COMMENTARY | In 2003, the Seattle Mariners made only 65 errors, the fewest number of errors any team has ever made in a full season. That's pretty impressive.
Going into the games of August 7, this year's Baltimore Orioles have made only 34 errors in 112 games. If they continue at that same rate the rest of the way, the team will make just 49 errors for the season. That's unbelievable.
Rarely do we see records get broken so convincingly. The Orioles are currently on pace to make nearly 25% fewer errors than the cleanest fielding team in baseball history. It may not be precisely like a batter breaking Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak by hitting safely in 70 straight games, but it's kind of similar.
There are those out there who will argue that the Orioles aren't even the best fielding team in baseball this year. Whatever. You can blindly follow all of the advanced metrics that you probably don't even understand, or you can take a moment to enjoy watching a team with five Gold Glovers in the primes of their careers, plus a 21-year-old third baseman who may be the best fielder of the bunch.
For years, Baltimore had the corner on defensive greatness. With players like Brooks Robinson, Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Bobby Grich, Paul Blair and many others, the O's were to fielding what today's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are to underachieving. But this year's Orioles team probably tops them all.
To put the Orioles' current pace of making fewer than 50 errors for the season in context, more than 500 times in baseball history a player has himself made more than 50 errors in one season. Yes, most of them were more than a century ago, when fields were worse, gloves were worse, and lighting was at times insufficient, but it's not like errors don't come in high numbers today as well.
Mark Reynolds, an infielder for the Orioles as recently as last season, made 31 errors all by himself while playing for the O's in 2011. (He made 35 miscues for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008.) Compare that with current Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has made just 39 errors over 511 games since 2009.
Hardy owns the fourth-highest fielding percentage for a shortstop in the history of baseball, and he epitomizes the Orioles' consistent defense. And while players like Hardy, Nick Markakis and Nate McLouth may not make a lot of highlight shows, baseball managers certainly recognize the skills they possess. That's why they vote for them for Gold Glove awards.
The bad news for Orioles fans? It turns out that great fielding doesn't necessarily equate into playing in the postseason. The 2003 Mariners failed to make the playoffs, as have several other top-fielding teams.
Plus, the Orioles' pitching staff surrenders more home runs than any other staff in baseball, which is a curious oddity for the team with the game's best defense -- ever! The pitchers specialize in giving up the one type of hit their defense can do nothing about.
We'll see whether this talented defense can lead the Orioles back into the postseason this year, but even if it doesn't, it sure has been incredible to watch.
Joe Cooney has been a professional baseball writer for nearly 20 years, covering the Orioles, Rockies, Cubs and more. He grew up and still lives near Baltimore, Md.
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