The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Why cutting Cardinals errors is important


Coming into Monday’s contest, the St. Louis Cardinals were last in Major League Baseball with 20 errors in their 19 games played. Their fielding percentage was “only” 29th in MLB as their upcoming weekend opponent, the Washington Nationals, had an even lower mark (.971 to .973).

This situation is causing uneasiness in some quarters, while others, including the club’s manager, offer explanations which label the current results as an outlier – an aberration that will apparently soon pass.

Let’s hope so, because if not, it does not bode well for the Cardinals’ 2009 post-season hopes.

Committing an error per game as are the Cardinals is a pace faster than any major league club over a full season since at least 1995. However, the rate is far from unprecedented.

The expansion 1962 and 1963 New York Mets both committed a modern major league record 210 errors, the most since baseball moved to a 162-game schedule. In recent years, the Mets of 1996 were only three errors under making one per game for the season and the 1999 Montreal Expos were just two short.

If carried over the entire season, the Cardinals current fielding percentage of .973 would also be MLB’s worst in at least the last 15 years and probably longer.

The following table shows the MLB team leader in errors in each season along with that club’s fielding percentage. I covered the Tony La Russa era in St. Louis plus one more year.

Only twice in those 14 years did the club with the most errors also not have the worst fielding percentage, but even in those cases, the team finished 29th, or second to last in fielding.

Committing the most errors in MLB generally means that club will be sitting at home in October. Yet, it can be overcome.

The 1995 Los Angeles Dodgers is the most recent team to pull off the rare feat of leading the game in miscues while still making the playoffs. In fact, Tommy Lasorda’s last full-season Dodgers team won their division, albeit in a 144-game strike-shortened year.

Not that I expect the Cardinals will continue in this manner, but even if so, there still would be a glimmer of hope.

Most errors # Errs G E/G Flding % FPct rank Playoffs
2009 St. Louis 20 19 1.05 0.973 29
2008 Texas 132 162 0.81 0.978 30 no
2007 Florida 137 162 0.85 0.977 30 no
2006 Washington 131 162 0.81 0.978 30 no
2005 Kansas City 125 162 0.77 0.979 30 no
2004 Detroit 144 162 0.89 0.977 30 no
2003 Cincinnati 141 162 0.87 0.977 30 no
2002 NY Mets 147 161 0.91 0.976 30 no
2001 San Diego 145 162 0.90 0.976 30 no
2000 Anaheim 134 162 0.83 0.978 29 no
1999 Montreal 160 162 0.99 0.974 30 no
1998 Montreal 155 162 0.96 0.975 30 no
1997 Boston 135 162 0.83 0.978 29 no
1996 NY Mets 159 162 0.98 0.974 30 no
1995 LA Dodgers 130 144 0.90 0.976 30 yes

Next, I looked at the error counts and fielding percentages of La Russa’s Cardinals teams plus one year. His third St. Louis club, the 1998 edition, committed 142 errors and posted a .978 fielding percentage – both La Russa team worsts.

Interestingly, his best defensive club, at least using these metrics, was the 2003 team. Yet betrayed by their pitching, that 85-win club missed out on the post-season. So just being solid defensively is not enough.

After a run of a half dozen years of ranking in the top half of MLB in both stats, the 2007 Cardinals were among the poorest defensive clubs in the league. David Eckstein (20 miscues), Aaron Miles (14), Brendan Ryan (10) and Scott Rolen (10) led the team.

After considerable roster turnover, including the departure of Eckstein along with long-term Gold Glovers Rolen and Jim Edmonds, the 2008 Cardinals bounced back defensively. That group again ranked in the top quarter of MLB teams, but they still missed the post-season for the second consecutive year.

StL errors Error rank StL FPct FPct rank Playoffs
2008 85 T5 0.986 7 no
2007 121 28 0.980 28 no
2006 98 T10 0.984 12 yes
2005 100 13 0.984 13 yes
2004 97 9 0.985 7 yes
2003 77 2 0.987 4 no
2002 103 T13 0.983 15 yes
2001 110 T16 0.982 11 yes
2000 111 15 0.981 17 yes
1999 132 24 0.978 26 no
1998 142 29 0.978 25 no
1997 123 22 0.980 19 no
1996 125 17 0.980 19 yes
1995 113 23 0.980 23 no

Time will tell as whether or not errors continue to be a topic of discussion for Cardinals fans this season, but do note that the team has not made the playoffs under La Russa when finishing in the bottom third of MLB in errors and fielding percentage.

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