There’s been a lot of talk about Tim Beckham being the Orioles shortstop of the future, but frankly I don’t see it.
Buck Showalter values defense and, along with the catcher, shortstop is one of the two most important defensive positions on the field. When you look at Beckham’s numbers at short, he doesn’t match up.
Now the Orioles would gladly risk his glove at short if he continues to maintain his current 1.155 OPS with the team, but that’s not going to happen.
Tim Beckham’s future with the Orioles might be best served as a super-utility player, filling in at short, second, third, first, DH – and even left field. He could play five or six times a week or more and would make a solid backup at short and second, especially.
So, what’s the harm in making Beckham the Birds’ everyday shortstop? He simply can’t fulfill what’s needed from the position, especially on a team with a starting rotation that draws a lot of contact – and not in the good basketball way when a foul would be called. Contact from the bat, on the ball, frequently hit to the left side of the infield.
Since becoming the Orioles' primary shortstop in 2011, J.J. Hardy has been one of the top defensive players there in the American League, winning gold gloves from 2012-2014. And he follows in a long line of very good to excellent defensive Orioles shortstops like Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken and Mike Bordick. Playing Beckham there everyday would result in a drop-off that Orioles fans would find difficult to digest.
According to Fangraphs, Beckham’s career UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) at short is below average at -1.0. His 2017 rate is -0.2, which is good enough for sixth among the 12 qualified A.L. shortstops. But his UZR as an Oriole is -0.7.
The most troubling of Beckham’s defensive problems is that he struggles mightily in a category near and dear to the hearts of Orioles aficionados – the routine play.
He ranks dead last in the A.L. this year in the top two categories that measure plays that should be made, according to Fangraphs. On routine plays that scouts give a 90-100 percent chance of being handled, Beckham has been successful in just 94.9 percent of them.
The Angels’ defensive superstar shortstop Andrelton Simmons successfully completes those plays at a 99.1 clip. Of course, it’s unfair to compare any current A.L. shortstop to Simmons who is one of the all-time greats at the position. His 2017 UZR is 13.2, far ahead of the second-place Jose Iglesias of the Tigers with a 9.0 rate.
Beckham also ranks last in plays that scouts say are likely to be made, meaning there’s a 60-90 percent chance. He makes a very disappointing 50 percent of those, tied with Tim Anderson of the White Sox for the last position. The next lowest rate in that category belongs to the Yankees’ Didi Gregorius who sits at a much higher 60.9 percent. That’s a big gap.
These Orioles rely on much better D than that from their everyday shortstop, and Beckham’s career rates don’t indicate that he’ll improve.
Playing 1,206 career innings at shortstop, Beckham has an UZR/150 (rate per 150 defensive games) of -1.1. This ranks last among the six Oriole shortstops that have logged at least 1000 innings for the team since 2002, when these stats first started being measured. J.J. Hardy’s rate of 10.1 ranks second behind Cesar Izturis’ 10.5.
So, here’s hoping the Orioles choose to pursue one of their other options for 2018 – sign another shortstop, or get a third baseman and move Manny Machado to short, or consider moving Jonathan Schoop to the left side of the infield. Just don’t have Beckham as their primary shortstop.
When Hardy returns from the disabled list, Beckham will likely not start every game as short. We may see him at DH more than anywhere else. But whenever the Orioles admit they are out of the playoff race, they can start bouncing him around the infield and give Machado and Schoop a breather now and then.
Beckham has played 77 games at second base, nine at third, and six at first. Maybe he can start shagging some flies in the outfield too and further develop there during spring training, making him even more valuable in a utility role.
If Trey Mancini can learn to play left field, Beckham should be able to as well. And if this former number one draft pick is truly starting to reach his extraordinary potential at the plate, the Orioles could significantly benefit from the flexibility a super-utility player like that could offer.