Could Official Scoring Decisions On Errors Be Juicing the League’s Batting Average?

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If you have watched almost any major league baseball game this year, you’ve probably noticed that the standard for what is considered an error seems to be changing. Time and time again, fielder miscues that seem like balls that have long been ruled errors are now being scored as hits.

It’s not hard to find a wide array of examples, like these:

This was ruled a hit. pic.twitter.com/LPsFRlIAJz

— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) April 9, 2023

This was just ruled a hit. You have got to be kidding me. pic.twitter.com/Hf1jhW8Dsc

— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) July 23, 2023

This was surprisingly ruled a hit and Adley officially has a 5 hit day. pic.twitter.com/2UUbsZgfxG

— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) March 30, 2023

maybe it looks like an error but this was ruled a base hit pic.twitter.com/7LtMhwa3V8

— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) July 27, 2023

Anecdotally these plays all appear to be a more lax interpretation of the rule on when an error should be called. The official scorer’s guidance on when to rule an error is if an average fielder could have made the play with a reasonable effort.

But that’s led to a follow-up and more sweeping theory, that this adjustment in how errors are being ruled is an MLB-driven attempt to try to artificially boost batting averages, which have been at relatively historic lows in recent years.

The league batting average is at .249 this year. That’s up six points from last year’s .243 batting average. This will be the first time in four seasons that the batting average has ended up above .245.

We’ll start by saying that this is a pretty grand and drastic theory. MLB adopted new shift rules to try to improve batting averages this year. With the shift restrictions in place, lefthanders are hitting .248 this season. Last year they hit .236 and in 2021 they hit .239. Righthanded hitters’ batting averages have also increased, but that 12-point jump in lefthanded hitters’ batting averages is enough to account for most of the difference. If lefthanded hitters were hitting at last year’s .236 batting average, the league batting average would be .244 (.2438 to be more precise).

So already, we have a more logical explanation, but let’s explore the error theory further. Does any of that make any actual sense? Let’s look at the data.

1. Are there fewer errors than before?

The answer to this is yes. The error rate per game this year is the lowest in MLB history. There are .516 errors per MLB game this year. That’s down from .529 errors per game last year, .540 errors per game in 2021 and .597 errors per game in 2019.

2. A-ha! That’s the smoking gun then. The drop in errors is artificially juicing the batting average this year, right?

No. Not really.

Let’s say that the entire drop in errors from 2022 to 2023 can be attributed to some secretive plot to push up batting averages in a time where strikeout rates are at near-historic highs while balls in play are at near historic lows.

So assuming that was the case—and let’s acknowledge that this is an illogical and extreme assumption—the drop from last year’s error rate to this year’s has resulted in 51 extra hits this year.

If you took those 51 hits away, the league batting average would drop from .2488 to .2484, that’s a four one-thousandth difference.

But if we ramp up the conspiratorial thinking even further, maybe it’s a two-year plan that is just being noticed. If we went back to the error rate in 2021, that would take away 96 hits so far this year compared to what we’ve actually seen. And that would reduce the league batting average from .2488 to .2481.

In any MLB season there are a little more than 180,000 at-bats. In any MLB season there are somewhere around 40,000 hits. And in any MLB season, there are around 4,000 errors. There just aren’t enough errors to really make a big difference in batting average if you’re talking about a minor tweak to what an error is.

Yes, the batting average is up by six points this year, but it’s not because of changes in the way errors are scored. And that was in a quick and dirty study that treated every reduced error as a scorer’s decision. If a pitcher throws wildly over to first on a pickoff throw and the runner advances, that’s an error, even if it has nothing to do with a hit.

And the decrease in the error rate this year is just a continual part of what has been an extremely long trend of improvement.

Other than a weird two-year blip in the mid-1970s, the error rate per game has been on a continual downward trend. There’s minor noise from year to year, but it’s hard to look at this and see any recent year where the error rate seems abnormal.

This year is on pace to have an error rate half of what it was in 1948. So while official scorers’ decisions on what a hit is may be more generous than what it seemed to be in the past, it’s not making a dramatic difference in the league batting average.

The post Could Official Scoring Decisions On Errors Be Juicing the League’s Batting Average? appeared first on College Baseball, MLB Draft, Prospects – Baseball America.

This content was originally published here.

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