Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Target: Outfielder A.J. Pollock
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates could benefit from a proven right-handed outfielder, and left-handed crusher AJ Pollock could fill that role.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a ton of left-handed hitting outfielders. Just on the 40-man roster alone, there’s Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Travis Swaggerty, Tucupita Marcano, and Ji-Hwan Bae. The only non-lefty hitters the Pirates have who can play the grass are Miguel Andujar, Bryan Reynolds, Jared Triolo, and Ryan Vilade.
While the Pittsburgh Pirates could roll into 2023 with Vilade or Triolo as their primary 4th outfield option, they could browse the free-agent market. Vilade doesn’t inspire too much confidence, and Triolo is likely best suited for infield duty. One name that stands out is veteran AJ Pollock.
Pollock is coming off a mediocre season with the Chicago White Sox. In 527 plate appearances, Pollock slashed just .245/.292/.389. He only walked 6.1% of the time, and of the few positives, he had an 18.6% strikeout rate. Overall, this amounted to a .297 wOBA and 92 wRC+. It was the first time since 2013 he had at least 200 plate appearances and a sub-100 wRC+.
Defensively, Pollock was about average, having exactly zero defensive runs saved and outs above average. UZR/150 viewed him in a below-average light at -3.8, but UZR is far less advanced than either DRS or OAA. His best defensive work came in left field, where he had +4 DRS but zero OAA. He was also playable in center field with -2 DRS but +1 OAA and saw 91 innings in right field.
Pollock might not be the all-star he once was, but he can still be a decent platoon/4th outfield option. Used in the right circumstances, he can be a decent hitter. Pollock struggled against RHP last season, slashing just .231/.284/.309 with an abysmal (but nice) 69 wRC+.
However, he ripped the cover off the ball against left-handed pitching.
When Pollock faced a southpaw, he batted .286/.316/.619 with a 161 wRC+. He was a top 20 batter when it came to facing LHPs, ranking 16th in wRC+ and OPS, and 17th in wOBA at .394.
It’s also worth noting he returned to form in the second half. After the All-Star Game, Pollock posted a .265/.318/.449 slash, .332 wOBA, and 117 wRC+. Overall, that’s fairly close to his career numbers, which include a .276/.332/.469 line, .343 wOBA, and 113 wRC+.
The biggest downside (and risk) is that Pollock will be another year older, and he’s the definition of injury prone. This was the first time since 2015 that Pollock has appeared in at least 120 games and stepped to the plate 500+ times. From 2017 through 2021, he only played 68.2% of his team’s contests. On average, that’s about 110 games in a full season.
While the injury risk is apparent, a more limited role might preserve his health. Pollock can play an above-average left field and average center field and is a good batter against left-handed pitching. On a team with so many lefty outfielders, it would be nice to have a decent right-handed option to go to.