# Error: Scorekeeper?

Ground ball up the middle, second baseman backhands it, the throw to first beats the runner by a step, but hits in the dirt and skips by the firstbaseman. The call goes up on the scoreboard: HIT.

If you think you’ve seen this play more frequently the last few years, your probably right. Play by play data, courtesy of RetroSheet, shows that the rate of runners reaching base on errors has been steadily decling from 1975 right up to 2007. From 1954 to 1970, the percent of balls in play that resulted in the batter reaching on an error was very steady at either 1.8 or 1.9%. In 1972 and 1974, it dropped slightly to 1.7%, but again reached 1.9% in 1975. From 2005 to 2007 the rate has been 1.3%.

Is it possible that the decrease in errors is due to an increase in quality of the infielders? I am inclined to say no, as during the same time that errors have been decreasing, the number of hits allowed has been increasing. In 1975, the last season before the decline in errors, the percent of batters who reached on hits was .282, errors .019, for a total of .301. In 2007, batters reached on hits at a rate of .302, errors .013, for a total of .315.

Instead of the percent of balls in play, let’s look at errors as a percent of batters who reached base by hit or error. From 1954 to 1958, this was steady between 6.0 and 6.1%. It then increased to a peak of 6.6% in 1963, and then started a decline. There was another bubble, from 5.1% in 1981, up to 5.8% in 1984 and 1985, then back to 5.2% in 1988. From there it has been a fairly steady decline, down to the low of 4.0% in 2007.

Nearly 40% of the balls that were ruled errors in 1963 were ruled hits in 2007. This accounts for 6 of the 29 point increase in BABIP over that time period. As for the other 23 points, that’s another study.

 Year BHE% ROE% OBE% 1954 0.293 0.018 0.061 1956 0.292 0.018 0.061 1957 0.293 0.018 0.060 1958 0.295 0.018 0.061 1959 0.296 0.019 0.064 1960 0.294 0.018 0.061 1961 0.298 0.019 0.065 1962 0.299 0.019 0.062 1963 0.292 0.019 0.066 1964 0.298 0.019 0.063 1965 0.292 0.019 0.064 1966 0.294 0.019 0.063 1967 0.291 0.018 0.061 1968 0.287 0.018 0.064 1969 0.295 0.018 0.062 1970 0.299 0.018 0.061 1971 0.292 0.016 0.056 1972 0.290 0.017 0.059 1973 0.299 0.018 0.060 1974 0.299 0.017 0.058 1975 0.301 0.019 0.062 1976 0.298 0.017 0.057 1977 0.304 0.017 0.056 1978 0.296 0.016 0.055 1979 0.302 0.016 0.053 1980 0.303 0.016 0.054 1981 0.295 0.016 0.055 1982 0.297 0.015 0.051 1983 0.302 0.017 0.057 1984 0.304 0.018 0.058 1985 0.298 0.017 0.058 1986 0.303 0.017 0.056 1987 0.305 0.016 0.054 1988 0.297 0.015 0.052 1989 0.299 0.016 0.053 1990 0.302 0.016 0.051 1991 0.297 0.016 0.053 1992 0.298 0.013 0.045 1993 0.309 0.016 0.050 1994 0.315 0.015 0.048 1995 0.313 0.014 0.046 1996 0.317 0.015 0.048 1997 0.316 0.014 0.046 1998 0.314 0.014 0.045 2000 0.316 0.016 0.049 2001 0.311 0.015 0.048 2002 0.307 0.014 0.046 2003 0.308 0.013 0.044 2004 0.311 0.014 0.044 2005 0.308 0.013 0.042 2006 0.314 0.013 0.041 2007 0.315 0.013 0.040

### 3 Responses to Error: Scorekeeper?

1. joe arthur says:

Brian,
You need to control for batted ball type, at least. Errors are more common on bunts and ground balls, (especially grounders to the left side) but the frequency of both bunts and ground balls has dropped at least since the late 80s, and very likely since your starting point in the 70s as well.
I’d also recommend splitting error frequency out on the basis of platooning matchups. I assume there are more lefty vs lefty matchups than there used to be, and this would likely have some impact on how hard and how often grounders are hit to the left side.

2. terpsfan101 says:

I agree with Joe Arthur’s points, but the main reason that there are fewer errors in more recent seasons is that official scorers are letting fielders off the hook too often. I watched a game eariler this year between the Cubs and Pirates. Soriano dropped a fly-ball, and the official scorer ruled it a double. This is just one of numerous instances where a batter should have been awarded a ROE instead of a hit.

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