First Pitch: Projecting 88 Wins for the 2014 Pirates Using ZiPS

Last year I did an article that projected 81-84 wins using the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates ZiPS projections. The range was due to the question marks surrounding Francisco Liriano’s signing at this time last year. With Liriano, the Pirates were projected for 83 wins. Without him, they were projected for 81. There were also rumors about Shaun Marcum, who would have taken the team to 84 wins.

The Pirates ended up exceeding their projections, as I detailed last night. I decided to do the same thing today, with the 2014 ZiPS projections that were released this afternoon. One thing about the ZiPS projections is that they give an impossible amount of playing time to the entire team. In order to get an estimate for what a team can do, you need to guess who will get playing time and only include their projections. So once again that’s what I did. I took the current projected 25-man roster, took their expected playing time, and used the ZiPS WAR numbers to get the projected win total for the 2014 season.

Baseline

Generally the accepted baseline for a team of replacement level players is anywhere from 45-50 wins. The average usually falls around 48. So we’ll start with that figure before we look at any individual players.

WAR: +48.0 (48.0)

Catcher

Russell Martin will once again serve as the starting catcher. Chris Stewart was brought in as the backup. This position is pretty straight forward. I think ZiPS is pretty accurate with the playing time split, so I just added their WAR together to get the result. Martin is projected for a 3.4 WAR, while Stewart is projected for an 0.5 WAR.

WAR: +3.9 (51.9)

First Base

This is the first difficult position. Gaby Sanchez is expected to be in a platoon, so he’s probably not getting the 458 plate appearances that are projected in ZiPS. Andrew Lambo is projected for an 0.2 WAR and 430 plate appearances, which sounds about right as far as playing time. I’m assuming he gets the platoon role. Based on last year’s numbers, I think that Sanchez gets about 70% of his projected playing time. That puts him at around an 0.8 WAR, which gives the first base position a combined 1.0 WAR.

ZiPS is usually conservative on prospects, so this is a position where the Pirates could exceed expectations. It really all depends on Lambo and whether he can be more than a borderline replacement level player. I think the chances are good for him to exceed that low projection.

WAR: +1.0 (52.9)

Second Base

ZiPS has Neil Walker projected for a 2.9 WAR and 603 plate appearances. I think the playing time is too high, considering his injury history, and the Pirates using him in a platoon more frequently in 2013. I lowered his total to 551 plate appearances, which is what he had in 2013. That gives him a pro-rated 2.65 WAR. I figured second base would see 700 plate appearances, so I gave the rest to Josh Harrison. He ended up with a 0.48 WAR. The combined result at second base is a 3.1 WAR.

WAR: +3.1 (56.0)

Shortstop/Middle Infield

Jordy Mercer will get the majority of the playing time at shortstop in 2014, although I expect Barmes to get about two starts per week at least. ZiPS has Mercer at a 1.8 WAR and Barmes at a 1.4 WAR. If you add up the plate appearances, Mercer is getting 55% of the playing time. I think the number will be closer to 60%. I took the playing time for both players last year (695 combined PA), then gave Mercer 60% of that time, and Barmes 40%. That resulted in Mercer getting 84% of his ZiPS playing time, and Barmes getting 70%. I took the percentages of both WAR numbers (1.8 WAR * 84% for Mercer and 1.4 WAR * 70% for Barmes), combined them, and got a 2.5 WAR as a result.

WAR: +2.5 (58.5)

Third Base

This one is pretty simple. Pedro Alvarez is projected for a 3.1 WAR and 597 plate appearances. That’s a bit lower than his totals in 2013. I also threw in about 100 plate appearances for Josh Harrison. I don’t know if Harrison will be the third baseman when Alvarez is off, but I figure he will get more than the 150 plate appearances projected at second base, and I figure third base will have more than the 597 plate appearances projected for Alvarez. The playing time for Harrison gave a 0.3 WAR boost to this position.

WAR: +3.4 (61.9)

Left Field

Starling Marte should get the bulk of the playing time here. He’s projected for 583 plate appearances and a 3.3 WAR. There might be more plate appearances to give in left-field, but I figure those will come from the guys in right field. The extra playing time in the outfield from the bench will come from those guys.

WAR: +3.3 (65.2)

Andrew McCutchen could once again exceed his projections, which could push the Pirates to another playoff appearance. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Andrew McCutchen could once again exceed his projections, which could push the Pirates to another playoff appearance. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Center Field

Andrew McCutchen is projected for 670 plate appearances and a 6.4 WAR. Interesting note, that 6.4 WAR is lower than his previous two seasons, so there’s room for improvement here. ZiPS had him at a 5.3 WAR last year, following a 6.8 WAR season. I think the odds are good that he meets or exceeds this WAR total.

WAR: +6.4 (71.6)

Right Field

This is where things get interesting. I think that Gregory Polanco will come up in the second half of the season. He has a 3.2 WAR and 553 plate appearances. I cut that in half to give him a 1.6 WAR. That leaves Travis Snider and Jose Tabata getting the rest of the playing time in right field, plus any additional time in left or center field.

Last year the outfield had 2142 plate appearances. So far in this projection they’re 613 plate appearances short. I gave all of that time to Tabata and Snider. If you combined the projected plate appearances for the two, ZiPS has Tabata getting 55% of the playing time. That sounds about right, so I gave Tabata 55% of the remaining plate appearances, with the rest going to Snider. That resulted in a combined additional 1.3 WAR. Add that to Polanco’s total and the Pirates have a 2.9 WAR in right field, and from their bench outfielder.

WAR: +2.9 (74.5)

Starting Pitching

ZiPS was low on the Pirates rotation last year. The estimate I got was 8.1 WAR, and the rotation ended up combining for a 12.3 WAR. I’m not going to change the results here, but I will say that there is a lot of potential for improvement from this group. Here are the projected Opening Day starters, and their inning and WAR totals.

SP: Francisco Liriano (161 IP, 2.9 WAR)

SP: Gerrit Cole (163 IP, 2.2 WAR)

SP: Charlie Morton (121.3 IP, 0.9 WAR)

SP: Edinson Volquez (164.7 IP, 0.2 WAR)

SP: Wandy Rodriguez (119 IP, 1.4 WAR)

That gives us 729 innings and a combined 7.6 WAR. From there we need to fill 196 innings to get to the 2013 starting pitching total of 925 innings.

Before I go on, I want to point out something from the above group. In most cases, I think the amount of innings are low. Liriano had 161 innings last year after missing a month of action, not counting his rehab time. Gerrit Cole went over 190 innings combined last year between Triple-A and the Majors, plus the playoffs. Charlie Morton pitched half a season and had 156.2 innings between rehab and the majors. I think all of these guys have a chance to exceed their innings totals, which would only help the results. I also think Morton will be better than an 0.9 WAR pitcher (he was 1.3 WAR in half a season last year).

I’m not going to increase the playing time for any of these pitchers. Injuries happen. Poor performance happens. If I increased the time for these guys, then I’d just be taking the best case scenario. I think that leaving the innings low adds that injury factor, and forces the projections to go to the number six and seven starters.

As for those six and seven starters, I began with Jameson Taillon. I projected him to get the same amount of innings as Gerrit Cole last year (117). That gives Taillon a 1.2 WAR, based on his ZiPS projections.

The remaining 79 innings went to Jeff Locke, who had a 1.0 WAR in almost twice that amount of playing time. That gives him an 0.5 WAR in those 79 innings. In total, the rotation has a 9.3 WAR. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement over the projections once again from this group.

WAR: +9.3 (83.8)

Bullpen

I took the 545.2 innings pitched by the bullpen in 2013, and used that for the playing time here. For the main relievers, I kept their actual playing time, with a few exceptions that are noted below.

CL: Jason Grilli (50.3 IP, 0.7 WAR)

RP: Mark Melancon (68.7 IP, 0.9 WAR)

RP: Tony Watson (63.3 IP, 0.4 WAR)

RP: Justin Wilson (72 IP, 0.4 WAR)

RP: Vin Mazzaro (77.3 IP, 0.3 WAR)

RP: Jeanmar Gomez* (80.67 IP, 0.5 WAR)

RP: Stolmy Pimentel* (70 IP, 0.4 WAR)

Gomez and Pimentel were projected for a lot more innings than I listed above. Gomez was given 128.1 innings, while Pimentel was given 142.1 innings. I gave Gomez the 80.2 innings he received last year. I cut Pimentel’s numbers in half. Both players could be options for spot starts or long relief, which could give them a good chance to reach these high numbers.

Just like the rotation, the bullpen exceeded expectations last year by about four wins. With the rotation I think it was because ZiPS was under-rating the group. In the case of the bullpen, I think it was because of the monster seasons by Grilli and Melancon. I wouldn’t project those seasons to repeat, and ZiPS isn’t doing the same. There’s a chance the bullpen could exceed the total projection, but that would require another insane performance by those guys.

There were 63.1 innings remaining. I couldn’t decide who to give those innings to, so I just added on an 0.2 WAR, since a lot of candidates were in the 0.2-0.4 WAR range. The total for the bullpen is a 3.8 WAR, which is way up from last year’s 1.1 WAR projection.

WAR: +3.8 (87.6)

2014 Projection

Rounding up the figure, the Pirates are projected for an 88-74 record. They would have missed the playoffs by two games last year with this record. Keep in mind that this isn’t the final record projection. It’s more of a starting point.

There are a lot of things factored in to the above projections. The first base production doesn’t look good. The innings from the top three starting pitchers look low. There are a few guys who could exceed their WAR projections, like Andrew Lambo, Travis Snider, Charlie Morton, and Edinson Volquez. You could even add Andrew McCutchen to that list, although he doesn’t nearly fall into the “Under 1.0 WAR” category.

Basically the Pirates need enough things to go right to get an additional two wins on top of this projection. That puts them in playoff range. And if we’re being technical, the Pirates were one of the five playoff teams last year, and 88 wins would have gotten them in anyway. But 90 wins, plus the season series over the Reds, would have given them home field, Johnny Cueto tormenting advantage.

Last year the Pirates were projected for 83 wins. They needed a lot more to go right to end up as contenders. A lot of that difference was made up from Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, the rotation, and Grilli/Melancon. The 2014 projections are higher on the entire team, including McCutchen and Marte. But there’s still a lot of potential improvements from the rotation. If ZiPS is correct on the rotation, then the Pirates will have a team on the verge of the playoffs. If ZiPS is once again low on the rotation, then the Pirates will have a playoff team, assuming things go right with the rest of the projections.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is now available. You can purchase your copy here, and read about every prospect in the Pirates’ system. The book includes our top 50 prospects, as well as future potential ratings for every player.

**We have been releasing our top 20 prospects for the 2014 season. Today the countdown resumed with #11 – Tony Sanchez.

**Pirates and Neil Walker, Vin Mazzaro Avoid Arbitration

**Pedro Alvarez and Pirates Agree to Deal

**Pirates Avoid Arbitration With Mark Melancon

**Gaby Sanchez and the Pirates Avoid Arbitration

**FanGraphs Releases the Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 ZiPS Projections

**Winter Leagues: Arribas Goes Deep in Australia

Author: 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 AccuScore.com, 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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