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

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  1. “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…”

    Isn’t it important to keep in mind that it’s taking two players to equal less than one player? Not a perfect parallel by any means, but that would be like saying Cervelli and Polanco are about the same as Marte because their OWAR’s equal Marte. But… it’s actually taking them twice as many at-bats. By having Marte instead, you would allow someone else to also get at-bats and add onto that WAR of having one person, rather than two lesser.

    • If you believe Glasnow’s projection then you should not trade him…

      I doubt he comes even close – and spends the whole first half at Indy…

      But even then, that is not how it works. Swapping Q for Glasnow nets you 1.8 wins. Replacing Bells at bats with Freese actually projects to be a slight improvement. So adding Quintana gets you 2 wins not just this year – but for the next 3 also.

      • I agree. I’m pro-Quintana. We hope Glasnow turns out to be so good(some hope better-which would be only about 15 guys in the league have been statistically). Glasnow may be great but take a shot now and take the proven guy for 4 years.

  2. Missed opportunity,

    Dodgers needed a secon baseman…
    Nice pitching prospect available…

    Would have been nice move for Harrison and added an arm…

    Too bad Rays swooped in and for him…

    • Bruce, had to respond because just
      upvoting your statement about 2nd base
      would not be strong enough. I agree.

    • Forsythe is a much better player than Harrison right now, so I don’t think Harrison actually lands us De Leon anyway.

      • That isn’t true. Harrison, however would not have been enough to get DeLeon. Not that WAR is the end all be all but still:

        Forsythe – 6.8 fWAR
        Harrison – 2.8 fWAR

  3. Blowringer. I think those comparisons are all to bad players because they couldn’t find any Pirates from the past 15 years that didn’t suck.

  4. If all of those comps are correct, why not get it over with and dfa them all and and fire all the amateur scouts and stop supporting this website with our money.

  5. I agree with the Drew Hutchison / Kevin Hart comp. When Hutchison pitches he is hilarious….get it? anyone?

  6. Tim – I am rarely in complete disagreement with you, however, putting McCutchen’s pop gun arm in RF seems like a ridiculously bad idea to me.

    The Bucs will be giving up 1st-3rd on most singles to right if this happens. And that’s coming off 2 seasons where teams are holding the runner at 2nd in fear of Polanco’s cannon in right. It would be a huge swing the wrong way defensively.

    Bad bad idea IMO. How do you justify it?

    • Having a pop gun arm works out perfectly fine when hes’ not having to throw too far, he still has the speed in RF to play shallow. Get over the “right field means you have a cannon” defense and look at the ball park we play in. What you give up in Right field, you save in center and left.

      • I don’t believe Cutch can execute a decent throw to 3rd from mid-right field, let alone from the corner. His arm is by far his Weakest tool IMO.

        • He doesn’t need to. They have these things called cut-off men, all he has to do is get to the ball quickly and get it in.

          • This isn’t little league.

            You won’t be able to find me a single Major League example of stopping a runner going first to third on a single using a cutoff man.

            • I was thinking from the corner eliminating a triple. Defensive positioning handles that, play him shallow. Cutch’s poor arm isn’t much worse than Polanco’s 5 second windup to release the ball, anyways. Polanco’s arm is very good, but his release time makes Rod Barajas look like he’s in fast forward.

        • Since hustle isn’t a tool- I’d agree with you. Luckily arm strength is the most unimpressive tool. Just ask our prospect that we just DFA’d, he had the best arm in the entire organization.

    • First, there was a lot of speculation that the Pirates would put McCutchen in RF. So this is more my thought on what will happen, rather than my idea on what should happen.

      But I’ve also written at length about McCutchen’s issues. His range declined, which doesn’t make him the best option for LF. His arm is weak, but the numbers have shown it’s not as significant of an issue as the range, especially with Polanco’s arm strength dropping in the last year (although that could be a one year thing).

      Basically, there’s no perfect place to put McCutchen. So you have to choose between weak range in LF or a weak arm in RF. And the weak arm is the lesser of two evils.

      • On the road you could switch Polanco and Cutch, right? Put Cutch in LF where the the LF is similar in size to RF.

      • The sad part of this is that the Pirates are not able to put a quality defense behind the young guns…

        Marte, Polanco, and Harrison are the only plus defenders that they will start regularly. Cervelli could rebound to join that group and Kang has show signs of being at least an average 3rd baseman. But Cutch, Bell and Mercer are not good defenders – wherever you play them…

      • Is there a way to access some data on your hypothesis Tim? Have not read much on the subject of range vs arm strength.
        And this is the 1st I have heard of a decrees in velocity from Polanco. Anything I can access on that?


    • How about a little math…

      A 10 mph difference in arm strength – which is almost certainly more than the difference between Cutch and an “average” RF – over a 200 foot throw equates to a time difference of just 0.15 seconds.

      Even slight improvements in accuracy or the speed at which a ball is released more than make up for the physical difference of time in the air. Pure arm strength simply is not the determining factor in holding runners, despite traditional thinking. You see similar teaching starting to be reflected in catchers; movement efficiency is stressed far more than developing arm strength because the former can cut much, much more off the pop time.

      Now the *perception* of arm strength may deter more runners from trying, and having Cutch in RF may very well encourage more chances, but the physical differences simply aren’t appreciable.

      • Are you trying to tell me Cutch is more accurate than Polanco? If you are, we have a rather large disagreement.

      • See Ichiro Suzuki. …and I remember Van Slyke. Maybe above average or slightly better arm in his prime but could one hop the ball to the catcher and nail a guy at home seemingly like a machine for 3-4 years when he was at his best.

      • Also, the balls on which first-to-third is even an option are far less frequent than the balls on which the size of left field will make arm strength more relevant there. So in PNC, the gap in arm is minimized even more, if it doesn’t even actually shift to being more valuable in LF.

        • Either you guys are full of it, or I really don’t know what I am talking about. I have always thought decent arm in RF was critical. Valuing range in our LF over arm in right doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I have never run across anything in the way of advanced statistical analysis on the subject.

          Are these opinions being shared? Or is there something out there to back you guys up?

          • The throw from the notch in PNC is the longest throw in the park. The conventional wisdom of a strong arm in RF is predicated on those throws being especially long, but since RF in PNC is small, and since LF is massive, the difference in throw length is mitigated, and that smaller effect is likely made up for entirely in the difference in range between Polanco and McCutchen.

            If PNC weren’t the Pirates’ home park, then the argument might change, but PNC is the Pirates’ home park, so this is the argument.

            Besides that, hitting the cut will work wonders.

    • A weak arm in right and subpar range in right isn’t as glaring in PNC because if it’s over your head you play it off the scoreboard and it’s not a long throw. You have to make a bunch of long throws playing left in PNC.

  7. I think the good thing about how they roll out ZiPS projections is that they also give you the rate stat projections that make up the totals. The guts, if you will. I don’t find the WAR projections all that useful because of playing time variability, but you can deduce for yourself how valuable Player X’s skills project based on the offensive and defensive – and pitching – components.

    Like with Glasnow, for instance, one can see that they don’t have to buy any improvement in control (12.8% BB rate) in order for him to be an above average pitcher, as long as they *do* buy an increase in strikeouts (27.1% K rate) and roughly league-average production on balls in play.

    Nova might have the most interesting projection for me, since ZiPS shows him giving back almost all of the walk and strikeout gains he showed in Pittsburgh, yet still sees him as a league-average arm based on moving from Yankee Stadium to PNC and the NL alone. What a difference the leagues make in this case. I don’t think Nova really showed any improvement in *command*, but he’s got 3rd starter upside if he can keep filling the zone without the production on contact hurting him in the new league.

    • Nova likely outperforms his projection, as does Kuhl. It would be great iif Glasnow made his projection, but unlikely this year.

  8. W/ some of these depth-chart projections, these numbers can get skewed quite a bit. For instance, the bullpen seems awfully weird w/ LeBlanc receiving so many innings (not to mention his projected production). Watson, Rivero, Hudson, Nicasio all are projected to be solid, though, so I would assume the lion’s share of high-leverage innings will be funneled to those 4.

    ZiPS (and national outlets) seems to have a better grasp and more realistic view of Glasnow vs. Kuhl. Projection systems hate the latter and are optimistic about the former. Again, outside of this site, that jives w/ most projection systems – both last year and this year. The Pirates would be wise to view Kuhl as competing for the 5th spot and providing depth than slotting him in as a #4 guy; he simply doesn’t have a way to consistently get batters out unless the GB tendency really shows itself and the Pirates actually play better defense behind him.

    • “Again, outside of this site”

      All of these complaints about what we’ve said regarding Glasnow and Kuhl, and yet you still don’t really know what we said about Glasnow and Kuhl.

      • Or, the alternative, I’m educated enough to know what you wrote and disagree w/ the same. ZiPS projects Kuhl at mid-4’s FIP; that ain’t going to get it done. Yes, projections are often wrong, but they’re more right than human projection, especially to a non-scout.

        Glasnow, for all of his faults, is *projected* to be both better in the short-term and the long-term than Kuhl. There is really no argument, other than personal preference and personal doubt, to conclude that TG shouldn’t be given every opportunity to start over a low-ceiling, defense-dependent replacement-level SP.

        But, hey, you’ve decided to die on the Kuhl hill. Strange, but I guess I respect it.

        • “But, hey, you’ve decided to die on the Kuhl hill”

          Again, you really have no clue what I’ve said about Glasnow and Kuhl, do you?

          The “hill” that I died on last year was just that Kuhl was ready for the majors, Glasnow wasn’t, and Kuhl would have been a better option for 2016. Also, I wrote that the Pirates were more likely to call up Taillon and Kuhl rather than Taillon and Glasnow. And guess what happened?

              • The most damning comments I recall are:

                Glasnow needs another pitch…and….

                He’s not ready for the majors, regardless of how good the AAA numbers look right now…and…

                I’d rather have four years of Quintana than six years of Glasnow.

                Some scathing stuff, right there.

                • Well, technically it could be 6+ years of Glasnow if they wait until July or August to call him up. If he doesn’t pitch until then it is either a sign the bucs rotation is healthy and pitching well or that Glasnow is still not doing the things he needs to do to crack the mlb rotation.

            • I’ve said he’s a back of the rotation starter with number four upside. And I’ve said that Glasnow has a much higher upside and the two aren’t comparable in the long-term.

              The only time I’ve ever compared them is to determine who would be ready first in 2016. And I was right.

              • “[Kuhl]…looked like a legit back of the rotation starter once he makes the necessary adjustments with his consistency. If the Pirates don’t make another move for their rotation, you can probably just pencil him in for one of the final two rotation spots. If they do make another move, he’d still have the inside track for the final spot.”

                That was hard. Do you ever feel like people just read the headlines to your article and then make up what the rest of the article says in their heads?

                • What exactly are you trying to prove here? I’ve always said Kuhl has the upside of a back of the rotation starter. And the Pirates have said he has the inside track for a rotation spot. So I’m not sure what this quote does for whatever argument you are trying to make.

                  And to answer your question, yes.

        • I find it fascinating that some folks are willing to believe that a “prospect” who was given opportunities last year and blew all of them will somehow magically fix his shortcomings and realize his potential while at the same time they don’t believe a young man who earned his way into last years rotation cannot improve and become even better.
          Glasnow last year was a train wreck.
          Kuhl worked his ass off and fought his way through some tough outings. If Kuhl can add one more strikeout per 9 and cut one Walk per 9 and keep his pitches down slightly better he can become a solid 4 – maybe 3…

          Meanwhile Glasnow will stay in Indy and remain loved by the Smalley’s on this site for his “potential”

  9. I play OOTP computer baseball and they use these ZIPS for their players. Good to see that the Bucs will be well represented?

    I also assume that Bell’s low total is the result of his Offense being dragged down by his defense?

    • Bell actually receives an incredibly optimistic defensive projection, only giving back two runs. The same projection they gave Jaso and Freese.

      Until he figures out how to get his power to translate to game action (.156 projected ISO) or shows he can post above-average BABIP’s (.296 projected BABIP), there’s going to be a limit on how far the contact and patience can take him.

    • Marte will be a very good CF if given the chance. Agree the lineup should be Polanco in LF, Marte in CF, and Cutch in RF. I suspect they will try to start the season with Cutch in CF but with deeper positioning. I’d like to see Cutch in RF, not only from a defensive perspective, but I also think it would keep his legs slightly fresher.

    • Kang projections do not include a full season of ab. Polanco HR seems low, Marte perhaps high based on last year, but he has the potential to hit 20 on any given season.

    • What do you consider a prototypical CF? Someone who plays great defense, steals bases and has a little pop? cause that would pretty much be everyone but Cutch in theory

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