More Errors than Strikeouts in a Season

As with many prior posts, it began with an innocent tweet:

David Schoenfield @dschoenfield

Andrelton Simmons still with no strikeouts and no errors on the season. Which will come first? #Braves

. . . which elicited this response from me:

dianagram @dianagram

@dschoenfield oh you’re going to inspire me to find players with more Es than Ks in a season! :-)

. . . which elicited this response from David:

David Schoenfield @dschoenfield

I was thinking the same thing. Good luck! RT @dianagram oh you’re going to inspire me to find players with more Es than Ks in a season! :-)

So, I fired up the Lahman Baseball Database (which readers of the VORG should be supporting with donations from time to time, please) and lined up the fielding data table with the batting data table.  I decided to limit the search to 1914 forward (so the last 100 seasons), since the error totals in the late 1800s to early 1900s were of course significantly larger than they are now.  I then looked for all players with season error totals greater than strikeouts.

In the Division Play era (1969 to 2013), we have a tie at nine more errors than Ks.  The first such player is Gary Sutherland, who was an original Montreal Expo.  He was a middle infielder taken in the 1969 Expansion Draft off of the Phillies roster.  For his career, he struck out in only 6.5% of plate appearances, and compiled fielding percentages of .971 at second and .936 at shortstop.   In 1971, Sutherland appeared in 111 games, amassing 331 plate appearances.  He struck out a mere 12 times (3.6%), while committing nine errors in 56 games at second and 12 more in 46 games at shortstop, for a total of 21 miscues.

22 years later, Indians shortstop Felix Fermin duplicated the feat.  Normally a sure-handed fielder, Fermin made 23 errors in 580 chances for a career-low .960 fielding percentage.  His batting eye was still keen though, as he bettered his career 4.8 K% by striking out in a career-low 2.7% of his plate appearances (14 out of 514).

For the record-holder over the last 100 seasons, we turn to Hall of Famer shortstop/third baseman Joe Sewell.  From 1925-1933, Sewell came to the plate 5,539 times and struck out in a mere 48 of them (0.8%)!  He has the most plate appearances, by far, of anyone with as low a career K% (1.45%).  He was also blessed with terrific range at shortstop. He finished first or second in range factor at the position seven times, as well as leading in assists and putouts four times each.  On the flip side, he also placed in the top five in errors six times.   In 1923, Sewell struck out 12 times in 686 plate appearances, while committing a career-high 59 errors at short.  Thus, he holds the record for largest error-strikeout differential of the last 100 years at 47.

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