The Error of the Reached on Error

A hitter slaps a ground ball between second and third and it rolls just past the diving shortstop’s (let’s call him “Jerek Deter”) glove into left field. IT’S A HIT! In the official statistics, the hitter gets an at-bat (and thus also a plate appearance) and a hit. The hitter’s batting average and on-base percentage have increased.

Now imagine the exact same action by the hitter, the swing, the path, speed, spin on the ball, and speed to first base. This time, however, the defender just gets to the ball, but fumbles around and the hitter takes first base. In the official statistics, the hitter gets an at-bat (and thus also a plate appearance)… but no hit. The hitter’s batting average and on-base percentage have just decreased. Makes sense, yes? Uh, no.

People have complained about silliness of the how errors are treated, particularly with respect to how it has resulted in an incredibly messy pitching stat in ERA that has come to prevail over a much more logical runs-allowed (RA) scale for pitching metrics. The subjective nature of the scorekeeper’s decision on whether certain balls are errors is perhaps best highlighted by the fact that players have called the press box and had plays scored as errors overturned and called hits. But the problem I’m concerned with isn’t scorekeepers, it’s the rules for scorekeeping and how official baseball statistics represent events. While most writing on this topic focuses (understandably) on the effect of errors on the earned run rule and on the distortions intrinsic to ERA, my concern here is how reached on error is a fly in the ointment of offensive statistics as well.

Part of the issue is the idea that ruling a play a “reached on error” puts all of the onus on the fielder… yet it somehow also counts (in batting average and on-base percentage) against the hitter. Why should the hitter be “punished,” especially since on most errors he has at least made some contribution (e.g., putting the ball into play, running hard to beat the throw, etc.) to it not being an out? I do think the way reached on error is recorded is unfair in that way. There are differences within the sabermetric community about how much skill is involved in reached on errors and whether it should be included in metrics like wOBA (as in this discussion). That is yet another discussion. For now, I’m concerned with the accuracy problem.

The problem is that, because of the way “official” MLB statistics are recorded, we have plate appearances (in hitters’ records, at least) that are “blank spaces” that actually distort the record of what has happened. This is most obvious by looking at on-base percentage, which might be better thought of as “not-out percentage.” Hits, walks, and hit-by-pitches count as instances of getting on base. Reached on errors count in the denominator as at-bats (and thus plate appearances), but not in the numerator, even though no out occurred on the play (another argument lurks in the denominator about sacrifice hits [bunts] as opposed to sacrifice flies).

My personal perference would be take the most simple path and call what is now a “reached on error” a hit. But if that doesn’t seem appropriate it could also be treated as a separate category like hit by pitch. That is another event in which the hitter seemingly (in a non-technical, non-sabermetric sense) plays an even “more passive” role and is still included in the official statistics. Even if reached on error doesn’t have the hitter skill component some would like for sabermetric stats and projections, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be given a different treatment that it currently is in official statistics. Intentional walks are somewhat analogous: while they are somewhat related to player skill (they are generally given to hitters who are thought to be too likely to do damage in a particularly situation), the player plays an apparently passive role; furthermore, like a reached on error, someone else’s subjective judgment of an objective situation is involved (in this case, the manager rather than the scorekeeper).

Intentional walks also provide a historical precedent against “we haven’t done it this way before, what about history?” sorts of arguments: prior to the mid-1950s, they weren’t recorded separately from walks, yet they have been added to official statistics. Hit by pitch wasn’t recorded earlier, and neither were caught stealings. If it makes our records of what a player has done more logical and accurate, what is the objection? Reached on errors don’t occur in the overall numbers and with the regularity of hit by pitches and caught stealings. I realize that I’m picking nits here. But this is a blog about baseball, what did you expect?



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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hairball
Guest
hairball

I totally 100% disagree with this entire analysis. Errors are an important part of the game, and the hitter does not contribute at all to getting on base when they are called right, which happens at least as often as with typical umpire calls. Errors save pitchers from defensive crap in no-hitter bids. And I always feel good for a pitcher when his ERA is not blasted by the same kind of stuff.

To postulate that an error should count as a hit seems asenine. Comparing it to an IBB even moreso. When a hitter hits into an error, it is an obvious out that didn’t end up having that result, due to a defensive miscue. That is pretty cut and dry, and to give some kind of credit to the hitter for getting on base seems to go against the whole system that baseball is built on.

Jeffrey Paternostro
Guest

I don’t think it should count as a hit, but do think it should count as a PA and a time on base. In every other way OBP measures how often the batter does not make an out, except when it comes to ROE. It wouldn’t generally make a huge difference in OBP (I feel like BPro has done articles looking at OBP including ROE in the past) but it’s always kind of bothered me that it isn’t included.

Edward
Guest
Edward

Bingo

hairball
Guest
hairball

Why has it bothered you? If the batter is hit by a pitch, you can give him the OBP credit because either he contributed via batting stance/guts, or at the very least, he “took one for the team” and deserves something for it.

OTOH, with ROE, what has he accomplished? Scorekeepers, from what I’ve seen in my several decades of baseball-watching, tend to get it right. Errors are called on what would be obvious outs. So how has the batter demonstrated anything worth receiving credit for?

Jeffrey Paternostro
Guest

It’s not about accomplishment so much as about recording what actually happened.

Relddem
Guest
Relddem

What about players whose speed forces errors?

As Jeff said, its about recording what happened, not crediting accomplishments, or to add on, not about recording what “should” have happened. Groundballs hit directly at a SS with no runners on result in the batter reaching first base a certain percentage of the time. That percentage is higher than the same result on, say, a strikeout or IFFB. Therefore, the value of the outcome of a groundball to SS is technically different than a strikeout or IFFB, even on the assumption that error conditions are arbitrary to the batter (which they’re not). Making subjective normative claims about what “should” have happened really has no place in statistical recordkeeping or analysis.

DSC
Guest
DSC

Yes, it’s a very good stat. How often do you see guys who don’t run hard or try hard force errors? Then how many times do you see errors when Ichiro or Guerrero is involved? Lots more, as they force the issue. Of course errors should be a + in OBP and OPS+. Not only must a hitter do something to create an error (actually hit the ball) but he has to run hard; i’ve seen hundreds of errors wiped out by a guy loping to 1B or 2B or….

Smart sabermaticians would add it in at full value to OBP, OPS, and OPS+, and thus WAR.

Telo
Guest
Telo

I agree..somewhat. Part of me thinks that if errors were cut by a third or so, so that only egregious ERRORS in the true sense of the word are called, then the whole system would make more sense. It’s a play that should’ve been an out. You should get penalized. However, I do agree with some of what Matt brought up. RA/9 would be a much better stat.

Dash
Guest
Dash

The batter certainly contributed to getting on base when an error is involved. The batter put the ball in play for the possibility to exist to begin with. Appealing to the accuracy of umpires is a poor way to support your argument given how often they are incorrect. You could make a similar argument that pitchers shouldn’t get credit for balls in play that should have been hits. That line drive right at the shortstop would normally go for a single, but the pitcher got lucky. Why doesn’t that stop a no-hitter? The home run robbed by the center fielder should have scored 3 runs. Why doesn’t that affect his RA? Claiming that the batter should be penalized by someone else’s mistake, but the pitcher should be rewarded for someone else’s skill is asinine.

Errors aren’t all “obvious outs” by any stretch of the imagination. A bobbled ball that a rangey shortstop gets to is no different from a ball that skids safely by a worse player. Why is one rewarded while the other is not? You are holding on to some false dichotomy that every out is due to the pitcher’s skill while every error is somehow in no way connected to the pitcher.

Your opinion is in direct contradiction to DIPS theory. The pitcher should be neither rewarded nor penalized for balls in play, which is exactly what you are suggesting.

Larry
Guest
Larry

FIP and xFIP should already ignore the luck factor of a pitcher having bad defense behind him.

There are factors a hitter can control about whether he reaches via error. How hard he hits the ball for example, or the speed at which he runs to first. Of course, it could also be dumb luck. But baseball already does reward the hitter for luck like when he hits a conveniently placed blooper.

And what system, pray tell, has baseball been built on?

Anon21
Member
Anon21

Perhaps someone has done the research, but I doubt the empirical reality of the situation matches up with hairball’s moral analysis of the error. That is, I would bet that there are some players who demonstrate a repeatable ability to reach on errors, due to speed and making more solid contact. It’s not as if defensive players don’t know the difference between an Ichiro and a Konerko, and it seems highly likely that that awareness would affect some of their fielding and throwing attempts.

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