitpick will be addressed. I’m sure the ‘spirit of the criteria’ in regard to what is considered exceptional use of a base coach is well intended. However, how can we assume that a player that’s willing to go against a base coach’s advice is an exceptional base runner? Maybe he or she is a terrible base runner and is stubborn as a mule? Who knows, but in thinking about what you might have to go through to prove that in a protest would be interesting.*
Putting a bow on all of this base running business, these changes are a move in the right direction and hopefully the international delegation will continue to support hard evidence and facts in relation to rating players and then protesting players instead of conjecture, hearsay and imagination. What will now happen to players and their ratings across the country as a result of the base running questions changing? It’s hard to say, but with speed being the top component and everything else coming after it one could see several players that have a running question, lose the question they have because they don’t qualify speed-wise. You could see some C and B level players also losing points that they might have had because of the old ratings “eye test”, meaning that because you’re a C or B player you should automatically have questions 16 or 17. All in all slower runners are going to see their ratings going down as a result of the new criteria.
One thing is for certain, stopwatches will be in fashion at the fields in 2016.
*The Diamond Dish Blog is devoted to promoting the game of softball, specifically LGBT slow pitch softball. From time to time, the blog posts on this website can be opinion pieces or strictly news and event reporting. Then, there are times like this post where those lines are blurred.*