Pittsburgh Pirates: New Defensive Metric Outs Above Replacement

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the worst teams in baseball in the field last year.  Here is a look at a new metric that measures each individual player.

One thing that small-market teams often prioritize is good pitching and sound defense.  It is tough for teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates to retain their top hitters, but having good pitching and defense will always keep a team in it.  Look at the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2013-2015, they did not have elite hitters up and down the lineup but always had a chance to win a game when they were in the field.

It really is no coincidence that the Pittsburgh Pirates have struggled the last few years and have had one of the worst-rated team defenses. The Bucs had the worst fielding percentage in the National League and committed the most errors in baseball, just one of the many issues that started to become more noticeable under Clint Hurdle.

Furthermore, the team saw some players take steps backward in the field including former Gold Glove Award winner Starling Marte.  However, there actually were a few players that had pretty solid defensive years as defined by “Outs Above Average.”  This is a metric that measures a player defensively using the Trackman data obtained from all 30 ballparks. The stat does not measure pitchers or catchers on defense due to a small number of attempts compared to the actual fielders.

For a long time, it has been tough to find a useful metric that measures defensive properly, with UZR/150 and Defensive Runs Saved being two the more common ones to look at.  Even with those, it was hard to get a complete picture of a player’s ability with their glove, as they needed multiple years of data to paint an accurate picture.  Outs Above Average gives a more complete picture.  Baseball Savant, MLB.com’s statcast site, recently released this new metric (infield defense is newly added as they have measured outfielders previously) and it is already considered to be one of the best measure of defense yet. Here is how Baseball Savant defines OAA:

"“Outs Above Average (OAA) is the cumulative effect of all individual plays a fielder has been credited or debited with, making it a range-based metric of fielding skill that accounts for the number of plays made and the difficulty of them. For example, a fielder who catches a 25% Out Probability play gets +.75; one who fails to make the play gets -.25.”"

In terms of the Pittsburgh Pirates individual player rankings, there were only three of them who ranked as positive fielders.  Surprisingly, the top defender from 2019 based off OAA was second baseman Adam Frazier.  Frazier made big strides on defense last year and had an OAA of +11, which led all of baseball at the position.  This is much improved over his 2018 when he rated 10th among second baseman and was at +4.

The only other players to have a positive rating in 2019 were outfielders Bryan Reynolds and Starling Marte.  Reynolds showed the ability to play both left and centerfield last year, which obviously suggests that he is a solid defender.  Meanwhile, Marte has always been known as an elite defender, although he did show some regression last season.  Both of their Outs Above Average rated at +2 for the year.

Next. FanGraph is High on Bucs' Prospects. dark

Everyone else on the list was in the negatives for OAA, keeping it consistent that the Pittsburgh Pirates were all around a poor team defensively.  A common theme coming out of the Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training is that the new coaching staff is having the players do more work on the field than they have in the past.  Hopefully, the team can get better defensively and start to help out their pitching staff in 2020.