Welcome to episode four of the Pirates Playoff Projections series!
If you read my intro to the Bucs Dugout site back in July, you’ll remember that I’m a big fantasy baseball fan, which makes me a bit of a numbers/projections guy at times. I still use the eye test plenty to help me find players I like, and there’s nothing quite like enjoying a Pirates baseball game with the emotional interest of a lifelong fan, but I love the statisical, fantasy side of the game as well.
With that in mind, I thought it might be a worthwhile project to start projecting what key Pirates players will need to do in 2020 if the Bucs are going to shock the league and end up in the playoffs come October. I know, I know, it’s a stretch based on the season we all just witnessed. But with a new manager and staff coming soon, I figured it’s a good time for some optimism.
Each week I’ll pick a player and go through what their 2020 season might look like under the assumption that they’re able to help lead the black and gold to their first playoff appearance since 2015. Let’s go Bucs!
I’ll start by referencing an article I wrote at the end of September, in which I discussed the impressive finish to the season by the Pirates most reliable starting pitcher in 2019, Big Joe Musgrove.
In that piece, I highlighted the increase in swinging strikes against the Cubs, Mariners, and Giants in his final three starts. For the season, Musgrove’s K/9 was just 8.30, as he was a prime example of the “pitch to contact” narrative that many Pirates fans believe was being stressed by Ray Searage and company last year. He then went and struck out 21 batters in his final 16 innings to give us some hope that those numbers could increase in 2020.
However, with a .299 BABIP, a 63.2% left on base percentage, and peripheral pitching numbers that completely jive with Musgrove’s previous seasons, it would be a little unrealistic to project a major uptick in strikeout percentage at this point in his development. I’d love to be wrong about that though. Because of the optimistic lens of this series, we’ll give him a slight boost, but anything in the double-digits of K/9 would be a complete overhaul of his pitching style.
Looking big picture, Big Joe will have to be the anchor of this rotation if they hope to make the playoffs. He’s going to have to get that xFIP well below the 4.31 mark of 2019, and he’s going to have to stay healthy. That being said, I think Musgrove and Keller are the two best candidates in this rotation to take big steps forward in 2020, especially considering a new manager and pitching coach will be in the clubhouse.
Musgrove definitely has the ability to produce a quality start almost every time out for the 2020 Bucs, so let’s hope for continued health and consistency from the Pirates best starter from a year ago.
Joe Musgrove 2020:
30 games started
15-8 record (7 no-decisions)
177 innings pitched, 180 strikeouts (9.15 K/9)
3.82 ERA and 1.16 WHIP
What do YOU think? Give me some over, under, or just rights down in the comments below. I’m also always happy to hear your thoughts on more in-depth statistics like HR/FB, xFIP, BABIP, and more. Hope you’re all having a good offseason so far, and I’ll be back next week to tackle another Bucco stat line for 2020. Until then, Let’s go Bucs!