Footspeed and Forcing Errors: A Case Study

Defensive errors have been a part of baseball history forever, but we seldom ever talk about them now. We’ve come to better understand the importance of range, and so we look beyond errors for our defensive evaluations. A guy might make an extra error or two simply because he’s covering a lot more ground than a peer. There’s also the matter of errors being subjective, some being obvious calls and some being coin flips. As for hitters, errors are mistakes by the other team. When a hitter smacks a ball in play and the defense makes an error, we tend to think of the hitter as lucky, because that shouldn’t have happened. So hitters don’t get a lot of credit.

But errors do happen, and they’re factored into some wOBA formulas, and there’s a line of thinking that faster runners can force more defensive errors, giving them a mostly unseen advantage. There’s the idea, then, that there’s indirectly some skill involved, which might mean a few extra runs. I, personally, have seen Ichiro reach a bunch of times on misplays, which might’ve had to do with his speed. The more a defender has to hurry, the more prone he might be to screwing up, which could be a thing worth talking about. We’re about to focus on Norichika Aoki.

Baseball-Reference has a Play Index, which can be really nifty. Within the Play Index, there’s an Event Finder, and within the Event Finder you can search for instances of hitters reaching on errors. A search this year turns up 789 instances, with Jordan Zimmermann having the most mistakes behind him among pitchers. For hitters, Norichika Aoki has reached on errors a dozen times. No one else has reached more than eight times, making for a pretty significant difference. Last year, Aoki was tied for third in baseball in reached-on-errors, and now it would be reasonable to conclude there might be something about Aoki that’s causing this.

Aoki’s a pretty good baserunner, and he bats left-handed, meaning he gets down the line quicker than a righty. He also hits a bunch of balls in play on the ground, giving the defense more opportunities. I decided to look at all 12 of his 2013 reached-on-errors, to see if they might’ve been caused by his running. This is going to be a subjective exercise, but it’s an exercise with a lot of .gifs so at least it’ll be visually appealing after it finally loads. I guess we’ll get started and go in order.

Error 1: April 9

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Well this wasn’t about Aoki at all. The defender was committed to throwing home, and it was really really cold out. So that’s going to happen sometimes.

Error 2: April 9

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This was an ugly bobble on a routine grounder, although the hurried throw might’ve had something to do with Aoki sprinting down the line. It was in the same game as error no. 1, so it was freezing, so throwing was a challenge. But Aoki might’ve made a contribution here, after the defender’s initial mistake.

Error 3: April 19

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Can’t really put that on Aoki’s speed. That’s just defending like an idiot. Maybe it was in the back of the first baseman’s mind that Aoki would get there in a hurry, but you realize now how hard it is to figure out where speed did and didn’t make any difference.

Error 4: April 20

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Plenty of time; just an ordinary fumble. The shortstop doesn’t look to be rushing.

Error 5: May 2

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Basically unrelated to Aoki. This is a disaster of an attempted double play.

Error 6: May 4

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This isn’t even an error. This is just a fielder’s choice that didn’t work out for the fielder. I don’t know why this is here in the Event Finder results but, all right, nothing to do with Aoki, at least.

Error 7: May 11

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Ordinary mistake trying to backhand the baseball. Could’ve happened with anyone at the plate.

Error 8: May 13

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This wound up being a hurried throw, because Aoki was almost to the bag, but this was screwed up well in advance of that part. It’s basically a shame there was only one error on this play. There was one bigger umbrella error, with several individual component errors.

Error 9: May 20

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This all looks routine, and the shortstop isn’t rushing anything. It’s just a bad throw that he makes, and the throw isn’t snared at first. Aoki would’ve been out were the throw on the target.

Error 10: May 22

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Maybe, the shortstop was hurrying because the grounder was soft and it was Aoki going down the line. Or maybe this is just a regular fumble. I think this play is always at least a little hurried.

Error 11: May 26

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Unrelated to Aoki. Just a blown double-play attempt.

Error 12: June 2

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Yeah, that’s not Aoki. That’s a second baseman getting ahead of himself when thinking about a double play. That easily could’ve and should’ve been a 4-3 DP, and the defender had plenty of time, but his brain just checked out.

Obviously with something like this, it’s impossible to isolate the influence of the speed component. We can’t get in the defenders’ heads, and if a defender is hurrying, we can’t know if he’s doing so with a specific runner in mind, or if he’s just hurrying for hurrying’s sake. You could say, then, this exercise was never going to go anywhere. We just can’t accurately interpret the plays. But note that only a few of the errors above had to do with Aoki himself. His speed probably made a difference with a few of these, but not with most.

What’s probably a more important factor? Aoki puts everything on the ground and he never strikes out. He has, at this writing, baseball’s lowest strikeout rate. He leads all of baseball in total groundballs by a good margin, and errors are mostly a product of opportunities. More interesting would be errors per ball in play, or errors per grounder if you assume that fly-ball errors are flukes. And then you’d have to control for baserunner state, since there can be errors on attempted force outs.

How can you predict how often a guy will reach base on error? Look first at his rate of grounders per plate appearance. Then, it probably matters if he’s left-handed, then, it probably matters if he runs well. It would be silly to assume speed doesn’t make any difference, but it’s only fractional. Albert Pujols has reached on error seven times this year and he’s been running like he’s hauling a wheelbarrow of bricks. Errors are almost random and they happen for a variety of reasons, and speed is just one of a bunch.

For as long as he’s playing, Norichika Aoki is probably going to reach base on errors pretty often. Odds are, that’s going to have at least as much to do with his bat as with his legs.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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olethros
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olethros
3 years 1 month ago

I’ve been wondering about this for years. Is there year to year consistency in the ROE leaders? Is there year to year consistency in individuals’ ROE/BIP? Basically, is there anything about ROE that looks like even a partially repeatable skill?

Sparkles Peterson
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Sparkles Peterson
3 years 1 month ago

Playing the Cubs a Lot and Forcing Errors: A Case Study

Matthew
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Matthew
3 years 1 month ago

Great article. I’ve long wondered about this myself.

Incidentally, I wonder if you could look at errors on pickoff attempts? I’m a Pirates fan, and I remember a sequence a bunch of years ago where Chris Duffy, their speedster at the time, drew a walk, took second on an error on a pickoff attempt, and then scored when a second pickoff attempt went into center field (all without a single pitch home being delivered). Any player would have been able to go to second on the initial pickoff attempt gone awry, but let’s face it: that pickoff throw might not have come if it had been Chris Snyder (him of the zero career steals) on first.

bdhudson
Member
Member
bdhudson
3 years 1 month ago

Further proof that the league I’m in that uses errors as a fielding category is idiotic.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 1 month ago

I think you are stretching on many of these to say that Aoki’s speed was not a factor, or even to say it wasn’t a major factor. Error 5, for instance, almost assuredly does not happen without a fast runner. The second baseman rushes the feed and royally screws it up. If Adam Dunn hit that ball, he takes his time and it is two outs easily instead of zero. You could possibly say the same about 12, but I think you’re right on that one. Error 9 is a rushed throw, or the short stop needs to learn how to throw when not rushed. Error 8 is obviously a rush job after the pitcher knocked the ball down (which was not the error I assume, pitchers never get errors for knocking a ball down instead of gloving it). Error 10 was a very slight bobble and many guys would still be thrown out. I see more plays than not that would not be errors with a mediocre speed guy at the plate.

payroll
Guest
payroll
3 years 1 month ago

I think it could be tested pretty easily though. Simply divide ROEs’ by ground balls hit, yeah? Then segment the results by BSR or steals or whatever. Mildly disappointed that didn’t happen here but at the same time I’m too lazy to do it myself :(

Jon L.
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Jon L.
3 years 1 month ago

I was going to make a similar comment, but TKDC said it first. I agree that many of these plays were influenced by Aoki’s speed. Any time you’re trying to turn a double play with a fast runner, you have to rush, and any infielder worth his salt knows it.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 1 month ago

Also, there is definitely at least as much luck in a broken bat pop single or a “swinging bunt” as there is with any error, but those count for guys while errors don’t. It is completely arbitrary when you think about it, and that is before you consider that errors are just decided by some dude at the stadium.

Outsider
Guest
Outsider
3 years 1 month ago

I agree on all points. Many balls that aren’t fielded cleanly aren’t ruled errors, because the fielder has time to recover and still makes the out. Players that run fast and hard are less likely to give the fielder this kind of time, and thus are more likely to reach base on these kind of plays, even though they are ruled as errors.

Yes, I think it’s probable that a fast player may force a hurried play, but I think in a case study like this it’s less important to ask whether the player’s speed helped “cause” the error and more important to ask whether or not a different (perhaps slower) player would have been out. Granted, it’s still not easy to gauge.

It’s hard to measure on a single-player/single season level, but if you use the Event Finder mentioned in the article to compare players with fairly lengthy careers, you’ll find what you expect to find: Guys who are well-known to who run fast and hard to first and/or hit a bunch of grounders have a significant advantage in reaching on error.

Outsider
Guest
Outsider
3 years 1 month ago

Also (while my mind is on it): ROE should be included in a player’s OBP.

If some players are more likely to reach base on a play ruled as an error than others (which they are), this should be reflected in the metric that measures how well a player gets on base. A batter doesn’t receive credit for being the victim of an outstanding defensive play. I don’t see why he should be penalized for being the beneficiary of a bad one, especially since some players’ skillsets and playstyles lead to his outcome more often than others’.

Peter Jensen
Guest
Peter Jensen
3 years 1 month ago

How can you predict how often a guy will reach base on error? Look first at his rate of grounders per plate appearance. Then, it probably matters if he’s left-handed, then, it probably matters if he runs well.

Jeff – Kight handed batters get far more ROEs than left handers. The reason, of course, is that they hit a much greater percentage of their ground balls to third base and shortstop where the longer throws give much less time to recover from a misplay or an offline throw. If you look at the leaders in ROE/AB or ROE/GB for the years 2000 to 2011 more than 70% of the top ten for each year are right handers.

Woodman
Member
3 years 1 month ago

Kite-handed batters are an interesting idea, though I do wonder what the effects would be.

RL
Guest
RL
3 years 1 month ago

Give Peter Jensen a break. The letters K and R are very close together on the keyboard.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 1 month ago

Ummm. Last I checked, most batters are right-handed. We’d expect the majority of league leaders in anything at all to be right-handed hitters.

Peter Jensen
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Peter Jensen
3 years 1 month ago

Ian – The ROE rate batting left handed is .027 ROE per infield ground ball. For right handers it is .037.

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
3 years 1 month ago

That does make sense, for the reason you listed above. And in my previous response, I probably should have noted that while most batters are right-handed, it’s not anywhere close to 70 percent, especially if we count switch-hitters with the lefties for the purpose of this exercise.

Nate
Guest
Nate
3 years 1 month ago

“And then you’d have to control for baserunner state, since there can be errors on attempted force outs.”

My understanding of score keeping rules is if there is an error trying to put out another runner, it would go down as a fielder’s choice for the batter, not an error.

ettin
Guest
ettin
3 years 1 month ago

This topic occasionally pops into my brain while watching the Angels game and Trout running down the line.

I’ve seen many infielders rush to get the ball to first knowing that Trout gets down the line in a hurry. Some fail to get the ball there in time and it is recorded as an infield single.

In future case studies would it be better to look at the higher rates of infield hits to determine the impact of footspeed? Based on your article above it seems errors don’t correlate well but infield base hits would probably better categorize those players that force the defense to make a play?

You could probably make a top 10 list based on infield hits and then look at those players specifically to see the errors committed on plays they were involved in to see if they were foot speed related?

John
Guest
John
3 years 1 month ago

The throw in #11 is just mesmerizingly terrible

Bob
Guest
Bob
3 years 1 month ago

In considering the “fumbles”, why is the focus only on whether the fielder was hurrying? With a slower runner, the fielder would have time to recover from the fumble and get the out anyway. #10 for example.

RL
Guest
RL
3 years 1 month ago

Exactly. Same for #2 and #8. I would also say that the second (and decisive) bobble in #3 is very likely attributable to Aoki’s speed. Seems as if the author’s judgments on these plays are heavily theory-laden, the theory being, “speed doesn’t matter much in forcing errors.”

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 1 month ago

Maybe it is just me, but #4 seems pretty hurried.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 1 month ago

I don’t have any proof of this, but I noticed in pouring over Giants Gameday results in 2010 that Juan Uribe was getting on base a lot via errors and the kind of fielder’s choice that doesn’t involve an out. I have no explanation for this (he was certainly not fast), but the frequency staggered me.
I was hooted down on the Giants team site blog for pointing this out, mostly because nobody but I was aware of that kind of FC.
I trust the fans here are more knowledgeable.

ndavis910
Member
ndavis910
3 years 24 days ago

Care to elaborate? I’d be interested in any more study of this subject.

Eric Brydon
Guest
Eric Brydon
3 years 1 month ago

Couldn’t it also be related to the speed of the ball as its coming at an infielder? Ground balls that are either stung, or hit so slowly that the infielder has to rush have a higher error rate than medium speed ground balls. It seems to me that those medium speed ones happen when a hitter rolls over on a pitch. Couldn’t some hitters roll over on pitches more than others?

snoop LION
Guest
snoop LION
3 years 1 month ago

A lot of those ones above do have an element of speed to it due to the defender not being able to recover in time after the initial bobble, i.e. Albert Pujols wouldn’t have beat those out because he jogs down the line

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
3 years 1 month ago

From the article: “Albert Pujols has reached on error seven times this year and he’s been running like he’s hauling a wheelbarrow of bricks.”

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
3 years 1 month ago

I bet Pujols is more likely than most to blister the ball right at a fielder. Some of those balls will be missed and recorded as errors. It would be interesting to see if his reached on errors are on hard-hit balls as opposed to Aoki’s on soft-hit balls.

Or maybe all seven of Pujols ROE’s came on fielders trying to force Mike Trout out at second.

David Bowser
Guest
David Bowser
3 years 1 month ago

I was thinking the exact thing about Pujols. Similarly, David Wright hits line drives to 3rd that induce 4-5 ROE per year that simply point to the inability of the 3rd baseman to handle a screaming line drive.

DowntownChico
Guest
DowntownChico
3 years 1 month ago

Batted Ball Speed could also play a factor in ROE.

In Aoki’s case, he doesn’t appear to be hitting the ball hard at all, which goes against my hypothesis. But I would guess that the harder a player hits the ball, on average, the more likely the defense is to have trouble handing it. This might help explain the Puljos ROE.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
3 years 1 month ago

I got curious and looked up Pujols’ 7 ROE’s this year. Only four were on grounders, and two of those may be due to rushing/distraction caused by other baserunners:

1. E4 on weak grounder up the middle, no one on.
2. E5 on attempt to force Aybar at second.
3. SS error with Harris running from second to third.
4. E5 on line drive to short right field – Jimenez scores from 3rd, Trout scores from 1st, Pujols winds up on 2nd.
5. E5 on throw, not due to Trout on 1st as there were 2 outs. Matt Dominguez’s third error of the game.
6. 1B drops a pop fly, throws Pujols out at 2nd.
7. SS drops a pop fly.

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