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John Dewan's Stat of the Week - Jacob Stallings

The Pirates' Rebuild Starts on Defense

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By MARK SIMON

The Pirates are in clear rebuilding mode under general manager Ben Cherington, who spent this offseason trading away veterans like Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove and Josh Bell. That was done to replenish the team’s farm system.

Though the Pirates may be projected to finish a distant last in the NL Central, what remains could be one of the best defensive teams in baseball. Pittsburgh returns its top defensive talent from a team that tied for fourth in Defensive Runs Saved last season.

The player with the highest ceiling is the team’s top prospect, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who hit .376 with five home runs in 85 at-bats in a 24-game stint last season. Hayes also saved four runs at third base and looked every bit the player whom Fangraphs prospect writer Eric Longenhagen called the best defensive prospect in the minor leagues when both were on The Sports Info Solutions Baseball Podcast.

On the other side of the infield, second baseman Adam Frazier has saved 17 runs the last three seasons, which ranks sixth in that span. His six runs saved in 2020 tied for third at the position.

In the outfield, leftfielder Bryan Reynolds has saved seven runs in 116 games in the last two seasons. This was driven by eliminating mistakes from his game. He had 16 Defensive Misplays & Errors in a little more than 600 innings there in 2019. He cut that to four in about half as many innings last season.

Behind the plate, Jacob Stallings has graded out as one of the best catchers in baseball the last two seasons. He ranks second at the position in Defensive Runs Saved in that time behind only Roberto Pérez. They are the only two catchers to have totaled at least five runs saved from both pitch framing (Strike Zone Runs Saved) and Good Fielding Plays (largely consisting of potential wild pitch blocks) since 2019.

The Pirates are not quite the Cardinals, whom we wrote about last week. Their weaknesses are more pronounced, particularly at shortstop where Kevin Newman has cost the team 14 runs in the equivalent of about one full season of playing time spread out from 2018 to 2020.

But Pittsburgh has the chance to be annoying because it can frustrate the opposition with its penchant for converting batted balls into outs at several spots and its primary catcher's skill for creating extra strikes and limiting basestealing. In a season that doesn’t figure to be too positive, stealing games with their defensive play may be what the Pirates do best in 2021.



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