First Pitch: The Impact of Losing the Astros

Buster Olney has been doing his top ten lists at ESPN, naming his top rotations, infields, outfields, and so on. The Pirates haven’t been on any list, but I did see something interesting at the bottom of his infield article (Insider subscription required). Olney had a simulation from AccuScore showing the impact of the Houston Astros leaving the NL Central for the AL West.

In the simulation, AccuScore projected the standings with the 2012 alignment and the 2013 alignment. In the 2012 alignment, the Pirates were averaging 71.4 wins. In the 2013 alignment simulations, the Pirates were averaging 67.9 wins. Their chances of the playoffs in each case were next to nothing.

I used to work for AccuScore, providing these types of projections and translating them to outlets like ESPN, USA Today, Versus, Astros logoand Yahoo Sports. A few notes on the projections.

**AccuScore simulates the season 10,000 times for their projections. The win totals are the average from those simulations. The playoff odds display how many times the team made the playoffs in the 10,000 simulations. The Pirates had 0.1%, meaning they made the playoffs 10 times in 10,000 simulations.

**I worked on the NFL, NHL, and MLB simulations. We updated the rosters over the off-season, and did some custom simulations, but the focus on MLB usually came around Spring Training. The big draws now are the NFL playoffs and March Madness, with both tournaments usually having a simulation tool on ESPN. In the article, Stephen Oh notes that the formal win forecast is “still very subject to change”. I don’t know if the Pirates will be better or worse with the change. I do know that if they finish with around 68 wins, that should be it for this management group. I’d even say that should be it if they finish under .500 this year.

**The main point of the simulations was the impact of the Astros leaving the NL Central. The Pirates were losing an average of 3.5 wins with the move. I don’t think that would change, even with the formal simulations. The Astros are still a very bad team, and losing them from the division is going to result in fewer wins for everyone. The Pirates beat up on the Astros last year, going 12-5. They’ll play them this year in interleague play, but not 17 times. That’s going to hurt. In the long-term, the Astros leaving the Central might be a good thing. They acquired some interesting players in the last year, whether it was through trades that blew up their major league roster, or through the draft. If their rebuild works, it will be good to have them out of the NL Central. In 2013 they will still struggle, so the move will result in fewer wins for the Pirates.

What this means for Pittsburgh is that they’ll have to find a way to make up for those wins. Last year they won 79 games, and 12 of those were against the Astros. They have three games against the Astros this year, rather than 17. That means they’ll have to find a way to play .700 ball in those other 14 games, while doing that against tougher opponents.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!

**Winter Leagues Update: Playoff Schedule and Notes.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Lee Young

    Did you also see where Buster listed the Top 10 OF combos and 3 of them were in the NL Central?

    That can’t be good.

  • Ian Rothermund

    I’m of the opinion that the Astros leaving the division will basically be a wash for the entire division. If the Pirates were the only ones losing 15 games against a weak division opponent, I’d be concerned, but St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee are also losing those games. I just think that the scheduling changes the league is going to see this year, in addition to the NL Central losing a team, on top of all of the personnel questions going into the season, makes the NL central, and specifically the Pirates, a difficult thing to project preseason

    • jalcorn

      That’s my thoughts too, everyone beat up on them in the division so the net change is zero.

      Just by using simple WAR projections, the Bucs look like a 83-85 win team.

      Cutch 6
      Pedro 3
      Walker 3
      Marte 3
      Martin 2
      Jones 2
      Barmes 1.5
      Snider 1.5
      Bench 3

      Yields 25 wins

      AJ 3
      Wandy 2.5
      Liriano 2.5
      JMac 2
      Locke 2
      bullpen 3

      Yields 15 wins

      That’s 40 wins total without making any crazy predictions of increased performance. Add 43-45 for replacement and its 83-85 wins.

    • WNCRoadBowling

      Well sure it’s a wash in division but hurts in the bid to pick up either Wild Card spot as well as that chase to get over .500.

      • jalcorn

        Only marginally, every other NL team played them too. So we are talking about 10 games of which we still get 3 against them so 7 games. 5-2 becomes 3-4? 2 wins is not a ton. That can be compensated for by luck pretty easily.

        • WNCRoadBowling

          Even if it equals a two win difference that’s still a pretty big number in the scope of a playoff race.

      • Ian Rothermund

        I isn’t think that if they’re either meant, or built, to succeed, the Pirates are going to have to out-play the Reds and Cards. So the Astros leaving is simply irrelevant. A season is never won or lost with a .667 win % against one team in 17 games of a 162 game season.

        • Ian Rothermund

          *just, not isn’t. Damn autocorrect. Damn texting whilst driving.

          • Lee Young

            are you texting while driving again?

            one of these days you won’t be here to text if you keep that up. AND the person you run into…..

            • Ian Rothermund

              Hah…uh, no? Not as much since driving isn’t included under my job description. I only have about another month before my insurance papers clear in PA though, so after that, who knows….especially with all the PiratesProspects activity that will be taking place heading in February. Watch out for the Brown 2008 Sportage patrolling I-70 between Washington and Greensburg everyone! lol.

    • Lee Young


  • beatembuccos21

    Tim – from your time at Accuscore, do you have a feel on how accurate their pre-season predictions are or were? Their NL predictions last year were pretty uneven (they had the Pirates at 69 wins) – They were on the money with some, but missed pretty badly on others – Bucs, Cubs, Nats, Phils.

    • Tim Williams

      I know that the projections for the individual players are usually pretty accurate. The daily game simulations are also pretty accurate. I believe they finish first, or near the top each year in picking NFL winners in the ESPN experts poll.

      As for the pre-season predictions, there are so many things that can happen that a simulation would be hard to predict. They do factor injuries in the simulations, but there are other things (trades, waiver claims, unexpected performances) that can alter the results throughout the year.

      You look at the Pirates and they had a breakout year from McCutchen, a bounce back year from Burnett, and Alvarez also bounced back. Any simulation/projection software is going to put more weight on what a player has done, which means most sims/projections aren’t going to be predicting the type of season McCutchen had as the most likely outcome. Because of this, you get the big differences in team results from the beginning of the season to the end of the season.

  • leadoff

    IMO, the NL Central is going to be tough in 2013, the teams that the Pirates have to beat have all improved, the Cubs have quietly built a pretty good pitching staff, we don’t match up well against the Brewers, but should hold our own against Cards and the Reds. The Cards and the Reds are better teams, but our lineup is better suited to go against them. I think the “AL” teams present a big challenge to all the teams in the NL Central and have me more concerned than the Astros leaving the division. The Pirates can’t go into the season looking for a patsy they can beat, they have to beat everyone or at least compete with everyone. IMO, the Pirates have a little bit of an advantage in that they play all the teams in the AL East for a month in ST.

    • Lee Young

      Like I mentioned above….according to Olney, 3 of the best OFs and Lineups are in the NL Central.

      Cards, Reds, Brewers.

      Gonna be tough…I agree. We may have a better team and do worse.

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