The defensive statistic that is most frequently used in baseball is the error, despite the fact that there are many others as well. When a player fails defensively, they are given an error, which on the surface seems obvious. Actually, it’s not always that simple.
So, what is an error in baseball?
A player is charged with an error when they fail to make a play that’s considered routine for the average player. Making a mistake with an easy grounder or a throw that isn’t accurate enough to get an out are two examples of errors. Fielders who permit runners to advance further may also be charged with errors.
This is a condensed response to the question, but there are many other factors involved in allocating errors to players. You can read more about it in the following sections of this article, but it’s a fairly involved procedure.
Table of Contents
What Constitutes An Error in Baseball?
Major League Baseball’s (MLB) “Official Baseball Rules” detail how errors work with Rule 9.12. The rule states:
“The Official Scorer shall charge an error against any fielder:
- whose misplay (fumble, muff, or wild throw) prolongs the time at bat of a batter, prolongs the presence on the bases of a runner, or permits a runner to advance one or more bases, unless, in the judgment of the Official Scorer, such fielder deliberately permits a foul fly to fall safe with a runner on third base before two are out in order that the runner on third shall not score after the catch;
- when such fielder muffs a foul fly to prolong the time at bat of a batter, whether the batter subsequently reaches first base or is put out;
- when such fielder catches a thrown ball or a ground ball in time to put out the batter-runner and fails to tag a first base or the batter-runner;
- when a such fielder catches a thrown ball or a ground ball in time to put out any runner on a force play and fails to tag the base or the runner;
- whose wild throw permits a runner to reach a base safely, when in the scorer’s judgment a good throw would have put out the runner, unless such wild throw is made attempting to prevent a stolen base;
- whose wild throw in attempting to prevent a runner’s advance permits that runner or any other runner to advance one or more bases beyond the base such runner would have reached had the throw not been wild;
- whose throw takes an unnatural bounce, touches a base or the pitcher’s plate, or touches a runner, a fielder, or an umpire, thereby permitting any runner to advance; or
- whose failure to stop, or try to stop, an accurately thrown ball permits a runner to advance, so long as there was the occasion for the throw. If such a throw was made to second base, the Official Scorer will decide whether it was the second baseman’s or the shortstop’s responsibility to stop the ball and will assign blame for the error to the careless fielder.”
There is a lot there and for good reason. The Official Scorer alone determines what constitutes an error, and that determination is final. In order to reduce the impact of human error, the parameters must be set in this way.
This explains in large part why errors are the most easily understood statistic while still possessing the depth that many other defensive statistics do. Specific rules apply to wild pitches and similar situations, and some regulations cover when you shouldn’t give players an error.
When determining whether a player should receive an error or not, the position of the players is also taken into consideration. Many teams don’t care for the defense at first base, despite the fact that they have nearly twice as many opportunities to handle the ball defensively than at other positions.
If a first baseman fails to make a play, the scorer will evaluate their defensive performance against other first basemen rather than against all players.
For example, to play 1st base you need a lot of range, but not that good of an arm, while at third base, you need good range and a great arm. Different positions require different skill sets, and different standards must be met.
What is the Big Deal About Errors During a Baseball Game?
Because there are only three outs allowed per inning, a play where the defense fails to get an out can result in a big inning for the offense. The hitter might hit the ball to the third baseman, for instance, if there are two outs and the bases are loaded. The third baseman throws erratically, allowing the runner at third to score but allowing the other runners to move up and possibly score as well. An offensive run is scored after what ought to have been the final out of an inning.
Even though errors occasionally don’t result in runs being scored, they can raise the pitcher’s overall number of pitches during a game. For instance, a pitcher might have thrown 20 pitches in an inning, with the 20th being a grounder to the shortstop, which should have ended the inning with a simple throw to first. The hitter was able to get to first base safely because the shortstop’s throw to first base was poor. If there is a pitch limit, the pitcher will have fewer options for the rest of the game because they will need to throw more pitches this inning to retire the side.
Finally, mistakes can also put a team under mental stress. A team can suffer because they only get one out instead of two when they make a fielding error on a certain double play. In the batter’s box, if you are still carrying the guilt over your error and feeling like you let your team down, it may affect your hitting.
How Do Errors Affect Other Statistics in Baseball?
A 2017 study found that MLB pitchers “whose teams erred behind them allowed hits at a .273 rate for the remainder of their work in that error-marred inning. In comparison, the 2017 MLB average batting average was.255.”
Errors are also evident in the most used pitching statistic of all, “earned runs allowed” (If a batter advances to second base due to a fielding error and then scores, that is not an earned run (as measured by the earned run average, or ERA).
This is due to the fact that, as we previously learned, in order to commit an error, you must misplay the ball defensively when a normal player would have won with a reasonable amount of effort. Therefore, instead of being considered an “earned run,” the batter’s getting on base and subsequent scoring weren’t the pitcher’s fault.
The on-base percentage (OBP) of a batter is also impacted. A batter’s OBP responds as though they were out if they reach base on an error because only bad defense, not their own bat or eye, allowed them to advance.
An advanced metric used for defenders is “defensive runs saved” (Based on their other defensive metrics, the DRS metric tells us how many runs a defender would typically allow or prevent from happening. Baseball errors are most closely accounted for by this defensive metric.
Pitchers can keep track of how many earned runs they’ve given up using the ERA statistic. Who is that fielding error counted against when it occurs, since the pitcher is not penalized when it occurs, as we discussed earlier?
It certainly works against the mistaken man. The DRS statistic is heavily influenced by the player’s fielding errors in addition to how the player’s advanced defensive metrics perform.
Why Do Errors Occur in Baseball Games?
There are many different reasons why errors happen in baseball games. The fielder’s poor throw to a base on a play is one factor, to put it simply. Perhaps a quick runner is approaching first, causing the fielder to throw the ball harder and faster than usual, causing it to fly over the glove. The baserunner advances automatically to the next base when this throw results in the ball landing in the stands.
The inability of an outfielder to hold the ball in their glove while attempting to catch it is another reason why mistakes are made. As they prepare to catch and throw the ball, outfielders occasionally drop the ball, which results in a mistake.
Finally, infielders may experience a grounder that goes between their legs. A fielder may occasionally anticipate receiving a high bounce, but it rarely does. The fielder will make a mistake if they are unable to react to that play and the ball slips by them.
Which Position Makes the Most Errors?
Most often, shortstops and second basemen are the positions in baseball where errors are made. The reason for this is that those two positions will, statistically speaking, see the most activity on the field. Those two positions must respond to a hit baseball much more quickly than other positions because they are typically less than 150 feet from home plate. Those two positions are also the main individuals who complete what is known as a “double play” which also adds a layer of difficulty throwing the ball to each other to get baserunners out.
What Baseball Starting Position Won’t Get An Error During a Game?
Since they are not on the field, the designated hitter cannot commit an error while the game is being played. On the field, an error can only happen in defense.
What Are Examples of Errors?
Baseball games can experience a variety of errors. Some examples include an infielder allowing a ground ball to pass through their legs, an outfielder dropping a fly ball that was hit to them, or even a catcher not blocking a pitch and it going to the backstop. Here are a few instances of errors that have happened in baseball games.
Infielders and outfielders both have the potential to make throwing errors in baseball. An infielder will frequently make an error when throwing to a base in a rush to beat a runner. A fielder with a weak arm who is rushing a throw to beat a runner headed for that base usually makes a throwing error, which can happen at any base.
During a play, an outfielder could also misjudge a throw. Sometimes an outfielder will attempt to throw the ball to home plate to make an out at that base, but they will throw it over the catcher. If the poor throw enables baserunners to advance due to the ball going over the catcher and into the backstop, an error has occurred.
When a runner is attempting to score on a play with the catcher at home plate, a tagging error typically happens. The New York Yankees’ Gary Sanchez missed a tag on a runner who would have been out at home plate on September 11, 2021, as one recent instance of this error. Given that it was supposed to be the third and final out, the Yankees had to return to the mound to continue their pitching due to the error that allowed the New York Mets to score a run.
An infielder who fumbles the ball during a play and is unable to throw out the baserunner usually commits a fielding error. Let’s take the scenario where the runner is heading to first base and the second baseman has a hard hit ball to them. The fielder is charged with a fielding error if they fumble the ball and fail to get the throw to first base before the runner.
Who Decides If An Error Occurred?
The official scorer is the person who has the final say on whether a play contains an error. Each game has a single official scorer assigned to it. All of them have extensive training, and some have even played professionally in the past. Professional league scorers must apply for the position and pass rigorous testing and evaluation to ensure that the decisions they make are in line with league standards.
If the circumstances permit, an official scorer may decide not to penalize a player for an error. For instance, it might not be an error if a ground ball is hit toward a fielder, but its path is altered by something in the field of play, causing the fielder to miss the ball. An official scorer may record a play as a hit rather than an error if they think it is too challenging for a typical fielder to make a play.
When is It Not a Baseball Error?
A play’s error or lack thereof is determined by the official scorer’s discretion. If the sun is in a fielder’s eyes or if the ball is hit too hard and they can’t react in time to make the play, these scorers will take those factors into account. Although it may have appeared to be an error, the hitter was credited with a hit because the defender had no control over it.
A passed ball or wild pitch are two more instances of a play that is not an error. A passed ball or wild pitch does not constitute a play-related error; it is only recorded as that stat line.
A foul ball is another instance of when there is no error. If a fielder misses a pop-up in foul ground, it is not considered an error. Only when the ball is in play and there isn’t a chance for a foul ball play can mistakes happen.
Can a Pitcher Get An Error?
During a play in a game, a pitcher may commit an error. One illustration is if the batter hits the ball to the pitcher and the pitcher throws the ball poorly to the base. If the pitcher’s throw to the fielder to make the out was viewed as routine, he would be called for an error.
During a try to steal second base, a pitcher might make a mistake. To remove a runner who is in scoring position, the pitcher may throw to first base. If the throw is off-target and the baserunner advances one base as a result of the throw, the pitcher is responsible for the error.
When the pitcher throws a ball and it hits an umpire, that is another instance of an error. A mistake occurs when the ball bounces into the umpire and escapes while a baserunner advances.
What Happens If a Player Gets a Hit + Error on the Same Play?
A single would be recorded if a player successfully hit the ball into the outfield. If the outfielder lets the ball go by them for a brief period of time and the baserunner on first advances to second on the bobble, the play counts as a hit and error. Giving the batter a hit increases their batting average because the hit allowed them to reach first base safely, and the error acknowledges that the only way they reached second base was through the error. In this instance, the batter received a single rather than a double.
Do Runs Count Against the Pitcher After An Error?
It doesn’t count against the pitcher if a fielder makes a mistake during an inning and a baserunner scores, say on a home run with the next batter up. The batter who hits the home run, however, will have their run counted against the pitcher’s ERA (earn run average) because that run did not result from an error.
There is a column that says “R” and “ER” for the pitcher in the box score. Runs are denoted by R, and earned runs are denoted by ER. How many runs were earned and unearned can be determined by dividing the total by R and ER. The ERA of a pitcher for that game and season can be calculated by knowing how this split is split.
Conclusion: What is An Error in Baseball?
In conclusion, making errors in baseball is inevitable. The fact that throws, tags, or catches are subject to mistakes by even some of the best defenders makes the game exciting. Nothing in the game is guaranteed; even a routine grounder could lead to an error.
Look for the column that reads “E” on the scoreboard when you are watching a baseball game. After a mistake is made on the field, check this column to see what the official scorer gave it.
Is There a Stat That Measures Defense?
Scouts and teams use the fielding percentage metric to gauge how effective a defender is on the field. The calculation compares the total putouts and assists with the total number of errors. To demonstrate how this metric functions, here is a sample formula.
Fielding Percentage Metric = 225 (PO) + 30 (Assists) / 9 (Errors) = .966%
What is a Good Fielding Percentage in MLB?
The optimal fielding percentage for a player is 1.00%. According to the 1.00% statistic, the fielder had at least one putout or assist throughout the season while committing no errors. Advanced metrics, however, also give consideration to the formula used to determine how many opportunities a player had to make plays against another if they have similar fielding percentages.
The Baltimore Orioles had the best fielding percentage in MLB in 2013. They had a.99104% team fielding percentage.
What Player Had the Most Errors in One Season?
Billy Shindle and Herman Long each committed 122 errors during a single season, according to Baseball Reference.