Give Fielders Their Props
The last time we talked numbers we were showing you how to read the offensive line of a box score. Now it’s time to switch positions and let you know how to tell when a fielder’s working hard for your team.
As we mentioned in Accountants of the Game, baseball score sheets work much like bank statements with sides that need to balance against one another. Every time an offensive out is recorded, there needs to be a corollary putout (PO) on the defensive side.
PO = Putout: credited to the person who makes the out by fielding the ball. This is the 1st baseman who tags the bag before the runner arrives or the outfielder that catches the fly to center.
Unless you play catcher, this particular metric is not often directly used to value a player as a fielder. It’s opposite however, the error, most definitely is; especially for those who play shortstop.
E = Error: An Error is credited to a fielder by the official scorer when, in the scorer’s judgment, the average fielder should have been able to make the play. This might include a ball that goes between a players legs, as in the infamous Billy Buckner play in game 6 of the World Series.
Another type of error occurs when the fielder makes a poor play. One example would be a ball that is dropped in the transfer between glove and throwing hand. A fielder will also be credited with the error on a throw to a baseman when the ball does not reach the receiving player’s intended target, their glove, either due to over or under throwing.
A fielder will also be credited with an error on any play that extends a batter’s at bat. A dropped foul ball that extends an at bat is scored an error.
Any missed throw in baseball is an error. Those thrown by the pitcher in the battery format are credited as either a passed ball (PB) or wild pitch (WP). All those that happen once the ball is in play are fielding errors even when committed by a pitcher as he becomes a fielder the moment the pitch leaves his glove.
Unlike putouts, errors do get looked at often, and in many ways. Not only do they affect the defensive person’s personal statistics but the offense as well. A run scored by a person who reaches base on an error is an unearned run. This helps the pitcher if the error was not their own. A batter whose teammates cross the plate during their at bat will not receive RBIs for any run that scores as a result of the error.
For a long while the tradition in baseball was to heavily weigh errors in the evaluation process of a fielder but it fails to take into consideration exceptional plays on the other end of the spectrum for which there is no evaluation tool.
The type of error is also not measured in any way. Let’s say a player makes an exceptional play but then cannot transfer the ball because it is caught in the web of their glove. That may be awarded an error to balance the scoresheet because the caught was made. They could also throw the ball away and the error is theirs. In either case, they’ve made the exceptional play and their reward is not a pat on the back for doing the impossible but rather, a mark against them as a fielder for not being able to complete the follow-through from an unusual spot. However you field, you never want it to go off like this.
PB = Passed Ball: Only a catcher can be credited with a passed ball. This occurs when a catcher looses control of a pitch that, in the official scorer’s judgment, s/he should have been able to handle.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a passed ball and a wild pitch in real time but the differences matter for the pitcher in two ways. If the pitch is deemed wild then the error is scored to the pitcher. If the pitch is deemed a passed ball and a runner scores, the run – when it would otherwise be earned – will not be considered earned and therefore, it will not negatively affect the pitcher’s earned run average.
A passed ball is not recorded as an error because several pitches, including some sliders and curves, are intended to cross the plate in the dirt making them naturally more difficult for a catcher to handle. Knuckleballs, infamous for their lack of predictability as they cross the plate, are also hard to handle. That is why you will often see these pitches thrown less often once players are on base and decrease again with runners in scoring position.
WP = Wild Pitch: A wild pitch occurs when a pitch is delivered with so little control that the catcher cannot handle it and, as a result, base runners advance. The WP is only awarded when a player advances on the base path. This includes allowing the batter to reach first safely on the called third strike.
The difference between a WP and PB depends on the scorekeeper’s keen eye. The rule is, if the ball hits the dirt or completely misses the catcher’s glove, it is wild.
DP = Double Play: When two offensive players are out on the same play, it is a double play. This can happen in any number of ways but the most common play is a grounder to first. Often times, the baseman gets the ball tags the base and makes the throw to second in plenty of time.
Here’s one you never like to see when you’re team is on offense. Not only is the runner caught stealing but he’s caught up in a way that creates one of those rare, often times confusing, unassisted double plays.
In this instance, there are runners on 2nd and 3rd so no need for a player to leave their base early. When the ball is hit, in a rare drive down the third base path, the batter is out on the hit because it never touches the dirt. The runner, having taken a long lead, is caught off third and the baseman easily beats him to the bag before he can tag back up.
A = Assist: An Assist is awarded to the fielder that touches the ball before the out is completed. This is where your outfielders really shine, statistically speaking. A centerfielder throws to 2nd in time for the out. They get the assist while the shortstop or baseman, depending on whose covering the base, gets the putout.
No matter the number of players in the chain to the out, they are all awarded assists except for the person who is awarded the putout. Let’s say there is an outfield blooper. The centerfielder scoops it up and throws to the cutoff man who then gets it to the plate in time to stop the runner from scoring. On that out you have the catcher awarded with the putout and both the centerfielder and the cut off man will be awarded assists.
Infield players are assisting on outs nearly every play but the outfielders rarely have an opportunity to do the same. The result is that, while all players receive these credits, it is most often only the outfielder assists that are looked at as a measurement of performance.
UER = Unearned Runs: An unearned run is any run that scores as a direct result of an error or a passed ball. Determining if a run would have scored without the defensive mistake is a judgment made by the official scorer. This measure is used solely for the benefit of the pitcher.
These are different than earned runs accredited to another pitcher. Let’s say Joe is pitching and then replaced mid-inning by Kevin. When Joe left he had runners on 2nd and 3rd. The runner on 3rd scores in the next play, which is a hit to the midfield. That runner’s score is credited to Joe’s statistics. Now, let’s say on that same play the centerfielder throws to the cutoff man and the cutoff overthrows home resulting in the runner from second scoring. That run is an unearned run because it happened as a direct result of the overthrow error. An unearned run can only exist on a fielding error or passed ball.
CS% = Caught Stealing Percentage: This is a catcher’s favorite measure to work on improving. It determines how many times a player has been caught trying to steal a base. Because the catcher is nearly always involved in the putout, it is only the catcher’s involvement that is recorded.
The formula is: catcher caught stealers / total stolen base attempts – both successes and failures – against that catcher
This only works to a tipping point however. A catcher who is known for having a strong arm will not have nearly as many attempts taken against them as the average team might.
TP = Triple Play: When three offensive players are out on the same play, it is a triple play.
There is nothing so beautiful, or rare, as the triple play in baseball. Triple plays are rare for two reasons. First, they require three base runners. Second they require an unusual amount of speed and accuracy for turning the throws. So, while the concept is self-explanatory, we wanted to give you a glimpse at the closest you may ever get to a perfectly executed defensive team play.
The way teams have used these, and other, defensive statistics since the start of baseball has changed vastly over the years. Though the history has varied, the objective is the same, giving credit where credit is due or, more often, not crediting the wrong person with the raw end of that accounting balance sheet.