Earlier today on FanGraphs, Dan Szymborski released his 2018 ZiPS projections for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And while these computer projections are mostly just for fun and should be taken with a grain of salt, they make the current Pirates team seem about as uninspiring as the majority of team’s supporters perceive them to be.
Pittsburgh has only two players projected to be worth more than three wins above replacement – Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, both at 3.4 zWAR – and only Cutch, Josh Bell, and Gregory Polanco are projected to post an above-average OPS+.
Sean Rodriguez and Daniel Hudson will make $10.5 million combined this season, roughly one tenth of the Pirates predicted payroll, and are projected to post a cumulative output of 0.8 zWAR. Incumbent starters David Freese (1.3 zWAR), Francisco Cervelli (1.3 zWAR), and Jordy Mercer (1.5 zWAR) also all project to be substandard.
There were years where world-class performances by the likes of McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Russell Martin were able to counteract some soft spots in the Pirates lineup, but this Pirates team does not project to have any such a steadying presence. That puts pressure on the rest of the lineup to be better than projected. And, as poster DG Lewis stated in the comment section of Wilbur’s post earlier, relying on one-win players to become two-or-three-win players is “more a hope than a plan”.
Anyway, here is a closer look at how ZiPS projects the Pirates to perform in 2018.
Despite the rest of the league going homer crazy, and Clint Hurdle himself saying, “Your OPS is in the air” before last season, the Pirates were largely left out of last season’s power party. The Pirates hit just 151 home runs, fewer than any team other than the lowly San Francisco Giants (128), and were 28th in FB% (32.5%).
It’s hard to predict what the Pirates lineup will look like at the end of the week, let alone at the beginning of the season, but if the Bucs continue their recent trend of not making dramatic changes in the offseason, this team looks likely to continue its relative power outage. Only McCutchen and Bell project to hit 20+ home runs and are also the only two projected to accrue a slugging percentage above .450.
ZiPS doesn’t include predictive playing time in its projections, so there are some prospects mixed into these lists as well. Austin Meadows (1.8 zWAR) and Kevin Newman (1.3 zWAR) both would project among the Pirates’ ten best hitters if they played full Major League seasons.
Syzmborski also projected Jung-ho Kang’s performance for 2018, even if it’s unlikely that he’ll play.
Kang projection in Piittsburgh, though I'm not betting money on him ever playing MLB again. pic.twitter.com/bGHOstXcyA— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) December 11, 2017
The Pirates starting rotation was pretty much fine last year, posting a league-average WAR despite Cole’s home run struggles, Jameson Taillon’s health problems, and Tyler Glasnow’s inability to stick in the majors. Ivan Nova started hot and carried the staff for the early part of the season while Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl held down the back end.
ZiPS projects solid seasons from Cole, Taillon, and Ivan Nova, but is pessimistic about Williams (2.2 fWAR last season, 1.0 zWAR) and Kuhl (1.8 fWAR in ’17, 0.8 zWAR) replicating their solid seasons in the four and five spots of the rotation.
The projection system is bullish on Glasnow (149.2 IP, 1.9 zWAR), who was objectively terrible in the 62 innings he pitched in Pittsburgh last season. The projection clearly put a lot of stock into his dominant Triple-A numbers, but Glasnow’s ability to perform in the big leagues remains a huge question mark.
In the bullpen, Felipe Rivero again projects to be a stud (73.3 IP, 1.8 zWAR) but the rest of the bullpen figures to fall pretty flat. George Kontos (0.7 zWAR) and A.J. Schugel (0.5 zWAR) figure to be the Pirates’ two best setup options while ZiPS predicts another rough year for expensive middle reliever Hudson (0.4 zWAR).
- Andrew McCutchen > Chet "The Jet" Lemon
- Gerrit Cole > Kevin Brown
- Felipe River > Al Hrabowsky
- Starling Marte > Roberto Kelly
- Jameson Taillon > Charles Nagy
- Austin Meadows > Vernon Wells