Going Deep: The Orioles Have One of the Worst Defenses in Recent Years

Baltimore just can't get anything right.

(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

The Baltimore Orioles are the worst team in baseball. Painfully, so. Just two years removed from the postseason, the organization has spiraled into an absolute disaster. They are on pace to win fewer than 50 games. Even the infamous 2011-13 tanking Houston Astros failed to manage that low of a win total in a season – and the Astros tanked themselves to that point. The Orioles played themselves to this point.

It takes a group effort to be this bad, but Baltimore isn’t the worst at everything. They don’t own the worst offense, by runs scored or wRC+. That belongs to the Kansas City Royals. They don’t have the worst pitching staff, by ERA or FIP. That belongs to… the Royals. What about that forgotten third part of baseball? Defense? Yes, defense. Now this, this, is where the Orioles stand out.

Using Fangraphs defensive measurement, which is based off ultimate zone rating (UZR), the Orioles’ defense ranks 30th in the league at -36.3 runs. The next worst are the Chicago White Sox, who sit at -20.1 runs. Fangraphs defensive measurement goes back to 2003. So including 2018, that’s 480 individual team seasons. Currently, Baltimore sits at the 54th-lowest mark. They haven’t even played half of their season. That is a pace of -74.4 runs across 162 games. Defensive numbers league-wide have improved recently, so let’s look where they rank since 2010. The pace of the 2018 Orioles is shown in black:

Their current pace is dead last over the past nine seasons. And it’s not just picking one metric that suits the argument. Baltimore is also last in defensive runs saved (DRS) in 2018 by a whopping 14 runs. Their performance in the field has been remarkably poor.

It’s not like it came out of nowhere; look how they rank among teams since 2016:

If not for the Oakland A’s, they would be embarrassingly low. The Orioles defense has been awful for a few years, but what has pushed them over the edge recently?

It starts with a guy who was a poor defender last season, but has elevated his failures as an outfielder to a new level. Trey Mancini has the lowest defensive score on the Orioles. His -23.5 UZR/150 is the third- lowest in baseball and his -14 DRS is the fourth-lowest. Joining Mancini at the bottom of the group is longtime horrendous defender Adam Jones. Nothing has changed there. He slots in one spot ahead of his teammate with a -20.2 UZR/150. DRS makes him look even worse, as Jones holds a -19 mark, the second-worst in the league.

Mancini and Jones are the worst offenders, but we could go on. We couldn’t have an article about the Orioles being bad and not talk about Chris Davis, could we? Nope, we can’t and we won’t. Davis has the third-lowest defensive score on the Orioles. How is Manny Machado improving his trade value playing  shortstop going? Oh, Baltimore. It’s really not going well. Machado has the lowest DRS of all shortstops in baseball. There is one non-catcher with at least 300 innings in the field that has not graded as a net defensive negative. Jonathan Schoop, who has a fangraphs defensive score of 0.1.

It’s confounding how the Orioles have gotten themselves this low. They could end up as possibly the worst team of this century. At their current pace, it is not out of the question. Baltimore has been poor all around. Their defense has been the poorest. With their current personnel and results to this point, the 2018 Orioles could go down as one of the worst defensive teams in recent memory.

Henry Still

Henry is from Houston and has contributed to the Fangraphs Community.

3 responses to “Going Deep: The Orioles Have One of the Worst Defenses in Recent Years”

  1. Southern Marylander says:

    The Orioles have over the past few seasons decided to intentionally play a DH at 1B, a DH in RF, a 1B in LF, a LF in CF, a 2B at 3B, and an awesome 3B at SS while filling in for injuries with a DH at 3B.

    I fail to see how this was not a perfectly acceptable strategy…

    • theKraken says:

      Agreed. I don’t see any strategic flaws either! I wonder if it is a creative, subtle method of tanking?

  2. theKraken says:

    Thank you for this headline, Henry. There are a lot of places where every article looks like “The ___ ever” which is just click-bait – way to have some integrity on your work. The fact is we don’t have meaningful data for anything goin back more than a few years unless it is traditional stats, like hits HR and errors. Not to mention that these defensive metrics are crude approximations in the first place…

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