As I wrote in my previous article, this next post is a continuation of my critique of the Orioles first-half woes. I explained their offensive and starting pitching problems in the first article, and in this article, I’m going to talk about their bullpen, and the few bright spots, their struggling defense and our expectations for the 2011 season under Buck Showalter.
It’s evident that the Orioles have not lived up to expectations through their starting rotation and offense, but their defense has been an even bigger surprise to me because I’ve seen the Orioles falter under pressure for numerous seasons, and their pitching has never been cohesive enough to win consistently. But, their defense usually is one of their stronger weapons.
Over the last five seasons, the Orioles have compiled 476 errors, which averages out to about 95 errors per season and good for 14th in the majors. Last year, the Orioles had 105 miscues in the field and ranked 18th among major league teams. In 2007, the Birds ranked 2nd in all of baseball with only 79 errors in the field.
Currently, the Birds are ranked 21st in the majors with 59 errors in 89 games (an error every 1.5 games) and are on pace for 108 errors this season. That would be the most errors in a single season since 2004 when the O’s defense committed 110 miscues and ranked 19thin MLB.
So, what has been the problem this season?
Third baseman Mark Reynolds has hit as many homeruns as errors committed this season with 20 (.894 fielding percentage- only % under .900 among MLB third baseman) and although he has been able to drive in almost 50 runners, he’s also allowed many base runners to be safe on routine ground balls.
Last season, Reynolds accumulated 18 errors and sported a .951 fielding percentage; the year before, he committed 19 errors. But, second season in the majors in 2007 was by far his toughest in the field as he collected an astounding 34 errors.
Over the last 11 seasons, the most errors committed by a third baseman, besides Reynolds, is 33 and it’s happened on three different occasions. In 2003, Aramis Ramirez scuffoled 33 times in the field and in 2000, both Troy Glaus and Mike Lamb succumbed to 33 miscues. No one has committed more except for Reynolds in 2007.
This season, Reynolds is on pace for 36 errors, which would be a career-high and the most in a single season by a third baseman since 1984 when Joel Youngblood of the San Francisco Giants committed 36 miscues.
The American League record for errors by a third baseman in a single season is held by Sammy Strang of the Chicago Cubs with 64, so don’t think Reynolds has a shot at breaking that record.
Not only has Reynolds struggled in the field, but the rest of the defense since the beginning of June has really had a hard time fielding, which of course in turn hurts the pitching staff and makes innings feel like they’re inescapable; that’s how teams lose focus and it seems like that’s what has happened to the Birds this season.
Robert Andino has committed seven errors this season in 59 games started in place of Brian Roberts at second base, for the most part. Adam Jonesis third on the team with five miscues in center, but an astonishing number is the errors by pitchers. Orioles’ hurlers have eight errors on the season, which seems a bit higher than it should be since they have much less chances.
Since June 10th when the Orioles were only one game under .500 and sported a 30-31 record, as a team, they’ve committed 21 errors in just 28 games. And, the Birds have only won six of those 28 contests.
Not only have wins been tough for the Orioles to pick up, but they’ve been very streaky as they’re currently on an eight game losing streak. Over the last month, they’ve lost five in a row once and four in a row on another occasion.
Defense is not only to blame, but their lack on presence on the field in some chances it seems is what is really dragging down the Orioles. Sometimes, they look like they just don’t care and they want to be somewhere else because when it’s going badly, everything goes wrong.
Although there have been a couple lone bright spots in the Orioles bullpen this season, for the most part, they’ve struggled as a collective group and without Jim Johnson, Koji Uehara and closer Kevin Gregg, they’d be in a much worse position.
These three pitchers are the only Orioles’ pen members with ERA’s below four and I understand that ERAs for bullpen guys aren’t that telling of their success, but for these guys it does.
Uehara has been the strongest reliever as he’s allowed only nine earned runs on the year in 40 innings of work (.203 ERA). Setup man Johnson has been the most reliable member of the pen this season as he’s tossed the most innings of work with 52.1 innings and has allowed 16 earned runs, which averages to a 2.71 ERA.
The Orioles brought in closer Gregg from the Toronto Blue Jays because he’s had success in the past at closing games for both the Angels and the Jays, and he has a great reputation as a hard-worker and a pitcher who won’t give in.
Gregg’s tossed 35.1 innings and allowed 13 earned runs (3.39 ERA), which is a bit high for a closer and he’s blown four games for the Birds in 19 chances this season.
Although he hasn’t posted his best numbers, Gregg is one of the better Oriole relievers this year.
The rest of the Orioles bullpen has really scuffoled over the last couple months. RHP Jason Berken and reliever/starter Brad Bergesen have both shown they can pitch well for the Orioles in the past, but have really struggled this season. Berken has a 5.82 ERA and Bergesen sits a 5.84. They’ve surrendered 30 earned runs combined in just 46.1 innings.
Left-handed specialist Michael Gonzalez, who had some great years with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 2000’s when he recorded 24 saves in a year and then with the Braves before heading to Baltimore, has not been able to find his stuff with the Orioles.
The Birds picked him up in December of 2009 and Gonzalez was placed on the disabled list in early April of 2010 and never regained his form. Last season, he finished with a 4.01 ERA and he has a 2.93 career ERA, but has never shown us what he really can do. This season, Gonzalez has allowed 19 earned runs in just 31.1 innings, which is a 5.46 ERA.
Alfredo Simon, as many might remember he was involved in a shooting in his home country in the off-season and didn’t return to the team until June, has pitched alright, but not great. He’s allowed 10 earned runs in 21.1 innings (4.23 ERA), and did start a game when the Birds were desperate.
Overall, five of the ten Orioles relievers have an ERA above five, but somehow the pen has been able to keep their ERA to 4.44 as they’ve allowed 152 earned runs in 308.2 innings this season.
The Orioles bullpen has surrendered 167 runs overall this season, which is the most in the American League ahead of the Twins (144), who struggled early, and the Rangers (143) and Tigers (141). But, both the Rangers and Tigers score enough runs to outweigh the amount allowed out of their respective pens.
No bullpen in the American League has been used as often as the Orioles pen; the Royals are the only other team above 300 innings pitched by their pen. The Mariners’ pen had only tossed 203.2 innings at the All-Star break.
Of course Orioles fans were expecting a much better fate at the end of the first half this season. I know I was expecting for the Birds to be in fourth place, at least, in front of the Jays, and not necessarily above .500, but much closer to .500.
Like I mentioned earlier, the Orioles were once only one game under .500, but has since dropped to 17 below the magical .500 mark. There hasn’t been just one cause for why the Birds have been scuffling in the standings.
When the Orioles second baseman Roberts returns to the lineup and the field, he’ll rejuvenate the team, although his status continues to be delayed and it doesn’t seem like we will see him until August.
I know fans were expecting much more from the Orioles and Showalter this season, but he’s had a tough ride by losing his long-time friend and pitching coach Mark Connor when he caught everyone off-guard by resigning in mid-June. Not to mention the injuries that have plagued the Birds this season.
I know there are no excuses that the Orioles fans should hear because we have waited a long time for a winning season and this looked like it’s had the most potential in the last ten years, but they just need to play better as a team and get their heads on straight because it looks like they’ve stopped caring.
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About the Author
Written by Alex Van Rees
I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA degree and a major in journalism. I live in Reston, VA, about 20 minutes outside of Washington. I am looking for an entry-level position with a sports media company where I can demonstrate my writing, interviewing and technical skills to better the organization.