Darvish Odor Rios AP

Papi’s popup, Yu’s missed no-no and the stupidity of errors


Let’s stop for a moment. Let’s stop for a moment a think about how stupid this thing we are arguing about really is. Friday night in Texas, Yu Darvish had a no-hitter going. In the seventh inning, David Ortiz popped up the ball to short right field. Routine as it gets. But the Rangers had on the shift, so fielders were in somewhat unfamiliar places. Rangers’ rookie second baseman Rougned Odor was sort of in the vicinity of where the ball was going to land. This seemed to confuse him and it also seemed to confuse right fielder Alex Rios who should have stepped in to catch it. Instead, the ball dropped between them.

Here is my best guess.

1. Ninety-nine percent of baseball fans believe that ball absolutely should have been caught.

And …

2. Ninety-nine percent of baseball fans believe it should not be ruled an error because neither guy touched the ball.

This is the stupidity of errors in 21st Century America.

You will sometimes hear baseball people mock the concept of Defense Independent Pitching Statistics or DIPS. The idea behind DIPS is a fairly new one — last decade or so — and it is meant to separate the contribution of the pitcher from the contribution of fielders. DIPS does this based on the theory that there are only three things that a pitcher has demonstrable control over (strikeouts, walks and home runs) and everything else is some foggy mix of luck and defense and whatever ambiguous ability a pitcher has of controlling how well a ball is hit.

Many of the critics I’ve heard of DIPS do not rip specific details but the whole idea. How can you say pitchers don’t have control on balls hit in play? Madness! Baseball has a rich history of giving way too much credit to pitchers. Heck, people used to say pitching is 90% of baseball. NINETY PERCENT. No other player can get credited with a victory. More to the point, no other player can have his stats boosted by a benevolent scorekeeper who sits up in a press box and says, “Oh, hey, don’t worry about it, that run wasn’t your fault.” It troubles many people that DIPS does not give pitchers credit for preventing hits on balls in play. It doesn’t seem to trouble as many that baseball has long given pitchers credit for amazing plays that fielders made behind them.

But then … the counting of errors and the calculation of ERA are just a prehistoric form of DIPS. Very early in the game’s history, when pitchers would actually pitch the ball like horseshoes and were only responsible for starting the action (kind of like slow-pitch softball pitchers today), defense was everything. To determine the best fielders, newspapers began to put “Errors of Fielding” into their early box scores. According to Alan Schwartz’s fascinating “The Numbers Game,” the father of baseball statistics Henry Chadwick — who basically framed the way baseball games would be quantified for more than a century — did not like the error concept and wanted instead to judge fielders by the number of successful plays they made. That was one of the few statistical battles Chadwick lost. Errors became the dominant way to judge fielding and, in a less visible way, judge pitchers.

As pitching developed into the most important part of run prevention, the error stayed in the game — the general motivation being the same as DIPS. They wanted to separate defense from pitching. Only these statisticians came at it from a different angle. They came at it assuming that pitchers have COMPLETE control of balls hit in play. They deserve 100% of the blame when the player gets a hit. But if they compel a batter to hit a ball right at a fielder and the fielder doesn’t do his job (turn it into an out) then, well, that’s the fielder’s fault and not the pitcher’s fault. The fielder would get an error. And the pitcher, through the dominant ERA statistic, would get the assumption the out was made. It’s like pitchers — alone among all athletes in sports — have been allowed to live in this alternate universe.

And this is how baseball has been scored ever since, to very little disagreement, even though it is a logical nightmare. Why were pitchers CREDITED when fielders made dazzling plays that should have been hits (even home runs) but NOT DEBITED when fielders missed plays that should have been outs? Why were people in press boxes making determinations about what should have happened? (This kind of scorekeeping does not happen in any other sport). Why were official scorers going through the craziest hoops to figure out what the pitcher DESERVES (“OK, so let’s see here, if that error hadn’t happened, there would have only been a runner on first, and he probably would not have scored on that double, so that’s not a run, and then the second error would have been the third out of the inning so all the runs that scored after that are unearned and …).

As Bill James wrote long ago, an error is a “moral judgment, really, in the peculiar quasi-morality of the locker room.”

I really think the crazy, illogical error concept has lasted all these years because we as baseball fans are desperate to credit pitchers rather than crediting entire teams. We like that pitcher-hitter matchup; like bloodless boxing. We want to credit pitchers for victories, for no-hitters, for perfect games even though they don’t do these things alone. We have spent more than a century thinking of defenders as Pips to the pitchers’ Gladys Knight. We have spent more than a century thinking of fielders as automatons who should ALWAYS make plays that look routine. If they happen to make a dazzling play now and again that keeps runs from scoring, OK, that’s nice. We’ll give you a gold glove at the end of the year, like the gold watch after working for 25 years. Nice work. Now, go support your pitcher.

The Darvish-Papi play shows you just how ridiculous this has become. Defenders as a group have never made fewer errors. Last year, teams made 2,747 errors in almost 5,000 games; that error-per-game percentage (56%) is the lowest in baseball history. Compare that with the 10,000 errors made in 3,000 games back in 1890, when the error was being formed as a concept.

Why are errors so far down? I think it comes down to a couple of things. One, fielding has advanced. Gloves are way better, defensive positioning is way better, field conditions are way better and so on. But two, we still give errors based on some antiquated system that barely made sense 100 years ago. Here are grownups arguing FURIOUSLY whether the pop-up that dropped between Odor and Rios should be called an error? Do we realize how stupid that sounds? We know Rios should have caught it. We KNOW Rios should have caught it. We KNOW KNOW KNOW Rios should have caught it.

But should it be called an error? Hmm. We never called it an error before. Hmm.

This is just plain dumb and it really comes down to the basic fact that Yu Darvish was going for a no-hitter. That’s the key — we see it as an individual achievement. It wasn’t the Rangers going for a no-hitter. No. It was Yu Darvish going for a no-hitter. There has never been a pitcher in baseball history who threw a no-hitter by himself, but if you look up the list of no-hitters you find only pitcher’s names.

Our insistence on trying to give too much credit to pitchers has blinded us to how daft all of this has become. A no-hitter should be what it sounds like … it should mean no batter reached base after hitting the ball. It should be credited to a team, with the pitcher playing the starring role. These are obvious things. But we don’t see them, in the same way we don’t see how absurd it is to argue about whether that Rios-Odor drop is officially an “error” or simply a “play that should have been made but wasn’t an error by the silly 19th Century standard we still use.”

We don’t see these things because we have been conditioned not to see them. We grew up with the error and so it makes sense to us, even if it doesn’t make sense at all. I think the error is an outdated concept. I know what we consider an error is an outdated concept. The goofy little ground ball David Ortiz hit to break up Darvish’s no hitter in the ninth was no more deserving of a hit, off the bat, than the routine fly ball that Ortiz hit that was called an error. One bled through. Another plopped untouched. The fact we are still arguing about stuff like this tells you just how powerful even the most ridiculous sports statistics can be.

Video: Jacob deGrom pranks Daniel Murphy in postgame press conference

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After dominating the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS last night with 13 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings, Jacob deGrom‘s best performance might have been pranking Daniel Murphy in the postgame press conference.

As you’ll see in the video below, deGrom sat down between David Wright and Murphy. Wright appears to lower the seat of the shaggy-haired right-hander. This gave deGrom the idea to do the same for an unsuspecting Murphy. The reaction was priceless…

Yes, Murphy let out a “yowzers.” Appropriately enough, “yowzers” is likely how the Dodgers would summarize facing deGrom last night.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly defends decision to pull Clayton Kershaw

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw reacts after walking New York Mets' Ruben Tejada during the seventh inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
AP Photo/Gregory Bull
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The Mets took Game 1 of the NLDS last night with a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers. A two-run single from David Wright in the top of the seventh inning ended up being the difference in the ballgame. Wright’s hit came off Pedro Baez, who replaced Clayton Kershaw after the Dodgers’ ace walked the bases loaded during the frame.

After Wright’s hit, some questioned why Dodgers manager Don Mattingly turned to Baez rather than stick with his ace. Per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, this was Mattingly’s explanation after the game.

“Going into that inning we kind of looked at what his pitch count was, and kind of thought through Granderson, if we got back to Wright, the fourth time through, David pumps on lefties pretty good,” said Mattingly. “Felt like that was going to be a spot if we got to that point, thought we were going to make a move there.”

It’s hard to argue with the logic. Kershaw was nearly unhittable through the first six innings, with his lone mistake coming on a long solo home run from Daniel Murphy, but it was a different story in the seventh. He was missing his spots and the Mets had some great at-bats. Wright owns a 1.005 OPS against lefties in his career and Kershaw was obviously tiring at 113 pitches. Wright already had a 12-pitch at-bat vs. Kershaw in the first inning. Pulling him was the right call in that spot.

If you wanted to nitpick about anything, it might be the choice of using Baez over someone else. It’s unlikely that we would have seen Kenley Jansen that early, but you can’t get much more high-leverage than that situation. Chris Hatcher was another possibility. Still, Wright didn’t sound thrilled to see Baez, a pitcher he had never seen before.

From Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News:

“I think normally you’d be pleased to get Kershaw out of the game,” Wright said. “Then you look up and the next guy is throwing 100. When you get ahead 2-0 with the bases loaded, with a guy who throws extremely hard, you can get your foot down and get ready for that fastball.”

After last night, the focus will again fall on Kershaw’s postseason track record, but he actually pitched a heck of a ballgame until the end. Unfortunately for him and the Dodgers, Jacob deGrom was just the better pitcher on this night.

Playoff Reset: The National League takes center stage

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke warms up before Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series against the New York Mets, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
AP Photo/Gregory Bull

After a wild Friday in which all eight teams were in action, the National League will take center stage on Saturday with a pair of Game 2 division series matchups. The ALDS will resume on Sunday.

The Game: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
The Place: Busch Stadium, St. Louis
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Kyle Hendricks vs. Jaime Garcia
The Upshot: After dropping Game 1, the Cubs will turn to Hendricks to even up the series headed back to Chicago. Hendricks got the nod over Jason Hammel due to his strong finish to the season. His 3.95 ERA isn’t going to blow you away, but he averaged 8.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 32 starts and had back-to-back scoreless outings to finish the season. Garcia has been great at home in his career and posted a career-low 2.43 ERA in 20 starts this season, but he was a bit more hittable down the stretch. It will be interesting to see what tweaks Joe Maddon makes to his lineup against the lefty. Jake Arrieta looms for Game 3, so this is a huge one.

The Game: New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Time: 9 p.m. ET
The Place: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Noah Syndergaard vs. Zack Greinke
The Upshot: It’s going to be difficult to top the pitching matchup from Game 1, but if anyone is capable of coming close, it’s these two guys. Syndergaard will try to bring the Mets back to Citi Field up 2-0 in the series. After posting a 3.24 ERA and 166/31 K/BB ratio in 150 innings as a rookie, he’s a serious threat to do exactly that. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they have NL Cy Young contender Zack Greinke on the hill. The 31-year-old led the majors with a 1.66 ERA during the regular season and is capable of rendering Syndergaard’s effort moot, much like Jacob deGrom did to Clayton Kershaw on Friday. This is another really fun matchup. One thing to note for the Mets is that rookie Michael Conforto will likely be in left field for Game 2 after sitting against the left-hander in Game 1.