Zach Wilt: Defense has let down Orioles this season

It’s easy to point to the Orioles’ struggles on offense and in the bullpen for their 8-23 record. You don’t have the American League’s worst winning percentage when your bats and arms are going good. There are many stats to point to and blame for the O’s place in the standings.

A 25.2 strikeout percentage is one of them, it’s the highest in the AL and third in baseball behind the Padres and Phillies. A 4.37 ERA for the bullpen is another, nearly half a run higher than their total a season ago (3.93). Those two stats will cause any team to take a step back.

The struggles of the offense and relievers have been well documented this season. Injuries can be to blame for some of those bloated stats. Without Jonathan Schoop, the bats haven’t produced. While Zach Britton has been on the disabled list, the bullpen hasn’t settled in. Underperformances from some of the Orioles’ key contributors have also been a major factor. Chris Davis and Tim Beckham haven’t been able to get the bats going, while Mychal Givens and Brad Brach have been inconsistent in their roles late on the bump.

One of the factors that has gone overlooked through all of these struggles has been the issues with the Orioles defense. Measuring a team’s defense is tricky, so it’s an often overlooked part of the game, but for the O’s it’s been a been reason for their last-place record this season. Defensive metrics are difficult. Personally, I still find a lot of value in some of the traditional statistics for offense and pitching. Batting average and ERA still give me a good start for finding out exactly what’s going on. On defense, errors is the stat that most people start with and here it doesn’t really tell the full story.

As a team, the Orioles have committed 21 errors and rank eighth in baseball in that category. There are some other bad teams ahead of them on that list, but also some good ones. The Yankees have committed the most errors in baseball, 25. Fielding percentage is a similar statistic. The Orioles have a .981 fielding percentage this season, while that ranks pretty low (24th in baseball), it still doesn’t tell the full story about what’s going on out in the field for Buck Showalter’s club.

I usually begin with defensive runs saved which measures players in runs above or below average. I like DRS because it’s easy to read and it factors in a number of different calculations into one statistic. Currently, the Orioles defense ranks last in DRS at minus-26.

Statcast has also done an amazing job giving more insight to the work that defenders do in baseball. Outs Above Average (OAA) is a range-based metric that uses catch probability data to account for the number of plays successfully made and the difficulty of those plays. None of the Orioles outfielders have a positive OAA. Adam Jones has the highest of the bunch at minus-3 (minimum 50 opportunities).

In baseball, an above-average defense can make average pitching perform at a higher level. It makes sense, they convert batted balls into outs. This can easily be measured by batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Not surprisingly, Orioles pitchers overall have allowed a .319 BABIP this season, second-highest in baseball. This crazy high BABIP is recorded despite the fact that O’s arms are allowing just a 31.6 hrd-hit percentage, 23rd in the majors. Basically, all of this is to say that Baltimore’s pitchers are giving up hits on soft contact that their defense should be converting into outs.

This season has been the combination of many different parts of the Orioles game not living up to expectations. The offense hasn’t shown the power they are capable of producing. The bullpen hasn’t been as locked down as we have become used to seeing in the past. Perhaps the most overlooked step backward for the O’s has been their defense. Costly mistakes from all three have put the Orioles where they are in the standings.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. His views appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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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