Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining the Team’s Defense in 2020

Jul 27, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings (58) returns he ball to the pitcher against the Milwaukee Brewers during the third inning at PNC Park. Milwaukee won 6-5 in eleven innings. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 27, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings (58) returns he ball to the pitcher against the Milwaukee Brewers during the third inning at PNC Park. Milwaukee won 6-5 in eleven innings. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates struggled defensively in 2019, but their fielding took a big step forward this past season.

Last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates actually had a pretty solid defense. As a team, they had +26 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which ranked 4th in all of baseball. While they did have a team -6.2 UZR and -3.1 UZR/150, that was a massive improvement from 2019 when they had a -8.1 UZR/150.

They were also in the positives of Range Runs Above Average (RngR) at +2.3. This was overall a massive step up from 2019. The Pittsburgh Pirates had three defensive standout players that were considered some of the best at their position in 2020.

Let’s look at these players through SABR’s defensive index. This was the analytic that they primarily used to vote on the Gold Glove Awards. We’ll also look at their other stats like DRS, UZR and so on.

Bryan Reynolds was one of the Pirate players that took a step forward in their defense. In 2019, Reynolds held his own in the grass, but didn’t do anything too special. While he did have +5 DRS, Reynolds had -3.5 UZR, zero RngR and his outfield arm was worth -3.5 runs.

During his rookie campaign, Reynolds ranked next to last in SABR’s defensive index at -3.5, just above Ryan Braun who came in at -3.8. However, this past season, Reynolds was considered one of the best defensive left fielders in the game. He posted a +7 DRS and 1.7 UZR, which comes to a 4.5 UZR/150 compared to a -4 UZR/150 from the year prior.

Reynolds showed off a decent arm with +1.4 outfield arm runs above average and his range got a bit better with 0.5 range runs above average. Reynolds’s SABR defensive index ranked 4th among left fielders at 1.6, trailing just the Gold Glove winner Tyler O’Neil, 2019’s Gold Glove winner David Peralta and Japanese import Shogo Akiyama. His step back offensively might have been because of him focusing on his defense, so we might see a return to form in 2021 where we see a plus defender with an above average bat.

The Pittsburgh Pirates had two Gold Glove Award finalists in 2019, the first being second baseman Adam Frazier. Frazier was a second base Gold Glove finalist in 2019 as well when he had -1 DRS, but 1.6 RngR above average, a 4.6 UZR/150 and +11 Outs Above Average (OAA).

His OAA ranked 19th in all of baseball. His 3.9 mark on SABR’s defensive index ranked third at his positon. This past season, Frazier saw an improvement defensively. He had +4 DRS, a 7.7 UZR/150 mark and 0.5 RngR above average. Frazier’s +6 outs above average ranked 8th in all of baseball, but his defensive index was 3.4 which was very impressive considering how much fewer innings he had in 2020 for obvious reasons.

The other Gold Glove finalist the Pittsburgh Pirates had in 2020 was Jacob Stallings. Stallings put on a show defensively in 2019. In only 463.1 innings, Stallings had +14 DRS and had +6 framing runs. Stallings was simply put, one of the best defenders behind the dish in 2020. In fact, it could be argued that Stallings should have won the NL Gold Glove Award for catchers.

This past year, Stallings put up another strong season defensively with +7 DRS and 2.4 framing runs above average behind the plate. He ranked 2nd in SABR’s defensive index at 2.9. Only Tucker Barnhart ranked above him at 4.7.

The Pirate defense could get better next season. They should get full seasons out of Ke’Bryan Hayes and Cole Tucker. If they get regular reps at third base and shortstop, the Pittsburgh Pirates could have one of the best left sides of the infields in baseball defensively.

Next. Free Agent Target: Chase Anderson. dark

If the universal designated hitter returns, that means less Josh Bell at first base. Colin Moran held his own at first in 2020 and Will Craig would be another solid defender to get some time at first. Anthony Alford hasn’t posted great defensive metrics in the Majors, but was considered a plus defender in the minors having a future fielding grade of 55. With his speed that ranks within the top 10 in baseball, he can cover plenty of ground.

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