Thursday Thoughts: The O’s Historically Bad Defense

Orioles RF Mark Trumbo slides to try to catch a fly ball.

This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. As of last year, I cut it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl Weaver/€“Brooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. After a week away from this column, we’re getting back into action with plenty of rumors and speculation. Regular readers of this piece will notice there wasn’t one here last week. I took my own little All-Star break with a trip to Australia for a few days with my wife. While spending four days in Sydney, I spent exactly zero minutes watching baseball. This is a big departure for me, someone who watches every Orioles game I can. In a season like this, I needed a few days.

It was refreshing to get away and not think about the O’s for a minute. Many, I realize, have already done this on a more long-term basis this season. I’m back in after a few days away. What’s happening with the Orioles right now is painful, but it’s also fascinating. I’m interested to see where this thing goes the rest of the season. Not only are they on a losing pace that could set records, but there are a lot of things set to develop off the field.

It’s a different kind of “buckle up” this time around.

2. There’s going to be a lot of bluster about Manny Machado in the coming days and weeks, and you should pay attention to all of it. Just don’t believe everything you read. Much of what you’ve seen in the last few days is about the Yankees and how they have made a serious push to acquire Machado. You’ll also hear that the Red Sox are in on him, because if the Yankees are then Boston must be too.

I don’t quite get the fussing from fans about the possibility of Machado going to one of these two teams. There’s the obvious chance he could depart for one of them in just a few months, so being able to extract something of value from one of them would only be a positive.

Right now, it sounds like the Brewers, Diamondbacks and Dodgers are the other main players based on various reports from folks like Jon Heyman of MLB Network and FanCred, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. I was especially intrigued by a theory Crasnick floated on Twitter the other day about the potential timeline of a Machado trade.

This is absolutely something that smells like the Orioles. And while this seems absurd on the surface, I actually don’t think it’s a bad thing. At this point, the Orioles should be waiting out teams and trying to see if someone blinks. They owe it to themselves to see if they can pluck a top-100 prospect off one of these teams.

3. The Orioles have clearly been pretty awful in every facet of the game this season, but I didn’t realize just how bad their defense was until this past week. Zach Kram at The Ringer published an outstanding piece detailing just how abysmal the O’s have fallen when it comes to fielding. The details of the piece show how advanced stats give the Birds some of the worst marks in history (not just team history, but baseball history), and this is one of those cases where the eye test actually backs it up.

The Orioles have been playing the likes of Danny Valencia and Mark Trumbo in right field. That’s definitely part of it. They’ve also seen Trey Mancini drastically fall off from his below-average-but-still-passable rookie season in left field. Adam Jones is losing range as a center fielder with age and will likely have to move to the corners going forward in his career.

Then there’s the infield. It starts with Manny Machado’s move from third base to shortstop, where he has actually been quite terrible. He’ll make the occasional flashy play that will look good on a highlight reel, but Machado’s play at shortstop is a net negative defensively. It’s also forced the Orioles to mix and match at third base. I’ve written about Tim Beckham at third base previously. He’s not that great over there. But when Beckham was out, the O’s were forced to use players like Valencia, Pedro Alvarez and Steve Wilkerson at the hot corner.

As Kram points out in the piece, the Orioles are giving up about a run per game against an average defensive team, which represents most of the 1.5 runs per game they’re being outscored by this season. A run a game through 93 games would make their run differential an absolutely horrific -66 compared to the absolutely mind-blowing -159 that it’s at now. Not everyone wants to believe in advanced stats, but the eye test even proves that a big part of why the Orioles are historically bad is because of their historically bad defense.

4. I’ve come to the realization that when the Orioles begin their search for a new general manager – that is to say if they haven’t already – they’ll need to be looking for someone wiling to work under a boss who has never had such a role. If fans are looking for the O’s to hire a fresh young face for the job, they are likely out of luck. They are going to be looking for someone willing to get into to the game under the watchful eye of Brady Anderson.

There’s no question that as long as the same ownership group is around, Anderson will have a prominent role with the club. But it’s also quite clear that Anderson doesn’t want the actual GM role. Fans have been clamoring for direction more than anything else outside of winning this season.

The winning obviously isn’t coming. Direction is likely only possible after this trade deadline passes. I would still expect to see Dan Duquette finish out this season in the front office. There needs to be a clear chain of command in the front office, but the Orioles also have to be able to hire someone who is willing to be lower on that chain than Anderson. That drastically diminishes the pool of realistic candidates. Just another day in Birdland.

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