The case for the defense

Of the many aspects of baseball for which we can produce statistics, for me, defense is the hardest to quantify and hardest to find reliable stats. There may be some numbers – advanced or otherwise – that some fans swear by, but I have often struggled to find any to really suit myself.

Many defensive metrics are hard to understand and which one (s) should we rely on? That is not easy to determine either.

But one defensive stat that seems more in the norm now or one used more often now is Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Maybe O’s fans will like this stat even more when they realize that while their team ranked among the worst in baseball in that stat in the most three recent full seasons, this year Baltimore ranked tied for ninth in team DRS in MLB.

Here are the top 10 teams in DRS from 2022:

129 – New York Yankees
84 – Los Angeles Dodgers
77 – Cleveland Guardians
70 – St. Louis Cardinals
67 – Houston Astros
55 – Arizona Diamondbacks
51 – Milwaukee Brewers
43 – Toronto Blue Jays
38 – Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners

In the full season of 2018, the Orioles ranked 28th in DRS. They were 27th in 2019, 16th in 2020 and 24th in 2021.

From the glossary, DRS quantifies a player's entire defensive performance by attempting to measure how many runs a defender saved. It takes into account errors, range, outfield arm and double-play ability. It differs only slightly from UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) in its formula, but the concept is the same.

The formula: DRS uses Baseball Info Solutions data to chart where each ball is hit. Say, for instance, a center fielder sprints to make a nice catch on a fly ball. Then, say data from BIS tells us that similar fly balls get caught 60 percent of the time. That center fielder gains, essentially, 0.4 bonus points for difficulty. If he can't make the play, he loses 0.6 points. At the end of the day, that player's overall score gets adjusted to the league average -- and then that score gets adjusted for how many runs the once-adjusted score is worth.

You got all that? Me either.

In’s team defensive rating among AL teams, the O’s rated fourth-highest, another impressive number. Baltimore catchers had just five passed balls all year and only four AL teams had fewer. They rated tied for sixth in fielding percentage at .985.

Only in left field (tied for 10th) and at second base (14th) did the Orioles rate in the lower end of the AL in DRS at that particular spot.

At catcher they were fourth, at first base tied for second, and they were second at short and third base. They rated fifth in center field and sixth in right field.

Even if we used, gulp, the eye test to rate O's defense in 2022, I would think most eyes had to be impressed. From turning the routine plays more often to occasionally making the tough ones and turning a bunch of double plays, the O's played mostly tight defense during this past season. The pitching improved and the defense played a hand in that.

In these most simple terms, we could say the defense was the best aspect about the 2022 Orioles. While as they produced 4.16 runs per game on offense, 10th in the AL - that was a bit below league average. They had a team ERA of 3.97, ninth in the AL - a bit below final league average. But in DRS they tied for fifth in the American League.

As the Orioles look to take the next step and improve on 83 wins in 2023, they have some improving to do on offense and with their pitching.

The defense could always improve too, but of the top six teams in DRS in the AL this year, only the Orioles did not make the playoffs. In this stat, they are keeping good company right now.  


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