Back in November, we covered the possibility that the Pittsburgh Pirates would shift Gold Glove Award-winning left fielder Starling Marte to center, with incumbent center fielder Andrew McCutchen moving to a corner. Here's what we concluded:
Such a change would make sense, given Marte is the best outfield defender on the team. You can assess that using the eye test or with your choice of the much-maligned public defensive metrics, but it's true either way. Baseball-Reference's Defensive Runs Saved, for instance, has Marte as a 50-run defender over the last three seasons; McCutchen, conversely, checks in at negative-47 runs -- yes, negative.
The Pirates' internal metrics evidently featured a similar gap, because Marte confirmed on Saturday to MLB's official Dominican account that he will be sliding to his left:
On Sunday, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle confirmed the clubs is realigning their outfield for the 2017 season. Marte is moving to center and McCutchen is moving to right, witch Gregory Polanco taking over in left. Here's what Hurdle said in a statement:
"After a detailed evaluation, various considerations and many conversations, we have discussed with each of our outfielders the defensive alignment that we will employ. That alignment will be Gregory in left field, Starling in center and Andrew in right. We believe this alignment will maximize our outfield production. Our men were very professional and respectful of the team and each other throughout the process, and are selfless in helping us strengthen our team defensively."
Between Marte's revelation and camps opening in about a week's time, this is a prime opportunity to recap three other notable expected position changes. Let's do just that.
Technically, Christian Yelich's move from left field to center field has already taken place. The Miami Marlins slid Yelich over last September, with him playing center exclusively over his final 28 games. (Marcell Ozuna, meanwhile, saw action in both corners.) The idea for the change evidently came from the Marlins' analytics department, and was subsequently co-signed by manager Don Mattingly, who liked how Yelich's closing speed played up-the-middle. For whatever it's worth, Yelich has graded as a better corner-outfield defender than Ozuna, and that tends to translate to better center-field defense. We'll find out for certain in the coming months.
Compared to Yelich's fairly routine positional swap, Desmond's is highly unusual. You don't see many players transition from shortstop to center field, then from center field to first base in consecutive seasons. Yet that's the plan here -- even after most of us spent the winter assuming the Colorado Rockies were posturing about using Desmond at the cold corner in advance of a Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez trade. Nothing happened on that front, meaning Desmond figures to be the most athletic and out-of-place first baseman since, uh, Darin Erstad? Expect Desmond's bat to be a bigger concern than his glove.
Speaking of unusual defensive arcs, Brad Miller opened 2016 as the Tampa Bay Rays' starting shortstop. He moved to first base in August, following their acquisition of Matt Duffy. Now Miller is on the move again, as he's slated to slide to second base following the Logan Forsythe trade and Logan Morrison signing. Miller's previous turns at the keystone didn't go well. Defensive metrics are unreliable, so take this with a bag of salt, yet his Defensive Runs Saved total prorated over a full season equals -24 runs -- but the Rays are banking on his bat making his defense tolerable. Otherwise, who knows where he'll move next -- maybe another city?