23 May 2017

Orioles Defense: Outfield Gains Countered by Infield

The Orioles have a reputation, particularly in Baltimore, of being a relatively solid defensive team.  True, discussion lingers about woeful corner outfield defense, Jones getting older, and various breakdowns here or there in the infield.  However, the club carries a reputation of being solid when out on the field.  However, most of that reputation appears to have been earned from several seasons ago and carried, by and large, by Manny Machado's inebriatingly awesome feats at third base.

Consider this simple table showing Ultimate Zone Rating by catcher, infield, and outfield.  The catcher value also includes an adjustment for Baseball Prospectus' pitch framing stat plus a projection for this season based on previous seasons pitch framing success (2017 pitch framing numbers so far are junk as MLBAM is trying to adjust to a new system).  Additionally, the 2017 numbers are extrapolated to a full season.

C* IF OF sum
2012 23.4 -9.4 -19.6 -5.6
2013 10.7 46 -6.1 50.6
2014 23.9 20.5 34.3 78.7
2015 17.9 9.9 -1.4 26.4
2016 14.5 24.1 -36.7 1.9
2017** 12.4 0.8 -13.1 0.1

 Outfield defense has always been a bit of an issue for the Orioles.  2014 was a bit of an outlier as the entire club seems energized by a healthy and spectacular David Lough and strong supporting roles from Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Steve Pearce.  Beyond that season though, the outfield tended to struggle with balls emerging from the infield.  Part of this reason has come from trouble when perfectly fine outfielders have to cover for other players.  Other issues arise from once fleet star defenders poorly adjusting to a loss of a step or two.  Regardless, outside of that lone season, outfield defense has not been a great strength of this club.

On the other hand, infield defense has been a strength.  This is perhaps outsized by Manny Machado's amazing 2013 season when he got to everything.  His 2014 season was utterly spectacular and he still shows solid range, exceptional hands, and stunning accuracy.  That said, while he has plus plus range, it is not what it was that 2013 season when he was simply stunning with plus^plus range.  Machado has thickened up slightly and has had some surgery, so maybe that took away some measure of that insanity.  However, a very solid +15 third baseman remains.  Much of the Orioles defensive brilliance was built on that.

That brilliance was largely a strength with plus play from JJ Hardy and good support from Jonathan Schoop and Chris Davis.  Davis still looks like Davis.  Below average skills off the bag and plus skills on the bag.  However, 2017 has seen Hardy look clunky out there.  He seems to have lingering issues with his back which makes his first step a little slow and his ability to get down on balls a bit worse.  He needs to get healthy or he needs to sit.  The annual concern about Jonathan Schoop is also coming to look like reality.  Schoop has managed to stick at second, somewhat surprisingly, due to nimble play around the bag, soft hands, and a strong arm.  The concern had been that as he ages, his lower half with thicken up.  This would decrease his low end speed and make it difficult for him to get down on grounders.  We have seen that quite a bit this year.

At catcher, we have a lot of the same in years past.  Wieters made a name for himself as a defensive wiz prior to the acceptance of pitch framing metrics.  That said, he is a very solid catcher and any diminishing of those skills were replaced by Caleb Joseph's excellent pitch framing.  This season, Castillo combines very good non-pitch framing skills with terrible pitch framing skills.  Joseph is able to offset much of that, so we have a rather similar defensive outlook there behind the plate again.

In the outfield, the Orioles have seen some solid play by a risen Joey Rickard, who should actually get accolades for his defensive performance this year.  He has managed to be a bit more realistic on his chances of getting to fly balls and toning down that senseless aggressiveness has been a boon for him.  Seth Smith has also provided plus defense, which validates my thoughts of his defensive play coming into the season.  Hyun Soo Kim and Trey Mancini have also provided some solid innings in the outfield.  Beyond them, Mark Trumbo is Mark Trumbo.  He is a butcher out there.  And, Adam Jones, I hate to say it, but he is missing a lot of Texas Leaguers in front of him and is not gunning runners down.  It seems that it does not matter much whether he plays his preferred depth or sits back deeper.  My thought was that when Jones would shift back, that he would be nabbing higher value batted balls.  My thought also was with more competent corner defense that he would be able to control his playing area more effectively.  So far, those things are not happening.  He is performing, overall, the same.

Anyway, the outfield has improved.  The infield has lost some luster.  Catching is the same.  So, where is the club offensively and with pitching?  Offensive, the same level of play is coming out of the box--about league average.  However, the Orioles have put up one of the worst performances of the year on the basepaths and are in line to be worth about -3 or 4 wins through poor decision making in the field and maybe some infamously plodding baserunners.  Pitchers, things look the worse they have during Duquette's era by a smidge.  The starters look worse than last year and so do the relievers.

So far, this doom and gloom has not been devastating in the won-loss column, so hopefully that continues or, perhaps, the Orioles start performing in ways that make the win column look more explainable.


Roger said...

The key to everything is Gausman's performance and return to excellence of the bullpen. How much of the degraded performance is due to infield defense, I don't know. As far as Hardy goes, I think everyone sees the same thing, even Hardy. I don't think Janish is the answer. Isn't Marin hitting at Bowie? Is it time to take a look at him? With all the other options in the OF, I'm not sure why Trumbo ever has to play there. Considering the inexperience, Mancini looks pretty decent. Even without considering the hitting aspect, that decent defense is got to be why he is getting ABs against righties instead of Kim.

Jon Shepherd said...

Re: Marin...he is Bowie 2B and not hitting worth much.
Re: Trumbo...he seems more comfortable at the plate when in the field.
Re: Mancini...his athleticism has actually been knocked down this year. He looks decent out there, but the scouting is heavily mixed.

Pip said...

Based on the past, do we have any idea what will be the catalyst for change? Hardy is neither hitting nor defending, and though Janish doesn't hit a lick either, his defense remains outstanding.
Although this article focuses on defense, The question can also be asked about Jiminez; does past experience give us any indication at what point buck will make the necessary change?

Unknown said...

I'm excited to see how Bundy bounces back tonight. The last start was the first real adversity he's faced this season. Hopefully it won't derail his progress - at times a small slip can really knock young pitchers off course. The success the team has had so far is pretty dependent on Bundy and Miley with the rest of the rotation struggling so mightily. With so much appearance of smoke and mirrors needed to stay competitive so far, we can't afford to lose a big piece.

I do think something is off with his delivery this year. He's not finishing his fastball. His back foot is staying way behind his body after the delivery, and often he actually rocks back after delivering the pitch. He's following through normally on the changeup consistently, so I'm not sure what's going on. Hopefully he figures it out. Fixing this problem could add a couple miles back to the heater.

tony2302 said...

assuming Texas falling out of contention. what do you think DD would have to give up to get Darvish? probably too much but he would certainly help the rotation. we can all dream.

Unknown said...

Why would you assume that? Texas is currently tied with Cleveland for the 2nd Wildcard slot. If the Twins fall off, Cleveland takes over the central, Texas is really in the drivers' seat for a playoff game. They've got too much invested in the team right now - after all, it is Yu's last year on this contract, and Beltre and Hamels aren't getting any younger. They'll be buyers, not sellers, even if they do drop off a bit.

If you assume Texas is selling and Darvish is available, the pricetag would be on the edge of what the Orioles can afford. Conceivably Tanner Scott, Sisco, and either Mountcastle or Jomar Reyes might get it done. Always hard to guess what somebody else might offer. Some years just 2 of those guys might get it done, some years somebody's going to dangle a prospect the Orioles just can't match.

What I really can't wrap my head around, though, is why somebody who is ostensibly an Orioles fan would want to see the team do something like that. With a rebuild quite obviously right around the corner, why would you want to see the team give up what would certainly have to be several of its very best prospects for a short-term rental? You'd certainly want to have established some breathing room in the division to do something like that. No matter how good your 1 arm is for the Wildcard game, I would never put all my eggs in that basket. You'd have to be real confident in at least getting to a 5-game series to think about selling out for this year in my view.

Roger said...

OK, Erick Salcedo instead of Adrian Marin.

Anonymous said...

Cheech Marin maybe!

Anonymous said...

We have nothing to trade. We have nothing anyone wants. The cesspool has been mixed and made by Dan, and he is forced to trade for players who can be had for a PTBNL.
Eventually the ridiculous off-season plans bear fruit, and the first fruit reveals the weakness of the team, and the second fruit reveals that we can do nothing about it.

Anonymous said...

We could be in an even worse situation, like the Tigers. Saddled with all of those terrible contracts!

tony2302 said...

i did say ASSUMING. i could also say assuming Manny somehow resigns with the Orioles.