If you are a casual baseball fan, you probably haven’t heard of Brad Boxberger. If you are a casual baseball fan, though, you probably aren’t hanging out at FanGraphs, clicking on posts about Brad Boxberger. Boxberger is a player of some interest and mild fame. He was, in 2009, drafted 43rd overall by the Cincinnati Reds. He was, in 2011, traded to the San Diego Padres as part of the package for Mat Latos. He did, in 2012, make his major-league debut, working out of the San Diego bullpen. Over 24 appearances, Boxberger yielded just eight earned runs. Things could’ve gone worse for Brad Boxberger.
As this was Boxberger’s debut major-league season, he experienced a lot of firsts. He threw his first pitch on June 10, to Rickie Weeks. It was a strike. Weeks subsequently drew what would be Boxberger’s first major-league walk. Boxberger’s first major-league strikeout was next, a swinging strikeout of Martin Maldonado. On June 20, Boxberger allowed his first major-league run. On August 12, Boxberger yielded his first major-league dinger. On September 5, Boxberger recorded his first major-league hold.
Boxberger didn’t get all of his firsts out of the way, however. At no point did he record his first major-league win. At no point was he tagged with his first major-league loss. He has yet to commit his first major-league balk. And — well, there’s something else.
A very simple defensive statistic is “Chances”. It’s the denominator in fielding percentage, and it’s the sum of putouts plus assists plus errors. It’s intended as an approximation of opportunities, and while it’s antiquated and while we don’t often look at it, there’s a reason I’m bringing it up in this instance. Below please find a complete log of Brad Boxberger’s defensive chances as a major-league pitcher in 2012. There are three of them.
What a great pickoff move by Brad Boxberger! In just his second big-league appearance, Boxberger caught Collin Cowgill trying to steal second base. Boxberger had plenty of time to throw Cowgill out. But what he actually did was throw behind Everth Cabrera, allowing Cowgill to advance safely and allowing another runner to score. Boxberger was charged with his first major-league error. You know the old story about pitchers throwing to any base but home. Boxberger did everything right until the throwing part.
Here we have Boxberger’s fifth major-league appearance. An opportunity existed for him to pick off Brian Bixler. Instead, he threw wildly to first, and Bixler advanced to second. On the next pitch, Bixler would score on a double. Boxberger was charged with his second major-league error. Though the throw could’ve been caught by Jesus Guzman, it obviously wasn’t, and it was bad enough that Boxberger was held 100% responsible. Errors are like arbitration — they either go to one guy or another guy. They can’t be split.
What a great pickoff move by Brad Boxberger! He had Angel Pagan leaning, and with an accurate throw, he had Angel Pagan out. What he didn’t uncork was an accurate throw — what he uncorked instead was an inaccurate throw, and Pagan went to second, and another runner scored. Once again, Boxberger’s pickoff move got him an easy out he failed to actually record. Boxberger was charged with his third major-league error. It sure looks like the throw could’ve and should’ve been caught by Yonder Alonso. The Padres’ broadcasters expressed disbelief when Boxberger was charged, and Mark Grant expected the scorer to change his decision later on. The decision stands to this day — the error was Boxberger’s. Rightly or wrongly. It seems unfair, but it is what it is, and it’s not like the throw was perfect. I’m not here to discuss the fairness of scorer decisions. I’m here to discuss defensive chances.
Brad Boxberger, as a major leaguer in 2012, recorded three total defensive chances. He was charged with three total defensive errors, all on throws to bases on pickoff attempts. He’s yet to record his first major-league putout, and he’s yet to record his first major-league assist. It’s true that he threw accurately to home plenty of times. It’s probably true that he threw accurately to bases on unsuccessful pickoff attempts. But chances are putouts plus assists plus errors, and at present, Boxberger is 0-for-3. This is unsightly.
One day, probably, Boxberger will register a putout or an assist. That’ll be a first, and it’ll be something to celebrate, modestly. For now, Boxberger is tied for the lowest career fielding percentage in modern baseball history. And among those players with fielding percentages of .000, Boxberger stands alone with the most defensive chances. Maybe some of it’s the scorer’s fault. Maybe some of it’s Alonso’s fault. But it’s Boxberger who’s got the statistical record. May his big-league career not be over; may there be a play made on the horizon. May Boxberger keep that ball for the rest of his life.