Team Errors

Wednesday, October 30 2002 @ 05:37 AM EST

Contributed by: Coach

(transferred; posted Oct. 7)

I was going to call this "Al Newman & Squandered Opportunities" but decided on a less obscure title. I know the Twins won Game Five anyway, but when their third base coach, shaped like his Seinfeld namesake (hello, NEWman) didn't allow his best athlete to score from second on a two-out single, it could have been the ball game.

If you prevent the other team from taking advantage of all their opportunities to score, and if you make the most of your chances, you will win more games. The smaller the sample, the more vague that statement. In one inning, you can survive a mistake, maybe two. Over an entire game, the law of averages can still be skewed. Even a five game series proves less about the relative merits of two teams than a seven game set; I would prefer the World Series to be a best of nine over nine straight days on a neutral site, but I digress.

The point is, over a 162 game season, teams that capitalize on a higher percentage of chances win; teams that squander more opportunites lose, often enough to be reflected in the standings. That includes the obvious statistically-measured categories: runners left in scoring position, errors, etc., but I can't understand why, in a game obsessed with compiling numbers, the "team error" concept is ignored.

Al Newman cost his team a run, in a 2-1 deciding game of a playoff series. The coach had a brain cramp that allowed the A's to stay close while they were being outplayed by a considerable margin. How is that any different from Miguel Tejada's ugly throw the day before? Or David Bell getting such a good jump on a popup that he overran it by 10 feet? Or Brad Radke standing with his arms in the air on a similar easy chance, surrounded by three teammates as the ball fell in? Or a baserunner breaking the wrong way on a line drive and being doubled off? Bases not covered, especially by pitchers; cutoff men overthrown, especially by Raul Mondesi; strikes to the correct base cut off, especially by Carlos Delgado; it's a nearly endless list of undocumented moments with enormous impact. My favourite remains the collision (Mark Ellis and Scott Hatteberg in Game Four, for example) that magically turns an easy out into a "hit." I can't be the only fan who craves data on how often these things occur.

Because they don't keep track of such plays, I can't prove my assertation that over the course of a season, they are more responsible for weeding out the "bad" teams than their ERA or OBP. I can rely only on 40+ years of observation to contend that more runs tend to score after a "team error" then after a bad hop or a throw in the dirt. Indivuiduals can shake off a physical glitch, but mental lapses are harder to overcome, and often affect more than one player.

The kids I coach are taught that outs, not runs, are the currency of baseball. If you can "take" more outs away from the opposition than you "give" them by making mistakes, you improve your chances of winning a game, a series, a championship. But if an out -- or if you prefer, a run -- equals a hundred bucks (I'm dealing with high school kids; perhaps the pros should think of it as a million) then each "extra" base is $25 (or $250,000, which even A-Rod can understand) earned or wasted. At the end of a game, if you're on the plus side of the "financial" ledger, you may still have been outscored, but at least you know you played well, and over a season, that translates into winning more than your share of the close ones.

A necessary first step is to modify the system in which the official scorer is a local beat reporter who has to deal with irate pitchers ("whaddaya mean, that was a hit?") and position players ("whaddaya mean, an error?") whose stats dictate their salaries. This creates horrible calls, as scorers try to inflate the home team's batting average and deflate their ERA. Fully trained, independent scorers should travel, like umpires, to neutral sites. And they should be empowered to assess a one-base, two-base or three-base TE (team error) in any situation where a routine play isn't made, or a botched play isn't covered under the current scoring rules. Whatever my proposal costs (the scorers' salaries plus expenses) will be worth it. Fans, and astute GMs who rely on stats, will be able to trust numbers that are now relatively meaningless.

Mr. Selig, please consider this my application for the position.