Dan Szymborski has posted his 2019 ZiPS projections for the Pirates at FanGraphs. The overall outlook shouldn’t surprised anybody: The Pirates are a solid, cheap team of solid, inexpensive players that lacks the upside to reach the playoffs.
Pittsburgh is excellent at finding just below average to average talent for peanuts, and average or better talent for whatever is a little bit better than that (perhaps Chex Mix?). It keeps the Pirates from ever truly returning to the Kingdom of Reekdom they reigned over from 1993 to about 2010. Having a roster full of free one-win players, two-win players who are paid like one-win players, and three-win players who are paid like two-win players means you have a highly efficient roster. But it’s a highly efficient roster that will generally win between 77-85 games.
What stands between the Pirates and contention is, of course, the lack of a “willingness to add stars.”
If the small market model doesn’t have a path to league-average payrolls, it necessitates an immense amount of success on the player development side. Sometimes, you just need to spend money instead of prospects.
The Pirates, of course, have not had that degree of success in developing players and their solidly average farm system, just rated (surprise!) 15th by Keith Law, doesn’t project to enjoy that level of success.
ZiPS does like Ke’Bryan Hayes’ defense as much as the scouts do and it already sees him as better than Colin Moran. It also likes Cole Tucker more now than it does Erik Gonzalez, although not as much as Kevin Newman.
Otherwise, ZiPS sees a whole raft of 1- to 3-WAR players. Starling Marte tops the projections at 3.2, with Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer the only other 3-WAR projections. No other pitcher projects to 2 WAR. (Using FanGraphs’ projected playing time, rather than the ZiPS projection, produces slightly different WAR figures, as Dan shows in a chart.)
Anyway, it’s all worth a read.