Looking at the Pirates’ 2018 ZiPS Projections to See if They Should Be Buyers or Sellers

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 the real value here is that you can look at the individual projections at the end of the season and pinpoint where things really went right or wrong.

Unfortunately, the last two years have led to a practice where we’ve been looking at all of the things that went wrong, and very few things that went right.

The projections for the 2018 season were released yesterday, which means we get that early baseline that we can go back and analyze later. The fun part of these projections coming at the start of the offseason is that we can look at them again before the season starts and see how the outlook for the 2018 season changed, depending on what offseason moves were made. They also give us an idea of whether the Pirates should even be trying to compete in 2018, or whether they should sell.

I tend to go conservative with this approach, letting ZiPS do the talking in terms of value, and only providing my analysis on the depth chart and playing time. This leaves a margin for error on both sides, as it doesn’t include extreme injuries, better than expected health, players playing above or below their projections, or any other factor that isn’t projected or anticipated.

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 in terms of playing time. 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 1.3 WAR and 364 plate appearances. I don’t typically adjust his playing time up, since he has a lengthy injury history. Last year’s projection was 349 plate appearances, and he finished with a 304. He had an 0.9 fWAR last year, so a 1.3 with his current projected time assumes he’ll be the same type of player. This is a drop in value from last year, when he had a 2.0 WAR projection.

The Pirates had 641 plate appearances at catcher last year. ZiPS has Elias Diaz projected for an 0.9 WAR and 396 plate appearances. The pro-rated amount of 277 plate appearances gives him an 0.6 WAR, and gives the Pirates 641 plate appearances between the two catchers.

Jacob Stallings is the third catcher, and is projected for an 0.8 WAR in 267 plate appearances. So ZiPS isn’t projecting a big dropoff if (when?) Cervelli gets injured and Diaz/Stallings take over. However, considering the projection has the catching position at a 1.9 WAR, I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing.

WAR: +1.9 (49.9)

FIRST BASE

Josh Bell is projected for 621 plate appearances and a 1.7 WAR. There were 698 plate appearances at the position last year. I’m going to give Bell all of his appearances, since he has become an everyday and nine inning player in the last year. I’ll save the remaining plate appearances for the bench.

WAR: +1.7 (51.6)

SECOND BASE

Right now I’m going with Josh Harrison as the regular second baseman. He’s projected for a 2.1 WAR and 534 plate appearances. There were 705 plate appearances at second base last year. I’ll save the rest for the bench.

WAR: +2.1 (53.7)

SHORTSTOP

Jordy Mercer is projected for 528 plate appearances and a 1.5 WAR. I used his full projection. There were 643 plate appearances from shortstop last year, with the rest going to the bench.

WAR: +1.5 (55.2)

THIRD BASE

This is the biggest hole and the biggest question mark for the offense. I’ve got David Freese as the starter here, even though he has shown he isn’t a starter. He’s projected for 459 plate appearances and a 1.3 WAR. Third base had 694 plate appearances last year, and the rest will go to the bench.

WAR: +1.3 (56.5)

LEFT FIELD

Starling Marte is projected for 504 plate appearances and a 2.6 WAR. The Pirates had 725 plate appearances last year in left field, and the extras will go to outfielders on the bench.

I’ll point out here that Marte has exceeded this projection every year from 2013-2016. He missed time due to a PED suspension last year, but looked like his old self in September. At the least, I’d expect him to be a 3.5-4.0 WAR player in 2018, so this is an area where I could see some improvement over the ZiPS projections. I’m only going with the ZiPS projections here.

WAR: +2.6 (59.1)

CENTER FIELD

Andrew McCutchen is projected for 630 plate appearances and a 3.4 WAR.  He has dropped in his projections from 5.6 to 4.1 to 3.4 in the last three years. Considering he had a 3.7 fWAR last year in 650 plate appearances, I’d say this projection is fair. There is obviously the hope that he can improve on that and get closer to the 5+ WAR player he was pre-2016. I think those chances are slim.

There were 706 plate appearances in center field last year, and the extras will go to the bench.

WAR: +3.4 (62.5)

RIGHT FIELD

Gregory Polanco is projected for 534 plate appearances and a 2.3 WAR. If you’re only looking at last year’s numbers, this is an improvement. But these figures line up almost exactly with what he did in 2015-2016. So ZiPS is projecting that 2017 is an outlier, which is good. The bad is that they aren’t projecting improvements on the 2015-2016 numbers. The hope here is that Polanco can finally break out and become more than a league average starter.

I’d address the injury concerns, but I feel they’ve been addressed. He had 652 plate appearances in 2015 and 587 in 2016. He had 411 in an injury filled 2017. Giving him the 534 seems fair, with the hope that he stays as healthy as he was in 2015-2016, and avoids the injuries of 2017.

Right field had 685 plate appearances last year, and the remaining spots will go to the bench.

WAR: +2.3 (64.8)

BENCH

I’ve saved a lot for the bench here. There are 1365 plate appearances remaining. That breaks down in the following way:

Infield: 598

Outfield: 448

DH/Pinch Hit: 319

I’m going to start with the outfield, because it is easier. I think Jordan Luplow will be the fourth outfielder. He is projected for 523 plate appearances and a 1.1 WAR. I’m going to give him 350 plate appearances, which would prorate to an 0.6 WAR.

I’m going to give Austin Meadows 200 plate appearances. He’s projected for 401 and a 1.8 WAR, so that gives him a prorated 0.9 WAR. This covers the outfield, while borrowing about 100 plate appearances from the DH/PH group.

Next we’ve got the infield. Adam Frazier is projected for 472 plate appearances and a 1.3 WAR. He had 454 and a 1.1 fWAR last year, so I’d say this is in line with what we’ve seen. I’m giving him the full projection.

Frazier would be the top bench option across the board. Sean Rodriguez would be next, and he’s projected for 244 plate appearances and an 0.4 WAR. I’m giving him the full amount as well.

This leaves about 100 plate appearances remaining for Max Moroff, between the infield and DH/PH sections. Moroff is projected for 0.4 WAR over 474 plate appearances, which means his prorated amount adds 0.1 WAR.

The overall bench combines for another 3.3 WAR.

WAR: +3.3 (68.1)

STARTING PITCHING

ZiPS has been low on the Pirates’ rotation in the past. They out-performed projections from 2013-2015, but fell short of those projections in 2016, with a lot of pitchers having down years and injuries. The projections last year were almost right on the mark for the rotation. Here was the comparison:

Gerrit Cole: 3.1 projection vs 3.1 fWAR

Jameson Taillon: 2.7 / 2.9

Ivan Nova: 2.0 / 1.9

Chad Kuhl: 1.0 / 1.9

Steven Brault (Trevor Williams actual): 1.4 / 2.3

Cole, Taillon, and Nova combined to exceed their projections by a mere 0.1 WAR. Kuhl showed improvements, while Trevor Williams stepped up in a big way for the fifth starter role.

I always thought the differences in 2013-2015 were due to the tendency to add reclamation projects that worked out, along with the benefits of the defensive shifts and the Pirates employing a pitching strategy that hitters hadn’t caught up to at the time. There’s no hard data, but my belief is that the benefits of the shifts have been reduced, and hitters have obviously adapted to the old ways, with parts of the league adapting back this year with new pitching styles. The Pirates weren’t one of the teams with the new adjustments.

There’s also the fact that the Pirates didn’t add high upside reclamation guys the last two years, going with Ryan Vogelsong and Jon Niese in 2016, and Ivan Nova in 2017. That’s a big difference from A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez.

There are some areas in this year’s projections where I could see improvements. But I wouldn’t expect the Pirates to massively improve over their rotation results like in years past.

I typically don’t adjust the pitcher innings, but I made one exception here. Jameson Taillon was projected for 145.2 innings and a 2.7 WAR. He pitched around 165 innings in 2016, with most of that coming in the minors. He missed time in 2017 due to his cancer treatment, but still ended up with around 147 innings. I don’t think he should be docked in the future for missing that time in 2017. Because of that, I adjusted his innings up to 165, which is still conservative and leaves room for injuries, or improvements if he stays healthy.

Here are the projections for the expected Opening Day rotation.

SP: Gerrit Cole (189.3 IP, 3.4 WAR)

SP: Jameson Taillon (165.0 IP, 3.1 WAR)

SP: Ivan Nova (149.7 IP, 2.2 WAR)

SP: Chad Kuhl (147.3 IP, 0.8 WAR)

SP: Trevor Williams (133.7 IP, 1.0 WAR)

That gives us 785 innings and a combined 10.2 WAR. Coincidentally, the projection for last year’s rotation in this study was a 10.2 WAR in 775 innings.

The starters last year had 894.2 innings. That was an improvement on 2016, but down from around 970 innings in 2014 and 2015. Just like last year, I’m using the lower total, with the note that the Pirates could add improvements if their rotation stays as effective and pitches as many innings as they did in prior years.

There are 109.2 innings remaining. I’m giving those to Tyler Glasnow, who is projected for a 1.9 WAR in 149.2 innings. That gives him a prorated 1.4 WAR. I’ll add the disclaimer here that ZiPS is always high on Glasnow, and I’m not confident that he’ll reach those totals without some major pre-season work. But I took the lower numbers for guys like Marte, so I’ll take the higher number for Glasnow, with that disclaimer added.

The total from the starters is 11.6 WAR. That could go down, depending on the health of the rotation, and the need for more than six starters. It could also go up if Kuhl and Williams pitch like they did in 2017, and both exceed their projections.

WAR: +11.6 (79.7)

BULLPEN

The bullpen is an area where the Pirates could use an upgrade, although they do have a good foundation with Felipe Rivero anchoring the staff, and a few good middle relief options. They could use an eighth inning guy, specifically.

CL: Felipe Rivero (73.3 IP, 1.8 WAR)

RP: George Kontos (60.7 IP, 0.7 WAR)

RP: Daniel Hudson (59.0 IP, 0.4 WAR)

RP: Steven Brault (70.0 IP, 0.6 WAR)

RP: A.J. Schugel (66.3 IP, 0.5 WAR)

RP: Jack Leathersich (44.3 IP, 0.4 WAR)

RP: Edgar Santana (75.3 IP, 0.4 WAR)

There were 97 innings remaining. I typically give those innings to the remaining rotation depth options. That would be Nick Kingham in this case, adding a prorated 0.8 WAR.

This year’s projection is at 5.6 WAR. That’s about 1.3 WAR higher than last year’s bullpen projection, with Rivero’s improvement being a big factor.

WAR: +5.6 (85.3)

2018 PROJECTION

It was surprising to me to see the Pirates projected for 85 wins, and projected for over a .500 record for that matter. Then again, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise. The ZiPS write-up said the Pirates could put together an average offense, and the pitching projected to be stronger. That profiles for a club around .500. And it comes with the disclaimer that so much has to go right.

In previous years, this analysis ranged anywhere from 83-90 wins. They were at 84 wins heading into 2013, but that team had a ton of upside. They were projected for 88 wins in 2014, and finished with 88. I had them at 90 wins in 2015, and they finished well above that total.

They’ve seen a lot of injuries, and a lot of players performing well below the ZiPS projections the last two years. They also haven’t seen as much upside on the roster. And honestly, I don’t see the upside here.

There are some easy picks. Starling Marte, Chad Kuhl, and Trevor Williams have all put up results that are better than the ZiPS projections. Gerrit Cole has put up better numbers than his projections, but that came two years ago. Jameson Taillon is capable of better numbers, and matched his current projection while battling cancer.

Then there are guys like Gregory Polanco, Francisco Cervelli, and Josh Bell who might exceed their projections, but are long shots to do so, either for health reasons, limitations in their current game, or just because they are getting beyond the point where you can expect massive improvements.

The Pirates might get some improvements here, but they’re small. You’re not going to have a 1-2 WAR projected player ending up with a 5 WAR. You’re not adding rookies this year who can put up 3 WAR as a rookie in 2018, unless things go really well for Austin Meadows (note, this is only talking about Meadows in 2018).

And the flip side of all of this is that you need everything else going right. You need everyone to stay healthy to expectations. You need everyone to perform up to their expectations. As we saw the last two years, that’s far from guaranteed, and almost a guarantee that it won’t happen. Even the 2013-2015 projections had guys who were injured beyond expectations, or fell below their projections. They just had enough high upside guys to make up the difference.

The Pirates could try to boost their chances with outside additions, but I don’t see them adding more than a few wins through that method. And then you still have the issue of needing everything to go right, since the upside plays here give you an extra win at most for each option, with the lack of any massive upside chances.

It wouldn’t be the worst decision in the world to go for it in 2018, but it would be risky. And I think they’d be better off passing on that risk and going for a rebuild, since I think that will help their chances more in the long-run.

Analysis

  • Great article Tim

  • Great review- I love these Zips articles, it’s cool to watch the math play out. Was hoping there’d be some winter meeting news – the Bucs are so boring

  • I think if you brought in Neil Walker (projected (2 yr/$20M) and played him at 2B, mostly against RHP (move Harrison to 3B), you get the best of his platoon split, and give 450 PA from Freese to Walker. Walker has averaged 2.9 fWAR in 450PA the last two seasons (not sure his of ZIPS projection).

    Freese was proj for 1.3 WAR in 459 PA, so give those to Walker for 1.6 WAR or so.
    The other ~225 PA at 3B go to Freese that’s about another 0.6 WAR improvement at 3B, but probably more because he could play mostly against LHP where he is far better (133 wRC+ vs 105, career)

    That’s about 2 WAR (on paper, naturally), and there would be an additional trickle down because the bench gets better with Freese on it.

  • Everything is going to be fine.

    (I’m a graduate student, so I say this a lot, and it’s never actually true.)

  • The Pirates should rebuild.

    My ‘Zippy’ Projection:

    The Pirates, sadly, won’t rebuild (until at least the trading deadline)

  • If you buy into to all this, then adding Jaime Garcia to the rotation and moving Kuhl to the pen would add ~1 WAR.

    So if there’s a move to add Garcia, then I suppose you book it that NH is keeping the gang together for one last run. If he signs Garcia and then trades Cole, Cutch and Harrison, then Bob should eat those last three years of Neal’s contract.

    Just thinking out loud, don’t mind me…

    • I overall agree with you, but…

      if you see someone in the free agent market and have the opportunity to sign them for less than you think they’re worth, then you should do it, regardless of if you’re rebuilding or not.

      If they think they can turn someone like Garcia into a 3 WAR player and pay him like a 1 WAR player, then they should sign him regardless of the state of the team.

    • “If he signs Garcia and then trades Cole, Cutch and Harrison, then Bob should eat those last three years of Neal’s contract.”

      I’m actually coming around to this being the *best* plan.

      While you’re pragmatically correct, there’s no difference between winning 8 and 80 games so if you’re selling pieces you may as well save money, this time around is different than the first rebuild.

      Back then, there were three clearly-stated uses of income generated from trading veterans and reducing payroll:
      -pay down debt to put the franchise on solid financial footing
      -invest in amateur talent
      -capital expenditures on training and affiliate facilities

      Those were three worthy uses. Fast-forward to today and we’re several years removed from Coonelly saying their finances have substantially improved and are no longer in jeopardy, all means of amateur talent acquisition have been severely capped, and facilities have been built.

      There simply isn’t as much useful – to the team – places to spend money.

      Given that there’s zero evidence that the team uses past profits to supplement future payrolls, what *else* are they going to do with their revenue in 2018? Why not get what you can in prospects, and at least give yourself the outside shot of overperforming your way into a second wild card? There’s enough young talent on the club that a few well-timed vets could pull everything together in like the 5% probability range. Why not?

      • I have sort of talked myself into thinking that Luplow/Meadows, and Frazier/Moroff can come close-ish to replicating Cutch and Harrison. It’s harder to envision another SP coming close to 3.5 WAR for Cole though.

        So yeah… might as well try to catch lightning in a bottle with FAs that you see good deals on.

        • I think *any* plan rests on the acknowledgement that they’re not gonna match up WAR-to-WAR.

          Any plan will hinge on squeezing out the kind of contextual wins you can’t really predict. I’d focus heavily on the pen in this case.

        • But in general, the only way to get out of the mediocrity trap – other than spending cash or prospects – is to jettison some of the mediocre players who’ve established a ceiling and give the Luplow’s, Moroff’s, and Frazier’s of the world more opportunity.

          • absolutely.

            Speaking of the mediocrity trap…

            This team needs to inject star power somehow (on offense) and i wonder if increasing Cutch’s trade value by $15 million by offering to cover his entire salary could do that.

            I guess that’d make his surplus value something like $30 million, plus however they value a QO comp pick? Enough for a top 50 hitting prospect maybe?

            that hurts the “take a shot at playoffs in 2018 via Jaime Garcias, etc” abilities since the Pirates would only be a max $85 million team, but i think that’d be somethign i’d think about if i was NH.

            and hell, they almost need to do everything they can to make the optics of the trade of someone like Cutch look as good as possible.

  • If you were looking at cumulative WAR analytically, would a 90-win team (if it were balanced) get 21 wins from the pitchers and 21 wins from the position players?

    Or does the fact that position players also derive WAR from fielding mean that the position players should always deliver more wins than the pitchers?

    • Great question. I was wondering the same thing through reading this. Looking forward to Tim’s color. Great read by the way, Tim!

    • In case Tim doesn’t see the question, position player WAR projections include hitting, base running, and defense. Projected WAR is derived the same way as normal WAR, a collection of all events a player contributes to.

    • The league produced 570 combined WAR for position players, and 430 for pitchers this year.

      I would guess that you’re typically going to see more WAR on a balanced team. 21 WAR for a pitching staff would have ranked 6th this year. It would have tied for 13th for position players. So that’s a top pitching staff, and an average position player group.

  • Too much variability in these projections to just focus on the WAR result for me, but I think there’s a lot to be gained from breaking them down further.

    For one, this offense is projected to be *terrible*.

    All but one position, CF, projects to be below 2017 positional league average. Much of the projected WAR value for several players comes from defense; Polanco, Bell, Meadows, Frazier, Luplow, Diaz. This is a, well, “risky” part of the projections to lean on.

    The offense is also desperately short on power, with only two players projected at an average or better ISO; Cutch and Bell.

    On the pitching side, George Kontos is given a very positive projection, keeping most of his strikeouts from last year while also regressing back to less dingerz. That would be a great development.

    Nova and Cole are also projected to eliminate their homer problems, while Chad Kuhl on the other hand is projected to add a bunch.

    • Seeing Luplow’s name there surprised me. how in the heck is he seen as such a strong defensive player by these projections? unless the bar for LF is just *that* low?

      Do you know where Zips gets its minor league defensive data for the projections?

      • No idea, but they’re – well – *interesting*.

        There’s an incredible amount of work and thought and computery stuff that goes into these things, of which I’m not qualified to argue against, but the minor league/early MLB defensive projections seem to be little more than a dart thrown at a board.

        • oh yeah i’m just seeing if you know if there’s a specific defensive stat database or something that you might know of.

          isn’t “davenport” a thing?

      • Even looking at Josh Bell…

        2017: 620 PA, 108 wRC+, 0.8 WAR
        2018 ZiPS: 621 PA, 108 wRC+, *1.8 WAR*

        That’s an entire win from defense and baserunning, for a slow and defensively challenged first baseman.

        • that’s pretty incredible. i think he’ll get better at 1b… but a whole 10 runs worth might be asking a little much.

          • He’s one where I think the projection soup could get it wrong, yet not end up being actually any or much more valuable than he was projected to be.

            His actual 2017 wOBA (.338), expected 2017 wOBA (.332), and projected 2018 wOBA (.339) are all remarkably close for a young player with less than 1000 PA. Not unreasonable to project him for more…but then you’re also having to believe he outperforms at the plate *and* hits his rosy projection in the field and on the bases in order to be worth appreciably more than 1.8 WAR.

  • If the Pirates don’t rebuild my plan will be hope…. And I’ll hope that basically the entire outfield has close to career years(or Cutch at least pushes near 5 WAR) with Polanco and Marte having 8 or more WAR betweent hem.

    I really don’t see much upside at all in the infield. Not only does it have a very modest projection- I could easily see Jhay and Mercer falling short of projections.

    Obviously a bounceback from Cervelli would be welcome.

    And if Glasnow put it together that would be great.

    And this team simply can’t afford to blow late inning leads. They need the bullpen to consistently generate WPA and close out leads after 6 innings most nights.

  • The thing is IF this team actually DID project for 85 wins it would make a lot of sense to make one last run at with Cutch. But this team won’t project for 85 wins according to established projection systems. It will probably be somewhere close to 80.

    A team that projected as a true talent 85 win team can easily be an 88 win team with a little luck let alone a solid addition and would have inside track on a Wildcard.

    Compare the Pirates 2018 Zips Projections to the 2018 Reds projections and tell me what sort of win total one comes up with for the Reds.

    • I agree. Instead of focusing on the limitations of this analysis in predicting 2018 win/loss record, we should use it as one objective comparison of the talent levels between us and our NL competitors. And without going through that exercise I would bet a lot o’ money that it would paint a sobering picture. Time to sell is now while our moderately attractive pieces hold value. We need a stream of very high upside prospects to fuel new window of contention. And we don’t have enough of those premium prospects in the minors to justify going for it in 2018.

      • I can tell you it’s a very sobering picture even when you factor in the questions surrounding the Reds pitching staff.

        I’m not looking forward to how we compare to a lot of other teams in the NL.

  • great article…window has closed for this group (they came close) but time for rebuild…issue is that not sure I trust this FO with getting the right pieces (Clint Frazier?) in return…thanks

  • Barring a major acquisition, I would bet everything I own that this bullpen doesn’t put up 5.6 WAR.

    IF the bullpen is actually that good they really don’t need an 8th inning guy, that is a top 10 bullpen, top 5 a lot of years.

    • The undisputed best bullpen of the Huntington era, the one belonging to the 2015 club, was worth 5.0 WAR.

      • Yeah… just allocating .8 WAR to Kingham. The reality is almost every year most bullpens remainder of innings are somewhat distributed to less than ideal options who will contribute negative WAR.

      • I did give Kingham some extra rotation innings in the bullpen section. That takes 0.8 away.

        There are also below replacement level guys who come up each year and put up negative value. That doesn’t show up here.

        Rivero is giving them a big boost. He’s projected for 1.8 WAR, which is higher than Melancon or Watson in 2015.

        • Yep, I understand at this point you don’t do these as an *actual* projection of the amount of games the Pirates will win, just a benchmark.

        • Why Kingham and not Neveraskus? Just simply using the name as a placeholder or do you not think Neveraskus will make the team? I like his upside over Schugle or Leather the lefty.

    • I half expected Hudson to be projected for a negative WAR. I was optimistic when we signed him and as tends to happen, I was wrong.

  • As for only adding only a few wins with outside additions, if you trust the projections then our place on the win curve would make those few wins particularly important. Add 3 wins, i.e., get to 88-89 wins, and we’re likely in the playoffs.

    • The problem is, when you have a lot of mediocre talent, it’s hard to add 3 wins. 3B is the biggest weakness, but to add 3 wins, you are talking about acquiring a 4.5 WAR 3B.

      There isn’t a glaring hole that can easily be upgraded, and the cost to do so, would be more than this FO has shown the willingness to spend.

      • On the other hand, you could modestly upgrade at two spots and move the previous perfectly fine by unspectacular options to the bench to accomplish the same thing. And that’s what I think they should do, bringing in *two* upgrades on the infield, rather than just one.

        • Agreed, it’s just hard to see who those guys are. Granted, that’s what NH gets paid to do, but finding a big upgrade on Harrison is going to be hard. We aren’t replacing Bell, An upgrade at SS over Mercer is going to cost quite a bit to acquire, and noone in the OF is moving. Honestly, I think our biggest opportunity lies at the catcher position, but with Cervelli’s contract, that is going to be tough to replace him

      • There are 2 players whose results are well below their perceived talent level. Polanco and Glasnow. How much better would the team be if their execution matched their perceived talent?

  • I’m not buying the “everything has to go right” to get to 85 wins. That statement would seem to go with projections of each player’s/position’s 75th percentile or so, which would likely get us to 90+ wins. I understand the injury concerns, but we seem to have a little more quality depth this year. For example, if Polanco gets hurt or struggles, Luplow or Meadows may be just fine. Or if Mercer goes down, Moroff or Newman should be ready to provide comparable production. I’m a little concerned about depth at catcher and in the pen, but beyond that I think it’s as likely that we’d gain a WAR at a position as we are to lose a WAR at a position.

  • Zip pity do da.

  • When fangraphs depth charts does their projections this team won’t project anywhere close to 85 wins. Probably between 79-81. Maybe 81.5

    • “The projections always came in higher than most other projections”

      • Yes… I believe I went over this with you before and if anything… I suggest that indicates a problem in how you do your projections. And the fact that you were closer to the actual result in 2013-15(which you often seem to reference) does not indicate that your workup was correct. Sort of the equivalent to having the right answer to an algebra equation but the wrong workup…

        • Don’t think of it as a projection. Think of it as an analysis focused more on playing time and the depth charts. And the projected values for the player can come from any projection system, but I prefer ZiPS.

          Also, you act like I don’t reference the 2016 and 2017 results as well, which was mentioned many times in this article, far more than 2013-15.

          • It’s nothing personal. I just think that the established projection systems are much more relevant and sophisticated than anything you, me or most people are going to be able to do.

            But anyway, I see your not using it as a projection so my apologies if that’s the case.

            In any event, I agree with you that the most prudent thing to do is commit to a rebuild as I feel the true talent level of this team is 500 at best, perhaps a game or 2 worse.

            • John, I think what makes Tim’s analysis a great addition to other projection tools, like fangraphs as you mention, is this projection goes position by position, and player by player. This makes for a great reference point at the end of the season to see which positions and players exceeded or fell short of expectations, etc. I don’t know the answer to this, but I’m not sure if the Fangraphs projections offer this level of detail. So while maybe the other systems are more “accurate” are you getting more value from them without having any context to the number or ability to compare actual vs projected performance at such a granular level ?

              • I think the Zips projections are easily accessible to go through player by player, position by position to see who exceeded or underperformed projections and why…

                I don’t like the win total because unlike the Fangraphs depth charts it has no context relative to other teams in MLB. An 85 win true talent team is a pretty good baseball team most years. The problem is if someone used Tim’s method and came up with a win total for the Reds and Mets I suspect the Reds would also be very close to 85 wins and Mets are going to be a game or 2 better(maybe more) I think this method would overinflate most teams but because it is only done on the Pirates it can give give a false impression of true talent.

  • i wonder what the probability is that Meadows and Luplow could platoon their way to 3 WAR this season and let that replace Cutch… Meadows’ and Luplow’s WAR/PA ratings are probably hurt by having them go against arm-side pitching.

    could some combination of Frazier getting good at fielding 2b or Moroff’s AAA results and September MLB results continuing result in frankensteining their way to replacing Harrison-type production (or better) at 2b? (Moroff’s September was better than the player that Harrison is)

    The stars on this team just aren’t stars anymore. the bottom 85% of the roster is probably pretty similar to just about any other team’s bottom 85%, but the top 15% just isn’t good enough to compete with the Houstons and Chicagos and NYs and LAs. The more i think about things, selling them off and introducing some star power into the farm system is the right path, and i’m not entirely convinced that they’d be that much worse off for it in 2018.

  • “They also haven’t seen as much upside on the roster. And honestly, I don’t see the upside here.”

    This. They have all the keys to be mediocre but not really great. I know Huntington has been trying to build a team that can contend continuously but it’s not really working. This strategy might help the team not lose 100 games but that’s all it does…

    • I couldn’t disagree more. Between Cole, Cervelli, Marte and Polanco there is 10 WAR of upside from last year. And that’s only 4 of the 30 players who’ll suit up this year.

      Basically everyone outside of Rivero and Harrison underperformed last year and we still were in the hunt until we quit trying in August.

      • Mercer didn’t underperform. Neither did Trevor Williams nor Chad Kuhl. Cole didn’t really underperform nor did Taillon. Just to mention a few

        • I guess they underperformed their “max years”, but that’s not the same as underperforming actual expectations.

        • Cole definitely underperformed

          • In terms of WAR he met his projection exactly on the nose at 3.1 WAR. His FIP – wasn’t exactly what was projected but he made it up for it by recording 5-6 more extra starts than projected.

            • His WAR projection for last season was based upon an injury plagued 2016 season. Last year he has an unlucky HR/FB rate. If he stays healthy and sees even career average HR/FB rate, he will outperform his WAR prediction.

              • His projection is what it is. It was 3.1 WAR. He put up 3.1 WAR in 2017. Not sure what is complicated or debateable in terms of his 2017 projection.

                Projections clearly incorporate the prior year in making their current projection… that’s how it works.

          • Cole had the second highest War of his career. You can’t look at what you are dreaming he can do because of potential and his seemingly better stuff than results. You have to look at what he does and what the results have been. 0 seasons over a 4.5 war for Cole so he just isn’t an ace. He has performed more like a 2 or very good 3. His career numbers are nearly identical to Tanner Roark.

        • you expect Taillon to have another 4.4 ERA and only 130 innings next year?

          • That’s not what I’m saying (I will reserve from expressing an opinion on his ERA and IP in 2018). What I AM saying is that Taillon did NOT underperform his 2017 projection. Specifically not in terms of WAR- he outperformed his 2017 projection last year.

            • It always amazes me how computer projections seem to make fans *more* butthurt than the days of some jagoff on TV, aka Harold Reynolds, doing these things off the cuff.

        • How do you know Williams and Kuhl didn’t underperform since it was their 1st full season? And Kuhl’s performance improved dramatically once he introduced his curve to LH hitters. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to predict Kuhl and/or Williams could provide 2-2.5 WAR performance this season.

          As for Taillon, his season was drastically affected by cancer. Not sure what you’re trying to sell by mentioning his name.

          • I’m referencing what their 2017 projection was. They outperformed their projection.

            This notion that the 2017 squad failed simply because guys didn’t live up to expectations is just silly.

            I think it was projected near 82 wins or something like that BEFORE Kang was busted and Marte got pinched. After that they were 79-80

            • And exactly how much faith do you put into projections of 1st year players? Projecting seasoned vets is difficult enough, but predicting rookie results is about as hard as reading Russian Poetry.

              • This cuts both ways, Scott. I don’t think this is the argument you want to be making.

                • As an unabashed fan of Meccage, how do you see his promotion to Pittsburgh affect the team’s performance?

                  I can see it making a huge difference for some of these young guys, especially Glasnow.

                  • Marginal benefit, to say nothing of Meccage himself.

                    I can certainly see potential for improvement, but I’m not sure there’s any actual demonstrated history of “super staffs” inducing better MLB production than anticipated.

                    Ray Searage is already really really good. It won’t *hurt* to have an extra set of eyes and ears, and maybe it clicks for Glas in particular, but I generally think a coach of Meccage’s ability is better served molding prospects.

                    In this case, I presume he’s Ray’s successor, which makes this promotion perfectly logical, and potentially more beneficial if he can get something out of a few arms that Ray couldn’t.

                    • I think you may be underselling his affect considering his famialiarity with these players combined with his kick em in the pants mentality.

                      On a macro level, I view management/leadership as a huge factor in sports. I’m hopeful his strong, tough voice will be just what the staff needs to hear to reach peak performance in comparison to the warm and fuzzy voice of Searage.

            • 2017 failed because Kang, Polanco, Marte, Cervelli, Hudson, Watson, Cole and Nova didn’t live up to expectations. You don’t any #s to know that more was expected from them. Waht stopped them from being a bottom five team was Rivero, Williams and some of the other young players being pleasant surprises.

          • “And Kuhl’s performance improved dramatically once he introduced his curve to LH hitters.”

            This is baseball, not politics; are people just gonna keep saying this until everyone believes it’s true?

      • In the hunt? I guess we were not officially eliminated but most of realized (including management ) that our team was dead long before August

      • …that is true as well. I guess I became a bit pessimistic after seeing them underperform for an year. It just felt like it’s their new norm. Pitchers forced to induce groundballs and contacts, Cutch’s not the same, juiced ball era but lacking power tools…

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