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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