Thursday, May 18, 2006

I Hate Errors

Yeah, the offense stinks. If you want to read about that, check out the Post, Times, or Nats.com.

What's worried me these last two nights has been the defense. It's completely imploded, even if errors aren't being charged.

One of the problems with errors as a statistic is that it's a judgement call. What might be an error to me, might not be an error to you. Yet the Official Scorer is the voice of God; only his voice counts.

It's also troubling in that errors are usually only awarded if the player gets a glove on the ball. It doesn't account for players with no range or cases (such as a popup between two players on the infield) where an out clearly should've been recorded. Witness Soriano. He's allowed a number of balls to drop in that average fielders would've gobbled up. How is letting a routine flyball fall in front of him because he's playing on the warning track better than someone just dropping a flyball? The former isn't an error. The latter is. Yet the team gets hurt the same way.

I also have a problem with the stat in that all errors 'look' the same in the stats, when there's clearly a huge difference between an error that allows an extra base (like when an outfielder makes a bad throw to third) and one that turns an out into a hit (like when a shortstop boots a ball). There's even a huge difference between that and when the shortstop throws away a ball to the second baseman on the front end of a sure doubleplay. The last is magnitudes more costly than the first, yet they're all lumped together.

Soriano's made a ton of errors according to the official scorer, but how many of them have been in the second category and how many have just allowed an extra base? You don't know by looking at the stat. So what's the point?

Last night, it was poor Zach Day's turn to be victimized. If you look at his stats (4 innings, 4 runs), you'd think he had had a bad night. He didn't. It's just that in his first three innings, the defense played terribly. The Cubs had extra outs to work with, and they made him pay.

In the first inning, he had two outs with a runner on third when Michael Barret hit a grounder to third that ate up Ryan Zimmerman, bouncing off him and rolling into foul territory. That's a play that he HAS to make.

In the second, the Cubs had a runner on first when the pitcher hit a soft flair towards Damian Jackson at shortstop. Jackson, who clearly caught it on a short hop, held up the ball to the ump, as if it were a line-drive out. After a beat or two, when the ump didn't give him the out signal, he lobbed the ball to first, where the pitcher (the pitcher!) had beaten it out. In the books, that went down as a single to short, not the error it should've been. Jackson could have made the play, but chose not to, especially because it's a difficult throw when your head's up your ass. For further aggravation, the runner who was on first had run all the way to second, so even if Jackson HAD caught hit, he'd have had to throw the ball to first to double it off. It was a HUGE brain cramp that cost the Nats two runs. But brain cramps aren't errors, so Zach Day gets charged with those runs. Fair?

In the third inning, Jackson got another grounder, which he promptly airmailed to first. He got under his throw, lobbing it high, and Nick Johnson made a tremendous leaping snare to keep it from going into the dugout. Somehow, the Cubs didn't score that inning.

Tuesday's game had some of the same problems. Regardless of how pathetic the Nats bats are (and against a legitimate ace like Carlos Zambrano, they're going to look foolish), the defense didn't get the job done.

It all fell apart in the fifth inning for Livan Hernandez, who actually pitched a pretty decent game, even if it came against the nearly impotent Cubs.

Carlos Zambrano hit a slow groundball to Royce Clayton, who promptly threw the ball to Beloit for an error.

Juan Pierre came up, and hit a sacrifice bunt about three feet in front of the plate. Catcher Wiki Gonzalez ran out, fielded the ball, thought about throwing to second, double clutched, turned and decided to throw to first instead. Late. If he had just made the play, Pierre would've been out easily. The bunt wasn't that good. That's another play that should've resulted in an out, yet isn't called an error. But it's still bad defense, even if it's a mental error.

The next batter, Matt Murton bunted down the third base line. Livan, who's strangely a pretty good fielder, pounced off the mound but played the ball as if he were an elephant seal looking for a mate. He stumbled over the ball, all hands were safe, and some bad stuff happened and that Nats lost. This, too, wasn't an error. This, too, was a play that needed to be made.

There have been far too many brain cramps on this team. And far too many plays not being made. With as shaky as the pitching is, the Nats simply cannot play like this. There record is pretty self-evident of that.

The weird thing is that the team's Defensive Efficiency Ratio (a measure of how many balls in play are turned into outs) is actually pretty good. When it's put in play, Nats fielders are turning the ball into an out 71% of the time, which is 6th in the league. Something's not translating though.

The Hardball Times, using play-by-play data aims to break down the defense further. Their stats (scroll to the bottom) According to them, the Nationals have recorded 19 more outs through the air (fly balls and line drives) than they should have. (Here's an explanation of what they're trying to do with the stat) Is the outfield defense better than it looks? Is that an illusion of the huge park, which gives fielders room to catch balls that'd be out of the park elsewhere? Is it just random noise?

Given what I've seen, I'm guessing it's random noise. Soriano certainly isn't above average. Guillen's a decent fielder on things hit in the air, but he's not Clemente out there. Something just doesn't smell right.

  • I've been deficient on naming Whips and Ducks lately, but we'll give last night's to Damian Jackson for his two terrible plays. Tuesday's goes to Royce Clayton, the man who never makes the plays.

  • Today's an afternoon game. If you're bored/watching/listening/whatever, join us over at Yuda's, where we'll be kvetching about today's mental mistakes.

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