I took my seat at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati last September, looked up, and was stunned to see that left-field had been cut in half.
On that day, one of the best left-fielders in the game, Starling Marte, had been assigned to cover a postage stamp that could have been played just as adequately by Greg Luzinski – at his present age. It seemed like a complete waste of Marte’s excellent speed, elite arm, and +22.2 career UZR/150. And I began to wonder.
Some time later, I got a little more curious and did some research on fielding statistics. It’s incomplete, but interesting nonetheless.
As you, no doubt, already know, left-field at PNC Park is much bigger than right-field; and is possibly the most challenging left-field in all of Major League Baseball. It has often been said that the Pirates need two center-fielders – one to play center and one to play left. So, the following statistics might surprise you as much as they did me.
Jose Tabata has a +8.9 UZR in left-field, over 241 career games. In 142 career games in RF, his UZR is -12.1.
Alex Presley, in 143 career games with the Pirates, had a +6.7 UZR in left-field. He had a -3 UZR in 28 games in RF.
And Nate McLouth, in 40 career games with the Pirates, had a +2 UZR in left-field and a -6 UZR in 70 games in RF.
There is something going on here. Have we been fooled by the dimensions of PNC Park over the last 13 years. Is RF at PNC, in spite of its much smaller size, actually much harder to play than LF?
I say that’s impossible.
I don’t have any home/road fielding splits, but my purely speculative guess is that Tabata, Presley, and McLouth were:
1. Below average in LF at PNC
2. Well-above average in LF on the road
3. Fairly good in RF at PNC
4. And a tortured disaster in RF on the road.
If the Pirates statistical analysts have numbers that would confirm my pure speculation, then I would say that some defensive adjustments are in order. Marte should obviously continue to play left-field at PNC Park. But if a road park has a more difficult right-field, then it makes no sense to have a greyhound with a cannon covering a postage stamp.