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.

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  1. fwiw, when I asked NH yesterday about Happ, he ignored my point that Happ was the 2nd best LHP in the NL after joining the Bucs. His respone was simply that he felt $12 AAV was too much over 3 years. I had posited the question as “Given the cost of starting pitching, if you believe Searage fixed Happ, what led you to thinking his success was unsustainable over 3 years and allow him to leave over a relatively small difference in AAV?” He would not admit to specifics on why Happ’s success would be unsustainable. Only that Happ would decline by age 35 (with no response as to whether Happ’s contract would ultimately still be a net positive as he’d only need to average 2 WAR) and that $12 AAV for a starter is not “small”.

    Later on, Coonelly mentioned that the Bucs missed out on some signings because they made what they thought was a good offer, but some other team wanted to pay more. I felt that was a more truthful answer.

    • The Pirates, unfortunately, can never be in a position of carrying $12MM in dead cost. It is not just that Happ would need only to deliver 2war to justify 12MM. It is that three years from now Cole, Taillon, Glasgow, Kingham and maybe Brault will all be out pitching him and he will be superfluous. You could say “trade him then”, but there would have to be a counterparty and they would insist that the Pirates pay some salary (the inverse of Wanda Rodriguez from Houston trade). The Pirates simply can’t afford that.

  2. Why the lack of love for Taillon? Does TJ hurt his status that much many pitchers come back and have long successful careers afterwards.

    • As far as I’m concerned, lower the expectations the better. Hope it pisses him off to the point he’s ready to take it out on opponents. Especially those wearing blue and red helmets.

  3. Are the WAR projections for guys like Meadows who won’t see the majors in 2016 based on how they would handle major league competition or is it based on the level they are at (i.e. AA or AAA)?

  4. A bit surprised no one has touched on the unfortunate reality of working Josh Bell into the lineup: he’s probably not going to be good. At least not in 2016.

    • Oh phooey! No chance Bell will be bad. I think he’s set to bat .350 and hit 25 homeruns. I’d say he’s a lock for rookie of the year, but Glassnow is a shoo in for that. I’d say Hanson is his only competition for runner-up. Well maybe Taillon too.

      What? Not Polly-Anna enough?

    • I’m of one of two minds here…

      The Pirates either need to go for it, or use 2016 as a year to retool with the youngsters. I’m really okay with either approach.

      If they were going to go for it, the should have kept Pedro, Walker and Morton, then actually signed a legitimate starter to replace Burnett, plus a reclamation project. That, right there, probably gets them into the post season. Sure, maybe they’re one and done again…maybe they deeper. Bell, Hansen, and either Glasnow or Taillon could have still been brought up in late June for seasoning.

      They didn’t go that route. The Mets and Nats are going to be tough, the Cubs, the Dodgers, Giants and D’Backs, too. So I’m going to be heretical and say this needs to be a retooling year. If June rolls around and the Pirates aren’t looking great, and, if the season started today, I don’t think they will…screw it. Slap the aforementioned, and Diaz, on the ML roster and prepare for 2017.

      • Very, very well said and I’d have to agree. The only “wrong” way to go, if you ask me, is half-assing either decision. Playing marginal vets over prospects that should help in 2017.

        • Funny thing is, when writing that, I thought…the phrase ‘don’t half-ass it’ needs to go in here somewhere. By the time I got to the end, it had slipped my mind.

      • Exactly. I think it’s obvious that the Pirates aren’t planning on “going for it’ this year. I’m not sure they plan on “going for it” ever.

        I don’t expect them to add much of anything before spring training. I expect they will add one or two marginal starting pitchers on short term contracts to keep spots in the rotation until Taillon or Glassnow are ready. Ditto first base, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they went with what they already have and didn’t add another position player.

        By the end of the year I’m expecting Bell, Hanson, Taillon and/or Glassnow to be rotation/every day players. I think there will be significant growing pains this year and their record will fall to around .500. If that’s what happens, it would be a huge disappointment to me personally, but it is what it is. It hasn’t been easy following this franchise for as long as I have. If they do better I’ll be very happy.

  5. I heard a tape of a fresh interview with Andrew McCutchen today. When asked about the loss of Alvarez and Walker, he gave a series of answers that could only be interpreted as expressing concern about the loss of power and protection behind him. Did not sound like a happy camper, of course he seldom does.

    • If I’m Cutch I’m upset with my agent for not putting a player opt out as opposed to team option in my deal.

      And I wonder how much these player options factor into future extensions the Pirates could negotiate? The days of the team friendly extensions could be coming to an end. At least the long term variety.

    • The loss of power could be an issue, others having been banging the table about this for a while. Lineup protection is a myth and even if it had some value who would protect McCutchen?

      The Pirates have also jettisoned -28 runs of defensive “value,” like everything there are trade offs.

    • Link? Because “only can be interpreted” sounds a lot like you assuming how you interpreted it is the only way possible.

      Doesnt help that you then go on to say he seldom sounds happy….which is objectively just silly. I can find about a dozen interviews where he is perfectly happy and admits to such.

      • Do you have some sort of cognitive disorder? The interview was within the last 24 hours, and the question was directly about the loss of Alvarez and Walker.

        • I asked for a link since you commented on how he sounded in the interview. Which, logically, would mean i have to hear it to agree/disagree with you. Figured since you had listened to it you could link it quickly.

          Much appreciation for the help and not just being a dick straight off. Found it, and your interpretation isnt “the only way it could possibly” come off. Hell, id have ranted about his comments pertaining to the team early in the year before this. Cutch sounds fine.

  6. Very interesting article- I find it odd that they calculate WAR projections for players whom would very unlikely ever see a major league field in 2016

    • As was i, seems like SFG wont actually want him to ride out that entire deal. An opt out clause after 2 years could be ripe for Cueto if he performs well until then.

      Idk, i wouldnt want Cueto for 6 whole years at 20-22 AAV. Not a ton of faith in the health of that arm longterm.

      • I literally sat there on a day off last week and watched Sabean say on MLB network say they don’t like going beyond 5 years.

        Also interesting to note these opt outs becoming a big thing.

        • Depending on the situation, it makes sense on both sides a bit. The team gets a for sure 2 years of quality control, with a chance of not being on the hook for prime regression ages over a long deal.

          Obviously it sucks to lose that guy after “just” two years, but i’d see it as a decent thing to dangle. For players, thats great. Have a good 2 years and cash in bigger in a few years as prices rise.

          • Agreed. Wonder how this has (or had) factored into FAs with the Pirates. Probably a reason they have to rely on one year deals.

  7. Seeing Andrew M. projected at 6.0 WAR reminded me about how controversial it was when CF Nate McLouth was traded to Atlanta for Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez. Gorkys never made an impact on the club, while Charlie racked up a number of starts resulting in a losing overall record before his departure as has Jeff Locke to date. Ironically McLouth’s career entered a downward spiral after the trade and he never achieved what was expected for him.
    The major positive impact on the Bucs of the trade was that it opened up CF for Cutch, who was ready for promotion. Essentially addition by subtraction. I don’t remember what McLouth’s expected WAR was at the time, but it was probably around 2.0. The immediate result of the trade was a loss of WAR for the next year’s team. The reason to bring this up is that there has been a lot of angst about recent moves such as Walker for Niese and essentially releasing Morton and dumping his salary. The long run impact of these moves may be opening 2nd for Hanson, who while unlikely to be as good as Cutch may turn out to be pretty darn good and even better at producing WAR than Walker. We’ll have to see the games played to find out.

  8. I was reading somewhere that Bastardo may be out of our price range. I am thinking we
    still need to fill that other LT handed spot and from what I have seen, there are about
    six possible good candidates. Bastardo has the best numbers of all and some real
    free spending teams may be interested. Who will we end up with?

    • They only have Kang hitting .252. These projections seem very modest. I think Marte is 5+ and Kang and Polanco both go over 3.5.

      • Projections are supposed to be a most likely outcome. There are tails on either side of those outcomes, though, and “most likely” doesn’t necessarily sit in the middle of the distribution. So even the projections may think there’s appreciable probability those guys hit for better average and produce more overall, and maybe they also think there’s very little chance they do worse, but the highest point on the curve is what’s reported.

  9. ZiPS way more aggressive with Hanson’s power projection than Steamer (.156 ISO vs .117). According to ZiPS, Hanson would be the 5th most prolific power hitter on the team.

  10. Heard a commentator on MLB channel suggest Pirates get Chris Davis for 1B. That would get the power option needed, can they afford that over 5 years?

    • They don’t want to afford him for five years. He doesn’t profile well as he ages between the size and the strikeouts. We’ll be paying for his production in the past, not for the production he gives us if we do that.

      • I thought he’d be a perfect fit. Then I looked at his stats. He has two really good years in the past four. Not worth the risk. It will be interesting to see where he ends up.

        • Verducci has a New York bias that he tries to apply across the board when making his opinions about other teams I’ve noticed. We all can say the Pirates should get Davis. That would be a huge upgrade in the short term. But, lets be realistic, the Pirates arent getting Davis. The Orioles are probably one of the bigger spending small markets and Davis is likely too much for them as well. Heck, I doubt the Cardinals are going to get him either, despite their interest.

    • If you trust any of the rumors being made about Davis, he’s not seriously considering only 5 years. Hell, it seems like BAL already made a huge offer that was longer than 5 years, and Davis balked at it.

      He’s apparently pushing for this to be his last FA deal.

  11. I’m confused by Glasnow having a higher number than Taillon, and Taillon having not much playing time. Isn’t Taillon more likely to get to the majors first?

    • Kingham’s higher, too, even though he’s still injured, and it’s almost impossible he’ll get to the Majors this year as anything other than a September call-up.

  12. An open question – since the trade of Charlie Morton happened so quickly, and as a surprise to just about everybody, is it possible the Pirates had approached him about working 2016 as a RP and part-time SP?

      • Circumventing the usual financial flexibility talking points (which is a talking point, but its also unfortunately a real factor for NH to contend with), the Morton trade to me made sense before it happened. The moment they got Niese, I knew either Morton or Locke was gone. Niese isnt a #3, even being fixed, his upside isnt as a #3. If they get a reclamation project, it will atleast be a guy with much higher upside.

        I think they frankly just got impatient with Morton’s inconsistencies. Hurdle probably had enough, just as he did with Pedro. They would rather have Niese who is a little younger, has a year extra contract control than Morton at this point.

        • Did it really take trading Neil Walker for that privileged, though? That’s the point.

          It’s not like they simply signed Niese, or even got him for prospects. They’re paying him considerable money (for them) PLUS their starting 2B.

          Do the $/WAR analysis on that…

          • No disagreement…however, I think Huntington worked off of this premise: I dont want to lose him for nothing. I’m not defending the trade. Frankly, I would have kept Walker and traded Melancon and Alvarez instead. Its ironic that Melancon, the guy who seemed more likely to be traded might now be kept after all.

            Working from his likely position, that he didnt want to lose Walker for nothing at the end, none of us know what offers he had available. I think Hector Santiago would potentially been a better get, but we dont know for sure 100% if the Angels were willing to part with him just for Walker.

            Ultimately, I think Huntington is trying to reshuffle the pieces while remaining a contender next year I dont buy this talk of a transition/set back year. I do expect them to bring in some quality players to fill in gaps. I expect the sneaky/savvy pick ups NH has become known for. Now, if those things dont happen, I’ll change my tune, but for the moment, I’m giving him a chance to show us what the plan is.

          • Trading Walker was at least partially a pre-emptive move to rid the organization of a malcontent. There was going to be another knockdown drag out fight in arbitration and Walker himself spoke about how that process affected him last year.

            Furthermore his inability to make strong throws to start DP’s contributed to two significant injuries last season.

            Lastly, they seem to be ready to give Hanson a chance to play on team.

          • You trade Walker because employing range challenged infielders doesn’t exactly jive with their whole ground ball pitching approach. Being so sure that they won’t get something decent out of Neise, possibly something more than he’s done before, is a little silly considering the recent track record.

  13. The club has two pitching prospects *not named* Taillon or Glasnow who project to be roughly as good as Jon Niese.

    There should be absolutely no reason to pay him >$10m in either of his option years.

    • I don’t think you can count on Kingham necessarily, at least not yet. I can see a reason to keep him for both years, especially if he bounces back. Next year, even with Cole, Liriano, Glasnow, and Taillon, one more reliable starter will be needed to fill out the rotation. The year after that, Liriano leaves. It all depends on what we do to fill out the rotation this year, though. Does the pitcher we add have multiple years? If so, maybe Niese does become redundant, but if he bounces back to his 2011-4 numbers, we can’t just let him go for free, either.

      • Sure “we” can. They just dropped Morton for nothing, he made even less than Niese, and was projected to be just as good.

        Jon Niese was eminently available in both 2014 and 2015, with no takers. You’re not getting anything of value for him barring career-setting numbers.

        • I trust the projections on a team basis, but I do not trust them for individual players, and I find it hard to believe that Morton and Niese have the same chance to be effective given their relative histories and ages. Niese has a longer, better, healthier track record, and he’s younger. I just don’t see how that says Morton will be a similar or better pitcher than him this year, not with any confidence.

          And that he had no takers on revocable waivers in a year when he was dealing with some shoulder problems and in a down year does not mean a healthy Niese who pitches like he has for most of his career (not better, the same, a 2+ WAR pitcher) will not have value on the market, because he will.

          • The beauty of projections is their objectivity.

            Don’t like a WAR or wRC+ projection for Player X? Then tell me which contributing statistic you specifically disagree with. Because it’s not like a guy just picks a number.

            Guys on here argued with me about Starling Marte’s projection last winter, and it came down to them being wildly optimistic about his projected BABIP. They expected >.360 as in the previous season whereas the projections regressed that number down to .345. All other rate stats ended up largely the same, but Marte’s overall production dropped because, you guessed it, BABIP.

            You haven’t actually said what skill Jon Niese has that will allow him to be considerably better than Morton. Do that, and we have a discussion.

            • Niese is better suited than Morton to get LH batters out. No need to look further than that considering the Cubs and Cards lineups.

            • I think it’s mostly the fact that it more undersells the likely IP for Niese than it does for Morton. Morton is projected for 138.7, which is fair given that he tends to be a 5-6 inning pitcher when he’s healthy (not uncommon of two-pitch starters), and since he’s had so many injury struggles lately. Niese is projected for 157.7, which is closer to his injury-shorted 2013 season than the other three of his last four seasons in which he’s pitched at least 176 innings (which was 2015, and in which he spent time in the bullpen).

              The projections also have Morton with a higher K% even though Niese has a higher one for his career. ZiPS seems to assume both pitchers are best represented by their K% from last year, and not from their careers. I think that’s fair for Morton, who has been a better K pitcher the last few years, but for Niese, last year was a bit of an outlier. I see it more likely he rebounds to a 16-17% K% than staying around 15%.

            • The skill that Jon Niese has that can make him better than Charlie Morton is that half the batters who face Niese don’t turn into Buster Posey because they stand on the left side of the plate.

              There are things to like about Morton but he has a big flaw which may just be fatal.

        • Also, I’m not sure there wasn’t interest in 2014, just no team wanted to pay what he would have cost. He was pretty good in 2014, threw 187 innings with a mid-3s ERA and a 2.0 WAR. I’m sure many teams wanted that, they just weren’t willing to pay the price.

          • Agree…and could also be, gasp…the Mets wanted major pieces back for him since they weren’t forced to deal him. So they very easily could, and probably were, asking for either an overpay or they would stay situation.

        • I thought when they got Niese it gave them the flexibility to trade Morton for 1st baseman. Either way with as much as teams value even decent pitching they should have got a lot more for Morton.

    • ZiPS is always low on pitchers for the Pirates though. Volquez was projected for an 0.2 WAR. Liriano was projected for a 2.0 WAR.

      I could see Niese returning to a 2.0+ WAR pitcher.

      • That a relative point, Tim. These are all Pirate pitchers we’re talking about. No sense to credit one for a bump and not another.

  14. I can’t see Hanson starting the year with the big team. I believe that they care more about years of control and super 2. If he does well, they cant send him down when Kang gets healthy, can they?

    • Sure they can send him down. It’ll just cost them the option year, which they likely have every intention of burning anyway.

      If he’s hitting .350 with plenty of doubles and good defense it could make for an uncomfortable narrative, but the chances of that are remote.

      • Both would be preferable. Since Hanson shouldnt play a ton of SS and come April we have 1 SS healthy and on the roster.

        Suppose you could make a case for Gift, but depth and all that.

  15. Tim … Neal Huntington mentioned something about WAR that made me realize that I don’t really understand WAR. His comment was something about how expensive it would be to field a team based on WAR. I believe that each team starts with a “base WAR” (something like 50) and then you add each player’s WAR to that number to get “expected” wins. Is that accurate? Or am I way off base here?
    Also, when you mention the market value for WAR, is that the free agent value for WAR?

    • Free agent WAR value.

      Huntington was saying that no two teams value WAR the same, and low budget clubs like the Pirates cannot pay market value set in part by larger markets who inherently value a win at a higher number.

      • The frustrating thing at times is that they could afford to pay market value for “some of the WAR” as long as they are getting some at well below market. True of every team I guess.

    • I think he was referring to the $/WAR price in free agency. Typically a replacement level team is around 48 wins. That means to get to 98 wins, using $6 M per WAR for all upgrades, you’d need to spend $300 M (50 * $6).

      • Thanks! In a way this connects to the Neil Walker Tweets you had out there yesterday. (Ignoring the 1B component):
        – Neil Walker thinks fair value would be the price he can attract on the market. This would most likely be north of $15 million/year (with an unrealistic assumption that his performance level won’t drop off)
        – The other Neal is probably starting with the assumption that the Pirates never want to pay full value for WAR.
        This means that we would “never” resign a player for full (or fair) value. Which means a player will either:
        A: Want to stay so much that they will accept a discount (Liriano and Burnett last year)
        B: Sign guaranteed contract/extensions early (Cutch, Marte, Harrison, and Tabata) so that make more in their early years, less in their “free agent” years, and get guaranteed money

  16. I’m surprised ZiPS likes Morton as much as it does. I don’t remember it liking him much in the past, so it’s weird to see a decent projection coming off the year he just had.

    • That is surprising, especially when Locke had a higher WAR than CM in 2015. Very nice recommendation of Hanson. His full season at AAA with only 9 errors at 2B really stood out. I could not understand BA not including him in the Pirates Top 10 Prospects, but they put Newman in there at No. 8 – they both played as 22 year olds in 2015 and Hanson was 3 or 4 levels above Newman.

      • Maybe BA understands that Hanson has been in the system for six years and Newman was drafted out of college in June?


  17. Before anyone goes nuts on the Taillon/CJ Wilson comp, needs to remember that CJ was a very effective pitcher a few years back

    • He just needs to log innings right now. I don’t think it’s fair for anybody to say anything about that kid, positive or negative.

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