First Pitch: Defense Wins Championships, But You Also Need to Score

Adam Frazier and Jacob Stallings were both announced as Gold Glove finalists yesterday.

Stallings has long looked like he would make the majors on his defense alone for a long time, and now looks like he could hit enough to stick around in the majors.

Frazier was originally stronger offensively and weak defensively, making him a super utility player. He has since become very strong on defense at second base, while seeing inconsistent hitting results.

I think Ke’Bryan Hayes will be joining them on that Gold Glove list at least as a third base finalist, possibly by next year.

One of the things that stood out to me when breaking down what the Rays do well is how advanced they are defensively. They aren’t the best offense, and don’t have the best pitching staff, but they’re above average and in the top ten of the league in each category. Their defense ranks number one in several categories.

It wasn’t long ago that the Pirates were winning on the back of a strong defensive game. They were incorporating new defensive shifts, while employing guys who had strong defense over offense. Clint Barmes might be the epitome of this approach, with his defense at shortstop driving his value, and anything from the bat coming as a bonus.

For as bad as the Pirates looked this year, they have the makings of a strong defense. Erik Gonzalez could slot between Frazier and Hayes to strengthen the infield. If they could upgrade the infield, perhaps with someone like Will Craig while Josh Bell moves to DH, they could have an all-around strong defense.

The outfield approach in 2020 was almost geared toward this. The biggest signing for the Pirates was Jarrod Dyson, and they brought in Guillermo Heredia to take a lot of innings in the field. They now have Anthony Alford and Bryan Reynolds, two former center fielders who profile better in the corners. They are a strong defensive center fielder away from having a good trio in the outfield, with Reynolds in left and Alford in right.

If you’re looking for a silver lining to the 2020 season, I think this is the biggest one. The defense on this team can help the pitching, and can move the Pirates from last place to middle of the pack in a hurry.

The problem is that defense comes from the same people who are expected to produce the offense.

Frazier is inconsistent on offense. Stallings is best used for bonus production from the bottom of the order. Same for Erik Gonzalez.

We don’t know if Will Craig can hit in the majors, much less hit enough to warrant starting at first base. Jose Osuna would be the best alternative, and Mason Martin is a long-term option, with the goal being to upgrade on Josh Bell’s defense while at least providing the offense he’s shown in previous years.

Reynolds had a good 2019 and struggled in 2020. Alford is a waiver claim who has yet to become established in the majors.

The Pirates are one or two guys away from a strong defensive team. But they don’t have anyone who can lead the offense right now. Ke’Bryan Hayes is the best bet, based on his rookie campaign, but that’s asking a lot of a rookie.

The challenge the Pirates will have is going to be upgrading over guys like Frazier. A guy like Frazier will constantly show you why he can and should be a starter in the majors. His defense is strong, and his offense is inconsistent, but redeeming when it’s on.

You can field a contending team with a guy like Frazier. You just can’t field a contending team with too many guys like Frazier.

The Pirates have too many guys like Frazier right now. They’ve got too many people who stand out as complementary players. They have too many people who have yet to get established. And they’ve got too few star or impact players to lead the way while the Frazier’s of the team provide support.

The defense is a strength on this team, and a good start toward building the next contender.

The challenge is going to be maintaining that defense while finding some much needed offense.

The 2020 Prospect Guide returns to print for our tenth  we are releasing three variant covers, featuring Mitch Keller and Ke’Bryan Hayes. Visit our shop page to order these extremely limited items!

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