The Pirates have been very fortunate in center field for well over a decade now. They saw Nate McLouth break out in 2008, replaced him with MVP Andrew McCutchen, and eventually replaced McCutchen with Starling Marte. The run of All-Star center fielders came to an end this year, as Marte was traded prior to the season, replaced with a group of veterans, transplanted infielders, and eventually the best outfielder on the team.
The original plan in 2020 was to go with Jarrod Dyson, with Guillermo Heredia as a backup. Neither player stood out, and the Pirates were left finding alternative options by the end of the season. They ultimately settled on shifting Bryan Reynolds from left to center field, which will be an interesting move to watch for this offseason and the 2021 roster.
Here is a breakdown of all of the players who played center field for the Pirates in 2020. Tomorrow I’ll look at the position’s outlook for 2021 and beyond.
2020 Stats: 208 PA, .189/.275/.357, 7 HR, 10.1 BB%, 27.4 K%, .168 ISO, .278 wOBA, 72 wRC+, 10.9 UZR/150
Reynolds had the offensive numbers in 2019 to generate some rookie of the year discussion. Those numbers didn’t return in 2020, but the silver lining was his shift over to center field, and the solid defensive results that came with the move. Defensive stats don’t work best when used in small samples. Reynolds has a small sample this year with good results, and a slightly bigger sample from last year with more average results.
The Pirates need the bat from Reynolds above all. A big concern here is the rise in strikeout numbers, which went up further later in the season when Reynolds started to see the bat come alive. Reynolds benefitted from a high BABIP in 2019, and saw the opposite extreme in 2020. I could see him ending up in the .750-.800 OPS range when everything evens out. That wouldn’t be bad when paired with good defense in center field.
2020 Stats: 29 PA, .214/.241/.500, 2 HR, 3.4 BB%, 27.6 K%, .286 ISO, .306 wOBA, 91 wRC+, -61.9 UZR/150
Alford spent a brief time with the Pirates after a waiver claim late in the season. He did well, hitting a triple and a home run in 13 plate appearances, before going down with a fractured right elbow that required surgery. He should be ready for full participation in Spring Training and is projected to remain on the roster due to the lack of outfield depth, especially in center field. Alford’s defense has traditionally played better at the corners, although he’ll need the bat to justify any starting role.
2020 Stats: 116 PA, .220/.252/.275, 1 HR, 4.3 BB%, 26.7 K%, .055 ISO, .233 wOBA, 43 wRC+, -15.0 UZR/150
Tucker spent almost half of his time in the outfield this year, and the defensive results weren’t good. That’s to be expected from a shortstop who hasn’t played the outfield before. He did well on defense at shortstop, with a 4.6 UZR/150. His offense wasn’t good enough to start at either position, with low power, a low walk rate, and poor contact skills.
Tucker doesn’t really belong in the outfield conversation. He’s better used as a shortstop, where he’d be the best option on the team if his offense finally clicked. The only way he makes sense as an outfielder is either as a super utility player off the bench, or if the Pirates have a capable starter at shortstop in either Kevin Newman or Erik Gonzalez. Tucker would need to boost his offense for either role, and needs to get better acclimated to the outfield if that’s in the long-term plans.
2020 Stats: 11 PA, .000/.182/.000, 0 HR, 18.2 BB%, 36.4 K%, .000 ISO, .127 wOBA, -27 wRC+, -13.0 UZR/150
Martin didn’t get much playing time this year after getting a brief look off the bench last year. He will probably remain in that extra outfield role out of Triple-A going forward.
2020 Stats: 66 PA, .180/.231/.180, 0 HR, 6.1 BB%, 16.7 K%, .000 ISO, .192 wOBA, 17 wRC+, -4.2 UZR/150
Dyson was added as a free agent and traded at the deadline for international bonus pool space. He was signed mostly for his defense in center field, with very little expected from his offense. The Pirates didn’t get much defense, and somehow got less than expected on offense. I’ll continue the Dyson recap with Heredia…
2020 Stats: 36 PA, .212/.278/.394, 2 HR, 8.3 BB%, 25.0 K%, .182 ISO, .291 wOBA, 83 wRC+, 13.1 UZR/150
Heredia was signed as a free agent with similar expectations to Dyson, only serving off the bench. He did well defensively, and better than Dyson offensively. He was waived in August to make room for Carson Fulmer, and was claimed by the Mets.
These two cases give some insight as to what the Pirates were looking for from center field heading into this year: speed and defense.