The defensive decline that’s hurting the Orioles on the field and in the metrics again is going to be a point of emphasis in the offseason.
Doesn’t it seem that way every year since the days of Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy and pre-decline Adam Jones?
The Orioles wanted an upgrade at shortstop, discussed Adeiny Hechavarría and signed plus-plus defender José Iglesias to a one-year deal with an option for 2021.
They wanted Richie Martin to play shortstop every day at Triple-A Norfolk and eventually take over the position again, or at least back up in the middle infield, but the minor league season was canceled and Martin sustained a fractured wrist in July while diving back into first base in an intrasquad game.
The outfield is in better defensive hands with Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins, and Anthony Santander’s improvement in right is noticeable and easily measured. Ryan Mountcastle is more comfortable and smooth in left than expected he and made a really nice catch last night on the warning track to strand a runner, but he’s still learning the position.
The infield has been messier.
Rio Ruiz has inexplicably come down with throwing issues, reversing the conversation from how much the Orioles missed him to wondering why he’s been missing his target across the diamond.
Ruiz was charged with eight errors in 114 games last season. He committed six this year in his first 48.
“I think Rio’s done a really good job for the most part,” manager Brandon Hyde said during a recent Zoom conference call. “I thought that was a little bit of a tough play (Tuesday) night, the long throw across. I think he would tell you he needs to make that play.
“I think it’s just confidence and consistency. There’s nobody who works harder on their defense than Rio. Takes ground balls every day, throws to the bases every day. His work is fantastic, his process is perfect. So it’s about just confidence in the game and continuing to play.”
The breakdowns come all over the field and aren’t always scored as errors. Failure to run down a popup, failure to turn a double play, failure to field a ball in the dirt.
A couple of bounced throws ruined Akin’s start in the Bronx that lasted only two-thirds of an inning. There also was a missed cutoff man.
The Orioles have committed 38 errors in 57 games, including a pair by Ramón Urías last night on the same play, and entered the game with the fifth-highest total in the American League. Their .982 fielding percentage was the fifth-lowest. And it doesn’t tell the entire story.
A simple sounding solution is to put the ball in play less often, which hasn’t really been an option in past years with a pitch-to-contact collection of starters.
The rotation ranked 13th in the American League in strikeouts in 2018 and 2019 and was 13th again this season heading into last night. Dylan Bundy led the staff with 162 last summer and 184 the previous year, but was traded to the Angels.
Akin has made five starts and seven appearances and he already ranks third this season with 31. Dean Kremer has struck out 22 batters in four starts.
Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, a starting candidate next spring, has seven strikeouts in seven innings.
“I think that a few of these guys are going to strike out guys in the big leagues in their career, because they do have swing-and-miss stuff and they have multiple pitches they can go to with fastballs that have life and be able to get by guys,” Hyde said
“With Kremer, Akins and Meansie, all three of those guys have swing-and-miss stuff and I think they’ve proven so far that they’re able to get their fastball by major league hitters. And I think that’s going to continue to improve honestly as they get more appearances.”