The Pittsburgh Pirates’ outfield has not been a strong point for them, especially recently, but what could be done to improve that?
The Pittsburgh Pirates outfield has been a sore spot for the team this year. Outside of Bryan Reynolds, the only other outfield currently on the active 26-man roster with a wRC+ above 100 is Ben Gamel at 103. However, the Pirates could put out a much more productive outfield alignment, one that also gleams hope into the future.
The first thing that needs to be done is recalling Jack Suwinski. Acquired in the Adam Frazier trade, Suwinski was having a solid season before being demoted to Triple-A. The outfielder batted .198/.288/.428 with a .312 wOBA and 100 wRC+/99 OPS+. Suwinski clobbered 14 home runs while having a .230 isolated slugging percentage. It also helps that he has a .975 OPS, .416 wOBA, and 157 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A this year.
Suwinski started to produce after his first few games in late April. From May onward, Suwinski produced much better numbers. This included a .203/.300/.455 slashline, .327 wOBA, and 111 wRC+, which makes him about 11% better than league average. Suwinski hit all of his home runs after April. His .252 isolated slugging percentage from May to present day still leads all National League rookies and is second to just Mariner catcher Cal Raleigh who sits at .263 in this time (min. 230 plate appearances).
Suwinski’s overall production in the majors is solid but nothing to write home about. He was a league-average hitter, but that, combined with plus outfield defense, makes him a valuable player. Suwinski mostly played both corner outfield positions but was more than playable in centerfield. In just 554.2 innings, Suwinski had +5 DRS, a +9.3 UZR/150, and +1 Outs Above Average. Suwinski had +1.5 fWAR in just 250 plate appearances. That comes out to a 2.9 fWAR in 600 plate appearances, which is highly productive.
Suwinski should be in left field. Even though he’s a good defender in right field, his best defensive work comes from the other outfield corner. He has a +6.1 UZR/150 in left compared to +1.8 in right. With Suwinski in left and Reynolds in center, the Pittsburgh Pirates should be lining up Travis Swaggerty in right field.
Swaggerty has put up solid numbers with Triple-A Indianapolis this season, batting .267/.345/.433. He’s walked at a healthy 10.6% pace while having a 26.4% strikeout rate. Now Swaggerty’s .166 isolated slugging percentage might not look great, but he’s been hitting for a good amount of raw power for a decent portion of the season. Since the start of May, he’s slashing .282/.364/.482 with a .189 isolated slugging percentage, .372 wOBA, and 125 wRC+.
The former first-round pick has been red hot since the outset of the All-Star Break. It is a small sample size for sure, but he has an OPS well over .900, coming in at .923, along with a wRC+ that peaks just over 150 at 152. He’s drawn 11 walks in 50 plate appearances while striking out just ten times. Although the outfield prospect already made his debut, he didn’t play nearly enough to see how he handles major league pitching with just nine plate appearances. Swaggerty is a plus defender who could win a Gold Glove in the future. It only helps he gets on base at a solid rate and has a chance to be a 20/20 player.
The outfield alignment of Suwinski, Reynolds, and Swaggerty, from left to right field, gives the Pirates the best defensive combination and arguably the best power combination. All three could hit for an above-average isolated slugging percentage. Reynolds defense is the weakest link, but with both Suwinski and Swaggerty flanking him, his defense may improve. Both Suwinski and Swaggerty are rangy outfielders.
The Pirates could still make other moves to improve the outfield alignment. Marty recently wrote that veteran Ben Gamel should not be playing every day. With the Reynolds/Swaggerty/Suwinski outfield line-up, he wouldn’t, but I would rather see someone like Cal Mitchell or Bligh Madris take over his 4th outfield/platoon role. Although, Madris has also been seeing playing time at first base and designated hitter.
Since returning from the injured list in early July, Gamel has just a .672 OPS, .298 wOBA, and 91 wRC+. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Gamel DFA’d, especially if it meant getting either Suwinski or Swaggerty in the major leagues. A 90 wRC+/sub-.700 OPS/sub-.300 wOBA bat is something the Pirates could find easily within the farm system.
I think the best possible outfielders the Pittsburgh Pirates can have on the 26-man roster right now are Reynolds, Suwinski, Swaggerty, and Mitchell or Greg Allen as the 4th outfield option, with Madris as a 1B/DH/OF options off the bench as well. Gamel has been struggling recently and only provides solid defense. With this combination, the Pirates get a good blend of power, defense, and speed, which gives the Pirates a good look at what the 2023 outfield alignment could be.