Many fans want Pirates starting center fielder Andrew McCutchen to be moved to left field in favor of Starling Marte. It goes to an old thought of the best outfielder should play center, but that certainly should not be the case in Pittsburgh.
Andrew McCutchen is having his worst year offensively hitting only .247/.329/.411 with a 100 wRC+, making him a league average offensive player. However, his defense, which has always been called into question, has been at an all time low. Defensive metrics are not always the best, but they do give a good context of how that player has performed defensively. For this post, a look at UZR/150 and defensive runs saved will be the main focal point.
So far in 2016, which has been 141 games worth, Andrew McCutchen has posted a UZR/150 of -19.1 and he has -21 defensive runs saved. This is coming off a season in which he had -8 defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 of -6.1. His best defensive year came in his MVP season of 2013, where he posted a UZR/150 of 8.4 and had 5 defensive runs saved. He has fallen from grace by a wide margin in this season.
Here is some context on how bad McCutchen has been this year on defense. His -19.1 UZR/150 ranks last among the 16 qualified center fielders, with Denard Span at -11.7. When making it a minimum of 500 innings, Cutch still ranks last, with Tyler Naquin being the second worst at -17.3. His defensive runs saved is worst among the 16, with Marcell Ozuna being second worst at -13. Among the minimum of 500 innings, Naquin ranks second worst at -19. So Andrew McCutchen has been the worst center fielder in the game in 2016.
Starling Marte’s Great Defense
Starling Marte remains one of the premier left fielders in the game. After posting a a 24 DRS and a 12.1 UZR/150 in left field last season, he has posted a UZR/150 of 11.2 and has 18 defensive runs saved so far this season. Marte ranks first in UZR/150 and DRS among the 12 qualified left fielders. Among the 20 left fielders with 500 innings, Marte ranks first in defensive runs saved and second in UZR/150, behind only Colby Rasmus (33.0).
Starling Marte continues to excel with the glove, and the arm, as he has 17 outfield assists this year, after posting 16 last year (15 coming in left). Adam Eaton is the only outfielder to have more assists than Marte this season, and nobody has more than Marte the last two years.
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Why Starling Marte should remain in left field.
Reading this, and the conclusion should be very simple. Starling Marte is far superior than Andrew McCutchen, which a simple eye test can show, but this quantifies this. One might find themselves asking, “shouldn’t Marte move to center because he is so superior?” To answer that question, think logically about the way PNC Park is set up. It ranges from 325 feet down the line, to 389 feet straight away, and 410 feet in the notch which is a wide range of ground to cover for any outfielder.
Andrew McCutchen does not have the arm nor the range of Starling Marte, so the plays taken for granted in left because of Marte would be no more. Marte excels being able to use his speed and arm strength to hold runners to singles and catch would be doubles with ease. Andrew McCutchen relies more on positioning, as his defense has continued to decline.
Putting McCutchen in a place to cover more ground than Starling Marte would create a problem, it would give the better of the defenders less room to be the defender that he is. By putting Starling Marte in center field and Andrew McCutchen in left field, the Pirates would have a larger defensive problem.
*All numbers from fangraphs