November 30, 2010

The 2011 Right Field Job

Unlike the other offensive positions I highlighted as areas for improvement - catcher and shortstop - the Pirates actually got decent production out of their right fielders in 2010. As in below average, but not laughable. Pirates right fielders combined to hit .262/.330/.428 with 20 home runs, 78 RBI, and 70 runs scored. This is not too far off from the average MLB team which got production of .270/.342/.442, 84 runs, 21 home runs, and 85 RBI.

Unfortunataely, those statistics are misleadingly high and won't be repeated if some combination of the same guys return in 2011. Garrett Jones and Lastings Milledge each compiled an OPS over 100 points higher while playing right field than overall, a trend that won't continue. Another good sign that the Pirates don't have a starting right fielder: they used six different men for at least 15 starts at the position. Jones (46 starts) and Milledge (41) led the way; also getting significant playing time were Ryan Church (23), Delwyn Young (16), Ryan Doumit (17), and John Bowker (15). Baseball Reference reckons that all but Bowker played below average defense, which seems right to my eye.Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata will likely combine for around 25 home runs next year in left field and center field, which is fine, but it also means the Pirates need a power bat in right field.


Garrett Jones (.247/.306/.414) will be back in 2011. I think he can be an asset to the team as a backup at first base, left field, right field, and de facto at center field since he could play left with Tabata moving over. It's a long and injury-filled season and a guy in that role usually comes to bat 250 to 350 times, which is fine for Jones. But as a below average hitter and fielder for every position he plays, he just shouldn't be a 654 plate appearance core starter as he was in 2010. He's the type of component player that most playoff teams have - on their bench.

Lastings Milledge (.277/.332/.380) is one of the most maddening players I have ever seen. He is an above average contact hitter but he has mediocre on base skills because he can't or won't work the count. He has excellent speed - I doubt McCutchen would beat him by much in a 100 yard dash if at all - but is an awful baserunner because he constantly gets thrown out on ill-advised attempts to advance to third base. He consistently takes the wrong routes to balls in the outfield, resulting in poor range even though he must be one of the fastest corner outfielders in the league. And he has decent arm strength but a slow release, giving him a below average arm. Lastings Milledge is like preparing a meal of USDA Prime Porterhouse, Potatoes Au Gratin, and Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce, and pairing it with a 60 dollar bottle of Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, and he is like that meal because that meal should not be a starting outfielder in 2011.

John Bowker (.232/.312/.391) is a great AAA hitter but in 590 MLB plate appearances has never done anything to suggest he should be anything more than a fifth outfielder in the major leagues. With Tabata's ability to play center field, the Pirates can get by with two reserve outfielders who can only play left and right; furthermore, he won't get an arbitration raise like Milledge and he at least looks on the field like a guy who has played baseball before. I would go with Jones as a fourth outfielder/first base backup and Bowker as the fifth outfielder, with Milledge traded or non-tendered.

Ryan Doumit (.251/.331/.406) never is, never was, never will be, and never again should be a right fielder.


You always knew Ryan Church (.182/.240/.312) would be fine when he was off the Pirates, and you couldn't wait for that day. Sure enough, he hit .265/.345/.490 in Arizona. By the way, I'm done with signing free agents for the Pirates' bench. Use your free agent money for starting players.

Delwyn Young (.236/.286/.414) elected free agency after being removed from the 40-man roster. Young was the Pirates' best pinch hitter for two years, but he also is a mediocre hitter with no secondary skills. He'll catch on somewhere as a 25th man.


There are not many right fielders available via free agency. Jayson Werth isn't signing with Pittsburgh. Lance Berkman is being marketed as a first baseman/corner outfielder but there is a reason he hasn't played the outfield since 2007. However, there are several guys who would be viable starting outfielders and will sign reasonable deals:

Magglio Ordonez will be 37 and should be a DH. That being said, an outfield of Tabata-McCutchen-anybody is still pretty good defensively. As usual, there are too many DH-types available, which will force some of them to take a deal with a National League club. Ordonez would immediately become the Pirates' best on base guy and would also give the Pirates a true cleanup hitter. In 2009-10 he had the best couple of injury-plagued off years this side of Manny Ramirez as he hit .307/.377/.447. I know the Pirates prefer to sign a lefthanded power bat, but a bat is a bat. Age catches up with everyone, but I would be in favor of giving Magglio a one or two-year deal.

Yes, these recommendations may seem like a 2003 blog, but Andruw Jones hit .230/.341/.486 in 2010 with a home run every 14.6 at bats. The Pirates' best power threat, Pedro Alvarez, only hit one every 24 at bats. Jones would also slot immediately into the cleanup spot. He seems like he's been around forever but is only 33 and still plays good defense. The Pirates could do a lot worse, as in, using any right fielder currently on the roster.

Left fielders Pat Burrell (.252/.348/.469), Johnny Damon (.271/.355/.401), Hideki Matsui (.274/.361/.459), and, yes, Manny Ramirez (.298/.409/.460) are all still pretty good hitters and all will sign reasonable contracts - even Ramirez. They're all varying degrees of awful in the field, but the NL's worst offense certainly needs the upgrade. Jose Tabata could slide over to right to accommodate any of them.

It's not ideal to change Tabata's position right now, but for a team that last year (a) tried to use a career minor league catcher as an everyday first baseman, (b) repeatedly used a slow catcher with bad knees as a right fielder, (c) converted a catcher-turned-third baseman into a starting second baseman during his rookie season, (d) started both a poor-hitting backup shortstop and a poor-hitting backup third baseman at first base, and (e) gave away authentic MLB jerseys to Hayden Penn and Dana Eveland, it's not a stretch.

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