Judgmental Baseball Stats

Here’s something kind of funny: Few people seem to talk more about baseball statistics than people who are anti-baseball statistics. It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed before, but it really struck me the other day when I got back-to-back emails from Brilliant Readers about Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. One was making the point that Cabrera’s greatness simply cannot be captured by statistics. “With Cabrera, you don’t need numbers,” he wrote. “I mean the guy’s hitting .360 with 120 RBI!”

The second wondered why I said that Trout is a better base runner than Cabrera. He was saying that numbers cannot measure that. while, two sentences later, pointing out that if Trout is really a better base runner than Cabrera, why is it that Cabrera has scored more runs this year? Huh? Explain that? “The idea is to score runs, right?” he wrote.

*Today’s post is not about Trout and Cabrera, so I don’t really want to get into this. But OBVIOUSLY the reason Cabrera has scored one more run than Trout this year is because he has 19 more home runs. That’s 19 more runs, and baserunning is not really a big factor in the home run — basically you just have to not pass any other runners, something that I don’t think is a problem for Miggy.

Discounting home runs, Trout has gotten on base 220 times and scored 67 runs — scoring about 30.5% of the time.

Discounting home runs, Cabrera has gotten on base 196 times and scored 49 runs — scoring exactly 25% of the time.

Anyway, all of this made me realize something in way I never had before: No other sport has statistics that are so JUDGMENTAL as baseball. In other sports, we just kind of count things. That seems to be the point of sports stats, no? To count things. We count touchdowns, free throws, goals, catches. Some rely on a small bit of ruling — assists, blocked shots, tackles, sacks, these are not always entirely clear — but for the most part we count acts.

In baseball, the most statistical sport on earth, we don’t just count acts. We put our own morality and justice on the numbers. It’s actually quite ridiculous when you think about it.

Here are a bunch of examples:

– In baseball, when someone steals a base late in the game and the other team doesn’t try to throw him out because his run is meaningless, the player does not get credit for the stolen base. We know he stole the base. We saw him do it. But, no, it doesn’t get marked down. It’s called “defensive indifference.” I always liked defensive indifference because it’s an awesome name for a band and a cool sounding term and it SOUNDS like a good thing. Why, after all, should a guy get credit for a stolen base when the other team didn’t even try to stop him?

But the more I think about it, the more I think this is actually ludicrous. He should get credit for the stolen base because, you know, he STOLE THE BASE. If someone scores a meaningless and undefended basket at the end of a basketball game, he still gets credit for it. That’s because, you know, IT HAPPENED. If a running back runs for some meaningless yardage at the end of the half when the clock is running out, he still gets credit for it. If someone scores an empty net goal just before time expires and with the team having given up on the play, he still gets credit for it.

But this is what I mean about baseball being judgmental. Someone sits on high and says: “No! No stolen base for that man! The defense did not make a proper attempt to throw him out! That base shall forever be known as DEFENSIVE INDIFFERENCE.”

– In baseball, when someone hits into a double play and a run scores, the batter does not get credit for the RBI. Why? What valid statistical model is this using? Again, it SOUNDS vaguely right — hey, the guy hit into a double play, don’t give him an RBI for that. But then, it actually sounds like something an eight-year-old would do in some made up game. RBI stands for “Run Batted In” and, unless my English is off here, that run was batted in.

– In baseball, when you move a runner from first to second on a bunt, it’s called a “sacrifice” and it does not count as an at-bat. But if you move a runner from first to second on a ground ball, it not called a sacrifice and it does count as an at-bat. Why? They are EXACTLY the same thing — well, not exactly. The difference seems to be “intent.”

And that’s what I mean by baseball statistics being judgmental. The stat is to reward someone for INTENDING to help the team, not for ACTUALLY helping the team. You can’t get more judgmental than that. If someone banks a free-throw in when he was intending to make it straight, guess what, he still gets the point. His INTENT is irrelevant. The basket is what matters.

Think about this: If you bunt the ball and the runner moves, it is marked as sac, no at-bat, it’s all good for your batting average. If you check your swing and hit the ball at exactly the same speed and trajectory as a bunt, it goes as an out in your record.

– In baseball, when you hit a fly ball, and a runner tags up and scores from third, it is called a “sacrifice” and it does not count as an -bat. But if you hit a ground ball and the runner scores, it does count as an at-bat and an out. Wait, that’s true unless that ground ball is a bunt and the runner scores, then it is called a “sacrifice” and not counted as an at-bat. So, remember: Fly ball to score the run — sacrifice. Ground ball to score the run — out. Double play ground to score the run — two outs and no RBI. Bunt to score the run — sacrifice.

– And then there’s the error. Man oh man. The error. The older I get the more I hate the error in baseball. I think I’m now at the point where I’m pretty sure the error is is the single worst statistic in sports, and there are some BAD statistics in sports.

I mentioned something about this the other day and someone wrote in on Twitter in a rage, wondering why a hitter should get CREDIT for getting on base because of a defensive miscue.

Again: Sounds good. Why should a hitter get credit for a defensive miscue? It sounds good until you start thinking about how unbelievably vapid it would sound if you said it for any other sport. Could you imagine someone at a football game taking a catch away from a receiver because the defender fell down? Could you imagine someone taking away a basket from a player because the defender covered the wrong man? Could you imagine someone taking away a goal from a player because the goalie should have stopped the puck? I’m just imagining that, an official scorer at a hockey rink, saying: “Um, no, that’s an unearned goal, from my vantage point that CLEARLY should have been stopped.”

But this is precisely what we do with errors. This isn’t record-keeping. This is sermonizing on some 1910s idea of the “right” way to the play the game. Someone sits in a press box and determines if the fielder SHOULD have caught the ball? And this will not only decide whether the batter gets credit for a hit, but if the pitcher will have to take responsibility for the run? People talk about the craziness of advanced stats, but could you even IMAGINE someone coming up with this system in 2013?

Anyway, the whole idea of “errors” is rife with inconsistencies and absurdities and stupidities — here’s just one. If a fly ball is hit in the air and the outfielder loses it in the sun and doesn’t touch it, it’s almost always called a hit. But if a fly ball is hit in the air, and the outfielder loses it in the sun but, at the last second, regains site of it, and it hits his glove and drops, it’s almost always called an error. It’s EXACTLY THE SAME THING. But one is a hit and the other is an error.

Plus, a hit in Cleveland might be an error in Seattle. An error in Kansas City might be a hit in Atlanta. No, more than that, a hit one night in Chicago might be an error the next night because there’s a different official scorer.

Judgmental record keeping. That’s baseball.

And so, yes, there are excellent arguments against WAR and other advanced statistics, and some people make those arguments. I hope they keep making the arguments, keep making these stats baseball. Because it seems to me that what baseball needs are statistics that simply count things, without prejudice … stats that provide context without making verdicts about how baseball SHOULD be played … stats that don’t see baseball actions as “good” or “bad” but simply as actions … these might help us shed the blinders that the traditions stats have been for all these years.

And don’t even get me started on the pitcher win. Not today.

Comments (64)

  1. Atom August 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Speaking of the pitcher win, we found out today that Ben Sheets is going to start coaching at University of Louisiana-Monroe.

    Of course, Ben Sheets was arguably the best NL pitcher in 2004…probably a little bit behind Randy Johnson. Either way, those two were pretty handily the best two pitches in the league that year.

    They went a combined 28-28. (16-14 for Johnson, 12-14 for Sheets)

  2. Paul August 20, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Wow — I never thought of it that way, but I agree! Excellent post as always, Joe!

  3. Unknown August 20, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    It’s like fielding percentage…it actually penalizes players with range.

  4. Rob Smith August 20, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    I like it. On errors too, don’t forget, players don’t want errors charged to them & want credits for hits when they hit a grounder in the hole that the SS doesn’t come up with. Some have been known to give the official scorer a hard time if they don’t like the call (which probably has something to do with their contract being up this year, or incentive clauses). So, guess what? The official scorers try to be politically correct so as not to tick someone off, especially a star player from the home team. I’ll bet if Miggy hits a ball hard and the SS has to move for it, gets his glove on it but doesn’t come up with it…. hit…. too hot to handle. Yeah, it’s all pretty ridiculous.

  5. Nate August 20, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    I find it interesting that you wrote this particular column, Joe. I don’t want to point my finger, but you have done more than almost anyone else to advance sabremetrics as a legitimate form of column argument, and as a result of your opinions, you do form judgments about what should or should not be the case in baseball. So I find it interesting that you find baseball statistics “judgmental,” since they are often the very tools you use to make arguments.

    • e2876f60-88c8-11e1-8791-000bcdcb2996 August 20, 2013 at 6:48 pm

      You’re being ignorant on purpose re: the difference between “judgment” and “judgmental.” It sounds like people complaining that people won’t tolerate their intolerance.

    • Mike Cumming August 20, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      He wasn’t calling all statistics judgmental, just the few he described. And you will likely never hear Joe or any other sabrmetric analyst using defensive indifference, sacrifices, or errors to demonstrate a player’s performance.

    • Which Hunt August 23, 2013 at 12:46 am

      Joe’s not arguing in favor of non-judgement players based on stats. If you’ve been to this blog before you will probably notice that approximately 82% of Joe’s waking life is dedicated to doing exactly that. Joe is arguing that the stats themselves should be unchained from some scorer’s judgement call and be focused on OUTCOMES. Errors, sacrifices, fielding percentage, batting average, and even on-base percentage (indirectly) are based on what the scorer is willing to say was intended or what ought to have happened, rather than simply recording the outcome of the play.
      If I was the scorer I would say that you are being intentionally dense, but that’s a judgement about your intent. The outcome is that you made a poor argument and bad post. Let’s just count that.

  6. B.E. Earl August 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    I actually agree with it, but try explaining the foul bunt with 2 strikes as an out to someone totally unfamiliar with the game. Especially when they’ve just seen the previous batter foul off 5 pitches in his at-bat. “Well, because…” is how I usually start out.

    • Atom August 20, 2013 at 6:40 pm

      This reminded me of explaining football to my wife. She literally had zero understanding of the rules and was confused by everything. On a fourth down, the team punted as they do and she asked what was happening. She insisted this was deeply stupid, and after some discussion she said “That seems really stupid. Seems like you’d be better off trying to get a first down than giving the ball to the other team just a little way down the field”.

    • clashfan August 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm

      Actually, she’s right. Offenses typically get 6-8 yards per play. They should go for it more often than they do.

    • Atom August 20, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      Exactly! You just grow so used to thinking of it one way, someone with no knowledge of the game can point out what should be pretty obvious.

    • Scott August 20, 2013 at 7:59 pm

      Just say that in the 19th century, several players developed the ability to bunt balls foul at will until the pitcher tired or they got a perfect pitch to hit, so the rule was added to prevent that strategy.

    • Which Hunt August 23, 2013 at 2:55 am

      I never knew that. I’ve never had a problem with that rule, but have thought it odd.

  7. W. Blake Gray August 20, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Look for a different causality here.

    The numbers draw a certain type of fan to baseball.

  8. Cincinnati Dave August 20, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    I agree with the point — baseball’s scoring/stats are judgmental — but I actually LIKE this about baseball. Other than assists in basketball (and maybe hockey and soccer — I don’t really follow those), you are right about it being a judgment call.

    But we are judgmental in baseball about certain things precisely because in baseball we can rely upon individual stats so much. We can, with WAAAAAAAY more precision, measure a hitter’s contribution to a team, compared to even a basketball player or running back, because of the individual nature of hitting. Thus, we have carved out weird, but logic (or logic-based) rules to ensure our measurements are ok.

  9. JRoth August 20, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    You must have loved Pedro Alvarez’s 2-homer game last night. He crushed it, and now leads the NL by 2 HRs.

    I am absolutely certain that, if Alvarez ends the season with the same number of “official” HRs as Goldschmitt or just 1 fewer, you will, forever after, refer to Pedro as 2013 HR champ of the NL. Right? You won’t penalize him because stupid ERROR judgements say that he really hit a single and got lucky. Nope. He hit a homerun through his awesome skill of not stopping while the ball rolled under the RF’s glove and dribbled to the fence.

    • Which Hunt August 23, 2013 at 12:56 am

      Corrct me if I’m wrong, but I think your point is that it would be absurd to award a hitter a homerun in a situation where the fielder misplayed a ball. I would offer this as a rebuttal; what are most homeruns, but a poor pitch made by the pitcher. Ought the pitcher not have thrown a better pitch? Why is it not more absurd to say the hitter hit the ball and scored, but we won’t credit him because we don’t like how it happened?

  10. JRoth August 20, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Also, I love all this coming from a guy who, I’m pretty confident, puts value on DIPS theory. Which is all about ignoring most of what, you know, *happened*, in hopes of determining the underlying talent. Which, as you must know, is *precisely* why the scoring rules are what they are.

    • Atom August 20, 2013 at 7:55 pm

      I think you are misunderstanding DIPS

      The DIPS theory attempts to only charge the pitcher with what the pitcher controls and evaluate their performance that way. The pitcher can control his interaction with the batter. IE, a pitcher gets charged with a “run”…that is all on the pitcher.

      By the same token, Joe doesn’t put much credence into RBIs, does he? No, he most puts it into obp/sa/steals, etc, things the BATTER controls.

    • mckingford August 20, 2013 at 10:24 pm

      Yes, and the other point about DIPS is that it’s purpose predictive in nature. Do you want to know who had the best pitching season? Then ERA (or, preferably RA) might work. If you want to know what to expect from a pitcher going forward? Then DIPS, or FIP is your stat.

      You’ll have to forgive JRoth, who is a bit daft when it comes to baseball…he didn’t think Clemens Boston years merited HOF consideration.

  11. Flax August 20, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    “With Cabrera, you don’t need numbers! Except these two really bad numbers that I happen to like, because I actually know what they mean and I refuse to learn anything new, ever.” Brilliant Reader has rarely been applied so sarcastically.

  12. Michael August 20, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    How ABOUT some of these judgmental calls in other sports? I’m always sickened by the fact that an INT on a last-minute heave by the QB counts as much a a key one in the middle of a drive…and that the 53 yards he picks up as his receiver dances around trying to get a touchdown when the defense is 65 yards down field counts for him.

    And aren’t we in some ways better off having official judgmental stats, and being able to extrapolate from those, rather than vice versa? For example, let’s say you are anti-error and anti-sacrifice – you can always count up the plate appearances and get back to a “pure average,” let’s say. However, with the INTs and yardage, you’d need to go through every game log to decide what the QBs “pure” numbers are.

  13. James Guthrie August 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    I appreciate your courage in writing this. A few thoughts:

    * With you on artificiality of the arbitrary “sacrifice” distinction. Most evident when a bunt is deemed to have been “for a hit” and therefore not a sacrifice, even when the runner advances and the out is made at first.

    * Intent exists in other sports, too. The uncontested goal in hockey is more comparable to a run scoring with the infield playing back (and the run still counting), while the defensive indifference might be more comparable to a “shot on goal,” which is also based on intent. Or spiking the ball in football not counting as a pass attempt.

    * I wonder if the logical case for eliminating the error changes if you start with the fielder’s choice instead. If the fielder’s choice makes sense as a scoring outcome for the batter (and I think it does), it seems like the error stays as well: the difference between the batter reaching or not in either case comes down to the actions of the fielder.

    * Related, I think the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of changing scorekeeping is the fielder’s choice when no out is recorded.Runners @ 1st & 2nd, groundball to short–if he goes to 3rd and doesn’t get the out, call it a hit. A play with no error, and no out, should be a hit! Don’t put the work of deciding whether the base thrown to was the easiest or most strategic on the scorer. Assume it was the easiest, and if they couldn’t get it, they wouldn’t have gotten it at first either.

    • Jason August 22, 2013 at 2:54 am

      A shot on goal in hockey isn’t necessarily based on intent. In order to count as a SOG, the goaltender must save it or it goes in the net. A post or crossbar hit that doesn’t go in doesn’t count as a SOG, even though that’s clearly the intent.

  14. Damon Rutherford August 20, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    I agree with you, Joe, but then I am conflicted with events such as what happened last night with Pedro Alvarez when Chris Denorfia misplayed the grounder out in RF, allowing Alvarez to score on his own “single”.

    If errors do not exist, Alvarez would be credited with a HR, yes? I suspect many people would have an issue with that.

    But these events are few and far between, and I think the positives of eliminating errors would trump these weird plays.

  15. Daniel Flude August 20, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    I LIKE that baseball takes intent into account when determining how to dole out stats. I think that makes the statistics more meaningful, rather than less, despite some of the noise that will be introduced because of judgment.

    • Which Hunt August 23, 2013 at 1:06 am

      Define “meaningful”. In a statistical context I would define meaningful as something that separates signal and noise. Introducing noise would be the polar opposite of meaningful.

  16. JP August 20, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Great points. You missed, though, the most fundamental judgmental statistic: the base on balls. The hitter doesn’t get credit for it in his batting average because it’s the pitcher’s “fault” he didn’t throw him anything he could hit.

    Also: site = sight

    • Damon Rutherford August 20, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      Why is the base on balls judgmental? Because the umpire is judging balls and strikes? I can see that.

      However, the hitter receives credit for the walk in his on-base percentage. I would hope only AARP-magazine-receiving dinosaurs care about batting average these days.

    • adam August 22, 2013 at 12:33 am

      If walks were solely the “fault” of the pitcher, then almost all players would have identical walk rates.

    • Which Hunt August 23, 2013 at 1:10 am

      Can we all just agree that batting average is hopelessly flawed, but an adorable relic of a simpler time. To use a housing metaphor, BA is not a fix-upper and no amount of sweat equity will make it livable. It’s time to collect the insurance money, buy OBP and make some simple repairs. Wow that one got away from me fast.

  17. BobDD August 20, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Defensive Indifference: Benghazi

  18. mckingford August 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    I made this point the other day in a related Joe thread. There are “Errors” (scoring errors), and then there are errors. “Errors” constitute only a small percentage of errors. So a shortstop who positions himself behind the bag at 2b for a batter who pulls the ball (and who then slaps a ball through the hole at short) has committed an error, but not an Error. A different shortstop who ranges far behind 2b to make a play nobody else would but then throws into the dugout gets an Error. An OF who takes a ridiculously circuitous route on a flyball, thus letting it drop 5 feet in front of him commits an error, but not an “Error”.

    And of course this doesn’t even account for the ridiculous variance in scoring decisions. The other day I caught a glimpse of an Arizona game. With a man on first, a roller was hit to Goldschmidt, who scooped it up with ease, pivoted towards second, realized he didn’t have a play, pivoted back to first, then double clutched and threw just a split second too late to the pitcher covering first. Scoring decision: hit. A hit! If there had been 2 outs, Goldie’s only play would have been to walk to first on his own with ease and end the inning. I mean, just because he fielded the ball cleanly, and threw the ball cleanly doesn’t mean he didn’t commit an error (or “Error”). Clearly his indecisiveness, combined with his double clutch (both of which are errors) led to all runners being safe. But because it all looked clean, a hit was awarded.

  19. Vidor August 20, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    Joe should have listened to that guy who tweeted in a rage. Not sure what’s so hard to get about this. Batting average, as a statistic, is supposed to reflect the hitter’s skill and achievement. It’s in the rules–a hit is a ball hit with such force or so slowly that a fielder can’t make the play. If a fielder can make the play, it isn’t a hit.

    • BobDD August 20, 2013 at 11:43 pm

      And Joe (and several others) are arguing against it – what’s so hard to understand about that?

    • Rob Smith August 21, 2013 at 12:04 am

      The point is that the goal of the game is not to get hits. It’s to get on base, and once on base score a run…. and that hits aren’t all the same. The extra base hit variety are infinitely more important in scoring runs. That’s the crux of the issue. If you don’t walk much, that might cost you 50+ times on base, and opportunities to score. Over the course of the year, that might be 15-20 runs scored that you lose over the course of the season. So, if you hit .300, but don’t walk, that’s a significant issue in your offensive game. If most of the hits are singles, that’s another issue. That shows up on Slugging, OBP & OPS. Batting average isn’t irrelevant, but it’s less significant than other stats. A .300 hitter with 30 HRs, 45 doubles and 90 walks is significantly better than a .300 hitter with 3 HRs, 20 doubles and 25 walks. And there are plenty of both in the history of MLB. Bottom line, .300 doesn’t tell you much. .400 OBP tells you more. .600 Slugging tells you more. OPS of .900 tells you even more.

    • BobDD August 21, 2013 at 12:56 am

      btw, I hear that Joe Morgan is getting a lifetime endorsement contract from Depends, because after the snark, that’s what all his answers boil down to

    • Ian R. August 21, 2013 at 2:25 am

      Exactly! The whole idea of a hit is that the batter hits a ball such that a fielder can’t make a play.

      Thus, it makes no sense to not credit the batter with a hit when the fielder DOESN’T make a play because we argue that the fielder SHOULD have made a play. By that logic, we could call any home run that only clears the fence by a few feet an error, because the outfielder could have made an awesome catch.

    • Vidor August 21, 2013 at 9:31 pm

      Posnanski might hate batting average as a statistic, but it is hard to understand why he wants to make it dumber. And that’s precisely what he’s arguing to do. Batting average, as a measure of a hitter’s skill, gets stupider if we remake it so that it includes plays in which the hitter reached base via a fielder’s ineptitude.

      Or is that the point, to make batting average stupider so that fewer people care about it?

    • Which Hunt August 23, 2013 at 2:51 am

      I didn’t see a single mention of BA in the entire post, and is AT BEST tangential to this discussion (more likely completely irrelevant). The point is a touchdown is a touchdown no matter how badly the defense plays it. Why is a hit different?

  20. Alejo August 21, 2013 at 9:37 am

    If you start discounting Home Runs we may as well go watch some football. What are you talking about? Is discounting home runs an analytical tool?
    Man, this Miggy/Trout rant is getting ridiculous. Just say you like one more than the other, period, don’t justify your point of view with cockeyed arguments.

  21. brhalbleib August 21, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    I am going to assume that there are historical reasons for this judgementalism in baseball stats. I will suggest two sources (without doing any research as to either one): 1) The bunting rules seem to be from a time when bunting was a combination of easier (because pitching wasn’t as good) and more practiced. Therefore, a guy who was bunting for a sacrifice was truly seen as giving up his chance at a hit by swinging away and, therefore, we didnt’ want to punish him. By the same token, as noted above the 2 strike foul bunt is an out rule was definitely invented because it was so easy to foul bunts off time after time that they had to do something to speed up the game. 2) I got to think that some of the judgementalism comes from an attempt to prevent some really ugly collusion between players of opposing teams. I suspect stat padding is an old practiced art and was probably done in the past, especially when we know some players weren’t always trying their hardest anyway before 1920.

    Of course, some statistics in other sports are judgmental too, if you squint enough. For instance, in hockey and soccer (I think), if I shoot the puck(ball) at the goal and it bounces off someone else or the post and my teammate then puts it in the goal, that’s an assist. But in basketball if I shoot the ball at the goal and it bounces off the rim and my teammate gathers it in and puts it in the basket, I don’t get an assist, do I? Why not? Aren’t we judging intent in basketball (since I intended to try to score myself, I don’t deserve an assist), which they don’t seem to do on the same type of play in hockey and soccer.

    Brent (forgive the anonymous string of letter/numbers above as my name, my wife has somehow attached her name to my AIM ID and I don’t want everyone here calling me Cristina)

    • brhalbleib August 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm

      So, it didn’t identify me with that nonsensical string of letters and numbers as usual. Good. I just had a specific example for my last comment on basketball. Did Derrick Whittenburg get an assist on his long shot (pass?) to Lorenzo Charles at the end of the 1983 NCAA basketball championship game? I don’t think so.

  22. Mark Daniel August 21, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    The “error counts as an out” rule came from a time when there were a lot more errors being made, and people wanted to distinguish a good hitter from a guy who just reached base by hitting grounders on uneven fields to terrible fielders. Look at B-Rs single-season error leaders for shortstops. The top 10 are all pre 1900. The top 64 or 65 are all pre-1910. The top 500 are far and away pre-1920, and the most recent season in the top 500 is 1951 (45 errors for Alvin Dark, tied for 471st all time).
    The 1902 Orioles made 357 errors. Compare that to the worst AL team last year, Tampa with 114.

    Today, the ROE is relatively rare, so when a person actually benefits from an error, it seems unfair to call it an out. But way back when, it probably seemed like the opposite was true.

  23. Scott Lindholm August 21, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Excellent post. I enjoy hearing people like Chip Caray and Ken Harrelson decry sabermetrics and then fall right back into using counting stats not more than 30 seconds later. They don’t dislike stats, just the ones they don’t understand, and for some some people (like Ken Harrelson), that’s a fairly large sample size.

  24. nscadu 9 August 21, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Funny how hockey seems to go out of its way to give credit no matter what the misplay is. If a player scores on his own goal, the official score keeper looks for someone relevant on the opposing team to give the goal to. Not sure on the official ruling of this, but it often seems to be be the guy nearest the puck or the last opposing player to touch it. Takes no skill whatsoever and a major error on the others. You’re either on base or your not, doesn’t really matter how you got there, it still counts and your run still counts if you score. We should lose the unearned run as well. If we’re are going to give the pitcher the win stat he can take the equally arbitrary earned run.

  25. adam August 22, 2013 at 12:34 am

    I love the quote from the article:

    “With Cabrera, you don’t need numbers,” he wrote. “I mean the guy’s hitting .360 with 120 RBI!”

    Reminds me of something Bill James once wrote. To paraphrase, it was something like “the people who complain about statistics are the ones who use the most meaningless of all statistics.”

  26. birtelcom August 23, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    What about the current sabermetric use of zone-based fielding stats in baseball? These seem to be “judgmental” in the sense they are about an evaluator deciding whether a ball was hit into an area where the fielder would ordinarily be expected to make the play. In a sense it’s kind of like “errors”, except applied to every play instead of a small subset of plays.

    • Ian R. August 28, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      The difference is that the judgment isn’t subjective. Zone-based stats use data gathered from every MLB player at the position to determine whether a certain batted ball would, on average, be fielded for an out.

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