Look everyone, you don’t need to be Peter Gammons to understand what the Pirates have and don’t have. You needn’t be a season ticket holder for the past 30 years to know what’s missing or at least lacking. Those things are still going to be here and until such a time as the team is populated with even more talent they’ll remain.
Now, that doesn’t mean this team can’t improve on some things they can control. They can run the bases well. They can flash the leather. The hitters can take a more consistent approach at the plate.
The fundamentals of baseball don’t change no matter what team you play for, no matter how good or bad the overall team is.
The Pirates could be a weird kind of outlier this year. How often do you watch a bad baseball team that plays good defense? That’s exactly what I think we’re in for in 2021, and it’s at the very least an oddity.
In fact I have to think all the way back to the early part of last decade when the Pirates had a really good infield defense and a young Andrew McCutchen patrolling Center.
Look at how this club is built right now.
Catcher Jacob Stallings is a gold glove candidate, in fact he’s often referred to as one of the very best defensive catchers in the league. Tony Wolters his presumed backup and his competition Perez are both extremely capable too.
Third base has this kid you might not have heard about Ke’Bryan Hayes. His range will not only lock down third base, but also cut down on the amount of territory the short stop needs to cover. When he needs a rest, the veteran and extremely capable Todd Frazier will patrol the hot corner. Might be good on those rest days to work in Gonzalez at short.
Short stop itself will either be Kevin Newman, who’ll get the balls he should. Honestly, he’ll probably get this position because of his bat, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play the field. Range and arm strength are where he comes up a bit short at the position, but again, Hayes will minimize that a bit with his own strengths. Erik Gonzalez is legitimately a terrific fielder and when he spells Newman, it just gets that much better. Still holding out hope for Tucker, ok, defensively he too is a wiz.
Second base for right now is Adam Frazier. 2 time gold glove finalist Adam Frazier. When and if he isn’t here anymore, Newman slides over and presumably performs at least comparably to how he did at short. Gonzalez can also hold down this spot capably if not being overkill for the demands.
First base will be better because Moran is better than any we’ve had here since Justin Morneau. OK, maybe Osuna, but I figured I’d reference a guy who actually played. As with third, the very capable Todd Frazier will step right in.
That’s a whole lot of defensive talent right around the mound, and that’s a good thing.
How about the outfield?
Well, Reynolds showed last season even while struggling mightily at the dish, he can go get it in the outfield, patrolling the vast left field of PNC capably. What shocked most of us was the arm. Literally not one scouting report had him listed as a plus arm on his way up, and maybe that’s still true, but results matter too, He racked up assists last year and rightly scared opponents into sticking with singles or staying put at third.
Center looks to be a combination effort, but Anthony Alford plays the position with no fear. At some point that will lead to a misjudgment that looks messy but it’ll also lead to some gap balls being brought in. His speed and for that matter Goodwin and Fowler’s speed will cut the acres deep gaps in PNC down and ultimately make Polanco look better out in right.
And yes, we must also discuss Polanco. I know that gif is cute and I still laugh whenever I see it, but that stumbling giraffe as a friend of mine calls him isn’t the norm. He gets to most balls hit his way. The arm isn’t going to scare anyone from stretching a single and in the past his range has been a real issue. The extra speed in center should help a bit.
Hey, 7 or 8 for 9 isn’t a bad thing in baseball.
This team should be pretty good in the field. Meaning if the pitchers keep the ball in the ballpark, more contact should become an out.
It’s just spring but that’s what we’ve seen so far. No cheap doubles. Double plays that might not have come together now are. Fly balls get caught when hang time is involved. It’s been a pleasant surprise, and if nothing else makes them look professional. There were quite a few moments last year where that wasn’t an easy thing to say you observed.
It also feels disingenuous as hell to acknowledge how much better they look defensively without mentioning none of the players I just mentioned are new here and it’s pretty rare to put a subpar unit back together and expect different results, but coaching matters and perhaps some of that was lacking in 2020, after all they too were rookies.
Maybe the best way to put it is, this, they have what on paper and early results say should be a strong defense. If that holds up, they’ll at least look more like a baseball team that isn’t in neutral.