As Pirate fans, our focus is currently on the future. The team is likely two seasons away from any clear improvement, and a potential championship club is years away. With that in mind, I wanted to take a futuristic look at an important aspect of the team that often receives little attention: the defense. Let’s start with the outfield.
The Pirates’ defense was near the bottom of the league in 2008, as it has been for the last several years. When the team dealt Jason Bay and Xavier Nady at the trade deadline, they also unloaded two pretty poor fielders. Nate McLouth won a Gold Glove, but virtually every advanced defensive statistic had him well below average among center fielders. I think McLouth was shortchanged a bit by those metrics, but Gold Glove caliber defense is a stretch. He’s probably about average, maybe slightly below. Long story short, the Pirates boasted a pretty lousy defensive outfield in the first half of 2008.
The 2009 outfield will likely consist of Nyjer Morgan in left, McLouth in center, and Brandon Moss in right. Moss is similar in ability to Nady. With younger legs and sturdier hamstrings, he is probably a tad better. With limited space to cover at PNC Park, we’ll say he is about an average fielder. Morgan, despite a weak arm and the occasional bizarre route, is a much better fielder than Bay. His tremendous speed allows him to cover a great deal of ground, which is necessary in the vast left field of PNC Park. That speed will also compensate for his lack of arm strength a bit, as he can get to balls much more quickly. Over the course of a season, replacing Bay with Nyjer is probably a two-win defensive improvement in itself.
The most exciting part is that the outfield should be greatly improved over the next two years. Andrew McCutchen will join the team sometime this season, and Jose Tabata will likely be arriving in 2010. McCutchen will push McLouth to left, and Tabata will switch from center to right when he arrives. That will give the Pirates three outfielders that originally came up as center fielders. That is quite a bit of range to work with.
Further down the road, there is some additional athleticism we can envision wandering around the outfield grass. Robbie Grossman and Wesley Freeman, two highly-touted high school outfielders from the most recent draft, are center fielders with good range. They may find a place in the Pirates’ outfield one day.
Overall, there is an encouraging outlook for the future outfield defense. Next up, the infield.