Via ESPN (Insider only), Dan Szymborski has released early ZiPS projections for 2017. I was pleasantly surprised to see he'd projected the Pirates to win 86 games, giving them a 61 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Bucs still finish behind the Cubs, who are projected to win 92 games, but the Cubs are also the only team in all of baseball with more projected wins than the Pirates. (The Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers and Giants are also all projected to win 86.) 86 wins is, in other words, a very rosy projection, since projection systems, by their nature, bunch teams together more closely than they typically actually turn up in the standings.
Of course, these projections come before the offseason, when it's likely the baseball operations departments of bigger-spending teams like the Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants and Nationals will have more money to spend than the Pirates will. But I wouldn't have expected the Bucs to be projected to win 86 after a season in which they only won 78 games and stood to lose productive players like Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez to free agency.
There's no explanation yet for why the Pirates fare so well, but I imagine it probably anticipates bounce-back seasons from Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, as well as the continued development of Gregory Polanco and Tyler Glasnow. We'll see. I'll post here once the full individual projections come out. Maybe the Pirates' "bridge year" will actually head somewhere after all.