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Two Outfielders and a Warning Track

Buck Showalter thinks he knows why Jones and Markakis are rated poorly by most defensive metrics, and it's not because their range is subpar. It's because the old rubberized warning track at Camden Yards was just too dangerous for aggressive plays and dives.

Nick's not so worried about this dive in Toronto.
Nick's not so worried about this dive in Toronto.
Brad White

For years, the usual defensive metrics - particularly Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating - really haven't liked Nick Markakis or Adam Jones very much. Despite this, scouts, players, and managers have all generally considered the pair average or better outfielders, as evidenced by the three Gold Gloves between them. When scouts and metrics disagree, it's generally safe to assume that either the truth lies somewhere in between, something else is going on, or both. Buck Showalter thinks he knows what that something else is: Camden Yards' old warning track.

Here's some background. FanGraphs used to provide Home/Away splits on defensive stats, which revealed some time ago that Jones and Markakis were both significantly better on the road than at home. Jon Shepherd broke this down over at Camden Depot a while back, noted that the difference was in terms of range, and leaned toward the idea that UZR didn't adequately adjust for something unique to Camden Yards. Baseball Info Solutions took a look at this idea in their Fielding Bible Volume III, using their own DRS, since it showed similar results. They concluded - though I wasn't all that persuaded by their argument - that the difference really was, most likely, some combination of normal statistical fluctuation and "legitimately weaker play at Camden Yards".

Buck, however, recently had this to say to Roch Kubatko, about the new warning track made of crushed stone:

"I know it's a lot safer," he said. "I really applaud our ownership for it, because somebody had to pay for it, and it was huge.

"I know our outfielders are very excited about it. They came out with this zone rating for defense and they kept coming back about Orioles outfielders, and a couple spots they were short in was deep warning track right-center, left-center. They were trying to show this to me and I was like, 'Yeah, there's a reason. Look at their road ratings on the road. They don't happen, right?' They were like, 'Yeah, why is that?' I said, 'Because we have this rubberized thing.'

"Nobody dives on it. When's the last time you saw a diving catch on that stuff? So, I think you'll see some things happen on there that haven't been done in the past. You don't want anybody to dive on it. I know (Matt) Wieters almost slipped on it when it's wet. Nicky (Markakis) actually did slip with plastic cleats. Almost blew his knee out last year. We were lucky. So just from a safety thing alone. And it has the potential to enhance an already beautiful ballpark."

Off the top of my head, I can't remember ever seeing Adam or Nick dive for a deep fly ball on the warning track, certainly not at home. Heck, I don't think I've seen visiting teams try it, either; that's part of why this play by Sam Fuld totally blew my mind two years ago. And it's not like Jones and Markakis are low-effort guys in the outfield; if they need to dive to get to a ball in the grass - or, in the picture I found for this article, on another park's warning track - they do it.

Don't expect the O's outfield to suddenly put up much-improved numbers because of this change. We've all noticed that Jones occasionally gets bad jumps and tends to play pretty shallow, and Markakis probably has only about average range out there. But we could get treated to some more web gems this season, and it will be interesting to see whether the metrics tick up a notch for the pair if we do.