Pittsburgh outfield could make history
Even without saying a word, Starling Marte is one of the most animated baseball players in the big leagues. Sit in the left field bleachers at PNC Park, offer an encouraging word to No. 6 and you’ll get a wink and a wave in return.
Cheer for Marte when he makes a signature diving catch, or when he shows off his cannon for an arm – he’ll turn around and shrug his shoulders.
No big deal. That’s his game.
Marte has a knack for nailing runners, trying to get lucky, by turning a single into a double. Better think twice about tagging up on a shallow fly ball; Marte will catch it and gun it home.
He’s a sure thing in Pittsburgh’s vast left field. With dimensions that vary from 325-feet down the line to the foul pole to 389-feet in the middle of the left field wall to the 410-foot North Side Notch that juts into the stands by the bullpens, one of baseball’s smallest ballparks has one of the biggest outfields.
Speed is a necessity and the Pirates have a lot of it. The outfield, patrolled by Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, is the fastest in Major League Baseball. Being fast doesn’t make you a good outfielder, though. It certainly helps, but the glove has to be a sure-thing, too. For Marte, it is. That’s why he won a Gold Glove on Tuesday. Playing more than 1,100 innings this season, Marte committed just one error. The lone miscue came when Marte played center field, filling in for McCutchen.
He led all National League left fielders with a .995 fielding percentage and beat out the Marlins’ Christian Yelich and the Padres’ Justin Upton for the award.
It was Marte’s first Gold Glove award and it likely won’t be the last for the 27-year old. Marte is signed with the Pirates through the 2020 season, so is Polanco. McCutchen will be in Pittsburgh until at least 2018.
On a team that may have holes throughout the diamond, the Pirates are locked in with the outfield.
If he played for any other team, Marte would be the starting center fielder. The same could be said for Polanco, and they’ve each had their chances to play the No. 8 position. Marte saw action in 18 games in center field and Polanco played there once in 2015. Polanco will be a Gold Glove candidate within the next two years. He, too, has the ability to gun down runners and he committed just eight errors in 2015, more than half coming before the All-Star break.
McCutchen is a proven Gold Glove winner, with a 2012 honor to his name. He’s been nominated again for the past two seasons and was beat out this year by A.J. Pollock of the Diamondbacks.
In the next few years, Marte, McCutchen and Polanco could become the first outfield teammates to sweep the Gold Gloves in each position. In the 58 years of the award, only 17 times has a pair of outfield teammates both won an award.
Those teammates are: the Giants’ Jackie Brandt and Willie Mays in 1959, the Pirates Roberto Clemente and Bill Virdon in 1962, the Red Sox’ Carl Yastrzemski and Reggie Smith in 1968, Red Sox’ Dwight Evans and Fred Lynn in 1978, the Athletics’ Dwayne Murphy and Rickey Henderson in 1981, the Pirates’ Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke in 1990, 1991 and 1992, the Expos’ Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker in 1993, the Giants’ Barry Bonds and Darren Lewis in 1994, the Mariners’ Jay Buhner and Ken Griffey, Jr. in 1996, the Mariners’ Mike Cameron and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 and 2003, the Braves’ Jeff Francoeur and Andruw Jones in 2007, the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and Andre Eithier in 2011, the Mariners’ Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez in 2012, and the Orioles’ Nick Markakis and Adam Jones in 2014.
(Matthew Peaslee is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @thempeas)