Plugging The Leaks: Pirates Defense Now And In 2011

The Pirates' defense has dropped off quite a bit from several years ago, when we featured the primes of Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Nyjer Morgan. That was before they completely stopped hitting with other teams. Still, the current Bucs could reverse course on run prevention with a couple of additions and position changes.

All the defensive statistics are still on, but I'll take a more traditional look in this post. Metrics like UZR are still experimental, and there's not enough data for most of these young players anyway. They fit into three general categories based on my take: poor, below-average to decent, or solid.

Poor defenders:

Ryan Doumit, C: Passed balls and stolen bases have become much worse. Slow release to 2nd base without any accuracy most times. Makes a weak effort to block balls in the dirt sometimes.

Ryan Doumit, OF: Limited range, moves very tentatively on flyballs in his general direction. Average arm for an outfielder. He could improve a bit with more repetition, but he'll be 30 so I wouldn't count on it.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B: Limited range for third base. He's booted or whiffed on a lot of routine balls in play, hands have been below average. Excellent arm strength and good accuracy.

Garrett Jones, 1B: He's booted plenty of easy shots as well. Poor range, poor throwing arm. He's decent in scooping throws out of the dirt, which is nice.

Decent or probably below-average defenders:

Neil Walker, 2B: Slightly below-average range, but makes plays on at least some of the balls hit to him. Good arm for the position. Slow at turning double plays. He has some basic fielding issues and 2B-specific problems.

Chris Snyder, C: He's decent at blocking balls, and generally calls a good game. He can't control the running game, though, and he might even be worse than Doumit at framing pitches.

Lastings Milledge, OF: His defensive tools are league-average, but the mental errors are costly. UZR is around 0 this year, but the gaffes combined with the overall career defense numbers don't give me confidence that he's good.

Ronny Cedeno, SS: The physical tools are here, but like Milledge, he's prone to lapses. He started the first month or so as a Jack Wilson clone, and the quality of fielding has gone downhill from there. Lackluster career numbers.

Garrett Jones, OF: He plays adequately here, but the range isn't enough to go higher. His arm isn't much, either. He's the third-best outfielder on the roster, though. Looking ahead, he's almost 30, so the defense could drop.

Solid defenders:

Jose Tabata, OF: Pretty good. The arm plays very well, and he gets to enough balls in play with solid range for an OF. He has annoying moments like standing and watching catchable balls hit the wall, but overall is fine.

Andrew McCutchen, OF: He's a young rising superstar in CF...but the metrics don't agree. Hmmm. He's had a couple of misplays this year. He covers a tremendous amount of ground in center. Cutch is the only player with Gold-Glove upside on the team.


Overall, two positions are solid and one position is making a lot of money (catcher), so those are set. I'm not confident in Alvarez or Walker becoming good at their current slots, so I think it makes some sense, this offseason, to put them in more natural positions of first for Alvarez and third for Walker. Walker would be more comfortable at third, because of his experience there. He also wouldn't have to turn double plays and his range is a better match. Alvarez would have fewer chances at first base.

Looking to improve at 2B and SS, I'd check if Iwamura is healthy and in good shape by next year and see if he'd be a cheap option. If he still stinks (which is likely given age and weight) I'd maybe check in on a Mark Ellis or Orlando Hudson. Kelly Johnson and Chris Getz are trade options if the prices aren't outrageous.

Dumping Cedeno isn't mandatory, but it might be good if you look for a shortstop like Jerry Hairston, maybe Nick Punto or J.J. Hardy on the Twins if there's a logjam, Jason Bartlett (potential payroll dump by Rays), maybe a Cristian Guzman or Jed Lowrie.

After the infield is fixed, right field is still a mess. I don't know. Ryan Doumit is probably the best hitter for that on the roster, but his defense is bad. Signing Brad Hawpe or Mike Cuddyer would be the same as playing Doumit twice. The best fits like David DeJesus and Coco Crisp have cheap options that will be picked up by Kansas City and Oakland, and they won't let go of nice players for free. I think the plan will be to primarily use Doumit in the outfield with sprinkles of Jones/Milledge/Bowker/whoever.

2011 example:

C: Chris Snyder

1B: Pedro Alvarez

2B: Orlando Hudson

3B: Neil Walker

SS: Jason Bartlett

LF: Jose Tabata

CF: Andrew McCutchen

RF: Ryan Doumit or someone else if we're lucky

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