Matthew Taylor: Machado, McLouth and the O’s defensive renaissance

Manny Machado hasn’t even completed his first full season in the majors, and it’s already difficult to discern which of his defensive efforts qualifies as “the play.” Until Sunday, it was the pump-fake-to-first-throw-to-third showing against the Rays from last season; then he went gunning down the Yankees’ Luis Cruz last week on an off-balance throw from foul territory to one-up himself. Manny does more than doubles.

Machado’s efforts are part of an overall defensive renaissance in Baltimore that started toward the end of last season and has continued on through the first half of 2013. The Orioles have the fewest errors in the majors and the best overall fielding percentage this season after ranking 20th in baseball for errors and 18th for fielding percentage in 2012. The improvement from last season is the result of newfound stability at third base and in left field, as well as improved play at second base.

The three Orioles who committed the most errors in 2012 were Wilson Betemit (15), Robert Andino (13) and Mark Reynolds (11). Andino and Reynolds, who was an entirely different defensive player after moving to first base, are playing their home games in different time zones in 2013, while Betemit hasn’t appeared for the Orioles due to injury.

Betemit and Reynolds were among the six different Orioles to play a dozen or more games at third base in 2012. The duo combined for 19 errors in 90 games at the position. Machado has started every game at third base in 2013. He has six errors in 93 games. That’s 13 fewer errors at third base in roughly the same number of games. The 2012 Orioles ranked 29th for errors at third base and 27th for fielding percentage; the 2013 Orioles currently rank sixth for errors and second for fielding percentage.

Left field was even less stable than third base in 2012 as 13 different Orioles, including Betemit, gave the position a try. Nate McLouth has already played more games in left field in 2013 than any other two Orioles played there all of last season. The 2012 Orioles ranked last for errors and fielding percentage for left field; the 2013 Orioles have yet to commit an error in left field and have a perfect fielding percentage at the position.

The O’s didn’t lack as much for consistency at second base in 2012 but still ended up ranked 29th in baseball for errors and 27th for fielding percentage. In addition to Andino’s 13 errors, Omar Quintanilla had four errors in 32 games. The 2013 Orioles rank sixth in errors and for fielding percentage at second base. Credit for the improvement goes to the oft-maligned Ryan Flaherty and to Alexi Casilla, both of whom held down the position in Brian Roberts’ absence.

Machado’s defensive gem in the Bronx last Sunday garnered widespread attention, serving as a flashy cover that can attract attention to a larger story about defensive consistency in Baltimore. Five O’s starters have won Gold Gloves during their careers - McLouth, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters - and it seems to be only a matter of time before that number grows.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of’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 but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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