“You could argue that the Orioles would be an average defense if you replaced Machado with an average defender at third,” Spratt said in an e-mail.
By another widely cited metric, ultimate zone rating, the Orioles defense is the second best in baseball, again behind the Royals.
The one factor closed to argument is Machado’s remarkable performance. Whether you go by ESPN’s Web Gems, Spratt’s metrics or awed statements from teammates and opponents, the 21-year-old third baseman is one of the best defenders in the sport, regardless of position.
“It’s ridiculous,” Roberts said of watching Machado. “On a daily basis, you just expect him to do something that makes you say ‘Wow!’ And most days, he doesn’t disappoint.”
The Orioles instantly went from poor to above average defensively after calling up Machado in August last year. That improvement was key to the club’s excellent stretch run. He has been even better this year, drawing inevitable comparisons to the great Robinson, perhaps the best defensive third baseman in history.
Palmer said Robinson couldn’t stop raving about Machado when the old teammates appeared together at a recent baseball card show. Last week, Palmer had breakfast with longtime scout Gordon Lakey, who said Machado has the best infield arm he’s seen since Detroit Tigers Gold Glover Aurelio Rodriguez.
Palmer asked if Rodriguez had anything like Machado’s range. Nope, the scout said.
“Machado,” Palmer said, stopping to laugh in amazement. “You just can’t even believe the things he does unless you see him every day.”
Analysts such as Spratt say smart, aggressive positioning has been a secret weapon for the Orioles. It’s a sentiment shared within the clubhouse, where Showalter and the players point to infield coach Bobby Dickerson and outfield coach Wayne Kirby as unsung heroes.
Dickerson can be found at Camden Yards hours before many players arrive, scanning video to assemble charts depicting the tendencies of that night’s opponent. His work ethic and results have convinced veteran players to trust his positioning calls.
Showalter said his eyes have told him the same thing as the numbers — his club’s defense is excellent. He praises his players for taking it seriously, an attitude that he said has flowed down to the minors, where prospects know they must play sound defense to earn spots in Baltimore.
“I’m proud of how much emphasis our guys have put on it,” Showalter said. “Sooner or later, it’s got to be about whether they want to. It creates a culture.”
If the players put any stock in the error record, it’s as a historical bookmark on an oft-overlooked area of the game.
“I think our defense goes far beyond a lack of errors,” McLouth said. “I don’t think that does it justice. But it’s kind of a neat thing. When you say the word ‘ever,’ that’s pretty cool.”
— Baltimore Sun