Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #7

Question #1:
What do you think of Dan Szymborski’s 2007 ZiPS projections for the Pirates? In your opinion, will the Pirates’ regulars perform better, worse or the same as projected?

Wilbur Miller from Pirate Player Profiles:
I don’t see any obvious howlers in there. Like all projection systems, ZiPS leans heavily toward regression to the mean, so it’s not useful for projecting breakouts. Doumit or Bautista could be a candidate there, but Doumit isn’t likely to play much and Bautista struggled badly in the second half in 2006. This is a sad set of projections, and reflects the fact that Littlefield and Creech practically go out of their way to avoid hitters with any kind of ceiling.
Dave from Bucs Trade Winds:
I ran the numbers on a 25-man roster for the Pirates and did a post on this. From looking at the 25-man roster I expect going into the season, we are looking at considerable improvements in almost every offensive stat except RBI. I think the projections made are very optimistic. I do not see where the added power is coming from, a rise from 141 HR’s to the 165 HR’s projected is a large jump when there are not any additions to the roster.
On the pitching side, the team ERA will drop from 4.55 in 2006 to 4.26 according to the prediction. I will agree the team ERA will likely drop now that the rotation has a little seasoning, but I do not believe it will be as large of a drop as projected. As a side note on pitching, from the 12 men I’d send north, the team will finish at .500 according to projections. I am fining it hard to believe this will happen, 14 years is too long to be overly optimistic. Overall, I find it hard to take these projections as believable. I have never found projections to be worth a hill of beans.

Cory from A New Pirates Generation:

These projections show what type of offense Pittsburgh has: Low power, low average, lots of strikeouts. These numbers are the reason an Adam Dunn trade would do more harm than good. You can’t afford to add a career .245 hitter with 170+ strikeouts to this group, even if he’ll mash 40 homers. That’s probably why the Dunn rumor fizzled so quickly earlier in the offseason–even Dave Littlefield realizes that he needs to find a bopper that can hit for average and put the ball in play.
Jason Bay will continue to regress until he gets some protection in the lineup, and ZiPS reflects that. Mets fans were high on Nady, so it’s possible that he’ll have a big 2007 given full-time AB’s–but he wouldn’t be a contending team’s third best hittter. Freddy Sanchez will probably come back to earth, and Ronny Paulino won’t hit .310 again. They’ll both be solid regulars, though. We desperately need to find another quality bat, preferrably one that is still peaking.
The top five guys in the rotation all are projected for an ERA of 5.50 or better–that’s tremendous. The Pirates have three guys at or better than the National League average for SP last year (4.53 ERA), and another one that’s close. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that Duke, Gorzelanny, Snell and Maholm could pitch like the 2006 Dodgers. The fifth starter’s role could be capably filled by Chacon and a few of the younger guys, but I still don’t think it’s possible for the Bucs to pitch much better than projected. The rotation is promising, and ZiPS reflects that; our Big Four should all put up similar lines. We don’t have a #1, but we do have four #3’s.
Randy from Buried Treasure:
The ZiPS projections paint an unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, grim picture. I’m inclined to think that things won’t be that bad. But, even a 10 to 15 percent improvement doesn’t make this offense stellar in any sense of the word. I would hope that in particular Jose Castillo and Brad Eldred would be better. One of the comments on the BBTF site noted that the projections for Eldred were 14 HRs and only 11 BBs. On the pitching side of things, ZiPS seems about right. A middle of the pack rotation and a pretty solid bullpen. Hopefully, John Van Benschoten and Sean Burnett wouldn’t be that inept in the majors.
Pat from WHYGAVS:
Projections are just that, projections. Still, systems like ZiPS and PECOTA have done a very good job projection offense in recent years while pitching is still kind of a crapshoot. Every year there will be a couple people like Freddy Sanchez who will break out and destroy their projections, but that kind of year is rare for most players. These things aren’t infallible, but looking at the ZiPS for the offense is really, really scary. The pitching is a bit more encouraging, but the projections for the pitching staff were good last year, too. I suppose if I’m ranking “better, worse, or similar to the projections” I’d say the batters will be close to the projections and the pitchers, well, who knows? I don’t.
Carson and Corey from We Should Be GM’s:
I truly don’t want to offend anybody here, but it’s in my nature to do so. Therefore I would like to say, “Stop waxing poetic about projections from some dude who spends his lonely nights in his momma’s basement and just let the season play out and enjoy the product on the field!” Seriously, the game of baseball isn’t won on computers or on a Strat-O-Matic…gimme a break! The other thing about ZiPS and other programs like it that bothers me is that it’s not rocket science. For example, I didn’t even bother looking at these projections for the Pirates because I was disgusted when I looked at it for the Phils, but I can tell you Jason Bay is going to hit .303 with 32 jacks and 109 RBI…sound about right? Sign me up for a monthly fee and I’ll project Jim Tracy’s next ejection.
Nicolas from “82”:
Projection, in spite of its occasional accuracies, is too inexact to rely on regularly. I could sit here and write lengthy arguments for each Pirate, and each argument could be for increase, decrease, or no change. Then again, I think the Pirates would benefit slightly less from anyone improving dramatically as they would from every single player being able to marginally improve overall, but make his numbers be a season-long consistency rather than a one month homer binge or anything of that sort.
Jake from Bucco Blog:
Considering ZiPS hasn’t done well with the Pirates the last few years anyway, I see no reason to expect their 2007 projections to be any better. The Regression Analysis for the main eight position players was just 0.524 in 2006 which tends to indicate either ZiPS sees PNC as a bit harder to hit in than it is–its park factor adjustment–or it isn’t picking up the youthful players too well yet. But 2006 was ZiPS best year of the last four.
Of all the offensive projections ZiPS made, I think it underestimated the Pirates SLG by a considerable margin–especially Paulino, who I see in the .430 range, and Castillo and Duffy who I see both in the .410 range. As for ZiPS pitching projections, who knows. Everybody knows it is nearly impossible to project pitching but if I were to guess, I’d say it has projected the starting five with a median ERA lower than I expected.
If anyone thinks the Pirates will have a winning season based on ZiPS, he needs his head examined. I mean, even ZiPS only projects 46 wins for our starting five in 136 starts. That is +3 wins or so over the same group in 2006 but when you consider two barking elbows–one of them on a rookie, one barking shoulder, one misfit, then add a premium closer who is about to be shoved out the door, and a 5% decrease in projected offensive production, well, you don’t get a .500 season. I’ll just say that.
Matt from Wait ‘Til Next Year:
First of all, these projections are very scary if you are a Pirates fan. They are not unexpected, as we are all aware of the lack of Pirates offense. It is just painful to see projections such as this down on paper, though. As far as the accuracy of the ZiPS projections, on average I think they are pretty close. ZiPS predicts a drop-off in production for Bay, Sanchez, and Paulino. While I agree that Sanchez and Paulino will not have the kind of numbers they had in 2006, I don’t believe that they will regress this much. I see somewhere around .320/.360/.460 for Sanchez and .290/.340/.410 for Paulino. The reason I am more optimistic than the ZiPS projections for these two players is the fact that they each had a very consistent season in 2006. Their numbers varied very little throughout the year, which is a good sign for the Pirates. Also, I see Paulino improving on his power numbers from 2006. I don’t think 12-15 homeruns and 25-30 doubles is out of the question.
With Jason Bay, I think his 2007 numbers will depend largely upon the ability of the Pirates front office to acquire a Lefty McThump to protect him in the lineup. Without any significant additions, I think ZiPS will be pretty accurate, though I see a much higher OBP as he is constantly pitched around. I would see maybe a .280/.400/.520 type season. However, if the Pirates could make a deal and end up with an Adam LaRoche or someone similar protecting Bay, his numbers would greatly improve. I would expect .300/.390/.560 in that situation as Bay sees some pitches to hit. However, outside of those three, the ugly numbers projected by ZiPS should be pretty accurate. As we have all known for some time, the Pirates desperately need more offense or the 2007 season will be very long.

Jim from Sportsocracy:

There’s no reason at all to think many Pirates would outperform the Zips projections. As a team, they’re a triple threat lacking any real power (other than Jason Bay), little consistent hitting (other than Freddy Sanchez) and no speed to speak of. If Nady and the unnamed fifth batter in the order, whether it be Brad Eldred or whoever, can produce enough to protect Bay a little, the residual effects for the rest of the order could be quite good. However, we’ve been speculating on which previously anonymous Pirate batter would break out and save the season for the past 15 years with very little to show for it. Pitching-wise, it’s anyone’s guess. Consensus is that Ian Snell over achieved last year and is due for a Kip Wells-esque season of losing 3x more decisions than he wins.
Steve from The Parrot:
Ugh. If the ZiPS projections prove to be accurate, the Pirates will be lucky to score two or three runs a game. I don’t think Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay are due for that much of a drop-off in their production, and Sanchez should benefit from hitting in front of Bay. I think Chris Duffy will have a much better year than projected–only 22 stolen bases? I also think Ronny Paulino will have a better season than forecast. I don’t agree that Jack Wilson will have as high an average as .270, or that Xavier Nady will be as good as listed.
The pitching projections look nice, but they probably won’t be a rosy as predicted. Will Duke return to form? Will Snell and Gorzelanny slump? Will Mike Gonzalez have 49 saves, as the numbers seem to indicate? (55 IP, W-L of 5-1) I hope so! Shawn Chacon might be as terrible as advertised, and Paul Maholm’s numbers look reasonable, which isn’t good. I hope Dan Szymborski has his head up his ass.
Question #2:
The Hardball Times listed Ronny Paulino sixth on its list of players most likely to break out in 2007. Do you think Paulino will improve on his 2006 campaign, and if so, how dramatic of an increase in production do you envision?


Wilbur Miller from Pirate Player Profiles:

THT only estimated Paulino to have a 19% chance of a breakout, so they’re not exactly going out on a limb with him. Their estimates are based on various parameters they’ve found significant, including size and age, where he probably fit pretty well. Paulino actually doesn’t fit most of the other parameters very well, like power/speed combination and patience at the plate. I think a scout would have some reservations about his ceiling due to his slow bat, and that’s something THT can’t measure. The main thing he might have the ability to add is power, but it’ll probably come at the expense of his BA, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. I’d guess he won’t be dramatically better or worse overall in 2007, just different a little.

Dave from Bucs Trade Winds:

The biggest asset Paulino brought to the team last year was the way he handled the pitching staff. Any offense he supplies is a definite plus. I can see his batting average dropping from an impressive .310 to a more realistic .270-.280. His minor league stats just don’t support his being a high average batter. One stat I see him improving is his home run count. I can see him doubling his HR output from 6 last season to 12-15 while having his average slip more into the .270-.280 range. For as large of a man as he is, I don’t know how he hasn’t put up a 20+ HR season in the minors. He is just coming into his prime years and I expect a power surge to come with it.

Cory from A New Pirates Generation:

The Hardball Times put a lot of emphasis on size, and we all know that Ronny Paulino is monstrous. Based on his career minor league numbers, I can’t see him hitting .310 again with much power. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, though, and guess that he stays near .290 but increases his slugging percentage. Paulino might not put balls in the seats, but he could add to his doubles total. Put a few gappers into the North Side Notch and he’ll bat sixth instead of eighth.

Randy from Buried Treasure:

I’m on the record as saying that I think Paulino hit (for average) last season about as well as he is capable of hitting. I expect him to hit for more power. I would expect him to hit .280 with 15 homers. If that’s a break out season, then so be it. That’s a strange list of guys. Some established players are on that list, along with Prince Fielder. I know plenty of people in Cincinnati who would like to have Austin Kearns back.

Pat from WHYGAVS:

If Paulino does break out in 2007, it will probably be in the power category. I think his batting average will have to dip because he really hasn’t been a .300 hitter in the minors, but he did show a lot more power towards the top of the minors than he did in Pittsburgh last year (he slugged .480 in 369 ABs at Altoona in 2004 and .538 in 273 ABs in Indy in 2005 compared to .394 in 442 with the Pirates last year). Still, the list is interesting because David Ross is on it. If last year wasn’t his breakout/flash in the pan year, I don’t know what these guys are actually looking for.

Carson and Corey from We Should Be GM’s:

In my opinion, Ronny Paulino already broke out last season. If he duplicates his production for an entire year like he did last year, we’re looking at one of the best catchers in the league. In fact, I would like to own his jersey.
Nicolas from “82”:
I don’t think Paulino’s numbers are going to do much. If I could get something similar to what he is projected at–basically a slight uptick in power and a slight but not significant drop in average–I would be very happy and not at all surprised.
Jake from Bucco Blog:
I think Ronny will be in the .288/.342/.440 range and have a decent sophomore year. I’m more concerned with him tiring down the stretch this year than I was last year and I don’t know how it may affect his game. But I’d be happier if Paulino’s receiving and game management skills broke out more than his offense. We need a solid battery next year, not a zillion balls to the backstop.
Matt from Wait ‘Til Next Year:
ZiPS projects Paulino to regress in 2007 to .272/.327/.378. If you read my response to Question #1, you already know that I don’t entirely agree with those numbers. In 2006, Paulino had a very good approach at the plate, consistently showing his willingness to go to the opposite field. This mature approach is what allowed him to have so much success in his rookie season, and what I believe will allow him to continue to produce in 2007. Also, Paulino should hit for more power next season as he becomes more comfortable facing major league pitching. I am not sure I see him having a breakout season, but I also don’t anticipate too much of a drop-off from 2006.
Jim from Sportsocracy:
I’m not sure that Paulino will break out this year at all. I would hope his power numbers would increase, but I don’t think he’s capable of maintaining the .310 or so he batted last year, let alone topping it. If he’s able to bump up his HR total to 11-15 or so and still manage around .280, that’s more production than the Pirates have had from the catcher position for many years and think that would be more than acceptable.

Steve from The Parrot:

I think Paulino will fall off offensively in his second year in the big leagues, probably 10 to 20 percent. Pitchers will have had time to figure him out, and he’ll have to adjust. He won’t come close to losing his job, but I think an average above .300 is a bit much to ask. His defense should improve, and I hope his slugging percentage does as well.

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