A Short History of Erring Infielders

If there is one stat on this site that inspires more controversy than the others, it’s UZR. One reason I do like the stat, even though I admit its flaws, is that it comprises runs above average from four different defensive components: arm, double play, range, and error. It’s the last that I want to focus on today. While browsing defensive stats I noticed that a few players stand out from their peers in terms of sure-handedness. That is, they have, at some point in the last nine years, almost completely lacked it. What follows is a quick look at infielders who have cost their teams a win, or close to it, just by failing to make plays that the official scorer thought they should have.

Starlin Castro

The inspiration for this post actually came from Castro. In terms of range he had plenty of positive value, 6.5 runs above average. But his 27 errors ranked second in the Majors, and amounted to -9.5, or nearly a full win. He has a history of this, too, as he made 39 errors between two minor-league levels in 2009. Still, he was just 20 last year, and we saw another 20-year-old shortstop, Elvis Andrus, make a bunch of errors and then improve the next season.

But -9.5 runs? That’s pretty brutal for any age.

Ian Desmond

Surprisingly, Castro wasn’t the worst offender in 2010. Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond led the majors with 34 errors, which amounted to -10.5 error runs above average. As with Castro, his range was actually rated a bit above average, but his errors absolutely killed him.

That ends the 2010 portion of the history. I’m sure everyone can guess the shortstop with the best error runs above average. If you need a hint, it’s Derek Jeter. At least he does something right.

Mark Reynolds

Desmond might have been the least sure-handed defender in 2010, but he wasn’t the worst of all time. That would go to Mark Reynolds, who cost his team 12.4 runs with his 34 errors in 2008. As we saw with the other two, his range was a bit above average. That helps, but not so much when you’re costing your team more than a win with your blunders.

Ryan Braun

It took the Brewers just one season to realize that Braun wasn’t going to fit as their regular third baseman. In the 945 innings he logged that year he made 26 errors, or roughly one every four games. That amounted to -8.4 error runs above average. But unlike Reynolds, Desmond, and Castro, Braun lacked range, -19.3 runs above average. Had he played as many innings as the four guys who rated worse than him, he probably would have finished worse.

Oh, and the guy who finished with the wort range runs rate that year? The very same Derek Jeter.

Edwin Encarnacion

The last entrant on the list, Edwin Encarnacion has never cost his team a full with his errors in any given season. But when I went through the leader boards I saw his name pop up frequently. He has finished with a negative error score in each of his six big league seasons, for a total of -23.2. His best year was -0.6, and I suspect it is, at least in part, because he played only 726 innings that year.

Encarnacion actually ranks second worst in error runs during the past three seasons. Reynolds is the worst, at -14.5, but he has also played 800 more innings. On a rate basis Encarnacion has been worse. Castro, despite having just one season under his belt, ranks fourth worst.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

15 Responses to “A Short History of Erring Infielders”

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  1. What happens when the error in question is a throwing error? Shouldn’t that affect arm component? Based solely on observation, I’d guess that the majority of Encarnacion’s errors are throwing.

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    • Evan Kirkwood says:

      Only outfielders are judged by the arm component. Each position gets 3 components. For infielders, it’s range runs, error runs, and double play runs. For outfielders, it’s range runs, error runs, and arm runs.

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    • Choo says:

      Unfortunately, there is no ARM competent for UZR when it comes to infielders. You can squeeze some insight from DP runs above average, especially for shortstops (the DPA leaderboard for shortstops is usually top-heavy with strong-armed types) but even that can be misleading. Double play throws are the shortest a shortstop has to make, so weak-armed shortstops can still receive high DPA marks if they feature a quick transfer and release, accuracy and/or a good DP partner.

      Tango’s fan ratings might be your best resource for arm ratings, but beware of biases. Example: Jose Lopez has a strong and accurate arm, but that didn’t prevent fans from giving him poor marks.

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  2. Josh Amaral says:

    From a market inefficiency standpoint, a statistic such as this could provide tremendous value.

    If you compiled a list, such as this one, of players that have good range but make a lot of errors, and then checked each error made, you could be in business.

    Assuming your team has a coaching staff worth it’s salt, someone that’s made the majority of his errors on overthrows could likely be fixed, no?

    I haven’t looked into it at all, but say 10 of Desmond’s 34 errors came on balls he should have never thrown. Let’s say he ranged deep into the hole or just made a diving stop and then threw the ball away due to those circumstances. Would it really be hard to convince him to just eat the ball(doesn’t explain Viciedo, however ;])

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    • CJ says:

      I watched a couple of game in which Desmond had throwing errors that should have been caught by Adam Dunn. Desmond didn’t make a good throw, and I can understand why he was charged with an error, but Dunn also did a poor job on his end. So, my point: maybe a team with a first baseman who is really good at scooping and picking the throws might identify shortstops or third basemen with too many throwing error whom might improve with a better 1st baseman.

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      • Josh Amaral says:

        Good point. Quality of the first baseman definitely plays a role.

        If only there were a reliable way to quantify a first baseman’s receiving skills. All we really have, to my knowledge, is people’s opinions. Valuable, sure, but only when we hear about it i.e. Lee, Teixeira, Gonzalez, Pujols

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      • Guy says:

        Teixeira’s scoops could be the reason Jeter leads this category in all fairness. Or maybe the official scorer gets an earful when he calls Jeter’s play an error…

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      • Guy says:

        You can pretty much disregard that last comment, I’ve got nothing to back it up with… just wanted to take a pop at Jeter.

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      • CJ says:

        Josh, as I recall, MGL has a “scoop” metric which he publishes from time to time. I’ve seen articles on fangraphs about it; probably can find it with a search.

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  3. Chris in Hawaii says:

    With Mark Reynolds, you should probably take into account that:

    A) he switched to 3B from SS fairly shortly before making the majors.

    B) he has pretty much improved every year since making the bigs.

    He even put up a positive UZR/150 of 2.5 last season at 3B. From the way his stats are trending, I thinks it’s fair to call his 2007 and 2008 years a learning on the job experience. Looking at those years, his throwing errors were greater than his fielding errors by a count of 26-19. In 2009-2010 his numbers went down to 17 throwing errors vs. 20 fielding errors over approx. 200 more innings. It’s quite possible that he spent the first two years figuring out the angles.

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  4. Jack Nugent says:

    “But -9.5 runs? That’s pretty brutal for any age”

    That may be, but I don’t think anyone should have expected anything else out of him given the huge error total from 2009 that you referenced. And honestly– I don’t think Cub fans should expect a huge improvement out of him in this area next year. Maybe he’ll cut down on the errors somewhat, but I’d honestly be surprised if he had fewer than 20 next year. I think it’s just gonna be a matter of time for him to really make the necessary improvements.

    The problem is, the Cubs are really gonna need him to accelerate his progress with the leather if they’re gonna surprise people in the NL Central this year. The They were not a good defensive club last year, and they really didn’t have many options to improve their defense, short of moving Aramis Ramirez, which I think they understandably felt was out of the question.

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    • Josh Amaral says:

      Cubs fans can probably draw upon Hanley Ramirez re: Castro’s defense.

      Both are athletic shortstops that were called up pretty aggressively. In his first three seasons, Hanley had 26, 24, and 22 errors respectively. In 2009 he went all the way down to 10, and then back up a little to 16 in 2010.

      Hanley’s problem is that in addition to having such an unsteady glove, he also isn’t very rangey either(-12.4 UZR last year) whereas Castro is probably a tick better.

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  5. Max says:

    Its worth noting that we’re seeing a trend of players who range more get more errors and players who range less get less errors. That could mean that by being able to cover more ground and getting to more balls, you are more prone to being charged with errors, and by focusing on a smaller area, you are more likely to be able to field balls in that area cleanly. Along with many others, I always thought that one of the main problems with errors wasn’t just that it didn’t consider range, but it was actually hindered by range, and information like this supports that.

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  6. Brian Cartwright says:

    I list infield hits, fielding errors and throwing errors separately, but lump the infield hits and reached on errors together to rate the infielders on ground ball out%, as I feel there’s too much scorekeeper bias on hits vs errors. If you include the infield hits, Jeter dropped to 17th of 30 in 2010 after being consistently top 5 (while 29th or 30th in range)

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