Pittsburgh Pirates | Outfielders Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte among majors' best run-saving duo

Defensive duo McCutchen, Marte among majors' top run-savers

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 15, 2014 

BRADENTON -- During his days as an outfielder, Clint Hurdle learned all about the benefits of playing alongside speed.

He was playing right field with the Kansas City Royals. To his right was a pair of burners: center fielder Amos Otis and left fielder Willie Wilson.

The speedy duo made life easier for Hurdle, who stole one base in 515 big-league games.

"With the room they could cover, we could shift our defense where I could work from the gap to the line and really not have to go any further than the gap," said Hurdle, now the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. "Those two guys could freestyle and go crazy over there, so it actually made us stronger in some areas when balls were down the line."

Knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses is a key ingredient in the making of a successful outfield. Speed, strong arms an uncanny ability to track the ball off the bat -- all of it is essential for the three guys who man those expansive patches of grass.

Communication is key, too, said Hurdle, who

appeared in 329 games as an outfielder during his 10-year career.

"You get to know what each guy can do, you get to know what chance he will probably take," Hurdle said. "There's reads out there in the outfield where you know when a ball's hit, he's going to lay out for it ... so you know you've got cover his backside. The communication you acquire, the verbiage you could use. It could become one or two words. If a guy says, 'Wall,' you know to stop. If a guy says, 'You got room,' you go.

"That just comes with playing together and going through those experiences so when those directives are given, they match up and they play right."

Hurdle and the rest of Pittsburgh saw an outfield play right last year, thanks mostly to left fielder Starling Marte and center fielder Andrew McCutchen, both of whom were Gold Glove finalists.

Fielding is measured by a number of different statistics, including defensive runs saved, which calculates how many runs or bases a fielder saved or cost his team. A score of zero is average. Marte graded out at 20 -- meaning he saved his team 20 runs over the course of 162 games -- tops among National League left fielders and better than Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez, who graded out at 10 but won the Gold Golve.

(According to FanGraphs, a fielder with a DRS of 15 or higher is considered a Gold Glove-caliber defender).

The Pirates' outfield as a whole saved 68 runs last year, third-best in baseball behind Kansas City and Arizona.

Yet McCutchen echoed Hurdle about what's really important out there.

You have to be "coachable, it's the biggest thing," he said. "And not competing is another thing. You want to be the best at what you do. That's a man, that's the way I look at it. ... But I feel like if you can be coachable and learn to listen and be able to hear someone when they have something to say, I believe that kind of helps you. Because you can have all the tools in the world, but if you're ignorant, it's not going to get you anywhere."

It's an outfield that should only get better when Gregory Polanco hits Pittsburgh some time this summer. Widely considered the Pirates' top prospect, Polanco was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday but is expected to join Marte and McCutchen this season.

Polanco, 22, is considered a plus defender who, like Marte and McCutchen, has plenty of speed.

"That'd be awesome. They're talented, young and exciting," McCutchen said. "We all have the type of game that can spark a team, that can do a lot, that can add a lot to the game."

Especially when they communicate.

"It's just a trust factor and knowing the package the other guys can bring, as far as range, throwing ability," Hurdle said. "Every once in a while, you've got to back down from a play, too, because you know he's going to try and make a play. ... I think that's an area where Andrew's really growing, with communicating with the outfielders to his left and to his right."

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