The case for the defense

We will find out soon if any Oriole will win a Gold Glove for defensive excellence in the 2011 season. There may even be a chance that the O’s get more than one winner and the Orioles have not done that since they picked up three Gold Gloves in 1998.

Then, Mike Mussina won at pitcher, Rafael Palmeiro at first base and Roberto Alomar for second base.

The Gold Glove winners for this season will be announced Nov. 1. For the first time, the three outfield awards will go to one winner from left field, one from center and one from right field.

When Adam Jones picked up the hardware in 2009, he became the first O’s Gold Glover in 10 years and no Oriole won last year. So that is one Gold Glove for the Baltimore Orioles over the last 12 years.

The franchise used to rack up these awards and from 1969 to 1978, the Orioles won at least two every season.

I think four Orioles have a shot to win this year and here is how I rate their chances in order from most likely to win to least likely:

Matt Wieters - catcher
Nick Markakis - right field
J.J. Hardy - shortstop
Jones - center field

If there was a better defensive catcher in the American League this year than Wieters, I didn’t see him play. He had a .995 fielding percentage and threw out 37 percent of base stealers, to rank second in the league. Wieters allowed one passed ball all year.

Buck Showalter and O’s coaches marveled at how Wieters could call a game and hopefully the voters noticed that, as well. He made too many excellent plays in tagging out runners at home to remember. Everything about his defense this year said Gold Glove to me, but I don’t have a vote.

By the way, catcher is the only position at which the Orioles have never had a Gold Glove winner.

This year, Markakis became the fifth Orioles’ outfielder to play 100 games or more and not make an error. Plus, he had 14 assists in 157 games. He was rock-solid to me, but there always seems to be someone that writes a column stating Markakis is overrated on defense. Maybe he is just one of those players you need to see every day to really appreciate.

The competition at right field could be strong with Jeff Francoeur, Ichiro Suzuki and Torii Hunter in the mix.

Hardy’s fielding percentage of .990 led all AL shortstops and in range factor on the ESPN Web site, he rated first. But there is always plenty of talent at short and maybe Hardy isn’t flashy enough to get the vote. Some may hold the fact he played in just 129 games against him.

But I would think anyone who watched him at length this year had to be impressed with his steady and solid play at short. He often made difficult plays look routine and was amazingly accurate with his arm.

Hardy, in my mind, was clearly among the best on defense at short this year, but was he the best?

Jones is in search of his second Gold Glove. He should get consideration this year as well after leading AL center fielders in total chances and assists with 16. He also ranked first in range factor.

On the down side, Jones had eight outfield errors, the most in the league. He made several amazing catches and many strong and mostly accurate throws this year. Will that be enough to offset the error total or could the voters care less about that?

By the way, I am not a big fan of defensive metrics, although I know some of you swear by such statistics. Feel free to leave some of those numbers with your comments and feel free to let us all know what it is about those stats that convince you of their accuracy.

What’s your take?: Which Oriole or Orioles do you think should win a Gold Glove this year? Does the team deserve more than one winner?

Follow Steve Melewski on Twitter: @MASNSteve

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