You hear it all the time in baseball: “good teams do the little things well.” If you’ve watched a game this season, you probably heard the phrase “little things” at least once. Maybe it was right after a hitter hustled to turn a single into a double. Maybe it was getting a bunt down, or making a heads-up defensive play.

The game is full of “little things”, really. If you were to strip away standard baseball events like hits and routine outs, just about everything else could fall into that category . We covered The Little Things in much more detail a couple of years ago in this article on Hardball Times, so maybe that can serve as the more thorough introduction.

One thing we’d like to do in this space is provide our readers with periodic “little things” insights and leaderboards because this part of the game is not so little when you add everything up, and we track the heck out of it! Today’s post is about just one group of plays we call Defensive Giveaways. Most giveaways are objective; however we capture subjectively, too, here at Inside Edge, and that helps provide a more complete picture.

Defensive giveaways can be categorized into four buckets:

  • Errors
  • Poor plays that aren’t errors (this is sometimes the subjective part— bad route by outfielder, pitcher not covering first base, miscommunication lets the ball drop for a hit, etc.)
  • Fielder’s Choice plays that don’t result in an out
  • Passed Balls

Here are the current rankings, listed from fewest to most:

Defensive Giveaways through Sunday, May 22, 2016

And, in graph format:

A few observations:

  • The St. Louis Cardinals have scored more runs than any other NL team. They’ve allowed the 5th-lowest batting average against in the NL (.246). Yet, they’re in 3rd place in the NL Central, with a record just above .500 (23–21). Perhaps it would be better had they not racked up a league-leading 73 defensive giveaways.

An example of poor play, but not an error. Kolten Wong has dropped the transfer on a DP 4 times already this season.

  • The Toronto Blue Jays own the 3rd-best team ERA in the AL (3.61), and they’ve scored 186 runs, which is 7th most in the AL. Their 70 defensive giveaways are part of the reason they are currently in last place in the East. Sure, some of those are RA Dickey knuckleballs that resulted in passed balls, but in terms of run impact, the 70 giveaways have handed opposing teams 29.1 runs* this season. League average is 21.2 runs.
  • Many thought the Phillies would have a record similar to the Braves by now, but they’re just two games back in the NL East, with a 25–19 record. Part of the explanation for that — they’re doing the little things well on defense.
  • The Mets are not doing any favors for their opponents defensively. Only 39 giveaways, and just 11.6 runs in terms of Run Impact (again, 21.2 is league average through Sunday).

*Run Impact is based on the change in run expectancy. @Fangraphs does a nice job of explaining here if you’d like more information.

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