PITTSBURGH -- In most defensive categories, the Pirates rank near the middle of the pack in relation to other National League teams. Two exceptions, though, are defensive efficiency rating (DER) -- the ratio of defensive outs recorded in defensive opportunities -- and stolen base percentage.
Pittsburgh's .707 DER trails only that of first-place Washington in the NL. But when it comes to throwing out basestealers, no team is worse than the Pirates, who have let 90.2 percent of opposing runners swipe bags safely.
Manager Clint Hurdle has liked what he's seen from the defense, especially in the middle of the field, where Clint Barmes has played the majority of the club's games at shortstop and Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen have been mainstays at second base and center field, respectively. "From the field part of it, behind the pitcher, we've been very strong up the middle," Hurdle said on Friday. "I do think that when you look at building something special, you've got to be rock solid up the middle." McCutchen's .996 fielding percentage ranks first among NL center fielders. Barmes and Walker both rank third in the league in fielding percentage at their positions. Barmes has gone 33 straight games without an error, and Walker has made only one in his last 59 games. "From behind the plate, our game-calling, our blocking, our handling of the pitchers has been solid," Hurdle said. "We've got a glitch with throwing runners out. We know that. We don't have a perfect club. But we've been able to keep most of those people from scoring when they have advanced and taken bases." The Pirates haven't been too hurt by opposing teams' success at stealing bases, and neither have the Nationals, who, curiously enough, rank just ahead of the Bucs in that category, allowing runners to be successful in 86.6 percent of their attempts.