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When is an error not an error?

Jun 22, 2009, 9:51 AM EST

In yesterday’s Red Sox-Braves game. In the fourth inning, David Ortiz
hit a fly ball to the left side of the infield . . . that landed with a
thud right between Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar. Neither of them
attempted to make a play on the ball. They just screwed up. David Ortiz
wound up on second. A couple of batters later, he scored on a sacrifice
fly. The run — which came in a game Boston won by one run — was
charged to Jair Jurrjens because no error was called. And indeed, based
on the rules as the official scorers have come to interpret them, no error could be called:

Phyllis Merhige, a senior vice president for baseball who oversees
the official scorers, acknowledged it seemed to be “an accepted
practice” that any time a fielder does not touch a ball, it is ruled a
hit. The rule book, however, states, “It is not necessary that the
fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error.”

Then how to explain awarding a hit when an outfielder starts in on a
ball, only to have the ball lazily drop 10 feet before the warning
track?

Bill Shannon, an official scorer at the New York parks since 1979,
quotes the rule book: “The official scorer shall not score mental
mistakes or misjudgments as errors unless a specific rule prescribes
otherwise.” He said that applied to misplayed balls in the outfield.

This, more than anything, explains why both looking solely at earned
runs and looking at fielding percentage are pretty useless endeavors
when trying to figure out how good someone is. The latter fails to
penalize a player who fails to come within five feet of a ball that he
should unquestionably handle. The former often charges a guy for a run
that really wasn’t of his making. At the same time, a shortstop who
goes way out of the way to knock down a ball mere mortals never had a
chance to touch is frequently given an error for failing to make clean
plays because, hey, he touched it. Likewise, a pitcher who gives up
three homers after that shortstop makes that “error” with two outs
isn’t charged for any earned runs that result. This is a screwed up
state of affairs.

Jair Jurrjens is a pretty nifty young pitcher. Yunel Escobar is a
flawed defender. If you just looked at the box scores from yesterday,
you might not know that, and there’s something wrong with that. Given
how much managers harp on mental mistakes, baseball should change the
rules to clearly allow official scorers the leeway to apply judgment in
giving an error to a guy that makes a boneheaded play and to absolve
the pitcher of responsibility for a thing like allowing David Ortiz to
score via smallball.

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