Welcome to episode seven 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 starting to come together, 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 hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving whether it was celebrated with friends, family, or just yourself and some great sporting events on TV. I want to take a quick second to recognize and celebrate the Pirates hiring of Derek Shelton as the new Pittsburgh Pirates Manager. Let’s hope of plenty of success with our new Skipper!
Now, let’s get back to another Pirates Playoff Projection, this time with Kevin Newman.
Newman was quite possible the biggest surprise for the Pirates in 2019. Sure, Bryan Reynolds could very well be the runaway for that accolade, but I think the odds for a great season were stacked against Newman even more. Not only was Cole Tucker everyone’s clear answer for help at the shortstop position, but Kevin Kramer was also an option that many would’ve taken over the long run instead of Newman prior to last season. What Newman was able to provide to this Pittsburgh ball club consistently in 2019 was spectacular.
After returning from a freak hand injury in early May, Newman went on to collect a hit in 24 out of 27 games that month. By June he was batting leadoff most games and was, by all accounts, the everyday shortstop. The batting order jumbled a bit throughout the second half of the season, as would any team’s order during a rough stretch like that, but Newman was very much a constant in the Pittsburgh offense and defense throughout.
Newman hit six homers in each half of the season, and he even had a couple multi-homer games thrown in, although nine of those long balls did come on the road. Even still, if we project Newman for a full season of games, I think the home run numbers and rate can at least stay the same considering his meager 9.8% HR/FB rate last year. As for his batting average, it may come down a few ticks as his .333 BABIP naturally regresses. Depth Chart and Steamers both have his 2020 BABIP at .312, so I’ll optimistically say a .315 BABIP is doable for the young shortstop. Let’s not forget how legitimate and impressive his stolen base talent looked at times in 2019.
Again, understanding that we’re looking from a purposefullly optimistic lens (Pirates playoff run) here, I think Newman can be a solid leadoff man for this team most nights. Then, as he did much of the second half, he can provide some juice at the bottom of the lineup when Adam Frazier and/or Cole Tucker have hot stretches and deserve a bump up in the order. The tricky part is figuring out where Tucker fits in compared to last season. Is he ready to take on a bigger role in 2020? And does that push Newman to second base splitting time with Frazier? Will Frazier move more to the outfield again as he did a couple years ago? Will Newman be bumped out of the leadoff spot against right-handed pitchers? For now, I’m sticking with Newman in a full-time role at shortstop.
While the fairytale season of a back-end infield prospect may be due for a bit of regression in 2020, this wasn’t a complete fluke either. Let’s see where we can put Newman’s numbers for next year if we had to project them (optimistically) right now.
Kevin Newman 2020:
147 games played
613 plate appearances
.299 BA with a .336 OBP
13 home runs, 90 runs, 65 RBI, and 21 stolen bases
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, Hard Hit Percentage, 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!