Every year when FanGraphs releases the ZiPS projections for the Pirates, I do an article where I take the WAR projections, combined with my analysis on the expected playing time, and come up with an expected win total. This process started in 2013 and continued each season after that. The projections always came in higher than most other projections, but were usually the same or lower than the actual win total by the end of the season.

That was true at least for the first three seasons. Last year’s projection had 89 wins, and almost everything possible that could have gone wrong went wrong. That’s part of what makes a projection system so good though. At the end of the season, we were able to look back and see who fell shy of their projections (Summary: 90% of the team), and how that impacted the team record.

The ZiPS projections for the 2017 season were released today, which means it’s time for that annual projection for the team record. Once again, the end result is probably going to be higher than most projection systems, and hopefully the 2013-15 trend holds up where the projection ends up being the same or lower than the actual win total. I tend to go conservative with this approach, letting ZiPS do the talking in terms of value, and trying to keep a reasonable grasp on playing time. That leaves room for improvement, or just room to counter any players who fall short of their projections.

Before we begin, I will point out again that the disclaimer in ZiPS is that you shouldn’t total all the WAR on the depth charts to get a team WAR. I’ve had that mentioned in the past in regards to this article, but I don’t think that applies. I believe that disclaimer is for all of the projections on the ZiPS page, which would result in a WAR that would be impossible to obtain, due to the unrealistic amount of playing time projected for each team. The approach I’m taking is much more calculated and more accurate. It’s also an approach that you could use with any projection system, since the main focus is figuring out playing time, then applying a projection to that playing time. There’s also the disclaimer to add that this is just for entertainment.

Now, here are the projections.

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

Francisco Cervelli is projected for a 2.0 WAR and 349 plate appearances. I don’t like to adjust his playing time up, due to his injury history. I will point out that he had 393 plate appearances last year in a season that had a few injuries, so the 349 number seems very realistic, and something he could build upon with a healthy season. He also had a 1.7 fWAR last year, so the projection doesn’t seem too far off the mark.

The Pirates had 646 plate appearances behind the plate last year. ZiPS has Chris Stewart projected for 170 and an 0.3 WAR. Again, I don’t like adjusting the playing time for Stewart, since he’s injury prone. That addition to Cervelli gives the Pirates 519 plate appearances, leaving them 127 short. I’ll give those to Elias Diaz, who is projected for 274 plate appearances, and looks like the better backup option in the ZiPS projections with an 0.7 WAR. The pro-rated amount gives another 0.3 WAR.

That makes the total for the three catchers a 2.6 WAR. The Pirates could get more if Cervelli stayed healthy and put up playing time closer to his 2015 season (although expecting those exact numbers would be expecting too much).

WAR: +2.6 (50.6)

FIRST BASE

First base is a bit tricky this year. Josh Bell is going to be the starter, but David Freese will get time there, and John Jaso will factor in the mix. The Pirates had 721 plate appearances at first base last year, and Bell has 612 with a 1.6 WAR in the projections. I’m guessing Bell could get a bit of time in the outfield, but we’ll assign all of his time to first base for now. That leaves 109 plate appearances, which will go to Freese. This adds another 0.4 WAR to the position.

I’ll factor Jaso in when we get to the bench, and Freese will get more time in the third base projections.

WAR: +2.0 (52.6)

SECOND BASE

Josh Harrison will be the regular second baseman. He’s getting a 2.2 WAR over 517 plate appearance. This is a bit optimistic, considering he had a 1.5 fWAR in 522 plate appearances last year, and 1.3 in 449 the year before. I’m giving him the full projection.

The Pirates had 701 plate appearances at second base. They have 184 remaining after Harrison. I’m going to save those and combine them for the bench section.

WAR: +2.2 (54.8)

SHORTSTOP

Jordy Mercer is projected for 521 plate appearances and a 1.4 WAR. I used his full projection.

The Pirates had 674 plate appearances last year at shortstop. This leaves 153 remaining after Mercer. The thing about the shortstop position is that it’s difficult to assign those extra plate appearances to the infield bench in general. And they no longer have Sean Rodriguez as a utility infielder and the primary backup. I’ll move those plate appearances to the bench section for now, but will revisit this situation.

WAR: +1.4 (56.2)

THIRD BASE

Jung Ho Kang is projected for 458 plate appearances and a 3.2 WAR. I’m going to avoid any speculation on legal issues, and just go with the projections for now. The obvious disclaimer here is that the Pirates could see a hit if he has to miss time for any reason.

The Pirates had 704 plate appearances at third base last year, leaving 246 remaining here. I’ll give all of those to David Freese, adding another 1.0 WAR. That brings the third base total to 4.2 WAR.

WAR: +4.2 (60.4)

LEFT FIELD

Starling Marte is projected for 585 plate appearances and a 3.8 WAR. The Pirates had 718 plate appearances last year in left field. The extra playing time in the outfield will be addressed in the bench section.

I’ll point out two things here. First is that ZiPS is often low on Marte. He’s averaged about 4.2 fWAR over his four full seasons in the majors. He was projected for 3.8 last year and had a 4.0 fWAR, and that was in an injury filled season. So there could be room for improvement here.

There’s also the outfield situation, where Marte could move to center, with Andrew McCutchen moving to one of the corners. That will probably end up in a net positive for the team. I’m only including Marte at this spot because that’s where ZiPS has him projected.

WAR: +3.8 (64.2)

CENTER FIELD

Andrew McCutchen is projected for 641 plate appearances and a 4.1 WAR.  This is a big drop from the previous projections, with McCutchen being projected for a 5.6 WAR heading into last year. I think this projection is fair, as it factors in the risk from his down year, but doesn’t drop him down too low.

There were 737 plate appearances in center field last year, and the extras will go to the bench.

WAR: +4.1 (68.3)

RIGHT FIELD

Gregory Polanco is projected for 612 plate appearances and a 2.6 WAR. I think there’s a lot of room for improvements here, as I am still waiting on and believing in a Polanco breakout. He was projected for a 2.2 WAR last year, and had a 2.5 WAR, even though his second half was pretty bad, with some injuries involved. I think the ZiPS projection this year represents the floor for what we can expect.

Right field had 706 plate appearances last year, and the remaining spots will go to the bench.

WAR: +2.6 (70.9)

BENCH

There were 660 plate appearances left over from above. The Pirates also had 336 plate appearances last year from pinch hitters and from the DH. So we’ve got 996 plate appearances remaining.

First, we’ll start with David Freese, who is projected for 469 plate appearances, and who had 492 last year. He’s at 355 right now, and I think that’s a good number. He’d get more time if there was an injury to Kang or Bell. So the Pirates will have some good depth to provide some security for those two spots. He won’t factor into the bench any further to keep this projection conservative.

Adam Frazier should have an inside track for a bench spot. I’ll give him 300 plate appearances, which adds 0.3 WAR.

John Jaso should get some time at first base, along with a bit of time in the outfield. I’ll put him at 200 plate appearances, which adds 0.4 WAR. I’ll also note that if Jaso is moved, or doesn’t get this time, it would probably go to one of the guys projected higher or around the same level of production as him.

Alen Hanson is the final bench guy to focus on. He always gets a high ZiPS projection, and is at 1.5 WAR this year in 533 plate appearances. I’ll give him 200 plate appearances, since the Pirates haven’t shown a lot of faith in him so far. This adds 0.6 WAR.

The final 266 plate appearances will go to Austin Meadows. This adds another 1.2 WAR to the bench.

Finally, a note on the shortstop position. I think Adam Frazier or Alen Hanson could be backups in a pinch, with Frazier probably getting the priority. I don’t know if Kang will get time at the position, due to his knee injury from 2015. So I think the backup is on the roster right now. But if it’s the second half, the backup could be Kevin Newman, who is projected for 1.7 WAR over 434 plate appearances. That’s a high rate, and if I went with Newman over Frazier/Hanson/Freese (with Freese stepping in at third if Kang moves over), then the results would either be about the same, or better. I’m mostly focused on value right now, and keeping a conservative projection, so I’ll leave Newman out.

The overall bench combines for another 2.5 WAR.

WAR: +2.5 (73.4)

STARTING PITCHING

ZiPS has a track record of being down on the Pirates’ rotation. They’ve out-performed projections in each of the last few years, with the exception of 2016, when nearly everyone performed below expectations. The projections are low this year, and I could see a move back to the norm, with the Pirates exceeding expectations.

First, I want to stray a bit from my normal routine. I usually take a conservative approach with starting pitching innings, and don’t adjust them at all. However, there are a few that I feel need to be adjusted. The two guys I will adjust are Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova. Taillon has 112.1 innings, despite pitching 165.2 innings last year in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery. I’m going with the 165.2 number. And Ivan Nova had 162 innings last year, which isn’t totally out of the question for him, so I’m going with that number.

Here are the projections for the expected Opening Day rotation.

SP: Gerrit Cole (159.3 IP, 3.1 WAR)

SP: Jameson Taillon (165.7 IP, 2.7 WAR)

SP: Ivan Nova (162.0 IP, 2.0 WAR)

SP: Chad Kuhl (143.7 IP, 1.0 WAR)

SP: Steven Brault (144.3 IP, 1.4 WAR)

That gives us 775 innings and a combined 10.2 WAR. The starters last year had just 865.2 innings, although the rotation was pretty horrible. The previous two years, they were around 970 innings. We’ll go with that figure, giving them 195 innings remaining in the rotation.

The big beneficiary here is Tyler Glasnow, who is projected for 122.1 innings and a 2.1 WAR. I don’t have Glasnow projected for the Opening Day rotation, but I think he could be up and make an impact with some additional work in Triple-A on his command and a third pitch. The ZiPS numbers would be what you’d hope for, with Glasnow being just as good as Gerrit Cole when he’s pitching in the big leagues (granted, the version of Cole above is down a bit from previous projections). So if Glasnow pitches more innings, the Pirates obviously see a benefit, as those innings would replace guys like Steven Brault or Chad Kuhl, who have lower projections.

I’ll give the remaining innings to Drew Hutchison. This adds another 0.4 WAR, which in addition to Glasnow’s 2.1 WAR and the 10.2 from the Opening Day rotation, gives us 12.7 WAR from the starters.

WAR: +12.7 (86.1)

BULLPEN

The bullpen isn’t the strongest area on the team. ZiPS projects a bounce back from Tony Watson, and good numbers from Felipe Rivero. The projections for Daniel Hudson seem low, with ZiPS calling him a replacement level player, despite an average of 0.65 WAR in each of the last two seasons. The projections on Wade LeBlanc and Lisalverto Bonilla seem high, on the other hand. When you factor those three together, I think 1.0 WAR combined would sound right, although I’d give most of the production to Hudson, rather than LeBlanc and Bonilla.

I adjusted some of the innings, specifically going with 58.1 innings for Juan Nicasio, since that’s what he threw in his last full season as a reliever.

CL: Tony Watson (65.3 IP, 0.9 WAR)

RP: Felipe Rivero (66.3 IP, 0.6 WAR)

RP: Daniel Hudson (51.0 IP, 0.0 WAR)

RP: Juan Nicasio (58.3 IP, 0.4 WAR)

RP: Jared Hughes (63.3 IP, 0.3 WAR)

RP: Wade LeBlanc (50.0 IP, 0.6 WAR)

RP: Lisalverto Bonilla (50.0 IP, 0.4 WAR)

There were 270.2 innings remaining. This is where the starting rotation depth could come into play. I gave Nick Kingham his full 74 innings and 0.4 WAR. I gave A.J. Schugel his full 67.1 innings, and his 0.3 WAR. For the remaining innings, I added 0.4 WAR, since most of the remaining options came out to that amount. Trevor Williams would be the main guy I would look at for a placeholder, if you want a name.

This year’s projection is at 4.3 WAR.

WAR: +4.3 (90.4)

2017 PROJECTION

The Pirates are projected for an 90-72 record, which is one win higher than their projection at the start of last year. I can’t imagine they’ll have a season like last year where everything went wrong. You also can’t project that everything will go right. But I think there’s still some room in these projections for improvement.

That said, some of the expected or possible improvements are already built-in. Tyler Glasnow is projected to be the second best starter by WAR/IP. Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole are projected to bounce back, along with Tony Watson on a smaller scale. So there’s not as much upside as some of the years like 2013 or 2015, where a 90 win projection could become 94 wins or more if all goes right. While this projection is conservative, the ZiPS projections are high on the chances of certain players doing well or bouncing back, which means the Pirates already have that bonus built-in.

The end result should make the Pirates a contender, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. I know they’re coming off a 78 win season, but once again, a lot had to go wrong for that to happen. The projections heading into 2017 don’t anticipate a repeat of those struggles, leading to another season where the Pirates project to contend.

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74 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t see the Pirates winning more than 85 games and I wouldn’t be surprised with another losing season. Their pitching isn’t good enough and they haven’t done much of anything to improve upon last year’s team. I would say they are fielding basically last year’s team. Ergo I expect results similar to last year’s.

  2. I’d certainly like to believe 90-72 based on statistics. But the possible reality of 2017 for the Pirates hinges on several players. 1. Garrit Cole may not return to his dominating form? 2. McCutchen may not return to his dominating form? 3. We are still a good starting pitcher away from being a 90 win team, in my humble opinion. This in addition to the current starting pitching staff.

    This team needs another Liriano/Volquez find for starting pitching and another Melancon/Grilli find in relief. Not sure I see anyone on current roster to do this, therefore another .500 season could result. Just adjusting for what we saw last year.

  3. I invented my own metric, WALLY- Wins Above Lousy Last Year. Since the team didn’t really add any pieces except for re-signing Nova, and lost SRod and Joyce, my WALLY projection is for 82 wins. I’m basing this on having JT for the whole year instead of Lockeneisesong to help offset the loss of a bench.

  4. There is a lot of upside in the rotation. A full 200 healthy innings from Gerrit Cole would be a massive boost, for example, and these new mechanics making Glasnow a legitimate #3, which is possible even without another pitch, just on merit of the whiffs.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure I see much upside over what is projected here either on defense or in the bullpen, and with starting pitching being the most susceptible position to injury, I’m not extremely confident heading into the season.

    That said, the opening day roster this year will be better than last year’s, even with the downgrades on the bench, and I think that’s a very good sign that the team can contend again this year.

  5. Nitpicking, but there’s 2 ZiPS Projections that I don’t agree with:

    – Wade Leblanc – IMO ZiPS overvalues him. He’s never really had great numbers. His best xFIP season was 3.96, the rest were in the 4s, & career #’s: ERA 4.39 FIP 4.67 xFIP 4.57

    – Chad Kuhl – IMO ZiPS undervalues him. He produced a .9 WAR last year in half as many innings (71) as ZiPS projects for 2017 (143). His Minor league numbers were consistently above average. Not sure where in the calculation he’s been penalized.

    • ERA estimators that attempt to normalize the rate at which fly balls turn into home runs pegged Kuhl’s 2016 performance between 4.50 and 4.53.

      Until he shows the ability to suppress fly ball contact over more than a 71 inning sample, any reasonable projection won’t give him or any other similar pitcher the benefit of the doubt.

      • Is that the HR/FB column in Fangraphs that you’re referencing? Basically if 10% is the league average, & Kuhl’s was 8.9%, he was lucky/pitching in pitcher friendly ball parks?

        Kuhl’s peripherals from 2016 are actually pretty close to G. Cole’s, & while G. Cole has more of a MLB track record, if recent seasons are more heavily weighed in future production, it seems that all 1st year players would be undervalued in their projections.

        • I don’t like simplifying it down to “luck”, since there are pitchers who’ve demonstrated a repeated ability to at least partially control the quality of contact against them. Gerrit Cole, for instance, has consistently posted above average (lower) HR/FB rates, and Statcast data now back that up by showing low exit velocity on fly balls (90-91 mph) each of the two years it’s been available. Kuhl, on the other hand, gave up contact in the air that average 95 mph. That’s the difference between turning the average hitter elevating the ball in the air from Nick Markakis to Edwin Encarnacion. But essentially, yes, xFIP says that if Chad Kuhl is *not* one of those pitchers, then this is the ERA that would result is the expected number of fly balls left the yard.

          As for 1st year players being over or undervalued by projections, it really comes down to how they put up their production in the minors. Kuhl’s ERA outpaced his FIP by about a run in AA and AAA, and no reliable projection system will copy that. On the other hand, a kid like Glasnow or Jose De Leon who struck out everyone and their brother will get high projections despite noted scouting flaws.

          • Interesting – thank you for the reply. So does xFIP consider the Statcast exit speed velocity or was that your own analysis?

            • Ah, xFIP doesn’t factor Statcast! Which for many, has rendered the metric somewhat obsolete. It certainly is no longer accurate to say a pitcher “should have” or “was lucky to have” thrown to a certain ERA because of what xFIP says somewhat indiscriminately.

              But to me, it is still an indicator that makes it easier to know where to seek other information, such as how hard Statcast says the contact was actually hit. That’s where I pulled in the exit velocity data. I’m certainly not smart enough to tell you specifics down to a fraction of a run, but you can at least get a feel for whether or not the pitcher was on the right side of the results. Guys who give up softer contact give up *shorter* contact, and length is the primary determining factor for balls leaving the yard. It’s easier to trust that a guy will repeat above average results in keeping the ball in the yard when you know he was actually able to reduce how hard, and far, those balls were hit.

  6. Great analysis Tim. Love the detailed, yet easy to understand breakdown – that’s why this site is the best at covering the Pirates

  7. If I was making projection I would have a miscellaneous catch all for below replacement. Almost every year you have a collection of hitters(or pitchers) filling depth roles that accumulate between -1 and -2 WAR. Can’t predict specifically who they will be but it’s a good bet it happens.

  8. I am pretty sure the way W-L projections work is by win probability, not just adding up WAR. I cannot imagine this is a 90 win team. Depth Charts puts this as an 82 win team and they seem to LOVE our pitching staff. A lot more than zips. And more than I do honestly. Further, I find a few of ZIP position player projections to be unlikely, namely Harrison and Freese. We keep doing this thing of trying to take Freese’s third base WAR and apply it to first base. Which is wrong. He’s a pretty middling firstbasemen by the numbers, and the defensive value reflected in WAR from playing solid D at a premium position does not apply to the other side of the diamond.

    Bottom line, this looks like a 82-85 win team to me. I don’t see 90 unless basically everything breaks right.

      • We won 78 last year. Which was exactly what our Pythag said we should have. I’m guessing they’ll increase +4-7 wins vs. last year. That IS much better. We’ve added Hudson and lost Feliz, Rodriguez and Joyce, and are counting on bouncebacks and rookies to improve. 90 wins seems a major reach to me. Not impossible, but a reach.

        • We could have very easily won 82 if we cared about winning 82, that’s my point. The 78 win team was an 82 win team. Our record over the last 2-3 weeks wasn’t the starting team. So lets use 82 wins…..four more wins is just our star playings being healthy and cutch not being horrible. That’s not much. Getting to 90 means new blood……this is the rookies maturing quickly, a good trade, and no inuries that are major. 86-90 is realistic, 86 is more likely, but 90 is possible. Anything more than that, is going to take an “all in” mentality, that we know our front office doesn’t have (not saying its good or bad, just reality)

  9. To get to 90 wins the Pirates can not go 4-14 against the Cubs again, unless they then go 86-58 against everyone else.

  10. If this team, as currently assembled wins 90 games, I may be dancing in the streets.

    I’m going with 81-85. Way too many “ifs” and “bouncebacks” needed.

    • Lee, I was thinking that 78 might even be the low point with
      a range from 78-86, but I just don’t see them only winning
      38 games again at home.

      Wait a minute, how many questions do we still have about
      our starting pitching??? Who will be our Rt. handed relievers?
      Who is playing what position in the outfield? Oh…..

  11. Three things that could turn the 90 wins into 95…
    1. Strong rebounds by Cole and Cutch
    2, Polanco and Kang over deliver
    3. Quintana added to eat innings and protect the pen

    On the other hand – three things that turn 90 wins into 85 or less..
    1, Defense struggles with Bell/Cutch/Mercer and Cervelli all continuing to be liabilities.
    2. Injury to one or more of the offensive leader – Marte, King, or Polanco
    3. Rotation depth is not what is projected – nobody pitches well in the 3-5 spots and the pen is overworked by the 4th of July

      • Zips has him at -2 defensively – which coming off of last year seems about right – he was not an effective blocker and has trouble throwing out runners [go ahead and blame the pitchers] lacking BOTH a strong arm and a quick release.

        He is still an elite framer – but there is a lot of debate out there on how important framing is – and is it declining in importance.

        • There isnt any ‘debate’ on how important framing is; anyone with an analytical bent (as well as those residing in baseball’s front offices) clearly values framing as evident by C contracts over the last several years.

          It would only decline in importance if everyone became good at it or they went to an automated K-zone. The former is a long way away and the latter is probably just as far.

          Cervelli isn’t a liability defensively in any scenario.

            • If what you say is true, how come Cervelli was recognized by those who compile such stats, to have stolen more strikes than nearly every Catcher the last two seasons?

              Seems the Umps haven’t adjusted to him just yet.

              • The framing stat is really the result of two things…
                1. The catcher does something good
                2, The umpire makes a mistake…
                One criticism of the framing metric is that it is virtually impossible to know which of those two things resulted in an “unearned” strike.

                This leads to a good bit of volatility in framing stats – and the lack of stability from year to year. For example Cervelli went from 1.7 extra strikes per game to .7 – a pretty severe drop and resulted in him being less than elite – generally thought to be those that get at least one extra strike per game…

                When you add in his crappy throwing arm and poor pitch blocking you have a good framer who nets out to a below average catcher unless something improves this year.

        • Blocking, to me, is just as important, if not more so, than framing the way pitchers attack hitters today.

  12. I don’t disagree at all with the logic at all based on the projections, but with all the question marks and bounce backs needed. 90 seems a little optimistic. I wonder if there is a projection system that is weighted toward your opponents. A lot of match ups with the Cubs and Cards realistically has to cost you a few wins over a season. I get the Reds/brewers factor but still it would be interesting if there was a projection weighted to opponents as well.

    • Actual projection systems most certainly do not just add up WAR, as Tim does. This isn’t how the metric works, and was never intended to do such a thing.

  13. I am sure your projection last year did not include
    their best pitcher being hurt and missing a big part
    of the season.

  14. I do not see Brault out performing Kuhl in any way shape or form, and potentially see Kingham seeing a Taillion like introduction.

    • Clearly the success, or lack thereof, for this team rests on the pitching staff pulling their weight. They should score plenty of runs. Need to do a much better job of preventing them compared to last year.

      I certainly hope at some point this season, Pirates have Cole, Taillon, Nova, Glasnow, and Kingham in the rotation. Not a lefty to be found, but in my opinion, the 5 best SP’s currently in AAA or majors.

      • I agree too Scott, but something about Kuhl says don’t rule him out as possibly one of the 5 best.
        He’s got a 97 mph sinker which is just ridiculous and he’s got a bulldog type attitude that reminds me of Tim Hudson.
        I guess we’ll find out quickly how stubborn he is.

          • The competing narratives around Kuhl and Glasnow’s mentality are just hilarious to me. Is it 1980 again?

            TEH NERVZ!

          • I have seen Kuhl throw 97 while in AA. You more than likely have never seen him pitch one full inning. Clown stuff

        • I agree with you about Kuhl’s bulldog mentality, which is a huge asset. However, I’m not convinced his 97 mph sinker is as effective of a pitch as it sounds. From what I’ve seen, he is extremely reliant on pitching at or below knee level. When he doesn’t, his sinker just doesn’t sink, and he gets hit hard.

  15. Just watching the rays making good baseball trades again this time netting De Leon from the Dodgers for a second baseman make me wonder was Neil Huntington aggressive with the Dodgers potentially moving Harrison or does he feel Harrison still has a role with the club?

      • And there is the possibility the Dodgers didn’t think as highly of DeLeon as the rest of baseball does. If he was that kind of prospect, they would never have let hinm go for a Logan Forsyth. They just don’t do that.

        • Nailed it. The Dodgers supposedly had Alvarez, Buehler, and Bellinger as untouchables above him.

          And I’m not even sure all outlets across baseball, internal and external, are in agreement about De Leon.

    • Good baseball trades? I’m not a Huntington apologist but I’m fairly certain, ok definitely certain that the Pirates have produced a better product on the field than the Rays… I live down here and Rays fans are scratching their heads on why their best obp guy has been traded when they mashed HRs last yr but it didn’t matter bc no one was ever on base. I understand they are playing with some ridiculous financial resources in St Pete, but I think Neal has done a solid job with the Buccos even when compared to the Rays.

  16. One of the keys here in my opinion is the bullpen. A bad bullpen can effect team morale and even how starting pitchers perform. Bad bullpen this year….bad year.

    • I don’t think most believe the bullpen is bad per se, but most do consider the Closer role unsettled. Thus, Pirates need Watson, or his replacement if traded, to be something close to the player Melancon was for them to reach this 90 win prediction.

      • I still think Hudson was signed to be the closer. I don’t see any reason to pay a bullpen arm $10 mil over 2 years unless he is the closer. That being said, I think Watson will be traded once his arbitration case is over. Then again, I guess since the two sides aren’t that far apart, he could be traded at any time, since his value in a trade wouldn’t be drastically different in any trade scenario.

        • I think a trade, either before or during season, is all but assured based on how they treated Melancon and Hanrahan in the past.

          • maybe I am over sensitive – but “treated” seems a bit harsh. The realities of small market baseball economics were in play in both cases. A team like the Bucs would NEVER want to put more than 10% of its payroll in a closer – regardless of how effective. Moving Melancon and getting something in return was smart baseball for a payroll limited team – likewise Hanrahan.

            That being said – the Bucs will likely give the ball to Watson – with Hudson in reserve. If Watson can be effective they will have a solid closer for an affordable price – and might even be able to afford one more year of him. in that role.

            • What I meant to convey is how the Pirates have traded them both before they hit FA. No need to read too much into the statement Bruce.

                • He was 15 of 20 last year. Not good enough, but not bad either. If his 75% save % remains stagnant over first 4 months of season, some team will trade for him. The Pirates won’t get the same return if he were 90%, but it won’t effect whether or not he’s dealt before hitting FA.

                  • if he’s 75% after 4 months, we are in deep deep trouble four months into the season. There aren’t many 75% closers that stay closers for very long. They call them set-up men.

                    • True, but your missing my point entirely. Even if he is a failed Closer by trade deadline, the Pirates will still be able to trade him for something. Which is what they’ll do rather than lose him to FA for nothing.

                    • If Watson is performing well in a leverage role, it would be pure incompetence to trade him while in contention for what he’d likely bring in return, which would be no more than another reliever or a low-level lottery ticket. Huntington would be cutting off his nose to spite his face, personified.

                      If Watson *isn’t* performing well then he’s not going to be worth anything in the first place, so the move becomes inconsequential.

                      Contention is the key. They kept Martin when they contended. The kept Burnett when they contended. And they accepted losing both – for nothing in Burnett’s case – because it was the right thing to do.

                    • I see your point, but I would refer back to Melancon as a guide more than Martin or Burnett. Pirates were certainly in contention for playoff spot when he was dealt last year.

                      I suppose if they are leading division or ahead in WC race at trade deadline it could change their position. At least I’d like to think so, as you suggest.

                    • I think we’re in agreement except for the margins.

                      In my opinion, the precise reason Melancon’s situation was different than the others is that Huntington *did not* feel the club was a legitimate contender. Meaning that your hope about what would make them reconsider trading Watson in certain situations is very worthy.

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