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Pirates Prospects Daily: Despite Investment, Defense Still Having Its Struggles

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The Pittsburgh Pirates invested heavily in improve their defense from a year ago, acquiring one of the best defensive catchers in the game in Austin Hedges.

Ji-Man Choi and Carlos Santana were brought in to split first base, both of which having a history posting strong metrics at the position.

They also banked that the strong small sample size Jack Suwinski had in center field was legit, having him make the shift over for the most part full-time this season.

So it appeared that they were hoping to master the basics and not beat themselves this season, which hasn’t been the case slightly more than quarter into the season.

Pittsburgh has been rated towards the bottom in most defensive metrics this year, including defensive runs saved (DRS) on Fangraphs (20th), 18th in Outs Above Average (OAA) and dead last in DEF (Fangraphs). 

DEF uses fielding runs and positional adjustment metrics to find a value a player has based on the position they play.

As expected, Hedges is one of the best in the league, owning a 5.7 mark, fifth among catchers. Jason Delay, also known for his defense, is ranked 15th.

Suwinski has been a collective 1.1 in center field, good for 19th at the position, but when compared to the rest of the team, it’s one of the better marks.

Rodolfo Castro graded out as the worst shortstop in baseball, and you had to go all the way down to 88 to find the first Pirates second baseman (Ji-Hwan Bae). Looking at his overall performance, Bae is actually a negative player at three different positions (2B, SS, CF).

The Pirates decided to try to sell out some hitting in exchange for better defense, hoping that in the long run, more runs would be saved by adding help behind the pitching staff.

The Oneil Cruz injury obviously put people out of position, or exposed them certain places more than what was planned. Even so, there are positions all over the place bringing everything down.

If the Pirates were one of the better hitting teams in the league, it’s easier to overlook a lot of the defensive issues. They aren’t.

Factor in that the pitching staff is in the bottom half in strikeouts, meaning they put the ball in play more often, it’s no wonder the current crash has been so hard after their hot start.

Prospect Notes

Jared Jones pitched four innings on Sunday, striking out six while not walking a batter in the process.

He allowed a lead-off single in the first, which was followed up with a two-run home run by Coby Mayo. That’s not an ideal start, but he bounced right back by blowing a fastball by Heston Kjerstad

Since walking four batters in his second start, he has just one over his last four outings (15.1 innings). Control was one of his biggest concerns throughout his career. If he’s starting to harness everything and throw more strikes, he’s a very scary pitcher to face.

Quinn Priester threw five shutout innings on Sunday, and it was almost a complete 180 over how his game on Tuesday went. After going breaking ball heavy the first time around this week, his fastball and sinker were his two most used pitches.

So, that makes sense he only got two strikeouts, as those two pitches don’t create a lot of swing and miss. Part of the reason I like Priester so much as a pitcher is his ability to get through a start in so many ways.

He has five different pitches, and is using them multiple ways to get hitters out. Priester is Rule 5 eligible this season, so there’s no rush to get him up in Pittsburgh this year. If he keeps pitching like this, along with the dent in the depth through injuries, we will see how things play out.

Daily Video Rundown

Here’s a look at Owen Kellington‘s start from two weeks ago against Lakeland. His curveball is fantastic, maybe one of the best in the system, but he has some other interesting pitches as well.

Mason Martin has a batting average under .200 right now, but he has an OPS of over .900. The power is part of the reason his OPS is so high.

Anthony Murphy
Anthony Murphy
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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