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1969-73 Orioles are 'pretty clear choice' for ESPN's best-ever defensive team

Third baseman Brooks Robinson, shortstop Mark Belanger, second baseman Davey Johnson and center fielder Paul Blair all won the Gold Glove Award in 1969.
Third baseman Brooks Robinson, shortstop Mark Belanger, second baseman Davey Johnson and center fielder Paul Blair all won the Gold Glove Award in 1969. (CHIAKI KAWAJIRI)

ESPN's David Schoenfield set about ranking the best defensive teams in baseball history and came up with a "pretty clear choice" for No. 1: the 1969-73 Orioles.

Among the defensive standouts, of course, were third baseman Brooks Robinson, shortstop Mark Belanger and center fielder Paul Blair, who combined for 32 Gold Glove Awards. Left fielder Don Buford, second basemen Davey Johnson and Bobby Grich, pitcher Jim Palmer and right fielder Merv Rettenmund also lifted those Orioles defenses to historic levels.

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You remember the names, but do you know the data? Schoenfield's comparative metric is Baseball-Reference.com's Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, which measures the number of runs above or below average the team was worth based on the number of plays made. And boy, do the Orioles clean up.

For five years, the Orioles either led or were second in the majors in Total Zone rating.

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1969

Orioles: plus-114 Total Zone rating

New York Mets: plus-53 (second best in baseball)

1970

Orioles: plus-59

California Angels: plus-58

1971

Orioles: plus-54

Cincinnati Reds: plus-55

1972

Orioles: plus-78

Minnesota Twins: plus-59

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1973

Orioles: plus-119

Oakland Athletics: plus-83

The Orioles' marks in 1969 and 1973, Schoenfield notes, are the highest since 1900. As a means of comparison, the 2013 Orioles, who recorded a major league-record 119 errorless games and committed just 54 errors, the fewest in a 162-game season, had a Total Zone rating of just plus-25.

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