Pirates somehow have been MLB's worst defensive outfield

Even with three experienced center fielders, the Pirates' outfield ranks last in outs above average in 2024
Apr 16, 2024; New York City, New York, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Bryan Reynolds (10)
Apr 16, 2024; New York City, New York, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Bryan Reynolds (10) / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There was plenty of chatter throughout the offseason about whether or not the Pittsburgh Pirates could - or should - add a veteran outfielder to the mix. That came to fruition on March 17, when the Pirates agreed to terms with center fielder Michael A. Taylor.

The logic there was pretty easy to understand; Taylor, a former Gold Glove award winner as a center fielder, has been a plus (and, at times, excellent) defender for the majority of his MLB career, and this remains the case even as he approaches his mid-thirties. His addition allowed the Pirates to use Bryan Reynolds and Jack Suwinski, the team's primary center fielders across the last three seasons, in the corners.

And yet, despite having a Gold Glover in center field and two experienced center fielders in the corners, the Pirates' outfield has posted minus-eight outs above average and minus-seven runs prevented according to Statcast, both of which rank last in MLB. What the heck is going on?

The problems don't start with Taylor. To this point (which, mind you, has been just 16 games), Taylor is in the 91st percentile in outs above average and the 94th percentile in fielding run value, and his 97 percent success rate on balls hit to him is the sixth-best out of 111 qualified outfielders.

The rest of the outfield, to put it bluntly, has been abysmal:




Success %

Success % added

Bryan Reynolds





Jack Suwinski





Connor Joe





Edward Olivares





This is particularly puzzling because both Reynolds and Suwinski graded well as center fielders in the not-too-distant past. Reynolds finished in the 98th percentile in OAA in 2021 while playing 137 of his 159 games in center field. Likewise, 120 out of Suwinski's 144 appearances last season came in center field, and he was in the 80th percentile in OAA. This season, they are in the fourth and second percentiles, respectively.

Bucs outfielders have had an unfortunate tendency to misplay fairly routine balls. Whether it be miscommunication with other fielders, taking bad routes, or flat-out not catching the ball, there have already been eight instances of Pirates outfielders not catching balls that, according to Statcast, had at least a 70 percent chance of being caught:

Right field has been a revolving door, and perhaps even a black hole, at least defensively. Through 22 games, the position has been split almost evenly (eight starts for Olivares, seven apiece for Reynolds and Joe). The results have been disastrous. Out of 37 qualified right fielders, the three with the lowest success rate on balls hit to them are the three Pirates.

Joe gets a bit of a mulligan, as his success rate (73 percent) is only two points lower than his estimated success rate (75 percent), meaning that the plays he was expected to make were more difficult than those of other right fielders, and that he was slightly below average at converting those opportunities.

But Reynolds (who hadn't played right field since his rookie season in 2019) and Olivares (who has always received poor marks defensively) are a different story. Their success rates as right fielders (67 percent for Reynolds, 64 percent for Olivares) are the only rates below 70 percent by any qualified outfielders at any outfield position, and only two other outfielders (left fielders Jesse Winker and Dairon Blanco) have rates at least ten points worse than their estimated success rates.

Suwinski has played just one inning in right field in 2024 after combining for 66 games played there between 2022 and 2023. But the other two spots have given him enough trouble; he was given a 20-grade glove as a prospect by Fangraphs and he's looked a little bit like that this season. He has eight starts apiece in left field and center field and is a bottom-five defender by success rate added at each spot.

After being the Pirates' primary center fielder in 2023, he has gotten every rep at that position that hasn't gone to Michael A. Taylor in 2024. It certainly doesn't help that Taylor - who received a three-day rest after his scorching hot start due to his late signing and abbreviated spring - has a .339 OPS with 13 strikeouts in his last 27 plate appearances.

The Pirates' outfield defense hasn't been the team's most pressing issue, as the club's 9-2 start now seems like ages ago.

But this is something they specifically tried to avoid by bringing in a Gold Glove center fielder with an excellent resume. It's only been about three weeks, but the results have been near disastrous, and the Pirates need to turn it around.