O’s Defense: Disappointing, But Better Lately

The Orioles came into the season with what was supposed to be a plus defense (I had them at about +13 runs overall myself).  The outfield of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Felix Pie was being discussed as potentially the best in baseball. Cesar Izturis was brought in to solidify the infield with his “Gold Glove” caliber defense at short. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, as the O’s have a -24.6 UZR that is the 5th worst in baseball, which is mostly the result of being 38.3 runs below average based on range (which is 2nd worst).

The Good: Adam Jones making a diving catch.

The Bad: Aubrey Huff jumping for an errant throw from Brian Roberts.

The Silly: Huff chasing after a ball that got passed him.

Dempsey’s Army looked at the team’s defense by position back the the end of May. That’ll provided a nice bench-mark to see how things have been going lately (thanks Heath!). Overall, things have gotten better: O’s players were -5.2 UZR per 150 games, and now they’re only -1.1 UZR/150. Let’s take a look at the individual players.

1B: UZR/150 – May UZR/150 – Now
Aubrey Huff -11.5 -2.0
Ty Wigginton 14.6 11.3

Aubrey Huff really picked things up since June, and ended his time with the Orioles only a little below average.  Ty Wigginton only had 42 innings in June and is still at just 208 innings now, so those are some really small samples. You would expect a guy who plays second and third to be an above-average first-baseman though.

2B: UZR/150 – May UZR/150 – Now
Brian Roberts 6.9 -6.4

I was a little surprised to see Roberts doing so well earlier this year, since he had been a little below average the last couple of years.  Every part of his defensive game has fallen off recently: range (was +1.5, now -4.7), errors relative to average (+0.9 to -1.6), and turning the double play (+0.6 to -0.6).

3B: UZR/150 – May UZR/150 – Now
Melvin Mora -3.4 1.0
Ty Wigginton -14.4 -31.6

Melvin can’t hit much anymore, but he can still pick it a little at third. Wiggy isn’t really a third-baseman (despite playing there), and I think that’s fairly obvious to anyone who has seen him dive for a ball five feet to his left and come up three feet short.

SS: UZR/150 – May UZR/150 – Now
Cesar Izturis 0.1 7.8
Robert Andino 35.3 9.7

Andino has had better range, while Izturis has been more sure handed with regards to errors.  The O’s have had a 3 win upgrade due to shortstop defense from last year (-22.9 runs combined) to this year (+9.2 runs combined thus far).

LF: UZR/150 – May UZR/150 – Now
Nolan Reimold 6.5 -11.3
Felix Pie 25.6 16.6

Reimold has a pretty good arm, but his range (-10 runs) has not been excellent.  I don’t think he’s really that bad – he’s not slow and doesn’t make too many bad plays – but I don’t think he’ll be an asset out there. Pie is a center-fielder playing left, so you’d expect him to be good – not that it’s always pretty.

CF: UZR/150 – May UZR/150 – Now
Adam Jones -18.6 -7.3
Felix Pie -25.7 1.1

Jones has been better recently, and we’ve seen him make some excellent catches back on the track and at the wall.  I don’t know if he’s playing deeper, but it seems like some of those would have been over his head earlier in the year. On the other hand, it’s his range totals that have gotten worse (-1.2 runs in June to -14.5 runs now), while his arm rating has turned around (-6.4 runs to +6.0 runs). The drop in defense has actually more than eliminated the gains he’s made with the bat from last year. I still think he’s got above-average talent in center though.  Pie has played like an average-ish center-fielder.  If he gets to keep playing, it might be interesting whether the team would be better served moving him to center and playing Jones in left (places where, in the usual parlance, “their bats would play better”).

RF: UZR/150 – May UZR/150 – Now
Nick Markakis -26.6 -4.2

You’re breaking my heart Nick.  Not only is your OBP down almost 40 point because you’re walking only about half as often as you did last year (from a very good 14.3% of the time to a below-average 7.6%), but your range in right is now below-average (-6.5 runs) compared to last year (+4.7 runs) as well. He’s still getting his assists (12), but his arm rating in general is down from +7.2 runs above average to +1.9 runs. That’s all resulted in a loss of about 1.6 wins in value with the glove.

There have been some bright spots (Izzy+Andino at short and Pie in the outfield), but overall the defense has been disappointing this year.  Ultimate Zone Rating isn’t perfect, but it’s probably the best measure of defense readily available right now. We just need to keep in mind that a negative UZR in 2009 doesn’t necessarily mean that a player is bad defensively – he’s just played below average at his position over the course of this season’s games. A turnaround next year would go a long way towards making the young pitchers look (and maybe feel) better.