Supposedly, one of Neal Huntington's offseason priorities was to improve the infield defense. He really didn't do much toward that end, but he did claim that the Lyle Overbay signing addressed the issue. Obviously, there were a bunch of other things he could have done that would almost certainly have had a bigger impact, and many of us were skeptical that a first baseman could be a difference-maker defensively.
I share that view, more or less, but I'm intrigued by what I saw in Bradenton today. During the early innings of the Bucs' Spring Training game against the Rays, when the four starters were on the infield together, the Pirates employed fairly radical positioning. Against righties and with first base unoccupied, Neil Walker was shaded significantly toward the middle, and Overbay was positioned very far off of first (35-40 feet, I'd guess), a couple steps behind the basepath. Against lefties, the positioning was more normal, with Overbay about 15 feet from the first base line and three steps in from the outfield grass. And of course, with a runner on first, Overbay was holding him on while Walker was at double-play depth.
I don't know if this is how they'll be positioning the infield when the season starts. Either this is the plan or they're using the shift in the early part of Spring Training to determine just how much ground Overbay can cover on the right side, but either way it seems clear that the club wants Overbay to be responsible for much more ground than the typical first baseman. This allows Walker to cheat toward his right, which in theory should minimize the impact of his poor range to that side. The available defensive metrics are split on whether or not Overbay can handle this. UZR and +/- are the only D stats I know of that isolate range as a component of defense, and UZR thinks Overbay's range is slightly below average while +/- thinks it's exceptional. Unfortunately, Overbay didn't get any chances to show off his range in this game.
We'll see how this plays out, but I thought it was interesting.