The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t had a good defensive first baseman in a long time, but who is the franchise’s best?
The Pittsburgh Pirates have had trouble finding a good and consistent first baseman for a while now. First base is a position where you can get away with mediocre defense. There’s not much difference between an average defender at first base and below average defender. But there’s a massive difference between a below-average defensive first baseman and bottom-of-the-barrel defensive first baseman.
It’s a position where the defensive prowess is second to the offense. The Pirates, needless to say, have had their fair share of bottom-of-the-barrel defensive first basemen. From Pedro Alvarez to Josh Bell and then Colin Moran, there’s been no shortage of atrocious defenders at the corner infield position for the Bucs.
But it’s been quite a while since the Pirates have had a truly good defensive first baseman. Last season, while Michael Chavis was decent at 1B, still graded out around average with +2 defensive runs saved and -2 Outs Above Average (OAA), was considered the second-best first basemen the Pirates have had in the past five full seasons. While Chavis was average, who was the last great defensive first baseman for the Pirates?
In the post-defensive runs saved era, Steve Pearce leads all Pirates. He racked up +5 defensive runs saved while posting a +3.1 UZR/150. But that was only in 536.2 innings at the position. Daryle Ward ranks among the best Pirate first basemen with at least 800 innings logged, per UZR/150. He posted a +4.3 mark through 1450.2 innings. DRS was created in 2003, so there’s not much to boast about at first base defensively in the last 20 seasons.
Before defensive runs saved, we had total zone runs. Kevin Young was the Pirates’ best defensive first baseman in the pre-DRS era. He racked up +31 TZR, consistently grading out as a great defender at the position. In 1999, Young racked up +17 TZR, which is the highest single-season total for any Pirates’ 1B, per both DRS and TZR by a margin of seven. In 1990, the infamous Sid Bream had +10 at first base. Despite also leading the league in TZR by five, the Gold Glove went to J.T. Snow of the San Francisco Giants, who only had +2 TZR.
But the Pittsburgh Pirates could once again put together good defense at first base in 2023. After acquiring Ji-Man Choi through trade, claiming Lewin Diaz off waivers, and signing Carlos Santana, their first base corps look ready to provide the Bucs with consistently reliable gloves at the position. In 2022, the trio combined for +7 Defensive Runs Saved and +9 OAA.