A Short History of Erring Infielders

If there is one stat on this site that inspires more controversy than the others, it’s UZR. One reason I do like the stat, even though I admit its flaws, is that it comprises runs above average from four different defensive components: arm, double play, range, and error. It’s the last that I want to focus on today. While browsing defensive stats I noticed that a few players stand out from their peers in terms of sure-handedness. That is, they have, at some point in the last nine years, almost completely lacked it. What follows is a quick look at infielders who have cost their teams a win, or close to it, just by failing to make plays that the official scorer thought they should have.

Starlin Castro

The inspiration for this post actually came from Castro. In terms of range he had plenty of positive value, 6.5 runs above average. But his 27 errors ranked second in the Majors, and amounted to -9.5, or nearly a full win. He has a history of this, too, as he made 39 errors between two minor-league levels in 2009. Still, he was just 20 last year, and we saw another 20-year-old shortstop, Elvis Andrus, make a bunch of errors and then improve the next season.

But -9.5 runs? That’s pretty brutal for any age.

Ian Desmond

Surprisingly, Castro wasn’t the worst offender in 2010. Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond led the majors with 34 errors, which amounted to -10.5 error runs above average. As with Castro, his range was actually rated a bit above average, but his errors absolutely killed him.

That ends the 2010 portion of the history. I’m sure everyone can guess the shortstop with the best error runs above average. If you need a hint, it’s Derek Jeter. At least he does something right.

Mark Reynolds

Desmond might have been the least sure-handed defender in 2010, but he wasn’t the worst of all time. That would go to Mark Reynolds, who cost his team 12.4 runs with his 34 errors in 2008. As we saw with the other two, his range was a bit above average. That helps, but not so much when you’re costing your team more than a win with your blunders.

Ryan Braun

It took the Brewers just one season to realize that Braun wasn’t going to fit as their regular third baseman. In the 945 innings he logged that year he made 26 errors, or roughly one every four games. That amounted to -8.4 error runs above average. But unlike Reynolds, Desmond, and Castro, Braun lacked range, -19.3 runs above average. Had he played as many innings as the four guys who rated worse than him, he probably would have finished worse.

Oh, and the guy who finished with the wort range runs rate that year? The very same Derek Jeter.

Edwin Encarnacion

The last entrant on the list, Edwin Encarnacion has never cost his team a full with his errors in any given season. But when I went through the leader boards I saw his name pop up frequently. He has finished with a negative error score in each of his six big league seasons, for a total of -23.2. His best year was -0.6, and I suspect it is, at least in part, because he played only 726 innings that year.

Encarnacion actually ranks second worst in error runs during the past three seasons. Reynolds is the worst, at -14.5, but he has also played 800 more innings. On a rate basis Encarnacion has been worse. Castro, despite having just one season under his belt, ranks fourth worst.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

newest oldest most voted
Dustin Parkes
Guest

What happens when the error in question is a throwing error? Shouldn’t that affect arm component? Based solely on observation, I’d guess that the majority of Encarnacion’s errors are throwing.

Kirkwood
Member
Kirkwood

Only outfielders are judged by the arm component. Each position gets 3 components. For infielders, it’s range runs, error runs, and double play runs. For outfielders, it’s range runs, error runs, and arm runs.

Choo
Member

Unfortunately, there is no ARM competent for UZR when it comes to infielders. You can squeeze some insight from DP runs above average, especially for shortstops (the DPA leaderboard for shortstops is usually top-heavy with strong-armed types) but even that can be misleading. Double play throws are the shortest a shortstop has to make, so weak-armed shortstops can still receive high DPA marks if they feature a quick transfer and release, accuracy and/or a good DP partner.

Tango’s fan ratings might be your best resource for arm ratings, but beware of biases. Example: Jose Lopez has a strong and accurate arm, but that didn’t prevent fans from giving him poor marks.