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Ask BD: Who will lead the Pirates’ offense in 2017?

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Thanks, everyone for your questions, and feel free to keep them coming. Here’s the first round of answers.

YellowSeats: Do you think sabermetric statistics will ever truly replace traditional ones, in the mind of the casual fan?

That depends on what you mean by “sabermetric statistics.” If you mean statistics that are actually on the cutting edge of sabermetric research, then sure, those will probably escape casual fans (and they might even escape more serious fans like us, in some cases). If you mean stats like OBP, then I think that’s already happened, at least to a degree — OBP has been on stadium scoreboards for years now. It’s likely stats like RBI will continue to be relevant to a degree as well, though, thanks in part to the popularity of fantasy baseball.

Grumbly1: Team category leaders in 2017 (for old time's sake, mostly old-school stats)?

OPS
HRs
ERA (SPs only)
Ks (pitchers)
Saves
Holds
Any Gold Gloves?

Traditional stats alert!

OPS: Andrew McCutchen
HRs: McCutchen
ERA: Jameson Taillon
Ks: Gerrit Cole
Saves: Tony Watson
Holds: Felipe Rivero
Gold Gloves: Starling Marte

McCutchen seems like the best bet for the OPS and homer categories — he’s too talented not to expect to bounce back, and none of the other candidates in those categories (Marte, Gregory Polanco, Jung Ho Kang) did quite enough to pull past him, even though they’re all pretty likely to produce value similar to McCutchen, due to their defense and baserunning. Taillon seemed like the judicious choice for best ERA due to his control, although I waffled between him and Cole there. In the bullpen, I’m imagining Watson pitches four months at closer, then gets traded and replaced by Daniel Hudson, allowing Rivero to take the lead in holds.

IAPiratesFan: Both Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle have contracts through the end of this season with an option for 2018. Do you think they both get another extension or could one or both want to move on or the Pirates would want to make a change?

I’d be very surprised if they didn’t both receive and sign extensions. It’s hard to imagine the Pirates giving up on either of them. It’s possible Huntington could head to a bigger-payroll team, like Andrew Friedman did in moving from the Rays to the Dodgers, but that doesn’t happen with GMs all that often.

BattlingBucs: Assuming McCutchen remains with the team, who will get the most time in the outfield beyond the three starters?

If anyone gets hurt for any significant stretch, Austin Meadows. If no one does, maybe Josh Bell. There could be lots of Sunday lineups where one of the starting outfielders sits, John Jaso or David Freese plays first base and Bell plays a corner.

Turner Ward Hits The Wall: Will Kang pull everything together and where are the Pirates with him right now?

The guy has three DUIs and a sexual assault allegation to his name, all of them relatively recent. It would be absurd to predict someone like that will be able to keep it together. There’s been no news on what the Pirates plan to do with him, but unless the news takes a dramatic turn toward the even-worse, I’d be surprised if they did anything that prevented him playing most of the season with them, since teams just don’t do stuff like that with star players unless the circumstances force them to.

WTM: In what month will the following make their first big-league starts of the year?

Tyler Glasnow
Steven Brault
Trevor Williams
Nick Kingham

Might be a good betting pool, actually.

Yes, good one. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, all.

Here’s my take.

Glasnow — August. This is a conservative prediction, and it’s certainly possible Glasnow could make a spot start or two earlier. But last year revealed that he’s far from a finished product. He now has 66 days of service time, so keeping him down until August would allow the Pirates to delay his arbitration eligibility for another year. (Hat tip to DG Lewis in the comments for correcting my understanding of the timing.)

Brault — April. If the Pirates don’t acquire anyone else, there’s a decent chance Brault will make the rotation as the Bucs’ fifth starter, meaning he’d pitch for the first time April 8 or 9. Even if he doesn’t and someone like Drew Hutchison wins the job, Brault should be up fairly early in the season.

Williams — May. Williams should be the next guy up after Brault or Hutchison, unless Glasnow does something to force the Pirates’ hand.

Kingham — August. Kingham only pitched 46 innings last season in his return from injury, and the Pirates won’t rush him. He still has less than 120 innings of Triple-A experience, with most of that coming all the way back in 2014.