Last year the Pirates were nearly a replacement level team. The team Wins Above Replacement for 2010 was 2.8 according to Fangraphs. To the shock of no one, the Pirates finished last in the National League. The team really didn't play that much better after the deadwood was jettisoned, and most people have been underwhelmed by the off-season changes. So naturally, the Pirates figure to be dreadful again this year. Perhaps not, if you believe some of the projections.
Let's just take a walk through a reasonable roster and make use of Fangraphs fan projections for 2011. (By the way, they are not as psycho as you might expect. The average fan projection looks pretty similar to a Marcel projection, implying the average fan is as smart as a monkey.)
Leading off we have Andrew McCutchen, with a projection by fans of 4.5 WAR. (Hey, he was at 3.3 last year, and was hurt in the second half.) Batting second is Jose Tabata, with a projected WAR of 2.0, exactly what he realized last year. Batting third is Neil Walker, whose projected WAR is 1.5, a regression from last year. Fourth we have Pedro Alvarez, whose projected WAR is 3.0. (Last year his WAR was 1.6, so the fans anticipate improvement.) Batting fifth we have Lyle Overbay, with a projected WAR of 1.2. Fans think he'll drop off a cliff, but still be way better than Jeff Clement and Garrett Jones. In the six hole we have the Garrett Jones/Matt Diaz combo, with a projected WAR of 1.6. Batting seventh are Chris Snyder/Ryan Doumit who are projected to provide 2.2 WAR. (Note that each of them have had individual Wins Above Replacement exceeding 2.2 in recent memory.) The fans don't love Ronny Cedeno. They predict a WAR of 0.0, for him, worse than last year. In the holiday spirit, I'll assume that the reserves (John Bowker, Josh Rodriguez, and Corey Wimberly) have a total WAR of 0.0. If you're an optimist and add that up, you get 16.0, representing a huge improvement from 2010.
As was the case last year, the pitching will be the Pirates' downfall, right? The fans project Paul Maholm to have a WAR of 2.8. That's a pretty big step up from his 2.0 of 2010. For James McDonald the projection is 3.2, nearly a doubling of his WAR from last year. Kevin Correia is forecast to have a WAR of 2.0. Ross Ohlendorf is forecast at 1.9, up 1.0 from last year. The fifth starter, Charlie Morton, is consigned to replacement level hell, a WAR of 0.0. Joel Hanrahan is given 1.4, the same as last year. Evan Meek is assigned a WAR of 1.0, up just a smidge from last year. To make up for their failures to tithe, the fans forecast that Jeff Karstens, Scott Olsen, Chris Resop, and Joe Beimel will combine for a WAR of 2.4.
Add that all up and you get a team WAR of 30.7, meaning that the Pirates will be contending, but falling short in 2011. You well may ask, "What are the fans smoking?" I don't know, but whatever it was didn't lead them to project great seasons for Brad Lincoln or Rudy Owens. Has winter made us all too negative?