January 27, 2023

SNAFU and FUBAR: A Comedy of Errors

July 2, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

Josh Devore

Josh Devore would have been a perfect candidate for SNAFU+ and FUBAR+.

I’m sure I’m not the only baseball fan whose eyes have glazed over while contemplating the welter of statistics out there. Every time I encounter some new statistic, my usual reaction is “arrrghhhh, just what we need, another statistic and another acronym.” Now, however, I have had a change of heart. Why? Because I thought up a couple of new statistics.

Batting average has been around a long time. I’m not sure when slugging percentage became a thing, but it was a useful tool in comparing contact hitters with sluggers. Two batters with the same batting average can be differentiated by their total bases. Obviously, a singles hitter with a .300 batting average is a different breed of cat from a .300 hitter who is among the home run leaders. Slugging percentage employs total bases to evaluate the potency of hitters.

Like batting average, fielding average reflects the success rate of the player. Fielding percentage calculates the percentage of times the fielder actually makes the play based on the number of chances he has to handle the ball. If he does not register an out on a playable ball he is granted an error. As with hits, not all errors are created equal.

Now fielding isn’t as sexy as hitting; lumbermen always get fatter paychecks than glove men. Fans turn out early to watch batting practice. They head for the restroom or the concession stand when fielding practice starts. Home run derbies attract national attention during All-Star week. A place-hitting competition would have viewers stifling yawns. As for fielding…well, staging a contest involving third baseman fielding bunts is inconceivable.

Good hit/no field players are always welcome on a roster. No hit/good field players…sorry, we don’t need another utility player. In the meantime, how about a Triple-A contract?

Since hitting gets more attention than fielding, it’s not surprising that offensive stats attract more attention than fielding stats. Yet even fielding is not immune from arcane stats and acronyms, such as DFR (Defensive Runs Saved), UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and RZR (Revised Zone Rating).

So do we really need a new fielding statistic? You tell me, but I promise you that no new acronyms or complicated calculations are necessary for these stats.

Let’s start with a scenario involving a pitcher facing the leadoff batter in an inning. The batter hits a routine ground ball to the shortstop whose throw pulls the first baseman off the bag. The next three batters make outs, however, ending the inning and stranding the runner. So no harm is done, aside from adding one or more digits to the pitch count.

Now let’s assume the errant throw eludes the first baseman and goes bounding down the right-field line. A one-base error would hence become a two-base, three-base, or possibly a four-base error, depending on how far the batter/runner advances. So this one error would represent two, three, or four total bases, not one.

Just as we have batting and slugging percentages to reflect that some hits are more potent than others, we need a fielding counterpart to reflect the obvious fact that some errors are more costly than others. So what would we call the fielding equivalent of slugging percentage. How about SNAFU?

Remember I told you I wouldn’t coin any new acronyms. Well, SNAFU is a longstanding acronym that was coined by the military in World War II. In fact, Private Snafu was a popular cartoon character in Warner Brothers cartoons made specifically for military audiences. Originally, SNAFU pertained to systemic incompetence: Situation Normal, All Fouled (I’m using a euphemism here) Up.

Over time the acronym became a noun, defined by the Dictionary of American Slang (Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1967) as “A mistake, usu. large and obvious.” Not a bad acronym/word to describe an error at a particularly inopportune time. For our purposes, the acronym would stand for Statistical Nuance Appertaining to Fielding Uberboots.

Alternatively, we could measure fielding lapses via another calculation and acronym. If you listen to games on the radio or watch them on TV, you occasionally hear the announce refer to a batter’s average with runners in scoring position (BA-RISP). Is there any reason this same concept could not be reflected by a fielding average with runners in scoring position?

We could call this FA-RISP. But I promised I wouldn’t invent any new acronyms, so let’s go with another old military chestnut: FUBAR. This stands for Fouled (I’m using a euphemism again) Up Beyond All Recognition. In our case we could define FUBAR as Fielding Underachievement Begetting Appalling Results.

SNAFU and FUBAR offer a good way to differentiate between clutch performers and routine performers. Clutch hitting is subject to various definitions, but there is no doubt that some at-bats are more crucial than others and some hitters are more likely to rise to the occasion.

Just as a clutch hitter would be more likely to come through when a hit is needed the most, a clutch fielder would be one who is less likely to make an error when it would prove costly.

On the other hand, the opportunities for clutch fielding are less predictable. A hitter cannot play nine innings with no plate appearances; a fielder can play a full game with no putouts or assists.
At the beginning of every inning, the fielder has a relatively stress-free existence.

After proper positioning, he need concentrate only on the batter. Between pitches, a fielder can stand there and ponder changing his walk-up music, where to go for dinner after the game, or what mixture of hedge funds he wants in his portfolio. If the batter hits a ball to the fielder, the latter need concentrate only on catching the ball, if it’s in the air, or fielding the grounder and throwing out the hitter.

Once a runner is on base, the fielder can no longer let his mind wander. How many outs are there? How speedy is the baserunner? Is he likely to take an extra base? Which base should I throw to after fielding a single…or a double? The infielder must ponder whether to cut off a throw or let it go through. Of course, the more runners on base the more there is to consider.

The mental strain is more likely to result in an error. Yet a player who boots a ball in such a situation gets one error, just as he would for a harmless error with no one on base. A clutch fielder would be one less likely to commit such errors, and it would be reflected in his SNAFU and FUBAR percentages.

Another advantage of SNAFU and FUBAR is their simplicity. No need to buy a used Statistics 101 textbook or ponder Byzantine formulas. If you can figure percentages (this used to be grade school math…not sure if it still is), you can easily calculate SNAFU and FUBAR.

In the upper echelons of stat geekdom, however, that would be a drawback. If it’s too easy, how useful could it be? All right, let’s complicate things. Let’s factor in runners on base. Assume a shortstop commits a two-base error with two men on base so three men advance two bases each, and the fielder is charged with six total bases. We could call the resulting percentage SNAFU+.

As for FUBAR, it is possible to have one or two runners in scoring position. We could reserve FUBAR for one runner and create FUBAR+ for two runners.

So there we have it: SNAFU and FUBAR, Mr. Plus and Mr. Minus, the vaudeville comedy team of baseball bloopers.

Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine was only the beginning.

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