One area where the Orioles need to improve this year is on defense. Once a solid defensive team that played fundamentally sound baseball, the Orioles have gotten away from that in recent years. They need to get back to it this year.
When he met with reporters before yesterday’s spring training finale, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said: “One of our big goals among many goals was to, in the immediate term, upgrade the athleticism and defense and flexibility of the roster on the position-player side, and I think we’ve done that.”
The Orioles are more athletic, it certainly appears, and the defense should improve. In 2018, the Orioles ranked 14th, next to last, in the American League in Fangraphs.com’s team defense ranking. They rated 14th in team Defensive Runs Saved at minus-94.
The last three seasons the Orioles have failed to have a single Gold Glove winner. Their last was Manny Machado in 2015. The 2014 American League East champion Orioles had three, with Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis collecting the hardware.
The 2019 Orioles may not have Gold Glove winners either, but they are expected to begin the year with two solid defensive catchers in Jesús Sucre and Pedro Severino. Richie Martin should be an upgrade at shortstop and had a strong spring in the field. Rio Ruiz has been solid at third base. Cedric Mullins should track balls in center more effectively than Jones, but his arm pales in comparison. Joey Rickard can play solid defense and Drew Jackson has looked solid in both the infield and outfield and has a very strong arm.
It’s a start. The Orioles have a ways to go to become a good overall defensive team, but they have a chance to improve. They certainly need to.
Manager Brandon Hyde would be asked to comment after spring games about outstanding individual defensive plays. And while he would freely acknowledge a web gem, he often said he just needs his team to make all the routine plays. The Orioles worked hard early in camp on making sound and basic cutoff throws, and that is a basic they need to get right this year.
Improved defense will make teams have to work harder to beat them, and it will help a young pitching staff. One that will have a hard time getting 27 outs against some of the best teams in the American League, so don’t give them 28, 29 or 30.
Solid defense just leads to crisper, cleaner games, and it shouldn’t be too much to ask to make some basic fundamental plays often. All the time would be better yet.
Will the glovework be better this year? Have the Orioles truly upgraded at a few positions? What is your take on the defense?