FanGraphs released the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates ZiPS projections by Dan Szymborski today, giving a look at how one of the best projection systems feels about the Pirates for the upcoming season. The numbers this year predict that the Pirates will have a good offensive group, with an above-average lineup that will produce about 21 WAR, which is above the ~15 WAR that a group of eight average players would produce. On the flip side, the pitching doesn’t have as much depth, mostly in the bullpen.
The biggest thing that sticks out to me on the offensive side is the outfield alignment. The projections have Andrew McCutchen hitting for a .276/.370/.474 line, and the best wOBA on the team. However, his defense in center field is leading to -10 runs, which removes a win from his projection (he’s at 4.1 WAR). The Pirates haven’t made anything official, but I’d be surprised if they went into the 2017 season with McCutchen playing center field. I could see Starling Marte in center, Gregory Polanco in left, and McCutchen in right.
The starting pitching projections are interesting. If you give each starter 180 innings at their current projected WAR rate, the order would be:
1. Gerrit Cole – 3.5 zWAR
2. Tyler Glasnow – 3.1
3. Jameson Taillon – 2.9
4. Ivan Nova – 2.3
5. Steven Brault – 1.7
6. Chad Kuhl – 1.0
7. Drew Hutchison – 0.9
8. Trevor Williams – 0.6
There are also some interesting projections among guys who will probably be relievers or depth options. Wade LeBlanc gets a high 1.2 WAR in 109 innings, which would be just under a 2.0 as a full season starter. Lisalverto Bonilla would be at 1.3 as a starter over 180 innings. Nick Kingham seems reasonably projected at 74 innings and an 0.4 WAR, although to add perspective, this would be just under 1.0 in 180 innings (putting him right below Kuhl in the above depth chart).
Just for fun, ZiPS also projects Jose Quintana at a 3.9 WAR over 189 innings, which would put him at the top of this list. I don’t know if I buy Tyler Glasnow’s high total here, at least not without some work to fix his problems from last year (and he’s already started making some changes), but if you buy the ZiPS projections for both guys, there would be no way you’d trade Glasnow in a deal for Quintana. On that same note, Josh Bell is projected for 1.6 WAR in 612 plate appearances, Austin Meadows is projected for 2 WAR in 474 PA, and Kevin Newman is projected for 1.7 WAR in 434 PA. Those projections mean that a trade of any of these two prospects for Quintana would give the Pirates only about half a win of an upgrade in getting Quintana, and the scales might tip against the Pirates going forward.
The bullpen projections might have some flaws in either direction. Tony Watson is projected for an 0.9 WAR, and I could see that happening. But I have a hard time buying Wade LeBlanc being worth about the same as Felipe Rivero (and that speaks more to LeBlanc’s projection). Daniel Hudson is projected as a replacement level player, despite having an 0.7 and 0.6 fWAR in each of the last two years. I guess if you look at the entire bullpen, it all evens out. That said, I’d agree with the idea in the article that the Pirates could use another guy.
Finally, there are player comps, which I only view as entertainment, and which led to some entertaining comps this year. Here are some of the comps to former Pirates players.
Kevin Newman / Ronny Cedeno
Josh Bell / Orlando Merced
Jose Osuna / Mike Morse
Jameson Taillon / Jon Lieber
Drew Hutchison / Kevin Hart
Juan Nicasio / Brian Boehringer