Big-league scorekeeping: Does baseball need team errors?

Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, center, and infielders Cheslor Cuthbert and Alcides Escobar converge on a ball that drops to the ground, allowing Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. to reach base during a game against the Red Sox on April 30.
Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, center, and infielders Cheslor Cuthbert and Alcides Escobar converge on a ball that drops to the ground, allowing Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. to reach base during a game against the Red Sox on April 30. AP

Let’s say you’re a big-league shortstop and an opposing batter hits a line drive right at your feet.

You get leather on the ball, but it’s too hot to handle and gets past you into the outfield. You think it should be scored a hit, but the official scorekeeper decides it’s an error.

If you disagree, what do you do?

In the old days, you might have been able to grab the dugout phone, call the press box and give the scorekeeper an earful. After the game you might even go up to the press box to confront the scorekeeper and tell him face-to-face why you think he made a bad decision.

But things are different today. A player who disagrees with a scorekeeper’s decision protests through his team or the players' union and files an appeal with Major League Baseball. They’ll take a look at the play and make a final decision.

Now let’s say you win the appeal and the scoring decision gets changed. Congratulations: You got an error taken off your record, but you also screwed a teammate.

Teammate vs. teammate

When you got that error taken off your record, you put another base hit on the pitcher’s record. And if the guy who got the base hit also scored, you put an earned run on the pitcher’s record, too.

Obviously, it works the same way in reverse: A pitcher who wants a hit changed to an error throws his teammate under the bus.

When asked about challenging scoring decisions, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said players "gotta be smart about it.” If it reflects badly on a teammate, you better think twice before appealing a scoring decision.

The case for team errors

Earlier this season, in the second inning of a Royals day game against the Chicago White Sox, Daniel Palka hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball to left field.

But Palka’s fly ball was anything but routine. Left fielder Alex Gordon was staring directly into the sun and had a hard time seeing the ball.

Gordon hung with it as long as he could, even going to the ground, but at the last moment he turned his face away from the ball. If you’re going to get hit in the head with a baseball, all things considered it’s better to get hit in the back of the head than the face.

The ball hit the heel of Gordon’s glove, bounced out and was scored a triple. A few moments later, the scoring was changed to an E7 — error on Gordon — and even later the scoring was changed back to a triple.

Royals starter Ian Kennedy threw the pitch that Palka popped up, and he thinks giving Palka a triple was unfair; after all, Kennedy did his job: he got Palka to hit a pop-up.

But putting an error on Gordon’s record would also seem unfair. He did everything possible to catch a ball he couldn’t see. Errors are supposed to be handed out for plays that can be made with “ordinary effort,” and there was nothing ordinary about the play.

So Palka got rewarded with a triple for hitting a pop-up and either Gordon or Kennedy would be slapped with an error or tagged for giving up an extra-base hit.

That’s why Mike Swanson, the Royals' vice president for communications and broadcasting, advocates “team errors.”

Say a hitter pops a ball up to short right-center field. The second baseman, right fielder and centerfielder all arrive in time to make the catch, but because of some miscommunication, the ball drops. No fielder got close enough to the ball to be tagged with an error, so the pitcher, who did his job and got a pop-up, gets saddled with a hit.

Meanwhile, the batter is rewarded for hitting a pop-up that should've been an out.

Swanson thinks that sort of play should be a “team error.” None of the fielders would get tagged with an error, the pitcher wouldn’t get punished for giving up a hit and the hitter would not be rewarded for hitting a pop-up.

Constantly changing

If you’re a baseball purist and think the game should remain unchanged, you haven’t been paying attention: The game has always been changing, and always will be.

As Swanson pointed out, the American League started using the designated hitter in 1973, and that changed the game dramatically. And you don’t have to think very long or hard to come up other ways in which baseball has changed.

Drug tests, weight training, bigger gloves, slide steps, sabermetrics, infield shifts, limiting mound visits, no more running over catchers on plays at the plate, no more taking out middle infielders on double plays, electronic strike zones, instant replay … the list of changes goes on and on.

Some smart baseball people think it’s time to add team errors to that list.