The other news coming into the season for the Pirates was the hiring of defensive guru Perry Hill. The Pirates had a solid defense with one of the top double play combinations and a Gold Glove winner up the middle. Those players were traded by mid season.
Many feared for the worst. The team that was so outstanding at run prevention had been gutted. The pitch to contact pitching staff had to fear the worst. However, the club gave up some outs, however, the wheels didn’t fall off.
The Pirates lead the National League with 170 double plays this contiues the Pirates streak of leading the NL as they turned 190 in 2007 and 179 in 2008.
The bottom line is the Pirates were solid defensively. Fan Graphs shows the more advanced metrics here, and the Pirates did commit the fewest errors in MLB. Errors are such a subjective statistic and are becoming less and less meaningful as MLB scorekeepers hand out hits like our government hands out cash to banks.
The Pirates also still lead the Major Leagues with 44 outfield assists, the most since having 45 in 1984. In comparision, the Pirates had 27 assists last year. Sure, it means many runners gambled by running on the outfield arms of the Pirates. It also means many of those gambles didn’t work out. Andrew McCutchen leads the way with 10, Brandon Moss has nine, Lastings Thrilledge has five and Garrett Jones four.
Thrilledge has improved in left field from the player that arrived in Pittsburgh this summer. He told Rocco DeMaro last night, “I have a lot to prove. Moss and Garrett are great defensively. I really didn’t think I was gonna improve this much…” The young lef fielder shows no signs of slowing down either.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen should also continue to improve in his sophomore season. His speed and athleticism were perfect for center field at PNC Park and his play quickly made the Gold Glove winner Nate McLouth a forgotten man. Not an easy task in Pittsburgh.
The great unknown will be right field. The defensive play hasn’t been tremendous in right field this season. The position should be kept for a solid, powerful hitter. The team could contend with moderate defensive skills in RF. But who will it be? Jose Tabata will do everything in his power to prove the position is his.
The infield also has question marks up the middle. Are they big questions? I think so. It will be interesting how they are addressed this offseason.
Ryan Doumit? Garret Jones? Big question marks defensively. Doumit will need to make certain he regains his health for 2010. Jones will need to regain his glove work at 1B after playing mostly right field for the Pirates. Surely, Jones will come out of spring training as the Pirates first baseman with a healthy Doumit behind the plate.
Andy LaRoche has been slightly above league average defensively. He has regressed as the season has worn on after a scorching start at the hot corner.
Even in spite of all the trades, the Pirates were sound fundamentally. Sure there were games that the defense wasn’t stellar. But it never became a trend. The Pirates defense had been just that good throughout the year that bad defense became so much more unexpected.
Thankfully, I must say the work Perry Hill put in and the dedication of the players to work tirelessly on defense allowed the season to remain respectful. The double plays kept the losses closer than perhaps they should have been. The outfield assists thrwarted rallies and ended innings.
The question that should be answered this week is if Hill will return to the Pirates and if he doesn’t who will take over the reins?
Teaching a player how to play second base in the middle of a season is well, insanity. However, Hill and Young made it happen.
The hope for the future? The Pirates will need to steadily improve their defense, mental approach, and come into the season in the absolute best shape of their lives in order to steal games with the leather.
The Pirates have certainly shown excellent ability to make us believe this can be accomplished.
With or without Perry Hill.