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A Poem on the Flaws of Fielding Percentage

Posted by Neil Paine on December 10, 2010

Chances
"When the fielder loves his record
     More than victory for his team
Doubtful chances miss his glances
     For his caution is extreme.
Going after every grounder
     Means a slip-up here and there,
And in terror of an error
     He will choose the chances fair.
Spotless records are enticing
     In a ball game as in life,
And the cunning pick their running
     To avoid the stony strife.
Many a mortal swaggers slowly
     Down the years in proud parade,
Boasting to the meek and lowly
     Of the slips he never made.
Well it is that wise commanders,
     When they call for sterling men,
Place the workers o'er the shirkers
     Though they err and err again.
Men who try and fall when trying
     Try again and win at last,
Never brooding, never sighing
     O'er the errors of the past."
                            -- William F. Kirk

Think criticism of fielding percentage is a modern phenomenon, perhaps borne out of hatred for Derek Jeter?

This poem was written in 1917.

(Special hat tip to SABR's Baseball Research Journal for the poem.)

This entry was posted on Friday, December 10th, 2010 at 10:40 am and is filed under Fielding Stats, History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

17 Responses to “A Poem on the Flaws of Fielding Percentage”

  1. Franklin Pierce Adams, make room for The Norsk Nightingale!

  2. Brilliant!

  3. Morten Jonsson Says:

    Great find. I love "in terror of an error." Though in fairness, that would apply to someone like Steve Garvey, who preferred to run the ball to the bag himself rather than toss it to the pitcher covering, than to someone like Jeter, who simply isn't quick enough to make the play.

  4. joe baseball Says:

    sometimes playing it safe and not risking an error is the correct way to play, games can be lost by players trying to do too much with disasterous results.

  5. Sure Joe, but games can be won as well.

  6. Games are won with smarts not stats.

  7. #6 - Satire?

  8. @4
    If you let the ball go, its a hit. If you try and boot it, its an error.

    The extreme example this year is Derek Jeter and Cliff Pennington:

    DJ: 1303.2 Innings, 182 PO, 365 A, 100 DP, 6 E, .989 FPct
    CP: 1304.2 Innings, 218 PO, 496 A, 94 DP, 25 E, .966 FPct

    I know there are caveats to this. Oppurtunities don't always match up due to strikeout and groundball rates and stuff like that. Still, that's a lot of extra outs generated by Pennington in extra for "just" 19 extra errors.

  9. Re #8, see also Starlin Castro, who made some horrible plays in the field but also some great ones, and also was learning how to play the position on-the-fly:

    DJ: 1303.2 Innings, 182 PO, 365 A, 100 DP, 6 E, .989 FPct
    CP: 1304.2 Innings, 218 PO, 496 A, 94 DP, 25 E, .966 FPct
    SC: 1073.2 Innings, 183 PO, 334 A, 74 DP, 27 E, .950 FPct

    I think I'll take the guy who is 16 years younger. As far as the lower DP for the Cubs, that's probably partially due to Theriot (SS)/DeWitt (3B) playing 2B rather than Robbie Cano.

  10. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    “[Donie] Bush’s career [as a manager] was during an era of rapidly increasing double plays. An average team when Bush broke in would turn about 85 double plays a season. By 1930, the average was over 150 per season. Bush apparently never adjusted; he continued to think about ‘being sure you get one,’ which was the prevailing idea at the beginning of his career. It cost him dearly, because in modern baseball you can’t win if you can’t turn two.” NBJHBA, p. 623.

    In the war-shortened 1918 season, Bush played short in every one of the Tigers' 128 games, and was involved in 29 double plays. What, did someone whisper to him that DPs hurt America's war effort?

  11. @8,

    Jeter is not "letting it go by", he just cannot get to the ball.

    It is easier for a guy with limited range (Jeter) to make the play on the ball he gets to because his lack of momentum at the time he fields it. Wheras someone like Pennington (more quickness) may bobble some more because he might be in postion to field, but a little out of control due to his momentum. It is not because he tried to make a great diving play and the ball went off his glove. I don't know the breakdown of errors, but it is possible someone with many errors makes more throws that he shouldn't (bad throws are no excuse, no matter your range, that is when you start to give away bases).

    I have been watching baseball a long time and I know that tough chances (where someone has to dive) are NOT errors, unless the official scorer is particularly strict. You make it sound like anything someone gets a glove on is automatically an error...not true.

  12. @11

    How can you mention a fielder being out of control due to momentum in terms of fielding the ball, then disregard that momentum when you say there is no excuse for a bad throw? A fielder won't have as much time to set his feet on balls near the edge of his range.

  13. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    I just got word -- my library is selling off their Shakespeare collection in anticipation of Neil Paine's first offerings.

  14. I smile when I'm watching the Yanks and there's a grounder hit to the SS side of 2B---------and Jeter doesn't even make it into the picture... I mean... WHERE IS HE!? It's almost like he runs to his RIGHT on contact or something.

  15. Why nobody wants to write a poem on the Flaws of Umpiring Percentage? Umpires are now the greatest scourage of major league, and they have a good 20% chance of mistakes.

    I don't think they are worth writing a poem about (they deserve expletives, not poems), but some of the umpire kiss-assers frequenting this blog could write a great poem rebuting my opinion.

  16. Great find Neil!

  17. The Hoosier in me recognizes a clever parody of "When The Frost Is On The Pumpkin" by the immortal James Whitcomb Riley.