When we look at the reasons why the Orioles struggled in 2015, it's easy to pin it all on the club's inconsistent starting rotation and an offense that was too dependent on the home run. But when you take a deeper look at this past season, the Orioles' defense was remarkably subpar in comparison to its usual lofty standards.
Defense has been a staple of the Orioles' success under manager Buck Showalter, but advanced metrics show that the collective team defense this past season was toward the bottom of the American League.
Defensive runs saved is a statistic used by The Fielding Bible to gauge how many runs a player saves or allows in comparison to the average defender at his position. Averaging out every player on a team at every position gives a team's runs saved total.
The Orioles' defensive runs saved total was minus-9, which ranked 11th of 15 in the AL. The top three teams in the AL in runs saved – the Kansas City Royals (51), Houston Astros (37) and Toronto Blue Jays (20) – were all playoff teams. The Texas Rangers ranked ninth in the AL with one defensive run saved and the wild-card winning New York Yankees were an outlier, making the postseason despite recording minus-40 runs saved, the second-to-worst total in the AL.
Last season, the Orioles led the AL with 57 runs saved on their way to a division title and trip to the ALCS.
That's a decrease of 66 defensive runs saved between this year's team and last year's club.
In 2014, the Orioles were the best of just six teams in the AL that posted positive runs saved totals. The Orioles were also the only team to post positive runs saved totals at eight of the nine positions (Pitchers were a minus-2), highlighted by a plus-15 out of the first base position.
This season, Orioles pitchers – which are rated by their own defense as well as stolen bases allowed – posted a minus-11 runs saved, tied for the second worst mark in the AL at that position. The right field position, where 11 different players made starts, was a minus-8. Second basemen posted a minus-7 runs saved total, which was surprising even though starter Jonathan Schoop missed 2 ½ months with a right knee injury.
Not surprisingly, third base was the Orioles' best fielding position with a plus-10. That's where Manny Machado made all but six starts this season.
One interesting caveat: One factor that isn't taken into the team run saved total is shifts, but runs saved by shift defenses are computed. And the Orioles saved a league-high 29 runs through shifts, meaning that while the fielders themselves might not have played well this season as a team, the shifts the Orioles employed were very successful.