Welcome to Overreaction Of The Week, my over the top, uninhibited, Baltimore sports-fan takes on this week’s Orioles activity.
The Orioles aren’t off to the start we were all hoping to get. Other than Dylan Bundy, the starting pitching has been lackluster. The offense, while it has always been streaky, has yet to get hot. Contrary to the thrill of the 1-2-5 double play, the defense all together has come under more scrutiny, with good reason. Buck Showalter‘s defense, usually a stabilizer for the Orioles, has seemed to falter and make mistakes that take the team out of games easily this season. In reality, this is not a new development. The Orioles defense hasn’t fared very well in advanced statistics since 2014. While some players may pass the eye test, the Orioles have fallen to the bottom third of the league in defensive metrics, an area where division rivals and championship contenders thrive. With the current roster, this trend doesn’t seem to be changing and could continue to hurt the Orioles.
In 2014, the Orioles boasted one of the league’s best defenses including the Defensive Runs Saved metric. Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is a statistic that shows how many runs an individual saved versus the average defender at his position. Orioles defenders combined to save 57 runs in 2014, good for 3rd in the league. The team was paced by top defensive performers J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, and Caleb Joseph, all in the top 5 in DRS at their respective positions. They were helped by solid performances by Manny Machado, Chris Davis, utilityman Steve Pearce and outfielder David Lough. The high quality defense was clearly a major part in the run to a division title and a trip to the ALCS.
The story has been much different since then, something that has flown under the radar in Baltimore. From third in DRS in 2014, the Orioles defense dropped to 21st and actually surrendered 9 runs in 2015, instead of saving them. In 2016 and 2017, they finished 26th and 22nd respectively and it is clear to see that the top defense they once boasted is long gone. Some of the regression can be attributed to the decline of Hardy and centerfielder Adam Jones, and Schoop’s defense hasn’t lived up to his performance in 2014. For being a pillar of a Buck Showalter team, the Orioles have not been a good defensively in 3+ years. How can they get back to that level?
An old baseball philosophy is to build a defensive up the middle; which includes the catcher, shortstop, second baseman, and centerfielder. Joseph is as solid as they come behind the plate and Chance Sisco has a chance to improve to become a serviceable defender. Of course Machado is a platinum glover at third base and has already made some jaw-dropping plays at short but he needs to improve his range and consistency to become an elite defensive shortstop. Schoop turns the best double plays in baseball but he too needs to recapture his range to reach the potential he showed in 2014. Jones hasn’t been treated nicely by the sabermetrics for quite some time now and his last Gold Glove was 3 years ago. But, his general presence in center is helpful to the corner outfielders. The promotion of athletic players like Austin Hays or Cedric Mullins will benefit the outfield defense but not many of the other top prospects are particularly strong defenders.
There are several guys playing positions to which they’re not accustomed, which is certainly contributing to the subpar defense in 2018. So far this year, the Orioles sit at 26th in the league in DRS and have already surrendered 8 runs defensively. While some of those runs will be earned back, it is a troubling development. Clearly the trend of poor defense is continuing, but there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix in sight. If defense wins championships, this group is going to have a tough time contending. The best hope is for the core guys up the middle to step up to play their best defense to provide a solid foundation for the team and take pressure off of the rest of the defenders.
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