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These days, most of the baseball highlights we see on TV and social media are players hitting home runs and pitchers throwing fastballs in the high 90s and even triple digits.
We don’t often see as many defensive plays as we used to see, but that does not mean defense is not an important aspect of baseball. If it is so important, how does someone evaluate a player’s ability on defense? One method in doing so is fielding percentage.
What is considered a good fielding percentage often varies based on the position, but a good fielding percentage in high school baseball is about .940 and above. At the college and professional levels, it is about .970 and above.
In this article, we focus mainly on the basics of fielding percentage, but we will also discuss some other ways that defensive players can be evaluated.
What is Fielding Percentage?
Everything in baseball is measured by numbers. Defensive statistics are not as well-known as offensive statistics in baseball, but they do exist in order to measure a player’s effectiveness on defense.
Fielding percentage is a way to keep track of how often a defensive player makes a play when given the chance to get someone out. It is calculated by dividing the number of putouts and assists by the total number of chances the player is given.
For example, if a shortstop has 50 chances to make an out and makes only 2 errors, his fielding percentage would be .960 (48 / 50). This would be phenomenal for a high school shortstop, and would be about average (maybe slightly above) for a shortstop in the MLB.
A player’s total chances is determined by the number of times he has the opportunity to make either a putout or an assist. A putout is when the player catches the ball to make the out (a fly ball, a force out, etc.) An assist is when the player throws the ball to another player to get an out.
Fielding percentage is a lot like batting average in that it is a predictor of the percentage of time the player makes the play. The higher the fielding percentage the better.
Why does a Good Fielding Percentage Vary by Position?
Many statisticians argue that baseball is pretty black and white and that the numbers will tell you what you need to know. However, there are many gray areas in the game of baseball for which the numbers can’t always account.
A good fielding percentage varies by position because some positions are typically given more chances than others. The level of difficulty of each position varies as well.
For example, a first baseman should have one of the highest fielding percentages on his team because most of his defensive chances come from catching throws from the infielders for putouts.
On the other hand, most of a shortstop’s defensive chances come from fielding ground balls in an area that requires them to cover more ground giving them less room for error.
It is much easier (especially for professionals) to catch a throw from an infielder than it is to field a ground ball.
First basemen do have chances as well to field ground balls, but they don’t get as many chances to do that, and there is more room for error when they don’t field the ball cleanly because they have a very short throw to first base.
Outfielders also can be expected to have high fielding percentages because most of their chances come from catching fly balls. At higher levels of baseball, most fly balls are routine outs as long as the outfielder can get to it.
Outfielders may get fewer chances than most infielders in a game, but these chances to make an out typically have a lower level of difficulty than a shortstop, second baseman, or third baseman.
This is why many websites that compile statistics do not rank all players in fielding percentages. They rank them by fielding percentage at each position.
What are Some Other Defensive Statistics in Baseball?
Fielding percentage is not the only way to measure a player’s success – or failure – on defense.
Other statistics used to measure a player’s effectiveness on defense are total errors, putouts, and assists – the basics – as well as more advanced measurements such as range factor and defensive WAR.
The basic statistics are fairly simple. Total errors refer to the number of times a player does not make a play that he should be expected to make.
A putout occurs when a player is the last person to catch the ball for an out (a fly ball or a force out). A player is given an assist when he makes a throw that gets a hitter out.
Range factor is calculated by dividing a player’s total number of putouts and assists by his total number of games played. The name of this statistic is a bit deceiving. One would assume that it is supposed to measure how much ground a player can cover. That is not necessarily the case.
Instead, range factor is a predictor for how many plays a player can make in a given game. However, like fielding percentage, it does not tell the whole story because there are a lot of variables when it comes to range factor such as innings played, defensive shifts, etc.
Defensive WAR attempts to measure how much a player’s defensive ability contributes to the team’s wins. WAR stands for wins above replacement. Basically what that means is how much better a player is than the average player at his position.
A WAR of 0 means that a player is the same as the average player at that position. If a player has a WAR of 2.5, it means that the difference between that player and an average player at that position is 2.5 wins. The higher the number the better, but any WAR in the positives is ideal.
All in all, fielding percentage is historically the most common way that a player’s performance on defense is evaluated, but with more data and more people studying the game, more evaluation methods have come about in the game of baseball.
Do pitchers have fielding percentages?
Yes, pitchers have fielding percentages just like other defensive players. If they make an error on a ball hit to them or if they make a bad throw on a pickoff attempt, it counts against their fielding percentage.
Are Gold Gloves in the MLB given based on fielding percentage?
Fielding percentage is taken into consideration when voting for Gold Glove awards in the MLB, but they are not just given to the player with the highest fielding percentage. There are several other factors that are considered in voting for this award.
Which defensive position in baseball is the most difficult?
Most people would say that catcher is the toughest position to play in baseball because of both the physical and mental demands. Some would also argue that shortstop is one of the most difficult positions because of all that a shortstop is asked to do.
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