Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining Who Should be the Utility Man

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The Pittsburgh Pirates seem to want to experiment with Cole Tucker as the team’s super utility man. But that role should go to Adam Frazier instead.

The Pittsburgh Pirates seem to be trying out Cole Tucker in a super utility role. Tucker, who is primarily a shortstop, was playing some second base early in spring training. In the final days of summer camp, was playing some outfield, appearing in right field and center field during the series against the Cleveland Indians. In the second game of the season, manager Derek Shelton started Tucker in right field.

However, if you ask me, this is not the wisest decision. Tucker needs regular playing time at shortstop, and instead, Adam Frazier needs to be the team’s super utility man. Here’s why.

Frazier has plenty of experience all over the field, including the outfield. After all, his role was a super utility guy up through 2018. From his rookie campaign from 2016 up through 2018, Frazier actually played more innings in the outfield than at second base.

He recorded 878.2 innings mainly from the outfield corners, but occasionally showed up in center. But at second, he had 798 innings played. Frazier might not be some platinum glove outfielder, but he isn’t going to be a liability out there either. Throughout his career, Frazier has +7 DRS, 2 range runs above average and -0.6 UZR in the grass.

Plus, we know how whatd Frazier is offensively by now. Frazier is a career .279/.342/.420 hitter, with a 103 OPS+/wRC+. He didn’t deviate too far from that path in 2019 when he hit .278/.336/.417 with a 99 OPS+and 97 wRC+. Frazier needs to show he can still handle an outfield spot, which would help increase his trade value.

Right now, Tucker needs to focus on hitting more consistently, not learning a new position. Especially one that is so foreign like any outfield position. Tucker can be a good hitter. We saw it last season.

The switch hitter got off to a slow start. That’s nothing out of the ordinary for a 22-year-old finding his footing in the Majors. His first 95 plate appearances saw the switch hitter have a .157/.202/.258 line, and 15 wRC+. But it didn’t take long for him to get accustomed to MLB pitching. In his final 64 plate appearances of 2019, Tucker hit .293/.359/.517 with a 127 wRC+. While he wasn’t an outstanding bat in the minors, he still had a 10.8% walk rate at Triple-A last season, so he does have pretty good plate discipline.

Still, overall in 2019, Tucker made hard contact above the league average. The league average hard hit rate according to Baseball Savant was 34%, and Cole was hitting the ball hard 36.5% of the time. Tucker also posted a line drive average of 24%. The league average line drive percentage was 21% last year. Line drives were the most productive kinds of hits, and Tucker hits them more often than the average. Plus, you have to remember that in total, this is only through a 159 plate appearance sample size. You can’t accurately judge how good or bad a player is in less that few of plate appearances.

There were also a few plays during the Pirates’ first series that Tucker would have likely made that Kevin Newman didn’t. Tucker is a huge upgrade defensively. Newman had -7 defensive runs saved, -5.2 UZR and -4 range runs above average. All three ranked as the 5th lowest marks among all shortstops (minimum 800 innings). He also had -8 outs above average, placing him in the bottom 4th percentile.

On the other hand, Tucker, in the very short amount of time he was in the majors last season, was outstanding at shortstop. Through just 318 innings, Tucker had +2 DRS, 0.9 UZR and 0.3 range runs above average. Of all his skills, his defense isn’t the one that should be in question. FanGraphs gives his defense a future grade of 55 and arm grade of 70.

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Tucker needs to get some regular reps at shortstop. This is a year where the Pittsburgh Pirates need to see who is part of their future and who isn’t. Frazier shouldn’t be part of those plans. By 2023, when most of their current top prospects are MLB ready, Frazier will be a free agent, and 31-years-old. But there is a possibility Tucker could be, and this is the time to find out.

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