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

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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.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 5, Mariners 1: Anthony Rendon hit a three-run homer. He hit two homers and drove in five on Tuesday. Guess you can say he likes playing the Mariners. Then again, everyone should like playing the Mariners these days. They’ve lost five in a row and have been outscored 41-5 in that span.

Athletics 4, Marlins 1: Sonny Gray struck out 11 batters over seven one-run innings. Gray has only pitched five times this year but so far the results are pretty good, pointing to the sort of bounceback season the A’s were hoping for from their potential ace. He’s got a K/BB ratio of 28/8 in 29.2 innings, a WHIP of 1.08 and is holding batters to a .216 average.

Twins 4, Orioles 3: The Twins swept the O’s in Baltimore — the first team to even win a series there this season — but what I would really like to do is I to show you a couple of pitches Jose Berrios threw yesterday afternoon:

And this:

That game started at 1pm. I know the studies are inconclusive — and it may make me sound old fashioned — but I think it’s wrong to show this sort of pornography when children were awake and could have easily stumbled upon them. Please, Paul Molitor, only allow Jose Berrios to pitch after dark.

Reds 4, Indians 3: Speaking of pornography, check out Billy Hamilton‘s speed. He beats out what would’ve been a game-ending double play if anyone else on the planet was running and then he scored from first base on a single (and outfield miscue by Michael Brantley) to help the Reds come back from a 3-2 deficit in the ninth inning to win the game:

That Brantley brain lock aside, I don’t think many other runners score on that play. Hamilton’s wheels won that dang game for Cincinnati.

Rockies 7, Phillies 2: Tyler Chatwood allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings and struck out eight as the Rockies continue to impress. They scored seven runs in the third, hitting, collectively, for the cycle in the inning. Carlos Gonzalez hit the homer, Ian Desmond hit the triple, Trevor Story hit the double and Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado all singled. Fox executives are gonna jump outta windows when they see the ratings for this year’s Rockies-Twins World Series, but it’ll be totally dope for most of us if it happens.

Blue Jays 8, Brewers 4: Ryan Goins is gonna lose his job to Troy Tulowitzki soon, but he’s not letting that bother him. He hit a grand slam here and Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis and Jose Bautista went deep as well.

This has nothing to do with anything, but I want you to know that in the course of putting these recaps together I came across this ad at the bottom of a web page:

Given that he’s been dead for 11 years I’d say it’s understandable that fans were stunned regardless of the reason he left the show. And that’s the case even if the shuffling, decomposing corpse of Don Knotts were merely citing something boring like creative differences with Desilu Studios or a desire to more movies.

Working on the Internet is so cool. OK, back to the recaps:

Yankees 3, Royals 0: Luis Severino‘s year of fulfilling his potential continues as he allowed four hits over eight innings, striking out seven. The 23-year old is looking better than he did in his rookie year and way better than he did in 2016. On the bad side of things, Jacoby Ellsbury slammed into the wall while making a catch in the first inning and left with a concussion and sprained neck. It’s the second time this season he’s face-planted like that.

Diamondbacks 8, White Sox 6: The sweep. The Dbacks have won 8 of 9 and are ten games over .500 for the first time in six years. Five different Arizona batters drove in a run. Jose Abreu was 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBI in a losing cause.

Red Sox 9, Rangers 4: The Sox were down 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh but then they put up a seven-spot. Chris Sale struck out only six batters, snapping his streak with double digit strikeouts at eight, but I’m sure he’s cool with it.

Padres 6, Mets 5: Mets blew a 5-1 lead but had a chance to tie or win it in the ninth only to be smacked down by Brad Hand. New York loaded the bases with nobody out, but Hand struck out Curtis Granderson and Rene Rivera and then Juan Lagares flied out to end it. Losing a lead and seeing a would-be rally fizzle like that are demoralizing enough, but having them both happen in the same game is a real kick to the beans.

Pirates 12, Braves 5: Speaking of demoralizing: the Braves — whose bullpen has been pretty fantastic lately — had a 5-3 lead in the ninth inning only to see Jose Ramirez cough it up by surrendering a two-out, bases loaded single to Jose Osuna. The tenth inning was way worse, when Josh Collmenter came on for Atlanta and decided it’d be more fun to spread kerosene all over the place than to get dudes out. Collmenter allowed six hits — three of them homers — and seven runs in the final frame. The 10th inning dongs came back-to-back-to-back in the space of ten pitches. The men doing the yard work for Pittsburgh: David Freese, Osuna and Jordy Mercer

Rays 5, Angels 2: Steven Souza homered twice. Too bad he did it in May. Two months earlier and we could call him “The March King.”

Cubs 5, Giants 4: Anthony Rizzo homered twice and Kyle Hendricks allowed two runs over seven. Wade Davis allowed two runs over one, via a homer to Mac Williamson, but he got the save anyway.

Tigers 6, Astros 3Jose Iglesias finished a triple shy of the cycle — which is not a thing, even if it’s fun to say — and Ian Kinsler had two hits and scored twice. The Tigers snapped a three game skid.

Cardinals 6, Dodgers 1: Mike Leake allowed four hits over eight one run innings. His ERA is now down to 1.91 on the year. Yadi Molina homered and drove in two. Someone let me know if this game was more interesting to Bill Plaschke than Tuesday night’s game, which he found boring despite the fact that it featured a nine-inning pitcher’s duel featuring an all-time great and ended on a walkoff hit by the home team. As this one only took two hours and 44 minutes, I presume it was more pleasing to him.

Baseball writers, man. They’re the worst.

Albert Pujols hit his 597th career home run

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Angels DH Albert Pujols smacked his 597th career home run, a two-run shot in the top of the first inning during Wednesday night’s 5-2 loss to the Rays. The blast was off of Erasmo Ramirez and marked No. 6 on the season for the future Hall of Famer.

Pujols finished 1-for-3 with the homer and a walk. After Wednesday’s game, he’s hitting a lackluster .244/.296/.378 with 34 RBI and 14 runs scored in 186 trips to the plate.

Pujols currently ranks ninth on baseball’s all-time leaderboard and is three shy of joining the 600-homer club. He’s currently 13 home runs away from tying Sammy Sosa for eighth all-time.