What was once called the “dream outfield” is now nothing more than a question mark. The Pittsburgh Pirates outfield as a unit did not live up to standards in 2017. What do they need most in 2018 to regain prominence?
Of the Pirates’ three starting outfielders, Andrew McCutchen easily had the best season. He hit .279/.363/.486 with 28 home runs. He was worth 3.7 wins bouncing back from a 0.6 win season in 2016. McCutchen may not be with the Pirates in 2018 as trade rumors are swirling. For those reasons, this article will focus on primarily on Starling Marte and Gregory Polanoco.
Marte was suspended 80 games due to PEDS in 2017. He never really got going upon return. In 77 games, Marte hit .275/.333/.379 with seven home runs. He fWAR was 1.2. Even if that total were doubled to account for the missed time, he still wouldn’t have reached the mark of 3.9 in 2016.
Polanco seemed like a breakout candidate heading into the 2017 season. Multiple injuries prevented that. In 108 games, Polanco hit .251/.305/.391 with 11 home runs. His fWAR was 0.5 after having a fWAR of at least two in the previous two seasons. Polanco was almost as bad as John Jaso in 2017. Many are considering him a bust.
What do these two players need the most in 2018?
This is an obvious one. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ outfield needs consistency both in their play and ability to get on the field. Polanco’s 108 games played was the least amount of games played since his rookie year, a year in which he was called up mid season. Going in the 2017 season, Polanco looked bulky. Maybe a little too bulky. Extra muscle and overall mass takes away from flexibility. That may have played a part in the injury issues. This offseason, it looks as though Polanco has cut the extra mass. He still looks as strong as ever, but leaner.
Could this lead to better health in 2018? Obviously that question won’t be answered until the games are played but it’s certainly an encouraging sign. Polanco had hot streaks last season but was always derailed by injuries. Staying on the field will be the key to his 2018.
Marte falls in the same camp as Polanco. 2017 was a lost season for both players. If Marte can avoid PEDs, he will be fine. Can he be the same player he was before the suspension? Last season after his return, the answer was no. That said, what kind of production can realistically be expected after missing half that season? Going into 2018, Marte will have had a season of Winter ball and Spring Training under his belt. The question of whether he can be the same player will be answered in 2018.
Last season, Polanco slugged .391 after slugging .463 in 2016. His home runs cut in half from 22 to 11. His hard contact rate dropped from 35.7 to 25.9 percent. He hit more ground balls. Polanco will need to turn things around and be a middle of the order threat for the Pirates in 2018.
It looks as though McCutchen will be traded soon. If that is the case, Polanco will most likely slot anywhere from two to four in the batting order going into 2018. His numbers last year reflected that of a mediocre fourth outfielder. The Pirates desperately need more.
Once again, Marte fell in the same boat as Polanco. Last year, he slugged .379. He had never slugged less than .437 in his career until then. His hard contact rate of 26.2 percent was the lowest of his career and down 8.5 percent from 2016. He too will be relied upon for a major uptick in production in 2018.
If the likes of McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, and Josh Harrison are traded this offseason, it will be difficult for the Pittsburgh Pirates to contend in 2018. A rebuild will be in session. Polanco and Marte hold the key to success for the Pirates in 2018. If they play to their potential and have major bounce back seasons, the Pirates can at least compete, even if the above three are traded. If they repeat the awful play of the 2017 season, the Pirates have no chance whatsoever to do much of anything.
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