‘O’ my: Orioles’ defense struggling mightily

BY MARK SIMON
There was no reason to believe that the Baltimore Orioles were going to be as bad as they’ve been this season. Similarly, there was no reason to believe that the Orioles defense was going to be as bad as it has been in 2018.

But here we are in mid-June, with the Orioles 19-48 and at -57 Defensive Runs Saved. Only the Phillies defense, which has cost the team 62 runs, rates worse.

Fewest Defensive Runs Saved
 Phillies  -62
 Orioles  -57
 White Sox  -41
 Pirates  -29 
 Mets  -29

But the Phillies foibles on defense were to be expected given their personnel. The Orioles were thought to be an average defensive team based on past performance. What’s happened?

Machado’s defensive malaise
Manny Machado, a Fielding Bible Award winner for defensive excellence in 2013, was moved from third base to shortstop with the thought that he’d be able to convert without issue, given that he fared fine there in a 45-game stint in 2016.

That hasn’t happened. Machado has cost his team 13 runs defensively at shortstop, the most of anyone at the position. Though Machado has made some sparkling plays at the position (19 Good Fielding Plays), he’s let many balls go through.

Machado rates seven plays below average in terms of getting outs on balls hit to the shortstop-third base hole and eight plays below average on balls hit up the middle. Most shortstops who are bad at fielding the ball in one area are average or above at fielding balls in the other direction. But Machado is far below average in both.

A look through some of the plays that cost him the most defensive value includes a combination of slow reactions, mistimed jumps, poor throws and just general slowness — that one represented in a grounder to short that Adam Engel beat out a few weeks ago in a game the White Sox were winning 11-1.

Additionally, the Orioles lost a great defender at third base and replaced him with the combination of Danny Valencia, Tim Beckham, Jace Peterson and Pedro Alvarez. Valencia has played the most in that group and has cost the Orioles six runs with his defense. Beckham, Peterson and Alvarez have combined for no runs saved.

Adam Jones’ woes
Adam Jones is a polarizing figure when it comes to evaluating his defense. Those who use the eye test say he’s Gold Glove worthy. The metrics have long shown otherwise.

And the metrics don’t like Jones this year. He’s at -15 Defensive Runs Saved. Only Charlie Blackmon rates worse among center fielders (-18). This will likely be Jones’ third straight season costing his team at least 10 runs with his defense.

Like Machado, Jones has multiple defensive issues. He’s not catching balls hit in front of him and he rates poorly on balls hit over his head.

Jones no longer seems to be able to go get the ball like he used to. He averaged 19 Good Fielding Plays per season from 2015 to 2017 (Good Fielding Plays are plays like Web Gems and positives like cutting a ball off in the gap to prevent baserunner advancement) He’s totaled three in 61 games in 2018.

In fairness to Jones, the difference between rating great and not can be a few balls — Jones has had the misfortune of playing to pull a few times on balls hit the opposite way and vice-versa. The one common thread on balls that cost him the most value is a couple of instances of pulling up on shallow flies.

Mystifying Mancini
One of Jones’ outfield mates has also suffered statistically from a defensive perspective. Left fielder and part-time first baseman, Trey Mancini has poor numbers, particularly in the outfield. He’s cost the team 14 runs in 52 games in left field.

Mancini’s rate of Defensive Misplays and Errors (think plays with a negative consequence, such as slipping or misjudging a ball that bounces off the wall) appears to be contributing to the problems. He averaged one misplay and error every 56 innings in 2017, but is averaging one every 30 innings in 2018.

Mancini’s size (6-4, 215 pounds) is a hindrance from the plays we watched, as he lacks speed to catch up to balls that a left fielder with good wheels would catch.

Where do they go from here?
The Orioles are headed towards both a historically bad season and a housecleaning. Machado and Adam Jones are both free agents this offseason and could both be moved before the July 31 trade deadline.

The Orioles team you’ll see at season’s end will likely be vastly different from the one that’s taking the field daily now. We’ll see if the subtractions prove to be additions from a defensive perspective.

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