I don’t think it’s fair to say that errors have been forgotten, necessarily. Errors are still a big part of the game, they’re obvious when they happen, and they get factored into our advanced defensive metrics. But as those same advanced defensive metrics have grown in popularity, so has an emphasis on the importance of range. Evaluation of defense has shifted from looking at errors to looking at range, because errors are frequently flukes, and range is a more critical, informative component. If you can cover more ground, you can make more plays, and you can be a better defender at your position. Range is the thing. Errors are not so much the thing, anymore.
But though errors aren’t often discussed these days, they should be given their due, because they happen, and because sometimes they happen at most unfortunate times. Just the other day Matt Klaassen highlighted two meaningful errors in particular, committed by Brandon League and Carlos Pena. Both of those were recorded as reached-on-errors (ROE). According to Baseball-Reference, last season there were 1,781 ROEs in all. For the sake of comparison, last season there were 927 triples and 1,479 sacrifice bunts. We should discuss those ROEs just a little bit, because somebody ought to.
Where to begin? I guess on the team level, since that would make good sense. We know going into this that there are going to be official-scorer biases, as errors are oftentimes subjective. There are extreme errors, obvious errors, unquestionable errors that no one would mistake for anything else, but there are also gray-area errors that sometimes get ruled as infield hits, or something else. That’s just something to know, but it shouldn’t and won’t stop us from proceeding.
The Chicago Cubs, offensively, reached base 79 times on errors. That was the highest total in baseball, seven ahead of the second-place Pirates. And one should note that the Cubs didn’t ever get to bat against Matt Garza. At the other end of the spectrum, the Kansas City Royals, offensively, reached base 42 times on errors. That was the lowest total in baseball, six behind the second-worst Tigers and Orioles. The league average was 59, and clearly we’re dealing with pretty small samples. Let’s continue to deal with it!
Switching to the other side, the St. Louis Cardinals, defensively, allowed batters to reach base 75 times on errors. That was the highest total in baseball, one ahead of the second-worst Rockies. At the very bottom we find the Chicago White Sox, who were charged with 38 ROEs. That was, naturally, the lowest total in baseball, three ahead of the runner-up Mariners. Because the White Sox finished with baseball’s best team fielding percentage, I’m going to assume that their broadcasters frequently referred to the White Sox as the best defensive team in baseball. They were 17th in UZR and 14th in DRS. Okay.
Individually, Norichika Aoki reached on errors 13 times. Five other players also reached on errors 13 times, making for a six-way league lead. For pitchers, C.J. Wilson led everyone by having watched 19 batters reach on errors. Wandy Rodriguez had it happen 17 times, and Kyle Lohse and Jordan Lyles had it happen 16 times. But on the individual scale, it doesn’t make great sense to look at a counting stat. Rather, we should have a rate, so I sorted by ROE/PA, given a 250 plate-appearance minimum. This left me with 276 pitchers and 303 hitters. We look first at the top ten ROE/PA for pitchers:
Because what Jamie Moyer needed behind him was insufficient defense. Those nine ROE were more than Moyer had happen in 2009 and 2010 combined. Those years he threw nearly 300 innings, instead of last year’s 53.2. It’s unsurprising, of course, to see a lot of groundballers on this list — groundballs go to infielders, and infielders make more errors than outfielders. Now we can look at the bottom ten ROE/PA for pitchers:
Seven guys reached the plate-appearance minimum without having a single batter reach on an error. Roy Halladay had it happen just the once. Max Scherzer had it happen twice, and I’m pretty sure Max Scherzer allowed only four balls in play all season, so that’s a pretty lousy ratio. That Tigers defense will get ya.
Now for the hitters. The top ten in ROE/PA:
There are three of our counting-stat league leaders, with Cuddyer also leading the way in the rate. In 2011 Cuddyer reached two fewer times on errors in nearly 200 more plate appearances. It’s almost as if there is a lot of noise in this data. As it happens these were the eight times Miguel Olivo reached base. Now at the other end, the 13 players who didn’t reach on an error even once:
It’s not surprising that there were some such players. With something like this, you’ll have a distribution, with values at either extreme. It’s more surprising to see Torii Hunter on here, with nearly 600 trips to the plate. Hunter just racked up a career-high groundball rate, and as mentioned before, you expect more errors on grounders, and especially on those hit by quicker runners. Hunter is aging but he’s still more fast than not fast. What a statistically insignificant blip this is! Hunter’s BABIP was .389, which is too high. Hunter’s ROE/PA was 0.0%, which is too low. Both will balance going forward. One of those things balancing will matter more than the other one balancing.
The “proper” way to do this would be by using balls in play as a denominator, instead of plate appearances. But plate appearances made things much simpler on my end, and now you know more information about errors in 2012. Torii Hunter wasn’t helped by them. Jamie Moyer wasn’t helped by them. Michael Cuddyer was helped by them. Several pitchers weren’t hurt by them. The White Sox committed hardly any of them. These are baseball facts.