Heath Bintliff: There’s little defense for these Orioles

The Orioles are playing at right about the level they usually do in late July, jockeying for position for one of the top three picks in the amateur draft for 2012 and basically filling the role of American League doormats. The fans are pointing fingers at the pitching staff - rightly so since they are dead last in ERA among American League teams, and it’s not really close. Some also point fingers at an anemic offense which, while not as abysmal as the pitching, is slightly below league average in run production and has underachieved in 2011.

But I’m here to tell you that it’s even worse than all this because the defense has been pretty awful as well.

Feeling lonely out there, Matt Wieters? He should, since he is playing Gold Glove-caliber defense behind the plate while the rest of the team is below average at best.

Here are the Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) scores for various Orioles regulars for 2011. UZR can be inaccurate over small sample sizes, but with two-thirds of the season gone, it gives us a thumbnail sketch of the Oriole defense.

Derrek Lee 5.3
Brian Roberts -2.9
Mark Reynolds -28.2
Adam Jones -16.1
Luke Scott -7.9
Nick Markakis -1.0
J.J. Hardy -1.4

So what does all this mean? Let’s take a look postiiton by postition.

Lee is getting lumped in with the rest of these poor defenders, but in fairness he really hasn’t been that bad. He hasn’t been that good, either (his 5.3 UZR/150 put him squarely in the middle of the pack among major league first basemen), but he’s holding his own.

Roberts’ -2.3 UZR put him just above brutal glovemen like Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill but still below most of his peers. Unfortunately, his replacements have been even worse. Robert Andino has gotten most of the playing time (-11.1 UZR) with only Blake Davis showing some hope in his limited opportunities. As a team, this is the worst combinations of defensive second basemen in the majors by teams not featuring an Uggla.

We knew Reynolds was no defensive whiz, but I don’t think anybody expected the butchery we have witnessed this season. He the worst-fielding third baseman in the league (among regulars) and it’s not really close.

Jones looked like a worldbeater in center when he arrived from Seattle but has gotten progressively worse. The suspect Gold Glove notwithstanding, his UZR/150 puts him dead last among regular centerfielders, just behind new Blue Jay Colby Rasmus.

Theoretically, Scott was playing left field to keep his potent bat in the lineup. The bat fizzled and he played poor defense as well. Not Raul Ibanez bad but Ryan Braun bad (which is still pretty bad). Surprisingly, Felix Pie has been atrocious (-36.5 UZR/150 in some fairly significant action) and Nolan Reimold has been below average too (-2.6 UZR).

Markakis’ -1.0 UZR/150 doesn’t look bad on the surface, but it is only better than three other regular right fielders in the league. We kind of have to face the fact that Markakis is just average as an all-around fielder. This is a downward trend for him.

Hardy is probably getting over some of the injuries that sidelined him earlier in the year. He’s never had so little range and he’s been just below average in the field. Still, it would have been nice if he was playing at his normal levels.

The defense is not really a goat for the 2011 season. The Orioles’ pitching staff is dead last in the majors in terms of FIP and xFIP, too, so a crack defensive unit probably doesn’t make a huge difference to this team anyway. But the team certainly doesn’t hit well enough to justify carrying a bunch of guys who are below average in the field, too.

Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear 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.

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