Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining the Team’s Defense This Season

ST LOUIS, MO - JUNE 15: Ke'Bryan Hayes #13 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in position against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on June 15, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Joe Puetz/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - JUNE 15: Ke'Bryan Hayes #13 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in position against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on June 15, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Joe Puetz/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t been an awful defensive team, but how have they fared overall this year?

There have been many ups and downs throughout this year for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The starting pitching has been a quality group since the turn of May, but the offense is still lacking. The bullpen has had its moments of outstanding performance and underperformance this year.

However, the overall defense hasn’t been awful this year. The Pirates have +8 Defensive Runs Saved, just a -3.8 UZR/150, and -8 Outs Above Average. They’re not the best defensive team in the league, but they’re getting it done.

Outs above average is the best indicator we have of defensive excellence or inferiority we have available. Since it uses Statcast, it considers everything: how far the player had to go to get to the ball, how far they were from the base they are throwing to, how fast the runner was, and how hard the ball was hit. There are tangible measurements involved with it. DRS is arguably the most popular defensive statistic and gives a decent look at how good/bad a defender was. UZR/150 or ultimate zone rating per 150 games is the most basic but still is a decent benchmarker.

Gold Glove frontrunner Ke’Bryan Hayes leads the charge and is among the best at his position in every meaningful defensive statistic. He has +14 defensive runs saved, four more than Nolan Arenado. He’s the only third baseman with a UZR/150 of ten or greater, coming in at +10.0. Hayes’ +7 outs above average are tied with Arenado for the second-best among hot corner defenders. Only Manny Machado ranks ahead of him with just +8. Hayes could easily close that gap.

A fresh breath of air finally comes in the form of Michael Chavis at first base. The likes of Colin Moran and Josh Bell are finally behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, and they’re getting a real defender at first. Chavis has +3 DRS, a +2.8 UZR/150, and +1 OAA.

The last Pirate first baseman with positive numbers in the UZR/150 and DRS category in 300+ innings? You have to go back to Sean Rodriguez in 2015. However, S-Rod was the late-inning substitute for Pedro Alvarez. Casey McGehee, in 2012 was the last regular first baseman to have positive DRS and UZR/150 remarks.

It makes sense as to why Chavis has been such a good defensive first baseman. He was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox as a shortstop and then was moved to third base as he made his way up the pipeline. They’re playing a converted shortstop at first base and finally give them a reliable defender at first.

The outfield has been hit-and-miss but generally average. Jack Suwinski has 0 DRS, just +1 OAA, and -2.8 UZR/150. Ben Gamel had 0 DRS, -3  OAA and +11.8 UZR/150. Bryan Reynolds’ defense has taken a step down from 2021. He has just -5 DRS, a -4.1 UZR/150, and -3 OAA.

Before landing on the injured list, Jake Marisnick was arguably a top 3 outfield defender in the league. He had +8 DRS, +5 OAA, and a +13.7 UZR/150. Despite missing ample time this season, Marisnick is still top 30 in OAA and UZR/150.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have no middle infielders they can really call regulars. Only Josh VanMeter has over 200 innings played at the keystone, and Diego Castillo is the only Pirate with 200 or more innings at shortstop. VanMeter has generally been average at second, having -2 DRS, +2.8 UZR/150, and zero outs above average. Castillo has also been roughly average with zero DRS, a -5.2 UZR/150, and +2 OAA.

Tyler Heineman has given the Bucs some solid defensive work behind the dish. He has +1 DRS, and +1.3 framing runs in less than 200 innings of work. He’s not nearly as good as Roberto Pérez was before his injury, but at least he’s been giving the Pirates decent glove work. For many teams, that’s all they ask from their backstops.

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Overall, the Pittsburgh Pirates have had some great defenders like Hayes and Chavis, solid gloves like Castillo, Gamel, and Suwinkski, and some guys who need to step it up like Bryan Reynolds and Michael Pérez. Although there are more significant concerns than the defense, it’s at least pleasant that they’re not beating themselves with lousy defense.