If there is a 2020 season there is a high chance that each team will employ a designate hitter. How could this impact the Pittsburgh Pirates?
All signs point toward any sort of 2020 MLB season including a universal designated hitter. A universal DH is a move that is long overdue, and one that could improve the Pittsburgh Pirates defense in 2020.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates play with a DH in 2020, the most obvious choice is to make Josh Bell the team’s DH. Bell is an offensive powerhouse for the Bucs. He is coming off a season in which he posted a .277/.367/.569 slash line, .292 ISO, a 135 wRC+, and he collected 77 extra base hits.
Despite his offensive prowess, Bell posted just a 2.5 fWAR in 2019. This was due to his defensive struggles. Bell posted a -18.2 dWAR, -8 Defensive Runs Saved, -16.4 UZR/150, and a -5 Outs Above Average.
By moving Bell off first base and to the DH role, the Pittsburgh Pirates will greatly improve their defense. In turn, this would improve the overall team. The question then becomes, who would play at first base instead of Bell? The go to answer would be Jose Osuna.
Osuna is coming off the best offensive season of his career in which he slashed .264/.310/.456 with a .192 ISO and 30 extra base hits, all of which were career highs. His 97 wRC+, while slightly below league average, was also a career high.
Defensively, is where Osuna can truly make his worth. His career DRS at first base is 0, which is right at league average, as is his OAA. If Osuna played there every day, it is not unreasonable that focusing on just first base instead of three or four positions could improve his defense. In return, he could become an above average power hitter with average to slightly above average defense. This is a valuable player for a team to have, especially when the current first baseman is a train wreck defensively.
Another option would be to make a move at third base. Third baseman Colin Moran is a slightly below average hitter, and a horrible defensive player. In his career, Moran owns a -33 DRS, including a -22 last season, at third base. His career OAA at third base is -17. Not good, folks!
With the DH, the Pittsburgh Pirates could look to address third base defense. The team could slide Moran to DH, which would not be the best of decisions due to his offense, and play utility man Erik Gonzalez at third base with Osuna sprinkled in as well. While Moran would provide below average production at DH, both Gonzalez and Osuna would be strong defenders at third base.
Another, and the best, option with Moran at DH would be to make top prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes the starting third baseman. While Hayes still has some growth to make offensively, he would already be a Gold Glove candidate at third base.
If a 2020 MLB season is played and there is a universal DH, there are multiple options on the table for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Regardless of the direction in which the Pirates go, it would improve the team’s defense. In turn, this would improve the entire team.