The Pittsburgh Pirates have two Gold Glove winners in their outfield, but it is time that they shakeup their outfield defense.
In the eyes of some, the Pittsburgh Pirates have the best outfield in baseball and these people very well may be right. You would be hard pressed to find a better outfield trio in all of Major League Baseball than Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco. However, it is time for the Pittsburgh Pirates to shakeup that outfield.
No, I am not talking about benching one of these players or anything like that. What I am talking about is shifting them around defensively. It is time a move that many Pittsburgh Pirates fans have clamored for the past few seasons is made. It is time that Starling Marte moves to center field.
Both Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte and center fielder Andrew McCutchen have won Gold Glove Awards in their careers. However, McCutchen’s came back in 2012 while Marte won his last season. Furthermore, Marte was also named the best defensive left fielder in all of Major League Baseball last season.
Right now Starling Marte is a player whose defense is a plus-plus tool and appears to be on the rise. Meanwhile, McCutchen’s defense appears to be in decline. For this reason, it is time to move Starling Marte into center field.
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Anyone who watches the Pittsburgh Pirates with regularity will tell you that Starling Marte is a far superior defensive player to Andrew McCutchen. Overall on the season Starling Marte has nine defensive runs saved, a 14.8 UZR/150, and a National League leading seven outfield assists. Andrew McCutchen has negative four defensive runs saved, a -7.2 UZR/150, and just two outfield assists.
All of Andrew McCutchen’s defensive metrics come from center field this season. In fact, McCutchen has never played any position except center field in his now eight year Major League career. Starling Marte has played both left field and center field this season, and has been a plus defender at both positions.
In center field this season Starling Marte has posted strong defensive metrics. Despite, surprisingly, having zero defensive runs saved in center field this season that is still better than McCutchen’s negative four defensive runs saved. Furthermore, Marte’s 18.9 UZR/150 in center field is both well above league average and much better than McCutchen’s.
All of this comes on the heels of a 2015 season in which Andrew McCutchen also struggled in center fielder. In 2015 McCutchen had negative eight defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 of -6.1 in center field. Those numbers are poor, and really elaborate how poor a defender McCutchen has been this season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a team that has relied on strong defense to win the past three seasons, but they are not currently fielding their best defensive outfield. The Pittsburgh Pirates best defensive outfield is Gregory Polanco in left field, Starling Marte in center field, and Andrew McCuthen in right field. Why not left field for McCutchen? Simple, PNC Park’s left field might the most difficult to negative defensively in all of baseball and Gregory Polanco is a superior defender to McCutchen.
Overall this season Gregory Polanco has one defensive run saved, four outfield assists, and a UZR/150 of 14.0. This comes on the heels of a 2015 season in which he had 12 defensive runs saved, 13 outfield assists, and a 7.7 UZR/150 in the outfield. And, as his UZR/150 shows, Polanco has improved defensively this season.
The biggest part to Polanco being in left field over McCutchen though is Polanco’s ability to cover ground. PNC Park’s left field is massive and there is a lot of ground to be covered, and Gregory Polanco would do this better than Andrew McCutchen. This is why Polanco should be in left field and McCutchen in right field, after Starling Marte is shifted to center field.
There are few teams in baseball as sabermetric savvy and driven as the Pittsburgh Pirates are. For this reason, the fact Starling Marte is not their starting center fielder yet tells me they are concerned about clubhouse issues with an unhappy Andrew McCutchen. Because, as the stats backup, Starling Marte is the superior center fielder.
Now do not get me wrong, this article is in no way supposed to bash Andrew McCutchen. Despite him struggling so far this season, he is still the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise and an extremely talented player. But the fact of the matter is that Starling Marte is the better defensive player and should be the Pittsburgh Pirates starting center fielder.
*- All defensive stats and metrics courtesy of FanGraphs