Baseball scoring has been done by hand for over a century. Now that most people own smartphones and tablets, many people are motivated to keep score electronically. Why?
- Live broadcasts
- Pitch count tracking
- Single game boxscores, stats, and recaps
- Season stats and spray charts
I have used Gamechanger over the past year in several different roles (manager, coach, and scorekeeper) associated with PONY Mustang youth baseball, ages 9-10. I’ve scored around a dozen games, post-edited several games, taught several people how to use the app, downloaded stats to a spreadsheet for further processing, and used stats to help with managerial decisions and player training.
Overall I think Gamechanger offers a great suite of capabilities with a well-designed interface. But as I will detail below, there are two areas in need of improvement for Gamechanger to become fully attuned to the needs of youth baseball: more convenient post game editing and more relevant hitting stats.
Before you can start using Gamechanger, you need to create an account, create a team, and download the app onto your iPhone or iPad. Gamechanger no longer has an Android app so if you have an Android device you’ll have to use iScore.
Getting started does not cost anything, as Gamechanger makes its money from fans. Up to 3 people can have free administrative access to the account, typically some combination of scorekeepers and coaches. Administrators have full access to everything on Gamechanger.
Anyone beyond the first three administrators is a fan. A fan can establish a free account for access to schedules, rosters, live game scores, and game overview stats. This is quite limited but I have been surprised how several parents wanted nothing more beyond this minimal reporting. Fans willing to pay $7.99/month also get live GameStreams, in-game alerts, game recaps, complete box scores, access from mobile devices, and season stats and spray charts (this last only if they are a player or parent). An admin can choose how much access players and parents get to seasonal stats. It can either be access to all stats, or just the associated player.
The $7.99 price will makes sense for families that will only want to use the premium service for 2 months in the spring. However, some kids additionally play in summer or fall leagues or year-round travel ball, which makes the $39.99/year plan more attractive. It is also possible to prepay a sizable fee to cover all fans for the entire season. I couldn’t find a fixed quote on the site for this but in our case the cost for prepaid fan access is $150.
All of the above costs are optional, for fans who want to see everything about their player of interest and all the details of each game.
However, there is another cost. The Gamechanger’s iPhone app eats through a phone or tablet battery quickly, especially if you leave cellular data on for live streaming. You will need a USB battery backup unit. At first I used a bulky, older model but then researched the better models and bought one. If you want to go with a quality, inexpensive unit that will last for 2 games, I strongly recommend the following model, which easily fits in a pocket and typically costs $15 or less on Amazon:
If you want the highest quality battery backup unit that will easily withstand drops and last over twice as long, I recommend this more expensive model, which is the one I now use:
I also recommend using an iPhone to score games, not an iPad. Phones use less energy than tablets, so your USB battery backup will last much longer.
Note that Gamechanger’s main competitor, iScore, charges $10 up front for an app installation for each app user. iScore scorecasts can then be viewed for free from any browser. There is no equivalent to paid fans, as all that functionality is free. So if the team has 2 scorekeepers, the total cost may end up being $20 for the app on each scorekeeper’s device. The apps can be used in future seasons with other teams at no additional cost.
Scoring and Pitch Tracking on Gamechanger
Baseball scoring takes time to learn whether you do it manually or electronically. If you have never scored baseball before, ask for help during your first 2 or 3 games and be sure to attend the scorekeeper training session provided by your league. Figuring out what is an error versus a hit, what is a passed ball versus a steal, and other judgment calls are not going to be obvious for the beginner. Even the very basics of recording balls, strikes, hits and outs will take at least an hour or two to get used to.
Gamechanger makes it easy to get started. Especially helpful is the practice mode, which is well worth using before scoring your first game. I used the practice mode for about 20 minutes at first. Alternatively you can score 2 or 3 pre-season scrimmages so that you’re used to the interface before the first regular game. Many managers don’t record scrimmages so this is a time nobody will care much about mistakes.
I found Gamechanger’s interface to be intuitive and easy to learn when I first started. Tap the big “Pitch” button to bring up a menu with Ball, Called Strike, Swing and Miss, Foul Ball, Ball in Play, etc. Some taps lead to sub-menus required for more complex plays. It’s also possible to record each pitch by type (Fastball, Changeup, etc.) if desired.
Recording simple plays is very obvious. More complex plays often involve many more taps and judgment calls. If I had plenty of time, I don’t think I’d ever make a mistake.
Unfortunately, some plays are inherently complicated to score and will take you a minute or two the first few times you encounter them. I had to abort the first game I tried to score because I had two of these difficult plays in a row and then two players in a row got hits on the first pitch or two. I got hopelessly behind. Apparently, 20 minutes of practice wasn’t enough.
The complicated plays generally involve players advancing extra bases on errors or passed balls, sometimes with multiple throws as well. Try various combinations of runner advancement and multiple throws in practice mode before scoring your first game. It will help you get faster and less panicky when the plays get complicated or go quickly. Also be sure to get used to dragging fielders to where the ball is hit. This information gets collected into spray charts that a manager can use to help diagnose hitting issues for his team’s batters, or better position fielders for opposing batters.
I’m not going to go into great detail describing how the UI works for keeping score, because experiencing it will be much more instructive than reading about it. Use the practice mode. However, I will point out a few more particularly noteworthy features or issues.
Pitch count tracking is vital at every level as nobody wants to injure player arms from overuse (see How to Prevent Pitcher Arm Injuries). Most youth leagues have mandatory pitch count limits. Pitch count is prominently displayed under the pitcher name near the top upper right corner, for the pitcher currently on the mound. When you advance to the next half inning, you will see the pitcher for the other team in that same location. If asked about the pitcher who is no longer on the screen, you’ll have to select Stats, then Pitching, then Efficiency, where you can find the pitch counts for all pitchers in the game.
Scoring a high school game or MLB game is easier than scoring a youth baseball game, because there are very few errors or passed balls. There are also fewer substitutions. I already discussed how easy it is to fall behind on plays with errors and passed balls. It is also easy to fall behind on substitutions.
To make a substitution, select the fielder, select the new player, then select “Yes, that’s correct.” That works fine for one or two substitutions. The problem is that on young teams there can be as many as 9 substitutions when a new inning starts. The key to not falling behind is to look at the uniform numbers of all players as they take their positions in the field and record all the substitutions before play resumes. Double check by matching the uniform numbers you see on the screen with what you see on the field. It’s also good to double check the uniform number for each batter as they walk to the plate.
It is especially important to do all pitcher substitutions accurately. If you don’t, then pitch counts will be off and pitcher stats tracking will be off. As I will explain below, post-game edits for incorrect substitutions are not a strong point for Gamechanger so you really want to get this right during the game. More importantly, your coaches will often want you to tell them the pitch count for the current pitcher so that has to be available and accurate at all times.
Play-specific errors are easy to correct, including:
- changing the player who caught a throw for an out
- changing a home run to a double with two errors
- changing which base runner was tagged out
Two new scorekeepers I’ve trained recently have had more difficulty with substitutions than any other aspect of the software. Players weren’t wearing uniform numbers in the scrimmage which made it hard to double check. Furthermore, last minute changes were made to lineups and in one case a player showed up late. So the pre-input lineups were incorrect and got off track when they realized the batter on the field was no longer matching the batter on Gamechanger. Correcting this mid-game turned out to be time consuming and required additional post-game editing for plays that had already occurred.
A simple way I avoid many issues like this is to NOT input the lineup in advance, but rather insert them one by one as each batter comes to the plate. You can still input the roster before the game starts—just don’t use the Lineup feature accessed by selecting Opponent and My Team.
All these substitution challenges are more prominent for young players. Substitution and error rates decrease with age which should make Gamechanger easier to use with older groups. I imagine this would also be the case for other scorekeeping software.
Correcting Mistakes During and After Games
As I mentioned in the prior section, it’s easy to fall behind in a game or miss a substitution. Sometimes you won’t have time to correct mistakes on the fly. You simply can’t fall far behind or you’ll lose out on scoring the game completely, like I did my first game. Correcting mistakes is the one area where traditional paper scorekeeping is much easier than its electronic counterpart. Erasers are handy and can be used anywhere on the page at any time.
Before I get into post-game editing, I have to point out the obvious: you can’t do a post-game edit that would create an illegal game, inning, or at bat. For example, you can’t change a hit into an out, or an out into a hit, as each inning must have exactly 3 outs. You can’t change a walk into a strikeout for the same reason. If you accidentally hit a strike instead of a ball after a full count, you’ll have to correct it immediately. This type of on-the-fly correction is easy: just hit the undo button and select “Pitch” again. Then select a called or swinging strike.
An example of a difficult correction is when, with a player on first and third, the batter hits the ball to the first baseman, who tries to get the runner out going from third to home. The lead runner gets caught in a run down, then the ball sails past the third baseman to the left fielder, who then throws it to second when the runner who hit the ball was already on the way to third . . . and eventually after 2 more throws everyone scores. If you belatedly realize that you tapped the second baseman instead of the first baseman for the initial error, don’t bother trying to correct immediately or you’ll get too far behind, especially if you haven’t scored very many games.
When you do let a play-specific mistake stand, you can correct it after the game. One key to correcting mistakes is to realize that some types of post-game editing can only be done using a browser, while others only with the app.
Correcting an individual play requires using the app, with quite a few taps, but has a fairly intuitive interface. Using the example in the prior paragraph, you’d have to resume scoring the game, select Plays, select the specific play, then select Edit Play. Select the list of fielders and you will be able to substitute players. Typically, you’ll make edits that impact this specific play only. You can choose to have all future plays affected, in a case where an edit would change the future course of play.
Given the frequent fielding substitutions in youth baseball, there are often substitutions I’d like to correct after games, but I haven’t figured out how to do it through this mechanism. Instead, there is a very tedious process of post-editing game stats which must be done through the browser.
In a recent scrimmage, one pitcher substitution was skipped. The net result was that the first pitcher had the combined stats for both him and the next pitcher. I was able to sort this out by inserting the additional pitcher and manually correcting every statistic for both pitchers using a browser, which took around 20 minutes. I’d love to know of a more efficient way to correct a pitching substitution error, so please leave a comment if you know how.
UPDATE: 5 weeks after I wrote this, I figured out how to correct substitutions more efficiently. Correct an individual play using the app as described above. You can go in and change the pitcher for the play and then choose to have all future plays affected. However, you will often find that the player you want to pitch is grayed out. This means that the player is already in on the play in a different position. For example, let’s say Al is a catcher for the play but he was supposed to be pitching already. Won’t let you choose Al as a pitcher. To make this work, first sub in the new catcher for Al. Then you can change the pitcher to Al and choose all future plays. I did get this to work, but it was not obvious and it’s still pretty awkward. I would much rather be able to simply insert one or more substitutions before the play even started.
The post-game editing on the web site is sometimes necessary if a certain play was changed. For example, in another recent scrimmage we had 2 players swapped for their first 2 at bats. This was corrected mid game, so subsequent at bats were correct. Using the app, I used post-game editing to swap the 2 players for each of their first 2 plate appearances (four total plays edited). One player ended up with -1 at bats for his statistic, which was obviously wrong, so I corrected it on the web site.
It’s entirely possible that I haven’t fully figured out how to do post-game editing most efficiently. But if it’s pretty much as I’ve described, then it really pays to not make errors to begin with, especially pitcher and batter substitutions. These post-game editing issues will crop up much more frequently for young kids then they will for high school players, due to more substitutions, errors, and base running craziness.
Live GameStreams allow parents or other fans to experience a game as if they were there. There’s no video or audio, but you see the names of each player at each position, you see the names of batters and baserunners, and you get a report of each pitch as it happens, with a lag of at most 2 minutes. I used it once to view a game I couldn’t attend and I really enjoyed it. The GameStream feature can also be used to replay an old game later, which my son likes to do occasionally.
The only issue is that phone data occasionally stops transmitting, and won’t sync at all until the scorekeeper manually exits the game and selects Sync from the upper left menu. This seems to happen perhaps 3 or 4 times per 20 games. I never figured out the cause.
Gamechanger has a settings section for team-specific settings such as setting the number of innings per game and another settings section for who can view stats. If you choose 12 and under for age, stats are automatically private, which means that only the three admins and confirmed fans can see player stats. For older age ranges, the administrators can choose whether the stats are public or private.
Some options can only be set from within the app. These include Short Fielder/Extra Outfielder, the number of pitches required for a popup alert, and whether players and family members can see the stats for the entire team or just that single player.
This set of options covers everything needed for youth baseball, so far as I can tell. No option is needed to set the number of players in the batting lineup. Just enter batters until you’re done.
Stats and Spray Charts on Gamechanger
For stats geeks like me, stats are the biggest benefit of scorekeeping electronically. There is much to like about Gamechanger stats. You can look at play-by-play and box scores for individual games online or within the app. You can also generate the traditional paper scorebook for each game in a print-friendly format, for those who like this view. Some youth leagues have reporting requirements related to minimum playing time or infield innings. This is easy to obtain while scoring a game on the app by clicking on a player and scrolling down to view all the details.
Admins have access to season stats for all players from the computer that are easy to view and sort. Stats are grouped logically and can be sorted by any column. Players and family members can view stats for their player or the entire team, depending on what the admins choose.
Stats can also be grouped by League, Non-League, Exhibition, Postseason. It is not possible to make custom categories (competitor iScore can). Custom categories would be useful in order see stats for a certain collection of games, such as the second half of the season, or only games against stronger teams.
UPDATE: As of November 2015, it is now possible to group games by date. This does make it easy to see recent stats, or first half vs. second half, etc. However, I would still prefer custom categories, as summer play often involves playing teams of varying strength. I want to break out stats for games against stronger opponents.
Spray Charts are useful for both defensive positioning and noticing batter-specific trends that suggest areas for improvement. Spray Charts are easy to interpret, with each hit labeled with G, L, F, or B (grounder, line drive, fly ball, bunt). You display every ball hit into play, or select whether you want to view just hits or outs, or some combination of L, F, and G/B. A chart displays the percentage of each type of hit, for each side for the field (Left, Center, Right).
Downloading stats is possible and useful. Simply click the export button from online and you can get all the hitting and pitching stats exported in comma delimited format. Fielding stats are not included with export but can be viewed online (UPDATE: Fielding stats are now included with stats exports. This began some time in March, 2015).
Stats can be further processed and analyzed in a spreadsheet. For example, I personally think that OBP + ROE and OPS + ROE are the two most comprehensive overall measures of success at ages 10 and below (see Youth Baseball Stats Part 3). Gamechanger doesn’t display these two stats, so I insert two extra columns in the spreadsheet for them with appropriate formulas using the raw numbers.
Other than the lack of the two stats mentioned above, the array of stats depending on plate appearance and at bats is reasonable for both hitters and pitchers. Missing stats can be created in a spreadsheet as described above.
Unfortunately, per pitch stats are limited. What I mean by per pitch stats are stats that are pitch by pitch. For example, strike percentage is strikes/pitches. Gamechanger has this particular stat as well as several others for pitchers. But Gamechanger lacks per pitch stats for hitters. I consider this to be a vital omission.
As I explain in Youth Baseball Stats Part 1, it takes hundreds of plate appearances for many plate appearance stats to become statistically meaningful. Pitches occur over 4 times more frequently than plate appearances for most players, so any statistics related to pitches become statistically meaningful much sooner. Most leagues will have fewer than 25 games in a season, so most of the vast array of statistics geared for 162 game MLB are not even statistically significant after the season has already ended.
The biggest change I’d like to see Gamechanger make would be to include several hitting stats on a per pitch basis. Even the raw form would be fine, such as for each batter the number of called strikes, number of swinging strikes, number of balls, number of foul balls, etc. so I could then compute my own statistics. They do have a statistic called contact % but unfortunately this uses the standard definition, which is based on at bats. I would love to know the percentage of time a player contacts a ball that is thrown for a called or swinging strike. This can’t be done currently either online or with the downloaded stats. I could manually count all these stats by looking through the play-by-play, but that would be very time consuming.
UPDATE: As of November 2015, there are also catcher stats.
iScore has a big edge on Gamechanger when it comes to stats. They have several per pitch stats for hitters, and a much larger number of stats in general. Not everyone desires so many stats. However, some youth baseball coaches make use of stats to improve their players. This is harder to do without per pitch hitting stats.
There’s a lot to like about Gamechanger. The user interface is well designed. I have yet to encounter a software bug. Getting started is easy and free. The job of scorekeeping is done well.
For youth baseball specifically, it has the necessary modifications for common youth variations of MLB rules, and privacy options to match.
However, it seems as though Gamechanger was initially designed with adult baseball in mind, with the needs of youth baseball added later. There are still two areas I would like to see improved to make the software more appealing for youth baseball:
- Per pitch hitting stats
- Simpler post-game editing for missed substitutions
I’m tempted to try iScore, as it appears to be strong in these two areas. If Gamechanger changes its game with regards to stats and post-game editing for substitutions, I would not have any incentive to look elsewhere. Everything else about Gamechanger’s software is top notch.