FanGraphs has released the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates ZiPS projections today, giving us our first look at the projections for the upcoming season. Normally when the ZiPS projections are released, the Pirates have a team that is pretty much set. This time around, the team is far from set, with a lot of projected moves still to take place. The Pirates will almost certainly add another starting pitcher, a first base option, a left-handed reliever, and more bullpen and bench depth.
As with any projections, this is mostly for entertainment, and to fuel off-season discussion until the season rolls around. There is plenty to unpack here, and I recommend checking the link above. For now, let’s look at some of the highlights.
**Andrew McCutchen (6.0 WAR) and Starling Marte (4.0 WAR) are both projected to lead the team again. Meanwhile, Jung-ho Kang, Francisco Cervelli, Josh Harrison, and Gregory Polanco are all in the 2.5 WAR range. Two interesting notes here. One is that Kang is projected for 494 plate appearances, which seems right when you consider his injury will cause him to miss some time. As for Harrison, his 2.4 WAR projection isn’t far off from where Neil Walker usually ends up (2.6-2.7 WAR range). The projections for Walker aren’t out yet.
**Alen Hanson got a 1.9 WAR projection and a Jose Reyes comp. Hanson is one of those guys that broke out as a prospect at a young age, and is still young for his level, but because he’s been a name for so long, he gets undervalued because he’s not up yet. I’d expect him to make the jump this year, possibly on Opening Day if Kang isn’t back yet. The offensive upside could be big here.
**Austin Meadows got a 1.7 WAR, which is high praise for a guy who mostly has A-ball stats fueling his projections, and who will spend most of the 2016 season in Altoona.
**Josh Bell’s projection was 0.7 WAR. However, he ranked sixth on the team in OPS+ and RC/27. The defense is what drags him down, and I think that will be the case when he eventually comes up. He’s not ready for the majors now due to his defense, and when mid-season rolls around the defense will probably still need some work. He could eventually improve, but when he first comes up, he’s going to still have some defensive issues.
**Some of the minor league free agents the Pirates have signed: Jake Goebbert (1.1 WAR), Danny Ortiz (0.9), Cole Figueroa (0.9). Goebbert was signed to a MLB deal.
**A few of the hitting prospects who could make their way up as depth out of Triple-A: Keon Broxton (1.2), Willy Garcia (0.7), Elias Diaz (0.6), Max Moroff (0.5), Adam Frazier (0.5). Frazier got a Ronny Cedeno comp, which is fun.
**Switching over to the pitching, Gerrit Cole (4.2 WAR) and Francisco Liriano (3.5) lead the way. From there, you see a drop off, although ZiPS has been lower on Pirates pitchers every year. My guess is that this is due to outside factors, such as Ray Searage and defensive shifts.
**Tyler Glasnow is projected for a 1.5 WAR and given an A.J. Burnett comp once again. This projection comes over 116 innings, which could be a realistic number for him in the majors this year.
**Jon Niese is projected for a 1.3 WAR. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him improve on this, ending up at 2.0 or greater due to the Searage impact and the fact that he’s been in that range in four of the last five seasons.
**Charlie Morton (1.4 WAR) is projected higher than Niese or Jeff Locke (1.2).
**Outside of Glasnow, Steven Brault is the best prospect, with a 1.1 WAR. The interesting thing about that is Brault might be at a risk of starting back in Double-A. He could still make the majors next year, but he’d be a risk to get bumped if the Pirates add a Triple-A starter.
**The Pirates have added a lot of hard throwing relievers this off-season. Juan Nicasio is at 0.7 WAR and Allen Webster is at 0.5. This does come with the disclaimer that they’re receiving about double the amount of innings they’d receive in the bullpen. So you could probably cut those numbers in half.
**Jameson Taillon wasn’t projected for much playing time, or a high WAR, but did receive a C.J. Wilson comp.
I’ll have more on the ZiPS projections later this evening.