There is a large depth of defensive statistics in the game of baseball, the one that is most commonly used though, is the error. On the surface, an error seems obvious to when it’s used, when a player fails defensively they get an error, right? Well, it’s not always that easy.
So, what is an error in baseball?
A player is charged with an error when they fail to make a play that’s considered routine for the average player. A couple of examples of errors are botching an easy grounder or making a poor throw that doesn’t result in an out. Errors can also get charged to fielders who allow runners extra bases.
This is a simplified answer to the question, but there’s a lot more that goes into awarding errors to players. It’s actually quite a hefty process that you’ll be able to learn more about in the rest of this article.
What Constitutes an Error in Baseball?
The Major League Baseball’s (MLB) “Official Baseball Rules” details how errors work with Rule 9.12. The rule states:
“The Official Scorer shall charge an error against any fielder:
- whose misplay (fumble, muff or wild throw) prolongs the time at bat of a batter, prolongs the presence on the bases of a runner or permits a runner to advance one or more bases, unless, in the judgment of the Official Scorer, such fielder deliberately permits a foul fly to fall safe with a runner on third base before two are out in order that the runner on third shall not score after the catch;
- when such fielder muffs a foul fly to prolong the time at bat of a batter, whether the batter subsequently reaches first base or is put out;
- when such fielder catches a thrown ball or a ground ball in time to put out the batter-runner and fails to tag first base or the batter-runner;
- when such fielder catches a thrown ball or a ground ball in time to put out any runner on a force play and fails to tag the base or the runner;
- whose 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, unless such wild throw is made attempting to prevent a stolen base;
- whose wild throw in attempting to prevent a runner’s advance permits that runner or any other runner to advance one or more bases beyond the base such runner would have reached had the throw not been wild;
- whose throw takes an unnatural bounce, touches a base or the pitcher’s plate, or touches a runner, a fielder or an umpire, thereby permitting any runner to advance; or
- whose failure to stop, or try to stop, an accurately thrown ball permits a runner to advance, so long as there was occasion for the throw. If such throw was made to second base, the Official Scorer shall determine whether it was the duty of the second baseman or the shortstop to stop the ball and shall charge an error to the negligent fielder.”
There is a lot there and for good reason. What constitutes an error is solely based on what the Official Scorer decides is an error. The parameters have to be set like this so that human error isn’t as big of a factor.
This is much of the reason why errors are the easiest statistic to understand, but also have the depth that many other defensive statistics hold. Some rules constitute when you shouldn’t give players an error and specific rules when it comes to wild pitches and similar circumstances.
The players’ position also comes into play when deciding if a player should get an error or not. When you look at first base, many teams don’t care for defense there, even if they get almost twice as many opportunities to handle the ball defensively over other positions.
If a player is a first baseman and they fail to make a play, the scorer will judge their defensive play on other first basemen, and not all players as a whole.
For example, to play 1st base you need a lot of range, but not that good of an arm, while at third base, you need good range and a great arm. Different positions have different skillsets and expectations to live up to.
Who Decides if an Error Occurred?
Well as we read previously, the Official Scorer is the man who decides if errors are, well, errors. Early in baseball history, sportswriters would be the scorers for their home teams, which led to a lot of home team bias.
By 1979 most newspapers banned their writers from scoring games and now, the MLB has appointed independent scorers. The scorers are mainly in charge of judgement calls.
The most common judgment call an official scorer makes is whether a batter reached base on a hit or an error.
Other rulings made by the official scorer include whether a pitch that goes past the catcher is a wild pitch or a passed ball, and which reliever is credited with a win when the starting pitcher does not go five innings but leaves with a lead that his team doesn’t relinquish.
How Do Errors Affect Other Statistics in Baseball?
A 2017 study found that MLB pitchers “whose teams erred behind them allowed hits at a .273 rate for the remainder of their work in that error-marred inning. That compares with the MLB-wide .255 2017 batting average.”
Errors are also evident in the most used pitching statistic of all, “earned runs allowed” (ERA). If a batter gets on base via a fielding error and subsequently scores, that is not an earned run.
This is because, as we learned earlier, to get an error you must fail defensively where an average player would have succeeded with ordinary effort. So since the batter getting on-base and subsequently scoring wasn’t by the fault of the pitcher, he becomes just a ‘run’ instead of an ‘earned run’.
It also affects a batter’s on-base percentage (OBP). If a batter reaches base via an error their OBP reacts as if they got out, because it was only poor defense that led to them getting on-base, not their own bat or eye.
An advanced metric used for defenders is “defensive runs saved” (DRS). This metric tells us how many runs a defender would typically give up or stop from happening, based on their other defensive metrics. This is the defensive metric that accounts for baseball errors the most.
Pitchers have the ERA stat to keep track of how many earned runs they’ve given up. Like we talked about earlier when there’s a fielding error, that runner isn’t counted against the pitcher, so who’s it counted against?
Well, it goes against the man who made the error. The DRS statistic is based solely on how the players advanced defensive metrics play out, but also depend highly on the errors the player makes in the field.
Which Baseball Position Makes the Most Errors?
Shortstops commit the most errors in today’s baseball. This is for a multitude of reasons. Remember how the error is judged on what the average player at that position can do?
Well when everyone’s defense is better at shortstop (SS), the average gets better too.
This is also highlighted by the fact that both catchers and first baseman have twice the defensive opportunities on average than shortstops, although defense at first base isn’t required by most teams. Third base (3B) is another position that commits a lot of errors.
Because SS and 3B get so many balls hit to them, this makes the work of players such as Andrelton Simmons and Manny Machado so impressive.
Is there a position that doesn’t make any errors?
Technically speaking, the designated hitter (DH) can’t make any errors because they never play in the field. This helps a lot of players that may have the offensive prowess to be on an MLB roster, but don’t have the defense to play any particular position.
With the changes in baseball over its history, defense has been an aspect that has steadily been looked at as more and more important. While you will find amazing defenders going back to the 20’s and 30’s they are not nearly as prevalent as in today’s MLB.
With this push towards better defense, errors are going down quicker and quicker. Many teams simply do not want a liability in the field.
Do more/fewer errors mean that a player is bad or good? It depends. This is where the error statistic fails, because it doesn’t go deep enough to say much other than what it’s supposed to. It’s a good starting point for other more in-depth defensive statistics.