Mark Reynolds joined a nontraditional 20-20 club on Monday when he hit his 20th home run of the season and committed his 20th error. Prior to the season, I identified Reynolds as the most likely candidate to become the Orioles’ first traditional 20-20 player (20 home runs, 20 stolen bases) since Brady Anderson in 1999. I was enamored with Reynolds’ power, concerned about his strikeouts and largely ignorant of his defensive struggles. Now I’m pondering the question many other fans in Birdland seem to be debating as well: Do Reynolds’ homers outweigh his errors? Offense or defense, take your pick.
Reynolds’ recent value at the plate is undeniable. He led all third basemen with a 1.112 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) for the month of June, meaning he did two of the most valuable things a batter can do: He got on base and hit for power. Reynolds’ June OPS was third overall in baseball behind the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp (1.268 OPS) and the Brewers’ Prince Fielder (1.238). It’s worth mentioning that J.J. Hardy’s 1.094 OPS was tops among major league shortstops for June. So the left side of the infield held up its end of the bargain at the plate last month.
That left side of the diamond is sacred territory in Baltimore when it comes to defense, thanks to Brooks Robinson’s work at third and Cal Ripken Jr.’s efforts at short. For the purpose of comparison, let’s consider each man’s work at the hot corner against Reynolds’ current play.
Robinson had a career-worst 21 errors in 447 chances at third base as a 21-year-old third baseman in 1958 (he also had one error in 15 chances at second base that season). The most errors Ripken committed after he moved back to third base toward the end of his career was 22 in 434 chances in 1997. Reynolds will easily surpass both mens’ worst efforts.
Reynolds’ 20 errors in 179 chances lead the majors at any position. His closest competition is from shorstops Elvis Andrus of the Rangers and Starlin Castro of the Cubs, both of whom have 16 errors on the season. Reynolds has a ways to go, however, before downing his own high mark of 34 errors in 356 chances at third base in 2008 (he also had one error in two chances at first base).
Overall, Reynolds fails to satisfy even one-third of Baltimore’s holy triumvirate of pitching, defense and the three-run homer. Ten of his 20 home runs this season have been solo shots. Reynolds has hit some tape-measure shots that are exciting to watch, but like the slam dunk in basketball, they don’t earn extra points for beauty.
Defense isn’t valued in baseball the way it is in other sports. The skill that has come to define Ravens football hardly registers in the fan consience come summertime. Put it this way: You won’t see anyone showing up with a giant “D” and a cardboard cutout of a fence at Camden Yards anytime soon. The value of defense is more subtle in baseball. Outside of the occasional web gem - and, to be fair, Reynolds has some to his credit - it’s easier to appreciate what happens at the plate than it is to recgonize what happens in the field. But that doesn’t make it less important.
With a young pitching staff that’s still learning to trust both its stuff and its defense, the Orioles need more at third base from Reynolds.
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds will appear this week as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.