The Orioles are in the midst of a fantastic season which currently places them at the top of the A.L East. One of the biggest reasons for their immense success this season can be attributed to their stellar defense, landing them the 3rd best team fielding percentage in the entire MLB. Let's break down who have been the 5 best Orioles defenders individually this season.
Who are the 5 best Orioles defenders this year?
Before we get into it, I want to clarify that this ranking is primarily based on advanced statistics, meaning some players you might expect to make the list won't be on here. I'll be using stats like DRS (defensive runs saved), OAA (outs above average), and UZR (ultimate zone rating) when discussing these players.
Also, I'd like to mention that DRS and UZR are similar stats in that they measure an all-encompassing view of a player's defense. I'm going to include both since some of the values can differ substantially from each other for some players.
5. Austin Hays: OF
The 5th spot was the hardest to choose because the Orioles have numerous solid defenders on the roster. Hays slots in at 5 thanks to his consistent play and production this season, leading to a tie with Ramon Urias and Jordan Westburg for the second most DRS on the roster with 5.
Hays is also second on the Orioles in UZR with a value of 5.1 across all three outfield positions. He trails only Jorge Mateo in that area. Hays also demonstrates great arm strength, sitting in the 84th percentile in arm strength amongst all major leaguers. The one statistic that holds back Hays is OAA. According to Baseball Savant, Hays is a below average fielder in terms on OAA with -1. But overall, Hays has had a very solid season in the outfield leading to a top 5 ranking.
4. Jorge Mateo: SS
Although Mateo isn't replicating his defensive success from 2022, he's still proving to be one of the best Orioles defenders. As I mentioned earlier, Mateo leads the team in UZR with a value of 5.3. He also features 3 DRS which is a very solid mark. Mateo also lands in the 73rd percentile in OAA.
Mateo has been one of the few Orioles defenders this season with above average values in all 3 of those categories, leading to him sitting at 4 on this list. Mateo may not be the everyday shortstop like he was last season but he's still a very valuable defender off of the bench for the O's.
3. Adley Rutschman: C
Similarly to Mateo, Adley Rutschman isn't having nearly the same defensive season that he had last year, but he's still been one of the best backstops in the entire league. According to Fangraphs, Rutschman ranks as the 22nd best defender in baseball and easily the best Oriole defender according to their stat DEF. DEF is described as "a player's defensive value relative to league average at the position".
The reason I mentioned DEF for Rutschman is because there is no UZR statistic for catchers since they are very rarely fielding balls in play, so we have to look at other stats to understand their value. This is where stats such as DEF, FRM (framing), rSZ (strike zone runs saved), and rSB (stolen base runs saved runs above average) come into play.
Rutschman has been below average this season in terms of rSB, but has been one of the best catchers in baseball in terms of framing with the 5th highest value in all of baseball and he ranks 3rd in rSZ. Overall, Rutschman continues to prove he's one of the most well-rounded players in all of baseball.
2. Jordan Westburg: INF
I nearly put the final two players at 1A and 1B because they are both having tremendous defensive seasons. But for now, Westburg comes in as the second best defender for the Orioles this season. Westburg leads all Orioles defenders with 4 OAA at second base this season and has been a massive defensive upgrade over Adam Frazier (currently has -15 OAA).
Westburg has also been stellar according to Fangraphs as well, tying Ramon Urias and Austin Hays for the second most DRS on the O's with 5. These numbers may not jump off the page at first glance, but Westburg has reached the 5 DRS and has a UZR of 2.6 in just 28 games started (37 games in total) at second base. Over a 150-game pace, Westburg would have a staggering 12.9 UZR. In just his rookie season Westburg has already established himself as a major difference maker at second base.
1. Gunnar Henderson: SS/3B
Gunnar Henderson just barely edges out Jordan Westburg as the best Orioles defender this season. Henderson is quickly establishing himself as a superstar talent at the major league level, but I think his defense is getting overlooked. After struggling defensively to start the season, Henderson has turned into an elite defender at multiple positions.
Henderson's impact at shortstop is extremely impressive. He leads all Orioles defenders with 9 DRS when playing shortstop this season, nearly doubling all other Orioles defenders. Similarly to Westburg, Henderson has made his impact in an extremely small amount of time. He's accumulated the 9 DRS and 4.3 UZR in just 49 starts at shortstop (65 games total).
But Henderson has also been a solid defender at 3rd base, which could be his full-time position in the near future (thanks to Jackson Holliday). He's accumulated 2 DRS and a 4.5 UZR at third base in 61 starts (74 games total).
What made the call between Westburg and Henderson so close was the difference in OAA. Westburg has a stellar 4 OAA, while Henderson currently sits at league average with 0. But I think Henderson's fantastic production at multiple positions and his superior arm strength (86th percentile compared to Westburg's 21st percentile) is what gives him the slight edge over Westburg.
This was an extremely tough list to make and it was hard leaving off stellar defenders like Cedric Mullins, Ramon Urias, and James McCann but I believe these 5 players are having the best defensive seasons for the Orioles.