Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2017 position breakdown: third base

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: David Freese
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: David Freese /
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As we continue to break down each of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ position from 2017 here at Rum Bunter next up is third base.

Defensively, the Pittsburgh Pirates were just fine at third base in 2017. Offensively, however, it was a completely different story.

Prior to the start of the 2017 season it appeared that third base would be a position of strength for the Pittsburgh Pirates. This was due to the Bucs having one of the National League’s best emerging power hitters in Jung Ho Kang as the team’s everyday third base, with longtime starter and former World Series MVP David Freese as his primary backup.

As everyone knows things do not always go according to plan and this was most certainly the case for third base and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017. After Kang missed the entire season due to being unable to get a work visa (#FreeKang), Freese became the team’s everyday third baseman. Well, as Pirate fans saw in 2017 Freese is no longer an everyday player when it comes to his offensive production and this led to Freese and third base playing a large role in the Pirates’ offensive struggles in 2017.

During the 2017 campaign David Freese started 130 games and accumulated 503 plate appearances, both of which proved to be far more than he is suited for at age 34. Freese continued to play strong defense in 2017 as he owned a defensive runs saved (DRS) of +7 and a 5.5 UZR/150. However, his offensive production was the worst of his nine-year career.

Despite a career-high 11.5 percent walk rate and a .368 on-base percentage that led the Pirates and was the second highest of his career, David Freese was a mess at the plate in 2017. Freese’s .371 slugging percentage, .108 ISO, and 100 wRC+ were all career worsts. His .326 wOBA was the third lowest of his career, and his 1.6 fWAR was his lowest since 2013 and his third worst overall.

Looking around the Pirate clubhouse, Adam Frazier, Max Moroff, and Sean Rodriguez are all capable of manning the hot corner as well. However, like Freese, none of these players are big enough offensive threats to play every day. This also contributed to the offensive woes the Pirates had at third base in 2017.

During the 2017 season Pirate third basemen ranked eighth in the National League in wOBA (.329), wRC+ (102), and strikeout rate (19.7 percent). There was also a lack of power at the position as the team ranked tenth in slugging percentage (.404) and thirteenth in ISO (.136). Without additions, third base will be a problem for the Pirates again in 2017.

Next: Should the Bucs look to sign Josh Bell long-term?

Depending on how this offseason shakes out, third base could be a huge weak spot for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018. While David Freese is still a plus defender at the position, his offense is nowhere near potent enough for him to warrant everyday playing time. Also, all other internal options are not good enough to platoon with Freese or play every day.

This offseason it is vital that the Pirates address third base. In a perfect world, Jung Ho Kang will get his work visa renewed and return to the Bucs in 2018. However, this is unlikely to happen. Due to this, the Bucs needed to either add a third baseman this offseason or add a second baseman and move Josh Harrison to third base. If not, it will be another bad year offensively for the Pirates at third base in 2018.

Other 2017 position breakdowns: