In yesterday's Red Sox-Braves game. In the fourth inning, David Ortiz hit a fly ball to the left side of the infield . . . that landed with a thud right between Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar. Neither of them attempted to make a play on the ball. They just screwed up. David Ortiz wound up on second. A couple of batters later, he scored on a sacrifice fly. The run -- which came in a game Boston won by one run -- was charged to Jair Jurrjens because no error was called. And indeed, based on the rules as the official scorers have come to interpret them, no error could be called:
Phyllis Merhige, a senior vice president for baseball who oversees the official scorers, acknowledged it seemed to be "an accepted practice" that any time a fielder does not touch a ball, it is ruled a hit. The rule book, however, states, "It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error."
Then how to explain awarding a hit when an outfielder starts in on a ball, only to have the ball lazily drop 10 feet before the warning track?
Bill Shannon, an official scorer at the New York parks since 1979, quotes the rule book: "The official scorer shall not score mental mistakes or misjudgments as errors unless a specific rule prescribes otherwise." He said that applied to misplayed balls in the outfield.
This, more than anything, explains why both looking solely at earned runs and looking at fielding percentage are pretty useless endeavors when trying to figure out how good someone is. The latter fails to penalize a player who fails to come within five feet of a ball that he should unquestionably handle. The former often charges a guy for a run that really wasn't of his making. At the same time, a shortstop who goes way out of the way to knock down a ball mere mortals never had a chance to touch is frequently given an error for failing to make clean plays because, hey, he touched it. Likewise, a pitcher who gives up three homers after that shortstop makes that "error" with two outs isn't charged for any earned runs that result. This is a screwed up state of affairs.
Jair Jurrjens is a pretty nifty young pitcher. Yunel Escobar is a flawed defender. If you just looked at the box scores from yesterday, you might not know that, and there's something wrong with that. Given how much managers harp on mental mistakes, baseball should change the rules to clearly allow official scorers the leeway to apply judgment in giving an error to a guy that makes a boneheaded play and to absolve the pitcher of responsibility for a thing like allowing David Ortiz to score via smallball.