By Jason Shetler
The 2015 Pirates had a statistically bad year from the defensive side. They certainly had their fair share of miscues, as they committed 122 errors, which was second most in all of baseball. Only the Oakland A’s had more with 126. Here are some of the defensive problems that the Pirates had from this past season.
Even though Pedro Alvarez put up a good year at the plate in 2015, the defense at first base was an absolute nightmare for him, committing by far the most errors of any first baseman in the Majors with 23, and having a -14 in Defensive Runs Saved. Neil Walker’s defense at second base continued to show a decline, as he posted a 0.1 dWAR along with a -8.8 UZR/150. Josh Harrison underperformed at third base with a .952 fielding percentage, which was 3% below league average, and had a DRS of zero. Behind the plate, Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart had caught stealing percentages under the league average (Cervelli 22%; Stewart 24%). Andrew McCutchen posted negative defensive metrics, which included a dWAR of -0.6. Most of that was really just contributed by mental lapses in the field. While all those figures didn’t look good this year, here is why I could see the Pirates being better defensively in 2016.
Left field will be patrolled by the reigning NL Gold Glove winner for left fielders Starling Marte. His DRS of 24 were far and away the most of any left fielder in baseball while he recorded 15 outfield assists. Gregory Polanco had his struggles in the field during the first half of this year, but seemed much more comfortable in the second half. Polanco’s cannon arm was on display, as he put up 13 outfield assists. Jung Ho-Kang played an excellent third base defensively, and probably would have been a Gold Glove candidate had he played a full season. Jordy Mercer remained an above average defender at short, posting a UZR/150 of 2.0. Harrison will now be the Pirates second baseman. He should be an upgrade over Walker defensively based on his 1.3 UZR/150 at second base this past season. Whether Michael Morse, Jason Rogers or another first baseman gets the most playing time there, none of them will have the horrendous gaffes that Alvarez experienced. Bringing back Sean Rodriguez gives them that reliable, versatile utility defender. A.J. Burnett pitched great for the Pirates in 2015. However, his biggest problem was being unable to hold runners with his very slow move to the plate. Charlie Morton was also known for not having a particularly quick move. This played a significant role as to why Cervelli and Stewart didn’t throw out more baserunners. Now with the addition of Jon Niese who’s a left-hander, it should help out the tandem in regards to posting better caught stealing rates. The Pirates were able to win 98 games this past season, despite not playing very good defensively. With some of the subtractions to the offense, they’re going to have to rely much more on run prevention. Given the combination of the way they shift aggressively, as well as having upgrades at certain positions now, the Pirates could still be a 90-win club in 2016 with better overall defense.