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Pirates outfield shift could lead to big improvements
In a very interesting move, the Pirates announced the following outfield shift for the 2017 season:
After a detailed evaluation, various considerations and many conversations, we have discussed with each of our outfielders the defensive alignment that we will employ. That alignment will be Gregory in left field, Starling in center and Andrew in right. We believe this alignment will maximize our outfield production.
Our men were very professional and respectful of the team and each other throughout the process, and are selfless in helping us strengthen our team defensively.
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His replacement, Starling Marte, has been one of the best defensive left fielders in all of baseball over the past two years. He has been worth 24 and 19 defensive runs saved. For reference sake, +15 is elite, +10 is very good, -10 is very bad and -15 is awful. This definitely feels like the smart move from a purely baseball standpoint. It’s when egos get involved that things become muddled. Still, if we’re to believe the statement above then everyone is on board with this and there will be no drama.
The third man in this equation is Gregory Polanco who has been an above average fielder in right, but now moves to left that has a lot more ground to cover.
We can’t say how this will affect any of these players. Maybe McCutchen is just a bad fielder now and he’ll be just as bad as he was in center. Maybe Marte is a good left fielder, but a horrible center fielder. Maybe Polanco isn’t that good and left field will expose him. We don’t know. We do have to assume that the Pirates know what they’re doing though and that they think this will improve the team. So, let’s try and figure out just how much that it will.
Let’s take a quick look at a table. Below you’ll find the 2016 defensive numbers of the three Pirates outfielders. The first three percentage numbers are the percent of balls hit that are caught. IE 90-100% of fielders catch these balls, this is what percent this player caught. Then you have Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and DEF which includes a positional adjustment.
Based on this, it’s easy to see why McCutchen is out and Marte is in. McCutchen really struggled on the 60%-90% plays and Marte shone. Since we know that left field is more spacious than right at PNC Park then we should feel that his transition shouldn’t be as much of a shock. The 40-60% and 60-90% numbers on Polanco are encouraging as well for a smooth transition. Assuming McCutchen improves, which seems like a definite, this outfield shift could change the entire franchise’s fortunes in 2017.
The absolute best case scenario would be that Marte does the exact same thing he did last year only now he is playing center, Polanco sees no drop off and McCutchen ends up somewhere between 0 and -5. That would be over 40 defensive runs saved. If we assume that 10 runs = win, that’s four wins. Their current projection has them at 82 wins (assuming McCutchen in center), this would put them at 86 which would put them in the thick of the Wild Card.
Even a more pessimistic view would have this at something like a two win improvement. Heck, even putting Marte as exactly average would improve this team greatly. Throw in a better 2017 with the bat for McCutchen, a healthier Gerrit Cole and a full season of Jameson Taillon and the Pirates might surprise some people this season. This is definitely a team to watch in 2017 as they have the potential to be very dangerous once again.
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