By In Stuff

How inside-the-park homers can save us all

As you probably know, we here at the JPT have little use for some of the ancient ways of baseball scorekeeping. We do not believe that pitchers single-handedly win games. We do not think a batting average that simply pretends walks do not happen is as rigorous as it might be. We do not consider a player who protects a three-run lead in the ninth to be a savior, do not agree with the masses that a batter who drives in a run has done significantly more good than the runner he drives in, do not think a stolen base should be taken away from the runner simply because the defense was indifferent.

But perhaps our biggest beef with the way baseball has been scored involves that concept known as “errors.”

Baseball is the only game in the world, I feel sure, where a scorekeeper determines the worthiness of a play before entering it into the record book. If a quarterback throws a bad pass that deflects off a defender’s chest and bounces into the receiver’s hand, it is considered a completed pass. Of course. By baseball scoring, it would be identified as a defensive error and marked in the quarterback’s record as an INCOMPLETE pass.

If a hockey player cracks a slapshot from the blue line, and the goalie sees it clearly and reaches up his glove hand, and the puck deflects off the top of the glove and tumbles into the net, it is considered a goal. Of course. By baseball scoring, it would be marked as a goalie error and recorded in the winger’s ledger as an empty shot on goal.

If a basketball player drives to the basket and scores because the whole defense he is facing falls asleep, nobody rotates, nobody even notices, and the coach is frantically calling timeout so he can go crazy on his guys, and Jeff Van Gundy is screaming “DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW TO PLAY DEFENSE?” it is still considered a basket. Of course. By baseball scoring, it would be marked a “Van Gundy,” and recorded as an unearned bucket and marked as a missed shot for the player.

This is the lunacy of baseball errors and how we score them … but, hey, we have been scoring baseball this way more or less since the dawn of time. A batter hits a ball and makes it to first base — it is often called “a single” in baseball terminology. But If someone in the booth high above the field determines that a defender SHOULD have made the play the batter is recorded as out for the back of his baseball card. A batter hits a ball and makes it to third — a triple, some might call it — but someone in the booth high above the field believes that the defense should have stopped him at second, he is considered for all time to have hit a double.

It’s dumb. But it’s ours. To go back and re-record baseball history — to rewrite all those hit records and eliminate earned runs and ERA from the books — would not make many people happy. This is baseball. We have errors in it. We accept this the way we accept so many of the absurdities of this big and wonderful game.

Except, it seems, on inside-the-park home runs.

OK, let’s break down this inside-the-park home run from Denard Span Saturday night. First inning, Giants-Phillies, couldn’t be a more meaningless game (except NO Major League Baseball game is meaningless), Jerad Eichoff was pitching for the Phillies. Span led off the bottom of the first and on the first pitch, he hit a long fly ball to right field. Off the bat it looked like it would be an outside-the-park home run but instead, it hit the fence, maybe a foot from the top. It was a blast.

The ball then bounced off the fence, and Philly right fielder Cameron Perkins seemed in reasonable position to glove the rebound and hold Span to a double. But Perkins is 6-foot-5 and and a rookie and the ball dribbled beneath his glove and rolled away. Perkins chased after.

Cameron Perkins then kicked the ball.

I’ll repeat myself in case that was unclear: Cameron Parkins then kicked the ball — he kicked it with such force that the ball rocketed past Phillies center fielder Nick Williams, who had come over to help. Span kept running, of course, while Williams raced after the ball, retrieved it and threw it into the infield. By the time the ball had reached the infield, Span had scored.

It was ruled an inside-the-park home. By the rules and longstanding customs of baseball scorekeeping, that was ABSOLUTELY NOT a home run but it was because — my theory anyway — they’re ALWAYS ruled inside-the-park homers.

See, few things in sports are more fun than inside-the-park home runs. Official scorers don’t want to take them away. You can’t blame them. Who wants to be the one to call that super-fun Span play a double and a two-base error?

Earlier the year, Joey Gallo hit this “inside-the-park” homer.


As I wrote at the time, on that play Blue Jays’ left fielder Steve Pearce:

  1. Misjudged how the ball was hit.
  2. Lost it — perhaps in the lights.
  3. Took a route so terrible that the ball ended up behind him.
  4. Mistimed his leap or whatever that was.
  5. Put his glove in the wrong place to actually catch the ball.
  6. Went crashing into the wall and fell down.

The Perkins kick is even more egregious — at least in the Pearce thing there is the long-held (and ridiculous) pretense that you don’t call errors on outfielders who don’t touch the ball. But there is no possible way, using the long-held logic by which baseball games have been scored, to call the Perkins play anything but an error. He KICKED THE BALL.

But they called it an inside-the-parker because they did.

And I couldn’t be happier about it. That’s really the point here. We can’t get rid of the error; that would be a hugely unpopular move for baseball fans. But we can slowly, methodically, systematically stop using them. Sure, people will scream, “Where have the standards gone?” and “They never call error anymore!” and “Joe DiMaggio never threw to a wrong base!” But over time, we can just starve the error until it is no longer any sort of factor in the game.

But over time, we can just starve the error until it is no longer any sort of factor in the game.

Yes, the instinct to give guys inside-the-park homers even on obvious errors is a good one. Great things happen in sports on errors. Hanging curveballs lead to the most awesome home runs. Loose defense leads to the most spectacular soccer goals. One linebacker getting out of his lane leads to 75-yard touchdown runs. Turnovers turn into glorious fast breaks. A tennis serve that just misses its spot leads to extraordinary winners. One drops the left, the other delivers the devastating right cross.

These are the sports we love, it’s about the give and take, the fall and rise, the mistake and the triumphant response. Denard Span hit a baseball well, and he kept running, and he scored. It’s an inside-the-park home run.

Life is so much more fun this way.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

37 Responses to How inside-the-park homers can save us all

  1. Well, gosh ‘n golly, Buffalo Bob! They count “own goals” in soccer and basketball. Double faults in tennis. Drops in football. Offside in soccer. Open net goals in hockey. On and on. In some cases the play stands despite the “error,” sometimes it doesn’t. And in most cases it’s information well worth having. Why not count ’em?

    • Brian says:

      I do believe you’re comparing apples to oranges, Charles. A double fault is not a subjective “error” it is an objective rule. It is the equivalent of awarding a batter first base because the pitcher threw four pitches outside the strike zone. They keep track of drops in football, yes, but it still goes as an incomplete for the quarterback. They don’t change what actually happened on the field of play when they put it in the record books. That’s Joe’s point, I think, and I think he’s right. Funny thing is I’d never thought about how ludicrous errors are; I just accepted them as part of the game. But they are a little silly.

  2. Bryan says:

    Debut since 1930 (when Reached on Error (RoE) first appears on Play Index) there are 1375 players who have at least 3000 Plate Appearances who combined for 7,731,295 PA and 89,798 RoE or 1.16% of the time as of about a week ago. Only 4 of those players Reach by Error at least 2% of the time: Billy Cox 2.3%, Mickey Stanley 2.2%, Frank McCormick 2.1% and Bob Horner 2.0%.
    There is some correlation with speed as a fielder is more likely to rush a throw with Jackie Robinson 1.9%, Otis Nixon 1.9%, Roberto Clemente 1.8% or Willie McGee 1.8% racing down the line and Adam Dunn 0.4%, David Ortiz 0.5% and Mo Vaughn 0.5% are less likely to be able to take advantage on a brief bobble by the 1st baseman but Ichiro Suzuki, Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman are 1.2% or MLB average.
    Among those 1375 players only Joe Medwick and Tony Gwynn get a Hit in 30% or more of their Plate Appearances while 85 of them officially have a .300+ career BA. Ted Williams reaches base one way or another in 48.9% of his Plate Appearances but only records a hit in 27.1% of his Plate Appearances.
    The next 10 in reaching base are: Barry Bonds 45.2%, Joey Votto 43.3%, Mickey Mantle 43.1%, Ferris Fain 42.8%, Wade Boggs 42.6%, Frank Thomas 42.6%, Edgar Martinez 42.6%, Stan Musial 42.4%, Todd Helton 42.3% and Mike Trout 42.3%. In OBP those are the Top 10 in a different order and Mike Trout in 13th. OBP has a few quirks but saying someone reaches base in 40% of his Plate Appearances or has .400 OBP is quite similar.
    The internet and Play Index in particular are wonderful sources of information. It makes about as much sense to count a great defensive play as a Hit for the Batter as to effectively consider the Batter to be Out for stat purposes if an error is involved but even if you convinced the powers that be to combine RoE and Hits it wouldn’t make all that much difference. On the other hand Batting Average is something that is a lot different from what the name implies and can be extremely misleading.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Thanks for figuring this out. My first thought was that the error rate would likely be low because MLB players don’t make very many errors…. about 1% of plays overall, which correlates directly (of course) to the number of times players reach base in errors. The interesting thing is that, in the case of some of the higher numbers reached on error players, 2%, that’s 20 points on the batting average. .250 becomes .270, etc. But this probably doesn’t matter, because if the average were figured this way, we’d adjust our thinking about what .250 or .270 means. So, in the end, of all the things to get crazy about, this isn’t on the list for me.

      • Bryan says:

        Tony Gwynn hits .411 in 1994, George Brett hits .401 in 1980, Ted Williams hits .407 in 1957 and Ichiro has 278 Hits and a .395 BA in 2004. Various batting titles change hands.
        Rod Carew in 1977 hits .399, last game of the season, 3 hits so far in the game, Top of the 9th, Twins lead 6-2, 2 Outs, Runner on 1st and Carew Walks. If Carew gets a Hit he is the first player to Bat .400 in 20 years, I’m pretty sure he is swinging at anything close to the plate.
        On the margins it would ruffle some feathers but those seasons were already pretty well known just for being the closest on the wrong side of .400. “Mr. Brett, after the announcement by Commissioner Manfred this morning how does it feel to be the only living player to have hit .400?”. I’m pretty sure it would feel about the same as being the only living player to have hit .390 the day before.

        • SDG says:

          I bet it would have made a difference to Tony Gwynn, who came the closest and whose family still markets stuff based on him hitting .394. Seems like when he was alive, every question he ever got was would he have hit .400 if not for the strike.

          It SHOULDN’T matter, maybe, but it does. We like round numbers and milestones. If Maris hits 2 fewer homers in 1961, he’s still just as good a player but he goes down in history as a gutless choker.

        • Richard says:

          What about those plays that should have been called errors but were recorded as hits?

  3. Cuban X Senators says:

    “Bob Horner 2.0%.
    There is some correlation with speed as a fielder is more likely to rush a throw with Jackie Robinson 1.9%, Otis Nixon 1.9%, Roberto Clemente 1.8% or Willie McGee 1.8% racing down the line and Adam Dunn 0.4%, David Ortiz 0.5% and Mo Vaughn 0.5% are less likely to be able to take advantage on a brief bobble by the 1st baseman but Ichiro Suzuki, Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman are 1.2% or MLB average.”

    Of course this is right (or seems like it would be). But tell me again about Bob Horner.

    • Bryan says:

      Bob Horner is essentially the justification for considering reaching first base to be the same as an out for the batter. If you exclude HR, BB, HBP and K (reaching 1B on a K is an error but almost all errors are on balls in play) all of the players go up to Reaching on Error 1.55% of the time and Bob Horner jumps into the lead with 2.8%. Otis Nixon, Jackie Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard at 2.4%. Adam Dunn with the 2nd lowest % of balls in play to Russell Branyan is still near the bottom of the list with 0.9%.
      86 RoE and 3098 Balls in Play for Horner. 44 at Home and 42 on the Road, it’s not a biased home scorer trying to hurt Horner’s BA. If Horner is expected to have 2% RoE (better than 1.55% league average for whatever reason) there is about a 1 in 723 chance he has at least 86 RoE. At 1.55% RoE he would have about a 1 in 9729 chance to even reach 75 RoE and 86 is statistically speaking not a realistic result.
      My best guess would be scorer bias on plays like ground ball the fielder knocks down and then picks up and faster players get the single. The fielder gets credit for going to his right to prevent the ball from reaching the OF but doesn’t get an error because the scorer decides that Vince Coleman would have been safe even if the fielder gloved the ball and made a throw to first either after planting or with his momentum going the wrong way. If the batter is Bob Horner the scorer decides that the fielder still could have made the play and calls it an error if Bob beats the throw.
      This results in Bob Horner coming in around 2% expected and then simple randomness pushes him up to 2.8%, quite possibly his RoE% is the furthest from what it “should” be and he’s a 1 in 723 or less likely outlier. That’s the justification for not counting Reached on Error as a Hit, at 2% he “should” have 62 and he got another 24 just because of luck.
      Of course that exact same justification could be used to give Hanley Ramirez a HR in his personal batting stats when Austin Jackson goes over the wall making the catch on Aug 1st. Hanley “should” have a HR and his individual stats should reflect that while he’s still called out for game purposes. Fundamentally the same as giving a players an Out in his individual stats because the fielder “should” have made the play but he’s still called safe for game purposes.

  4. invitro says:

    Maybe the scorers should just mark every plate appearance as a home run. Life would be so much more fun that way.

    • SDG says:

      I don’t understand. Are you disagreeing with Joe that errors are fundamentally dumb, subjective and inconsistently applied?

      Personally I would like to see the official scores to go back through the game and retroactively remove them. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. We did it with saves, we did it with RsBI and we can do it with this.

      My favourite example of “errors are dumb and scorers don’t even apply them if homers are involved ” is the game in Texas when Canseco let a ball bounce off his head and into the stands. I remember he joked that it should be a four base error and not a HR.

      • Bryan says:

        The Hit record is already fake, Eric Show gives up Pete Rose’s 4192nd Hit but the actual record breaker is 3 days earlier off Reggie Patterson. With RoE counted as Hits, Rose has 4466 career Hits and breaks Ty Cobb’s record while still on the Phillies.
        Hank Aaron with 3974 Hits might have hung around a little longer to reach 4k, Craig Biggio might have retired a year earlier. Sam Rice, Al Simmons, Frank Robinson, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols and Brooks Robinson join the 3k Hit club. Every 3000th hit except for Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Eddie Collins took place on a different day.

        • nightfly says:

          With RoE counted as hits, Cobb is possibly still ahead of Rose. There were a lot more errors back in Cobb’s day and he was one of the fastest men in baseball.

        • SDG says:

          This is widely-known. It doesn’t mean the hit record is fake, since Rose still has more than anyone else, as he’ll be glad to remind you.

          Yes, doing this means the hit record will change and baseball fans will have to learn a new vocabulary to talk about the game and we all know how much the baseball community loves that, but getting subjectivity out of the books is only a good thing.

          Yes, we have different error rate across eras, and we’re comparing rocky fields and no gloves to now etc etc but we’re doing that anyway. Maybe it’s because I came into baseball fandom as an adult, and no one in my family knows anything about the sport, but the notion of a scorer is weird.

          • Bryan says:

            I mean fake in terms of memorabilia. Memorabilia from the 4192nd hit still being considered valuable is the precedent that it wouldn’t be an issue that it isn’t the ball from George Brett’s 3000th Hit or the bat from Willie Mays’ 3000th.
            The only issue would be picking an off season that no one bypasses the milestone. If Pujols has 70 or fewer Hits the rest of the season it’s the only person that could affect this off season. Beltran, Miggy and Cano will come into play the next few years.

      • Mac says:

        If we’re going to go back and remove things, wow about we remove some statues of people we don’t like? But only the “wrong” kind of people we don’t like. Cheating Barry Bonds can stay, because, whatever. But Cobb, that racist bastard, he’s gone.

        • SDG says:

          . . . yes, I said all those things. I used the secret invisible typing only you can see.

          Do you think, in the 30s when they went back and retroactively calculated RsBI it was some kind of Orwellian plot?

      • invitro says:

        “Are you disagreeing with Joe that errors are fundamentally dumb, subjective and inconsistently applied?” — No, not really. The *idea* of errors is not a bad one. But most actual errors are not called, as any even casual baseball fan knows. To get an error, a fielder almost always has to either boot the ball, or make a wild throw, and he often doesn’t get an error even in those situations.

        I don’t errors are particularly subjective. Most error calls are very predictable, following the guidelines above. Of course, they’re not as subjective as home runs, but they’re probably as subjective as ball/strike calls.

        So even if errors were 100% objective *by current standards*, and were 100% consistently scored by those standards, they’d still be an almost-worthless stat.

        Baseball really needs something simple to measure fielders’ skill during the game. I’d like to see a stat that awarded a fielder one point for making a play that 33% of fielders would not make, and two points for making a play that 67% of fielders would not make, and gave the fielder -1 or -2 points for not making such plays. We should have the technology now to do this instantaneously based on range.

        I know there is something like this on saber sites, like defensive plus/minus or that 5-star rating system I read about before the season started, and which I was excited to see on televised games, but which apparently didn’t get any traction. (This system is only half good though, as it doesn’t have negative ratings, probably because people like Joe now hate to say anything bad at all about a player.)

        Anyway, the point I was trying to make, which apparently didn’t get made, is that Joe’s main reason for getting mad at errors isn’t any of the stuff above. It’s that errors make the game less fun, because home runs are fun and errors aren’t fun. It’s a stupid, childish reason, and Joe really seems to be regressing into a toddler these days on many issues.

        • SDG says:

          We disagree. I don’t think ball/strike calls are subjective at all. The rules are clear, they’re just inconsistently applied by umps who refuse to follow the rules uniformly, and sometimes make honest mistakes because it’s a difficult thing to do. That’s different.

          Errors are a matter of judgement. Sure, there are trends, like booting a ball or letting it fall to the ground next to you, but not always. As everyone’s pointed out, a fielder who tries to make a tough play and fails gets an error while the guy who stands there like a statue doesn’t. I was watching a Jays game a few months ago where a fielder (I forget who) got an error because he took too long to throw the ball.

          In any sport, there’s brilliant million-to-one plays, and dumbass plays. Why are the dumbass plays (but only some of them, some of the time) given a special category?

          • invitro says:

            I don’t think we disagree except maybe in very small amounts. The definition of “subjective” I’m using is that different people judge the same event in different ways. Umpires are much more uniform now, but they certainly had their own versions of the strike zone not too long ago. Balls and strikes are probably not very subjective now; I’d guess that there would be about a 5% difference in how different umpires will call the same pitch, which includes both interpretation of the strike zone and mistakes.

            Errors do probably have more than a 5% variation. I’d guess about 15%. I do think they’re more objective than most fans think, as the way people talk makes me think that they think errors are about 40% subjective, or something like that. I’m curious what the real number is.

            I certainly agree that the very best superstar fielding plays should be officially noted, and put in the box score. As I wrote above, I’d go even farther than this, with multiple levels. It’d be nice for about 4 plays per game (2 plays per team) to be noted as great plays. This would have to be very subjective, unless technology was used, and I think it could be to some extent.

    • Sadge says:

      Sounds great, Greg.

  5. Mike Knox says:

    My pet peeve is the sac fly.

    Why is it, runner on second with no outs, if you bunt the ball and advance the runner you’re credited with a sacrifice, no at-bat, patted on the back. If you KILL the ball to centre, the fielder makes a great catch, runner tags and advances, you’re given an 0 fer 1? Waay more exciting play, same result.

    Seems so unfair!


    • Rob Smith says:

      True. And to advance a runner from 2nd to 3rd, or even more rarely, from 1st to second, the ball has to be crushed. Probably to at least the warning track & certainly hit to an area that requires the fielder to run it down where they have no chance of lining up a throw. To get a runner in from 3rd, requires the 300 ft flyball. A flyball that a 15 year old could hit. So, a routine flyball is a sacrifice fly, but a 395 ft shot, run down at the fence, that moves the runner from 2nd to 3rd is just an out. And, as you noted, a 30 ft bunt is also credited with a sacrifice. That one is pretty dumb.

  6. MikeN says:

    Pearce is trying to get the batter out, taking away two bases. That they ended up with two extra bases, a run, and no extra outs instead is not a reason to call it an error.

    • SDG says:

      Using that logic, Pitcher X is trying to throw a 95mph slider with late movement like a whip. Instead he throws a changeup right down the middle. Where I’m from, we call that an error. Batter X is trying to hit the ball out of the park. Instead he swings too early and whiffs it. Where I’m from we call that an error. Etc

  7. Dan W. says:

    Where I come from we call that a Little League Home Run.

  8. Mark Daniel says:

    Someone should build a new stadium with no fence in right field. Or left field, doesn’t matter. Then we’ll see a lot more triples and inside-the-parkers.

  9. Zeke Bob says:

    As big a tennis fan as Joe is, I’m really surprised not to see a reference to forced and unforced errors here – I think that’s the most accurate comparison to baseball’s version.

    A double fault is considered an unforced error by definition, but deciding an unforced error during the course of rallies is subjective and even varies based on the skill level of the player (I might dump an easy volley into the net and it be considered a forced error whereas if Federer does the same thing it’s unforced).

    Dr. Leo Levin of IDS Sports, who coined the term unforced error in 1982 and does stats analysis for tennis, is quoted here:

    “This is how we train our staff to judge an unforced error. An unforced Error is when the player has time to prepare and position himself or herself to get the ball back in play and makes an error. This is a shot that the player would normally get back into play. The real keys here are time and position. When the opponent takes away time by hitting the prior shot with extra pace this can result in a forced error. Also, when the opponent forces the player out of position with placement (depth and/or angle) this can result in a forced error.”

    “As examples, most missed returns of first serves are considered to be forced errors – forced by the pace and placement of the opponent’s serve. Many, if not most return errors against second serves, would be unforced errors since most second serves are just means to get the point started and do not put extra pressure on the receiver.”

    “Other examples, most passing shot attempts that fail would be classified as forced errors, forced by the opponent’s aggressive play (the exception would be when an opponent hits a weak approach and the player has time to setup and then misses the shot, that would be unforced). Most approach shot errors would be unforced because the player is attempting to hit an aggressive shot and misses.”

    Definitely leaves a lot of room for leeway.

  10. John Autin says:

    What Joe advocates is already happening, without any directive.
    — In the past 10 years, there have been 16.0 errors charged per 1,000 chances. That’s down 10% from the prior 10 years; which was down 9% from the prior 10 years; which was down 9% from the prior 10 years …
    — So in the last 30 years, the 10-year error rate has dropped by one-quarter, and the per-game rate of batters reaching on error has dropped by one-third.
    — In the last 40 years, unearned run share has dropped by one-third.

    It’s true that error rates have dropped throughout baseball history largely from better fields and gloves. But while I doubt those factors have improved measurably in the last 10 years, the error rate continues its steady fall.

  11. Dan W. says:


    So what you are really saying is George Brett deserved to win the battle title over McRae in 1976. The next time you broach this topic you should include that story.

  12. Dan W. says:

    *batting title*

  13. Scott says:

    I view the error as a relic of an earlier day when fields and gloves were poor and when practically every batter made contact. In that context it made sense, a ball that bounced off a second baseman’s glove, allowing the runner to reach base was different from a ground ball up the middle (let’s avoid the BABIP discussion for now). It was an attempt to separate the batter’s performance from the fielders. In this sense it is not much different from modern fielding statistics, except working with the much more limited data available at the time.

    But as conditions and equipment have gotten better and as defenses have become smarter and more skilled, it has made less and less sense. Decisions about if errors have been made, which have always been arbitrary, become more pronounced as time goes on. But as another poster commented, these increases are likely less than those made a century ago.

    When we didn’t have videos of every game, people needed officials scorers to document what happened. But now, we really don’t. Perhaps we need to re-think the role of the official scorer rather than that of specific statistics.

  14. Up2Drew says:

    A separate element from the whole “there is no such thing as a error” argument is that there is really no such thing as an untainted inside the park HR.

    Running 360 feet before a major league defense within the dimrnsions of an enclosed major league stadium can relay the ball back to the catcher requires, simply put, a misplay. An outfielder must make an ill-advised dive, sprint headfirst into the wall, collide with another player, etc. for this to happen.

  15. Mark Daniel says:

    If you got rid of the error, then someone would keep it alive and you’ll hear all sorts of arguments like, “Sure, he allowed 4.50 runs per game, but remember that 2-out fly ball with the bases loaded that the left fielder dropped allowing 3 runs to score? That was a makeable play, so his ERA really should be 4.15, which is above league average.”

  16. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    Just an aside, but last night’s Dodgers-Pirates game reminds us that any errors-should-be-counted-as-hits rule would undo a number of no-hitters. On the plus side, it would end the scorer’s dilemma of what to do about a close call in the late innings of a no-no.

Leave a Reply to Dan W. Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *