The error is one of baseball’s worst stats. That is precisely why the #killtheE movement has picked up some steam.
I want you to take a look at three real-life cases. While watching each case, ask yourself two questions: (1) Was this play ruled a HIT or an ERROR? (2)If it was ruled an error, then who was given the error?
I purposefully selected these clips because (A) all are routine plays and (B) they each should spark a feeling within you. I, of course, am no psychic, but i’m sure you will have some difficulty answering the two questions posed above after watching these clips.
Well, much like the Win-Loss record for a pitcher, the rules on errors are very unclear, vague, and at times require some form of judgement by a third party. Also, it can at times say absolutely nothing about a given play.
Let’s take Case One for example:
Official Ruling: E4, second baseman Javy Baez is given a throwing error.
We expect fielders to field ground balls cleanly, no? Shouldn’t we expect the first baseman to scoop a catchable ball cleanly as well?
Javy Baez was given an error based on his throwing, but if you were to look at a scorecard, all you’d see is E4. Did Javy field the ball cleanly? What was the degree of difficulty of the play? Who was the runner? All of this comes in to play when you’re the fielder trying to make a tough play. In this case, Javy fielded the ball cleanly, delivered the ball to Anthony Rizzo with plenty of time, and Rizzo couldn’t come up with it. None of that is taken to account.
So, why have we just accepted that when the player on the receiving end of a throw can’t come up with the ball, it’s solely the throwers fault. When a catcher misplays a perfectly catchable ball, we call it a passed ball don’t we? Why is this not the case for a first baseman?
Nothing in the rule book states that, what we call, “throwing errors” should always be placed on the shoulder of the thrower. Rule 9.12(5) states that a fielder is charged with an error when a “wild throw permits a runner to reach a base safely, when in the scorer’s judgment a good throw would have put out the runner…”
Would you consider Javy’s throw to be “wild” in this case? Sure, it’s not thrown perfectly, but how many are? Don’t we see fielders scoop more difficult balls out of the dirt than this?
And the word “judgement,” what kind of stats require judgement? Bad ones.
Official Ruling: E9, Alex Rios was charged with the error.
Was this what you answered?
Chances are you did think this was an error and you probably felt that it was on Rougned Odor. Just look at it, Odor runs back, seems to camp under it, and totally misplays it. Meanwhile, Alex Rios looks on helplessly. How was that ball not caught?
The fact of the matter is that in any other ball park this play would have been considered a hit. Nobody touched the ball, right? That’s why the call was later “corrected” and ruled a hit. That’s right, this completely catchable ball falls between two professional ball players and Ortiz is officially awarded a hit. Doesn’t that just piss you off? Wait to you take a look at Case Three.
Official Ruling: Hit.
Wait a second, in case two Alex Rios was originally given an error even though his glove never made contact with the ball. Here, the ball literally bounces out of Palka’s glove and the hitter is awarded a hit?
This brings me back to that word: Judgement.
Judgement should never come into play when using statistics in baseball. Judgement is vulnerable to human error and to bias. We never want to accuse official scorers of bias, but how else could we, as fans, look at a situation like the one in case 2. Darvish takes a perfect game into the 7th with two outs against the Red Sox at home and the official scorer finds himself in a position where he can at least preserve the no-hitter for the home field. And that’s exactly what he did.
Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)
So, how do we measure a fielders performance without the use of errors? We asked Mark Simon of Sports Info Solutions the same question on Episode 12 of the Welcome to THE SHOW Podcast and this is what he said:
(Sports Info Solutions) uses Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which looks at each position and values the most important aspects of defense at that position.
So, for a 2B and a SS, its fielding balls, but also double plays; an OF, its throwing arm; a third and 1B, its fielding bunts; a catcher, its pitch framing. Each position has it’s own list and (DRS) looks at all those things.
So, you take all of that, you put it all together, and that gives you a run value, DRS.
Click here for more information on how DRS is calculated!
In other words, DRS compares a player at a given position to other players at the same position. Makes sense right? Why would you compare an outfielder with an infielder, they have different jobs. Or a pitcher to a catcher? It just doesn’t make sense. Also, why continue to use this outdated error stat?
The Case of Derek Jeter
I’ll leave you with this final point/example, Derek Jeter was named the 2004 AL Gold Glove (GG) winner at shortstop despite ranking 22 in all of baseball in DRS among shortstops. His DRS rating was -13, which is considered “poor” on FanGraphs.
Why then did Jeter win the GG award? Besides the fact that at the time he was arguably the most popular player in the sport, he ranked 4th in errors with 13 and 4th in fielding percentage with .981. What does this say about Jeter? Nothing.
If we delve deeper into the leaderboards that season, Jeter had poor range. Here lies another problem with error. It doesn’t measure balls a fielder should have gotten to. According to Range Factor (RF), a stat that measures how many plays a given fielder can make, Jeter was the fourth worst shortstop in the AL that season. He simply was not able to make as many plays as other shortstops, like Miguel Tejada or Bobby Crosby were able to.
What’s worse is that to Jeter’s right, at third base played an even better shortstop than him: Alex Rodriguez, who just the year prior, in 2003, had a DRS of 8 to Jeter’s -15. Arod also made more plays than Jeter did in 2003 as he was ranked 4th in the AL in RF. Jeter ranked last.
So, whaddya say? Wanna #killtheError with me?