Orioles went from having a disastrous defense to a Golden group

Gold Glove Awards for Wieters, Jones and Hardy signal a change in how the O's are perceived

October 30, 2012|Peter Schmuck

Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't the Orioles considered one of the worst defensive teams in baseball a few months ago?

Is this the same team that headed into September leading the American League in errors and trailing the other 13 AL teams in fielding percentage?

It is, of course, but the Orioles got another organizational pat on the back on Tuesday night when Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy were awarded Gold Gloves, signifying that the league's managers and coaches consider them the top fielders at their respective positions.

Those shiny trophies — the second each for Jones and Wieters and the first for Hardy — also signify something else, though those three players might have been honored regardless of the performance of the rest of the Orioles defense. The fact that the Orioles led the major leagues with three Gold Glove recipients this year and the team won that many for only the second time since 1976 is also a sign of the seismic shift in the fortunes of the franchise over the course of just one season.

The overall performance of the team isn't supposed to make any difference in the Gold Glove selection process, but the voters are human, and their perception of the players couldn't help but be enhanced by the additional media attention paid to the Orioles during their surprising turnaround season.

Hardy might be the best example, considering he probably deserved to win a Gold Glove last year, but it was more obvious this season that he was — along with being one of the steadiest shortstops in the game — the glue that held the Orioles defense together during the rocky early months of the season.

Clearly, the Orioles had all kinds of trouble catching and throwing the ball throughout the spring and most of the summer, but their up-the-middle defense was solid throughout, and that allowed manager Buck Showalter and baseball operations chief Dan Duquette to make the midcourse corrections that dramatically transformed them into a very solid defensive team down the stretch.

Duquette's penchant for stockpiling veteran talent at the Triple-A level paid off big when he promoted 2008 Gold Glove winner Nate McLouth to shore up the injury-depleted outfield, and the surprising decision to rush top position prospect Manny Machado to the majors to fill a gaping defensive void at third base (even though that wasn't his primary position) turned out to be a watershed moment for the Orioles infield.

It's also impossible to discount the contribution of Mark Reynolds after he bought into a permanent shift to first base, but none of it would have had the desired effect if the Orioles did not already have premier defenders at three of the four middle-defense positions.

Here's the best news: The Orioles also have a Gold Glove right fielder, Nick Markakis, who is ready to return full-time next spring after missing the final months of the season with a broken thumb, so it's possible that the Orioles will be able to start next season with a Gold Glover at every outfield position if they can persuade McLouth to stick around for awhile.

Maybe it's a little early to coronate Machado, but he got comfortable at third base in a hurry and seems destined to be an elite fielder wherever he ends up in the infield, so it isn't unreasonable to look ahead to 2013 and see six Gold Glove-caliber defenders in the Orioles' everyday defensive alignment.

What an amazing difference just a few months has made in the outlook for the defense and the overall outlook for the entire team. There are still some big issues to be addressed, most notably how the front office will handle Reynolds' contract situation and what it will take to get McLouth to return, but it's fair to say that the Orioles are building the kind of defensive team that used to be the hallmark of this franchise.

Obviously, that has not gone unnoticed.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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