Pittsburgh Pirates Should Go Defense First This Season


The Pittsburgh Pirates should put their best possible defensive team on the field this year with so many young pitchers coming up.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a lot of young players coming up through the system. Many of them are pitchers. This season, they’ll likely see the likes of JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Wil Crowe, Luis Oviedo and David Bednar start out the year as part of the team.

Throughout the 2021 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates will likely call up the likes of Miguel Yajure and Nick Mears if they don’t start the year out as part of the Major League roster and other potential long-term building block arms scuh as Cody Bolton, Max Kranick, Yerry De Los Santos and Roasny Contreras could all make their MLB debut as well.

With so many young pitchers with talent the Pittsburgh Pirates should focus on building a defensive first team in 2021. They need to build up their pitcher’s confidence and one way in doing that is putting behind them a competent defensive group behind them.

Who starts behind the dish may be the most important defender for a young pitching staff and it’s a good thing the Pirates’ starting backstop is one of the best in the game when it comes to the leather. Jacob Stallings has, simply put, been outstanding when it comes to defense. In the last two seasons he has a +21 DRS, which ties him with Austin Hedges for the second most catcher DRS, and has the 10th most framing runs at +8.3. The impressive part is that this is all in less than 1000 innings of work behind the plate, amassing just 808.1 innings.

The Pittsburgh Pirates improved their defense at first base by trading Josh Bell. Bell wasn’t just the worst defender at first base, but one of the worst defenders in all of baseball since taking over a regular role in 2017. Bell had -26 DRS, -9.1 UZR/150 and -6.2 range runs above average since 2017 at first base.

Bell was by far the worst defensive first baseman in terms of UZR/150, tied for the least amount of DRS with Chris Davis and was the third worst defender in range runs. Among all positions, he was a bottom 10-15 defender in baseball.

Replacing him will be Colin Moran. While Moran isn’t going to be winning any Gold Glove Awards at first, he’ll be a massive improvement over Bell. Last year, Moran saw 166 innings at first where he had 0 DRS, 0.1 range runs above average and -5.7 UZR/150. However, he won’t be the only player getting a considerable amount of time in the field at first base.

Todd Frazier was brought in to help provide some pop off the bench and depth at both third and first base and Phillip Evans will be looking to pick up where he left off on his hot start to 2020. Both could be good defenders for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2021.

The Pittsburgh Pirates will open the year with two-time Gold Glove finalist Adam Frazier manning second base. Frazier started to see most of his playing time at second base in 2018. Since then, he’s had +7 DRS, a 5.0 UZR/150 and 4.1 range runs above average. In the last two seasons, he’s been among the top of the leaderboard in outs above average.

However, a Frazier trade sometime during the season can’t be ruled out. If Frazier is traded, the likely answer at second base will be Kevin Newman. Newman is a well below average defender at shortstop. Throughout his career, he has -13 DRS, -5.6 range runs above average and a -12.7 UZR/150. At second base however, he has +1 DRS, +2.7 UZR/150 and 1 range run above average. Another player who could see increasing time at second base is Erik Gonzalez.

The Pittsburgh Pirates should start Cole Tucker at shortstop. Plain and simple. He might hit like Clint Barmes, but what’s important is that he fields the position like Barmes and runs like Starling Marte. Tucker didn’t play shortstop at all in 2020, but the team is looking to return him to his natural position in 2021. During 2019, Tucker received 318.2 innings at short and had +2 DRS, +0.3 range runs above average and a +4.7 UZR/150. He also had a sprint speed of 28.9 feet/second in ‘19, which ranked in the top 91st percentile.

Third base is pretty obvious. Conensus Top 10 prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes will be manning the hot corner for the entirety of the 2021 season. Hayes’ best tool is his fielding. It’s considered a 70-grade tool and has a 60-grade arm on the 20-80 scale. Last year in his brief showing in the majors, he showed off what he can do with the glove having +5 DRS and 8.9 UZR/150. Despite playing less than 200 innings at third base, he only fell behind three third basemen in terms of DRS. Those three were Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado and Carter Kieboom.

Bryan Reynolds had a great year defensively last season, which was a huge step forward from his 2019 rookie campaign. During his first season, Reynolds was an average to below average fielder with +5 DRS, +1 outs above average and 0 range runs above average, but -4 UZR/150 and -3.5 outfield arm runs above average.

However, during the 2020 season, Reynolds had an outstanding +7 DRS, +4.5 UZR/150 and .5 range runs above average. He still had +1 outs above average, but remember this is in just 435 innings. He also showed a much better arm with +1.4 outfield arm runs above average. He was a plus fieler at both left field and center field. He’ll likely start out the season in left though where he’s considered a better defender.

The Pittsburgh Pirates do have a handful of players who will get time in centerfield. The first is Brian Goodwin. The slugger was brought in on a minor league deal, but can field centerfield to a roughly average level. In the last two seasons, Goodwin has +1 DRS, a 3.7 UZR/150 and 2.9 outfield arm runs above average. However, that did come with a -1.7 range runs above average mark.

The rest of the Pirates’ potential centerfielder options are considered solid defenders in center, but have very little experience in the MLB. Anthony Alford has a 55-future fielding grade and can cover some serious ground with his speed. Almost the same exact thing can be said about Jared Oliva, however Oliva does have a better arm than Alford. Dustin Fowler is another player who can be an average fielder with a 50-future fielding grade.

Gregory Polanco will definitely be a question mark in right field, but he was better defensively in 2020 than in 2019. While it was just 316 innings, Polanco still had +1 DRS and +2.9 range runs above average. Although he did struggle in UZR at -0.5 and outfield arm runs above average at -3.3. However with Oliva getting a fair amount of playing time in right field, he could occasionally spell the veteran to get better defense.

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With the Pittsburgh Pirates wealth of young pitching coming up through the system, they should put out the best possible defensive team in baseball. While it may be sacrificing some offense starting guys like Cole Tucker, building pitcher’s confidence and building them up as major league starters should be one of their top priorities.