Outfield showdown: Pittsburgh Pirates vs Miami Marlins


When the subject of young talent in baseball comes up, the outfields of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Miami Marlins are often mentioned.  Both are young, hungry, and most importantly for their fans, locked up for the foreseeable future.  Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna mirror the Pirates trio of Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte in a lot of ways, but they also are completely different players in their own right.

Let’s start with the heavy hitters.  Comparing Andrew McCutchen to Giancarlo Stanton seems logical.  Both are perennial MVP candidates, both are the unquestioned leaders of their teams.  But, one could say the comparison stops there.  While Stanton launches moonshots that make the crowd ooh and ahh, his K rate is surprisingly horrid, as he strikes out at 31.6% of his at-bats.  For a little perspective:  One of the most notorious free-swingers in modern baseball, the recently retired Adam Dunn, has a career K rate of 34.1%.  The trend for Stanton shows no sign of significant improvement either, As he came in at 32.9% in 2013.  If you are the Miami Marlins, you live with that.  Or do you?  I asked Ehsan Kassim, editor of fellow-FanSided site Marlin Maniac about Marlins Manager Mike Redmond living with Stanton’s strikeouts and he had this to say:

"Ideally, it would be nice to have Stanton striking out less. But with the power he hits for, it’s not a bad trade off. As long as he makes hard contact when he makes contact, he can likely maintain his high BABIP, which could equalize his strikeouts and help him hit for average as well as power. – Ehsan Kassim"

I tend to agree.  If I had a player that is a lock for 30+ HR and 95+ RBI every season, I would live with it too.  But this means that you can’t quite look at him in a straight up comparison to Cutch.  McCutchen is an all around player and is very disciplined at the plate, striking out only 20.9% of the time.  The ceiling for his power seems to be hovering around 30 HR, but he will give you so much more than that.  Even more surprising is that McCutchen’s slugging percentage from 2014 is right up there with Stanton, with Cutch coming  in at .542 with Stanton showing at .555.  This is squarely the result of more doubles and triples from Andrew, and as such one could even clumsily make an argument that McCutchen creates as many chances for offense for his team with his overall game as Stanton does for his raw power.  Different skill sets, but same result:  they both are the central cogs in their team’s offense.

If we go to Marlins park and look towards the center of the outfield, you’ll find Marcell Ozuna.  Ozuna broke onto the scene in a big way in his first full year in the majors in 2014, slashing .269/.317/.455 to go along with 23 HR, 85 RBI, and 72 R.  Showing signs of a young hitter learning how pitchers approach him, he steadily improved his plate discipline month by month in 2014.  One of his biggest asset to the Marlins was his defense, which by all accounts and statistical measure was stellar.  Ozuna ranked in the top five in many defensive categories for outfielders in the NL.  He had the second most assists from any OF position in the NL with 10.  Overall in defensive perecentage, he came in at number five overall at .985.  While these aren’t the sexiest numbers in the world, they do matter, especially when you are patrolling centerfield.  I asked Kassim how important Ozuna’s defense is to the club and he had this to say:

"I wouldn’t count on Ozuna’s power to regress. He was always been a power hitter coming up through the minors and that showed up big time last season. His defense was a surprise for me the last two years, as I didn’t believe he could handle center field. But he did a hell of a job out there and is a plus defender, which makes the Marlins defense a fun one to watch – Ehsan Kassim"

Ozuna reminds me a lot of Starling Marte without the speed.  I think their power ceilings are right about equal, as I see Marte hitting 20+HR regularly from this point forward.  Another striking resemblance is the versatility, as both can play multple outfield positions, allowing their managers great flexibility when off-days for others are needed.  I’ll give Marte the slight edge here because he is capable of doing more things that can impact his team’s performance offensively, mainly due to his speed.  Not only will it allow him to move into scoring position on singles, but he can also turn a lot of singles into doubles.  Marte had three more doubles than Ozuna despite appearing in 20 fewer games.  Both bring different things to the table, but the scales tip over to Marte.

McCutchen is an all around player and is very disciplined at the plate, striking out only 20.9% of the time.  The ceiling for his power seems to be hovering around 30 HR, but he will give you so much more than that.

Christian Yelich is a young talent who also had his first full year in the majors in 2014.  He responded to regular playing time by doing a bit of everything for the fish, hitting .284/362/.402, swiping 20 bags and chipping in with nine home runs and 54 RBIs.  Batting lead-off for the majority of the year, Yelich might have been the beneficiary of some excellent luck.  His .BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) was .357 on the year when leading off.  Couple that with a very good 23% K rate, and Yelich showed that the Marlins may have found their lead-off hitter of the future.  But has he shown enough to consider him a “five-tool” player?  Kassim weighs in:

"Yelich is one of those players that is good at a number of things, but not great at any of them. Those are the ones that become sneaky stars that go under the radar. His hit tool is the most impressive of all his tools and could improve even more if he finds a way to cut down on his strikeouts moving forward. I, like many scouts, believe he’ll grow into power down the line, so I’m not as worried about that right now. –Ehsan Kassim"

It’s well known that Gregory Polanco has a lot of work to do, but I see comparisons to Yelich in him.  While Polanco will likely not be leading off for the Bucs, he may end up projecting to be a five-tool player, much like the direction Yelich seems to be heading in.  Yelich took great steps forward in 2014, and I hope to see the same from Polanco.

While all of the above makes it abundantly clear that you cannot strictly compare them to each other, the outfields for both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins were clearly built to complement each other’s strengths and be a steady presence in their respective lineups.  The best part?  Fans of both “small-market” teams can rejoice that all of these players are under team control for the foreseeable future.

Next: A look at the 2015 ZIPs projections for the Pittsburgh Pirates