The awful White Sox defense: a small dose of variation


Whoops. // Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not here to pen polemics, or try to tell you that the unrelenting sloppiness of the 2013 White Sox wasn’t real or a pain that we all endured as a ‘community,’ of sorts.

But while it’s a legitimate concern that the Sox have a lot of work to do to tighten up their work in the field, it’s hard to suppress a chuckle when the disparity in their defensive performance is laid out in terms of errors. Take how Scot Gregor had to put it out in the Daily Herald for example:

"“The defense was equally grim as the Sox finished second to last in the majors in fielding percentage (.980) and errors (121), a year after they led the AL with a .988 fielding percentage while making the second fewest errors (70) in baseball.”"

Yes, the horrifying big reveal about the Sox defense is 0.8% drop in fielding percentage across a season that offers roughly 6000 chances (obviously making more errors means more chances). If that sounds like a relatively small figure that could occur really easily, it’s because it’s can. Major leaguers are precise fielders and 0.8% is enough to jump from the bottom to the top of the league and vice-versa, but it’s also a shift that’s occurring semi-regularly across the league.

Baltimore made a 0.8% shift from 2012 to 2013 as well, it just went in the opposite direction, which is something that can happen when Manny Machado replaces Wilson Betemit. Tampa Bay one-upped them by increasing their percentage by 0.9%, a year after experiencing an 0.7% drop. Pick two consecutive seasons on Baseball Reference, sort by fielding percentage, and you’ll easily find one or two teams bouncing around on the margins at rate ranging from 0.5-0.9%.

And it goes without saying that fielding percentage is a narrow, and perhaps entirely misguided way of assessing defense. When Robin Ventura sharpened the 2012 crew up through rigorous practice: 0.1% rise in fielding percentage. When the 2013 Royals became the “best defense ever,” it was behind just a 0.5% jump in percentage, and that only brought them 0.1% above league-average.

There’s no guaranteeing anything for the White Sox, but a recovery from the doldrums of sloppy error-soaked play has plenty of precedent. And when it happens, that single year of fielding percentage performance shouldn’t change the conceptions of these players are any more than the 2013 disaster did.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan