No ‘E’s in New York

Last night, the Yankees completed their 18th consecutive game without a recorded error, breaking the Major League record which was set by the Boston Red Sox in 2006. Ramiro Pena was the last Yankee to get charged with an error when he misplayed a grounder at short stop against Toronto.

Errors and fielding percentage are loved by the mainstream media as the marks by which to measure team defense. It is not hard to understand why, given that on the surface they seem like such concrete and easily understood numbers while formulas like UZR, RZR, PMR and the likes are technical and confusing and because of that, many will see them as arbitrary. The problem with that line of thinking is that in actuality, errors are perhaps equally as confusing if you were being exposed to the game for the first time.

A right fielder catches a ball and throws to third attempting to nail a tagging runner. The throw is in every way perfect, but actually hits the runner and caroms away from the fielder. The scoring decision? Error on the right fielder almost to a fault. A shortstop makes a dazzling play in the hole and fires to first only to have the first baseman drop the ball. Error on the short stop. A left fielder loses the ball in the lights and it drops two feet away from him. No error there. And people complain that advanced fielding metrics are hard to understand?

Looking at the UZR numbers here on FanGraphs shows the Yankees at 14th in baseball with a 0.4 UZR/150, which isn’t much to write home about. They have taken a nice step forward from last year through, when they ranked 25th. The key driver is the increase in range among their fielders. It is, of course, no surprise considering the departures of noted slugs Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu and the importation of Mark Teixeira. All in all, errorless streaks are cool and make good talking points on TV, but don’t fall into the easy trap of evaluating a defense solely on that stat.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

11 Responses to “No ‘E’s in New York”

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  1. Matt B, says:

    Does anybody even pay attention to errors anymore? I think UZR has made us all more aware of what good defense is.

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    • twinsfan says:

      Only every media outlet and casual fan in existence.

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    • Brent says:

      Is anyone else surprised that the MLB record was only 18 games? But yeah, as Matt B stated, this is more of a sign of conservative defense than a talented one. Regardless, the addition of Teixeira I’m sure was a factor in these 18 games – good job nonetheless I suppose.

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    • David says:

      “Does anybody even pay attention to errors anymore?”

      You do realize that errors are a key component of UZR. For example, I doubt Michael Young is a well below average fielder at 3B in reality – he’s just committing a lot of errors, probably due to his unfamiliarity at the position.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Michael Young has committed just 3 errors so far this year. His ErrR is +1, his RngR is -9.

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  2. Rob in CT says:

    Anyone who pays attention to the stats knows the Yanks are average defensively (or have been to this point). What’s funny is when you run into people who should know better who will claim that the Yankees are terrible defensively, without actually checking. They were terrible, but swapping out Giambi and Abreu for Teixiera and Swisher, plus some bounceback from Cano = big improvement. Jeter is continuing his average defense from last season, which is another conventional wisdom issue (amongst those who value statistical analysis, not the people who still think he deserved his GGs): Jeter is awful defensively, right? Well, not in 2008 and so far in 2009. If not for ARod’s injury, the Yanks might be solidly above average right now (his replacements were mostly bad, and his range since his return is not good).

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    • waynetolleson says:

      You know, there is something to be said for making the plays you can make, catching the balls you get to, throwing to the right base, etc… For some reason, it’s just really deflating when there’s an error. Even if a ball squeaks through for a single, and a better defender probably gets to that ball, it feels worse psychologically when a fielder boots a ball, or throws a ball away.

      I buy that pitchers will feel more confident if they see their fielders vacuuming-up those routine outs. Yeah, you’d like seven guys behind you who run like deer and have cannons for throwing arms. But maybe it feels a little more calming having a Derek Jeter behind you than a Jose Reyes, who has better fielding skills across the board than Jeter, but could also take himself out of a play mentally – ie. play with his head up his *ss – on any given play.

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  3. B says:

    Question for people who actually watch the Yankees. Have there been any really questionable rulings over this streak where something was ruled a basehit when it very well could have been an error?

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    • Kevin S. says:

      There were a couple. Maybe not errors, per se, but definitely players where the fielder screwed up. Brett Gardner came in on a ball that was lined towards him and it went over his head. Nick Swisher uncorked a couple of rainbows that allowed runners to advance. Not errors in the tradition sense of the term, but definitely defensive mistakes.

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      • Rob in CT says:

        In a perfect world, that’s an error. However, no official scorer in MLB would have called that an error. He never touched it, therefore it wasn’t an error. It’s stupid, but that’s the way it works. He misplayed the hell out of that ball.

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  4. bastardo says:

    Is there anywhere that daily UZR numbers are posted?

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