Behold the Orioles, a team on the verge of .500, and riding an 8-game winning streak. The Orioles offense ranks 27th in the majors in OPS. Their pitching staff ranks 27th in strikeouts, which means a lot of balls in play against them.
And that’s why the defense has been so important to this team. The Orioles are currently ranked 4th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved in 2022. Here’s how that’s happened.
Jorge Mateo made things much better.
The Orioles haven’t finished a season with a positive Runs Saved from their shortstops since 2016 (the J.J. Hardy era). Their shortstops cost them 15 runs with their defense last season.
Jorge Mateo’s presence at the infield’s most important position has completely changed the tenor of the Orioles defense.
He’s at 10 Runs Saved through 80 games in 2022.
Mateo excels where Orioles shortstops of the past didn’t – at making plays on balls hit to his right.
Orioles Shortstops Defense – Getting Outs on Balls Hit to SS right
|Name||Plays Made/Opportunities||Success Rate|
|Jorge Mateo 2022||71/118||60%|
|Orioles SS in 2021<<||130/258||50%|
>> Freddy Galvis, Ramon Urias, Richie Martin, Jorge Mateo, Pat Valaika
>> Opportunities = any play with a SS out rate of > 0
In practice, that looks like this
Cedric Mullins can go get it
Cedric Mullins is covering a little more ground than last season. He’s using his speed to take away potentially highly-damaging hits. He’s at 6 Runs Saved, up from -1 last season.
Review done by our Video Scouts shows that Mullins has 38 catches on 69 sprinting attempts this season. That’s a 55% success rate, 10 percentage points higher than in 2021.
Had Mullins caught balls off sprints at the same rate as last season (45%) he would have caught only 31 of those balls.
Look at the difference for Mullins in plays made in which he was credited with at least 0.5 Runs Saved to plays in which he was demerited at least a half-run. That tells us that he’s making the tough catches while not missing the plays he should make.
|Credited with >= 0.5 Runs||14||8|
|Demerited at least 0.5 Runs||25||8|
Per Statcast’s numbers, Mullins has increased the amount of ground he’s covered relative to the average outfielder, from just shy of a foot better on the average play in 2021 to 1.7 feet better in 2022.
And sometimes, just a couple of inches make all the difference.
One other point on Mullins – his arm has regularly cost him Runs Saved (last season he totaled -4 runs saved from his arm) but not in 2022. There may be some skill improvement there, but that’s also partly a product of volume – because the Orioles opponents don’t have as many runners on base, there are fewer chances to advance or score on Mullins’ arm.
Adley Rutschman showed up
Orioles catchers combined for -15 Runs Saved last season. This was largely a product of Pedro Severino’s defensive struggles. They’re at 0 right now. They were in danger of being worse but Adley Rutschman’s arrival has stabilized the position.
Rutschman has 2 Runs Saved. In his small sample size (34 games), he’s a little above average at both pitch-framing and pitch-blocking. Neither is surprising, as our minor league defensive numbers viewed Rutschman’s skills favorably.
With Rutschman now fully entrenched, catcher goes from a position of worry to a position of potential future strength.
But that’s not all …
Let’s note a few other things going right for the Orioles defense at the moment.
* The return of Ramon Urias from an oblique injury that cost him nearly a month, should provide a boost to the defense.
Urias, who split time at second, short, and third last season, has saved 7 runs in 44 games. The Orioles other third basemen have cost the team 6 runs. Baltimore’s third basemen combined for -4 Runs Saved in 2021.
* The Orioles’ best outfield alignment this season is one with Mullins in center field, Austin Hays in left field and Anthony Santander in right field. That’s been the look that the Orioles have gone with in five of the eight games in their current winning streak.
Hays and Santander have a combined 4 Runs Saved at their respective positions. For Hays, it’s all about his arm. He has 7 assists without the help of a cutoff man this season.
Santander had 13 runs saved in right field combining 2019 and 2020, slipped to -3 in 2021, but is back to 3 in 2022.
Yes, the Orioles defense has been a total team effort. Last season, Baltimore had only two positions at which it recorded a non-negative Runs Saved total. This season, it has 8.