How Michael A. Taylor shakes up the Pirates' outfield alignment

How does the Pirates' newest free agent signing affect their outfield alignment?
Jul 15, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Michael A. Taylor (2) rounds
Jul 15, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Michael A. Taylor (2) rounds / Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

How does the Pittsburgh Pirates' newest Major League free agent addition, Michael A. Taylor, shake up the team's outfield alignment?

The Pittsburgh Pirates recently signed outfielder Michael A. Taylor to a one-year contract worth $4 million. The slugger is also one of the best defensive center fielders in the game and will likely be the team's primary center fielder. However, Taylor's addition shakes up the Pirates' outfield alignment.

Jack Suwinski served as the team's primary center fielder last year and, prior to signing Taylor, was going to be the go-to answer up the middle in 2024. Suwinski wasn't a bad center fielder. He had +3 outs above average and ran fairly efficient routes to baseballs. But he got poor jumps and defensive runs saved did not like his body of work with -10 DRS. But it was his first time playing CF full-time, and growing pains were to be expected.

The addition of Taylor likely pushes Suwinski to right field with Bryan Reynolds staying stationary in left field. However, this is perfect because of the team's off-season addition of Edward Olivares. The team acquired Olivares from the Kansas City Royals, and the corner outfielder could play perfectly off of Suwinski.

Suwinski does not hit left-handed pitching very well. Last year, he slashed .200/.295/.313 with a .274 wOBA and 68 wRC+ when facing a Southpaw. But when he faced a right-handed pitcher, he batted .232/.353/.503 with a .363 wOBA and 127 wRC+. Olivares wasn't nearly as poor when facing same-handed pitching with a .256/.307/.421 line, .314 wOBA, and 95 wRC+, but was much more effective when he came to the plate vs a lefty, slashing .277/.339/.518 with a .360 wOBA and 126 wRC+.

This isn't a perfect science, but if you take Suwinski's numbers facing right-handed pitching and Olivares' numbers against left-handed pitching, you get a .243/.350/.507 batter. This also includes 28 home runs, a 26.2% strikeout rate, and a 13% walk rate in 526 plate appearances. On a rate basis, this is almost identical to Mike Trout, who hit .263/.367/.490 with a 28.7% strikeout rate and 12.4% walk rate. Others like Jorge Soler and Triston Casas also had similar numbers.

That gives the Pirates four outfield options, so what happens to Joshua Palacios? Prior to signing Taylor, the Pirates would likely have had Palacios platoon with Olivares in right field. I still believe that Palacios will make the roster for a few reasons. Palacios can play all three outfield spots. He's also a left-handed batter. Both Palacios and Suwinski can also relieve Taylor from facing as many right-handed pitchers, as he had a .641 OPS vs RHP and .914 OPS vs LHP last year. Keeping Palacios on the 26-man roster also gives the Pirates two left-handed hitting outfielders, two right-handed hitting outfielders, and one switch-hitter.

The odd man out will likely end up being Ji Hwan Bae. Bae played a lot of center field last year. The one thing that might save him is his utility. His primary position throughout the minor leagues was second base and shortstop, but it could become a crowded situation with multiple other players who can play the middle infielder. Bae has three minor league options remaining, which could end up being the deciding factor.

Adding Taylor was a good choice by the Pirates.

It gives them a lot more flexibility to play match-ups, as well as more outfield depth overall. It also gives them a top-of-the-line defensive center fielder, something they haven't had in ages. But this gives the Pirates multiple new ways to utilize their outfield depth.