The Baltimore Orioles have been a different team since August. Sure they were respectable in the first half, but they weren’t this good. The difference? It’s the Orioles fielding. They went from being a below average defensive team to one of the best in baseball. No, I’m not going just by errors, which plenty of people will look at. Sure, errors tell a good part of the picture, but in order to judge a team’s fielding and defense you have to watch the games. Call me old fashioned, but I just don’t think there are statistics that will give you the entire picture.
As a team, the Orioles have drastically reduced the rate at which they commit errors. Their team’s fielding percentage has also gone way up. However, you have to watch them play the field at the ballpark or on your television set to truly appreciate just how good the Orioles have become defensively.
As atrocious as Mark Reynolds was defensively at third base, he has been the exact opposite at first base. Reynolds was an error machine at third base and since moving over to first base he has committed only a handful of errors. What is more impressive are the exceptional diving stops he continues to make. Reynolds looks like he has been playing first his entire career the way he picks balls out of the dirt saving errors.
Even with Reynolds moving over to first, the Orioles still had a defensive weakness at third base. This was fixed with the bold move of calling up 20-year-old Manny Machado. Sure Machado has played shortstop his entire career, but it’s easy to just move over and play third base right? Well Machado has made it look easy. Machado has been one of the top defensive third baseman in the league since being called up August 9th.
The Orioles went from being below average defensively (terrible at third base) to exceptional defensively at the corners. The rest of the Orioles infield has been equally as great. J.J. Hardy should win a gold glove for his work at shortstop and both Omar Quintanilla and Robert Andino have been playing an above average second base. There isn’t a weak spot defensively in the Orioles infield.
People make the mistake of judging catcher Matt Wieters solely on his offensive numbers and don’t realize what a huge part of this Orioles team he has been defensively. Wieters already won a gold glove last season and he is having another great defensive season. He had a tough first few months and saw a spike in his errors behind the plate, but he handles a pitching staff as good as anyone in the league and continues to throw runners out at a 35% clip.
The Orioles outfield, before the injury to right fielder Nick Markakis, showcased three gold glove outfielders. Markakis was as good as it gets in right field and Adam Jones is a great defensive center fielder. The change that made the difference was in left field with the addition of Nate McLouth. McLouth is a former center fielder and has great range out in left field.
Fielding and defense in baseball isn’t sexy. It’s like special teams in football. It may not be the most glamorous part of the game, but I would argue it is just as important. How many times have you seen football games won and lost because of special teams? The correct answer is a lot. The same happens in baseball with fielding.
Sure you see the highlight reel catches on ESPN, but sometimes it is the mental plays in the field that make the difference. When you think of how a heads up play can get a third out and end an inning or save a run, that is huge for a team and the pitcher on the mound. Baseball is starting to highlight more statistics that show a players fielding acumen, but it’s still not the same as ERA, batting average, and home runs.
If you really want to enjoy Orioles baseball and appreciate why the Orioles are in the chase for the AL East lead start watching the Orioles in the field. Once you start to recognize how good this team has become in the field you will know exactly why the Orioles are in the playoff chase. Hitting, pitching AND fielding.