Every year I do an analysis prior to the season using ZiPS projections and my playing time analysis to get a projected record for the season. Prior to Spring Training, I had the Pirates as an 84 win team with this projection.
To get an idea of where the Pirates are exceeding or falling short of their projections, let’s take a look at each position, comparing the actual results to my article from before the season.
The Pirates were projected for 1.9 WAR from the catcher position in my original analysis. They’ve already almost doubled that at the halfway point of the season. Francisco Cervelli was originally projected for 1.0 WAR in 364 plate appearances, but has been worth 2.2 WAR in 235 plate appearances.
Elias Diaz has stepped up while Cervelli has been down, and has been worth 1.3 WAR, already exceeding his projection of an 0.6 WAR in 277 plate appearances. At this point, he will exceed the 277 plate appearances, which is a good thing with his current production.
Overall, the catching position has been a big positive, already exceeding the pre-season projection by a win and a half. It has also exceeded the pre-season projection at the half-way point by 2.5 wins.
Josh Bell was projected for a 1.7 WAR prior to the season. So far he’s having a down year and has been worth 0.3 WAR. If you figure that Bell was projected to be at about 0.8-0.9 WAR by this point, that’s a loss of about half a win.
I’ll get to the bench players in a later section.
The second base position was projected for 2.1 WAR from Josh Harrison, who has been worth 0.2 WAR so far. That’s a win less than what his projection would have had him at so far.
Jordy Mercer was projected for a 1.5 WAR this year, and has been worth an 0.6 WAR so far. That’s slightly below his pre-season projection, but not by much. The end result would be a drop of about 0.3 WAR over a full season, so there would be little difference to this point.
Colin Moran was projected for a 1.4 WAR, and has been worth 0.1 WAR so far. That’s been a drop of a little over half a win to this point.
Corey Dickerson was projected for 1.8 WAR in the pre-season, and has already been worth 1.6 WAR this year. So he has exceeded his half-way point projection by about 0.7 WAR. I’m going to include Austin Meadows and all other non-starters in the bench section.
Starling Marte was projected for a 2.6 WAR prior to the season and has been worth 2.9 WAR so far, already exceeding the pre-season projections. That was something I figured would happen, since his numbers prior to 2017 were around a 4 WAR player, and he looked like he was returning to that at the end of the year last year. He has exceeded his half-way projection by about a win and a half so far.
Gregory Polanco was projected for a 2.3 WAR prior to the season and has been worth 0.6 WAR so far. So he’s been worth about half of his value to this point, or about 0.5-0.6 less than what he should have been worth at this point.
The bench and depth players were supposed to be worth 3.3 WAR for the entire season. So far they have been worth 1 WAR, which is 0.65 WAR less than what they should be at so far.
When you combine the entire offense, the Pirates are exceeding their projections by 1.35 WAR at the half way point, thanks in large part to big performances at catcher, and from Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson.
The starting rotation was projected to have the following WAR by pitcher:
SP: Jameson Taillon (165.0 IP, 3.5 WAR, 1.7 actual WAR)
SP: Ivan Nova (149.7 IP, 2.2 WAR, 0.6 actual WAR)
SP: Chad Kuhl (147.3 IP, 0.8 WAR, 0.4 actual WAR)
SP: Trevor Williams (133.7 IP, 1.0 WAR, 0.8 actual WAR)
SP: Joe Musgrove (117 IP, 1.7 WAR, 0.9 actual WAR)
Combined, the Pirates were supposed to have 9.2 WAR this year, which means about 4.6 WAR at the half-way point. They’re currently at 4.4 WAR, which is a drop of about 0.2.
I’ll look at the rest of the pitchers in the bullpen section.
Here are the pre-season projections and the actual results for the bullpen.
CL: Felipe Vazquez (73.3 IP, 1.8 WAR, 1.6 actual WAR)
RP: George Kontos (60.7 IP, 0.7 WAR, -0.5 actual WAR)
RP: Michael Feliz (71.0 IP, 1.0 WAR, 0.1 actual WAR)
RP: Steven Brault (136.7 IP, 1.3 WAR, -0.1 actual WAR)
RP: Tyler Glasnow (149.7 IP, 2.3 WAR, 0.3 actual WAR)
RP: Kevin Siegrist (51.3 IP, 0.1 WAR, Not on Roster)
RP: Kyle Crick (57.0 IP, 0.0 WAR, 0.8 actual WAR)
RP: Nick Kingham (128.0 IP, 1.3 WAR, 0.3 actual WAR)
The bullpen and all extra pitchers should have been worth 8.5 WAR by the projections for the full season, which would have been about 4.25 WAR for a half season. The group above has been worth 2.5 WAR. The rest of the pitchers have been worth 0.8 WAR combined.
In total, the bullpen has fallen short of projections at the half-way point by about a win. The entire pitching staff combined has negated the positive value the offense has gained.
At the Half Way Point
The Pirates are a game below .500 right now, and their pre-season projection had them at about 84 wins, so this WAR exercise is a little off from their actual results.
My favorite part of this analysis is that you can see where the Pirates are over-performing and under-performing. They’re getting a lot of production from their catchers, plus Corey Dickerson and Starling Marte. That is being partially negated by struggles from Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Colin Moran, and Gregory Polanco. The bench has also brought down the offensive totals.
The pitching struggles have mostly been from the bullpen. The rotation so far has come close to their projections, although the pre-season projections for the rotation weren’t great to begin with, so that’s not saying a lot. The bullpen has seen some players exceeding projections, with the biggest one being Kyle Crick. Edgar Santana and Richard Rodriguez weren’t in the original analysis, and are also big contributors.
The Pirates looked like an 84-win team in this pre-season analysis. They’re seeing struggles from half of their starters on offense, and from their bench in total. The bullpen is struggling, and the rotation isn’t exceeding their low projections. In reality, this combination has them at around a .500 team.
If they want a miracle chance of competing in the second half, they’re going to need improvements from those key areas listed above.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.