08 June 2018

The Orioles' Outfield Defense Is Brutal

If you've had a hard time watching the 19-42 Orioles this year, you're not alone. The starting pitching has been picking things up a bit as of late, but overall, the O's have been bad in nearly every phase of the game. That includes managing, with some weird bullpen decisions by Buck Showalter in last night's loss.

One thing that's been particularly frustrating is the total collapse of defense in the outfield. This post will focus on the outfield, but the team's defensive deficiencies in the infield shouldn't be ignored. There have been issues all around the diamond; even Manny Machado, who appears to be more comfortable at shortstop after an up-and-down April, still has a -9.8 UZR/150 and -8 DRS. I'm not sure how much stock you should put into less than a half season's worth of defensive data, but plenty of other O's defenders have been just as bad or worse than that.

Now, the Orioles haven't been good defensively in the outfield for a while. Let's look at the O's collective outfield defense the last three years (with MLB rank):

2016: -9.7 UZR/150 (30th), -51 DRS (30th), -18 OAA (27th)
2017: -6.6 UZR/150 (29th), -15 DRS (23rd), -15 OAA (28th)
2018: -9.3 UZR/150 (30th), -24 DRS (30th), -17 OAA (30th)

If you're not familiar with OAA, it stands for outs above average, which is a range-based metric that takes into account plays made and their catch probability. (For a more in-depth look, read this.)

The 2018 club's outfield defense looks very much like the 2016 version, and it could end up worse. It's not that surprising, though. Adam Jones has been the one outfield mainstay, and several underwhelming outfielders have filled in at the corners. In 2016, Mark Trumbo and Hyun Soo Kim played the second- and third-most innings in the O's outfield, respectively. In 2017, Trey Mancini had the second-most outfield innings, followed by Seth Smith. And so far in 2018, Mancini is again second, followed by Anthony Santander (now in the minors) and Craig Gentry. Unlike almost all the others, Gentry is a plus (or at least above-average) defender, with a +5 DRS and 8.8 UZR/150 this season (obligatory small sample mention).

Average-to-above-average outfielders like Gentry and Joey Rickard don't hit enough to find themselves in anything more than a fourth or fifth outfielder role, which means Mancini and Trumbo are still getting innings in the outfield. It's no secret that Trumbo is a terrible outfielder, but while Mancini was OK at times last year, he's been on a similar level of bad as Trumbo this year, and he finds himself in left field almost every game. But again, no one should be shocked when Mancini and Trumbo, both 1B/DH types, struggle in the outfield. What do you think would happen with Pedro Alvarez in the outfield? Oh, right.

Now... on to Adam Jones. If you're one of the fans who doesn't want anything negative to be said about Jones, no matter what, this is where you might want to stop reading. Jones has been great both on and off the field in his time in Baltimore, but he's not above criticism.

As you'd expect, Showalter is hesitant to rebuke Jones for frustrating outfield play. Nevertheless, his regression in center field is worth discussing. Here is how Jones has rated in outs above average the past few years:

2016: +3 OAA (t-35th among all OF)
2017: -7 OAA (t-110 among all OF)
2018: -6 OAA (t-46th among all OF out of 50)
Min. 100 opportunities

And here is how he rates in DRS and UZR data:

2016: -10 DRS, -5.6 UZR/150
2017: -12 DRS, -14.4 UZR/150
2018: -15 DRS, -19.0 UZR/150

If your eyes gloss over those numbers, then look at a couple of misplays from the O's recent series against the Yankees. Here is the first, a misread on a line drive hit in front of him:

And here is the second, which apparently had a catch probability of 90% (an O's reporter shared that figure at the time, but I can't seem to find it now):

I'll spare you from GIFs of Mancini and Trumbo running after fly balls.

As always, things are complicated. Except for a few seasons, Jones has never really fared well according to advanced defensive metrics. But Jones is almost always in the lineup, and he frequently plays hurt. And there's been some drama surrounding how deep Jones plays; Jim Palmer used to mention it every so often during telecasts. Jones finally acquiesced to playing a deeper center field before last season, though he wasn't thrilled about it. This Q&A with Jones by Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun gave fans some insight into Jones's stance on the whole thing and how a lack of communication between Jones and the front office played a large role.

One positive for Jones right now is that he has a 108 wRC+ and has been one of the O's better hitters (admittedly, a low bar). But, in a perfect world, he wouldn't still be in center field. He isn't as fast as he once was, and he doesn't always get great reads or take the best routes. But over the last several years, the O's have struggled to bring in outfielders who could both hit and field well. That's a big problem, and Jones has had to try and cover more ground because of that. Mancini and Trumbo playing so often in the outfield isn't Jones's fault, but miscues on plays like the ones above are.

The Orioles aren't awful because of just one thing; everything is a factor. Even if the O's had a wonderful collection of defensive wizards in the outfield, the team would still be bad. And yet, outfield defense and speed are two things the Orioles need more of, and they can't continue to rely on using first basemen in the outfield. These guys aren't good enough hitters to get away with that.

The hope is that the team's next wave of outfielders, led by Austin Hays in one corner, Cedric Mullins likely in center field, and perhaps DJ Stewart and/or Ryan Mountcastle in another corner, will become solid contributors with the glove and the bat, while providing much-needed youth and speed (the speed part referring to Mullins and Hays). Mullins, who's in Triple-A Norfolk after a recent promotion, is the closest to the majors and very well may take over for Jones if/when he departs. For now, O's fans will have to keep dealing with substandard play in the outfield.

Photo: Keith Allison. Stats via FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.


Pip said...

Everyone says Mullins’ defense is excellent.
Mountcastle seems to be a known quantity.
How is the defense of Hays and Stewart?

Unknown said...

I am fed up with Brach. Lastvnight put me over the edge.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I haven't read any recent reports on Hays, but he projects to be above average in one of the corners. He should have the arm strength to handle right field.

Stewart doesn't have the speed or arm of Hays, and he's probably average to below average in left field. He may be more of a DH.

ATLHiker said...

Can Mancini play right field?
Seems to me that with Chris Davis realistically needing to sit every day the Orioles should put Jones in left, Rickard in center, Mancini in right, and Trumbo at first.
Right field at Camden Yards can take advantage of a good accurate arm, which though awkward it seems Mancini has a decent one of.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Rickard is fast, but he isn't a center fielder. Gentry would be a better option there, but again, neither has the bat to be an everyday player, either.

Mancini makes some accurate throws at times, but his arm strength is not very good. I wouldn't want him in right field, or anywhere in the outfield.

Unknown said...

Yet another effect of the Chris Davis deal: Instead of playing first base, Manchini is stuck in right field where he simply looks uncomfortable. And they were unable to compete in free Agengy to get a quality outfielder.

Jan Frel said...

O’s Are a total disaster! ��

Anonymous said...

They should move Jones to left as his arm hasn't been good enough. https://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=6368&position=OF