Pirates Prospects Daily: How Much Has The Pirates Lineup Improved?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been one of the more active teams in baseball this offseason, giving one of the worst lineups in baseball nearly a complete overhaul.

When looking at the projected Opening Day lineup compared to the one in 2022, Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes are the only holdovers, with Jack Suwinski, Oneil Cruz, and Rodolfo Castro joining the team midseason. 

Offseason additions Ji-Man Choi, Carlos Santana, Austin Hedges, and Andrew McCutchen round out the potential 2023 lineup, giving the Pirates a very strong veteran presence as they enter the key parts of their current build.

With the added experience, and knowing the team last year lost 100 games, it would be easy to say that they improved overall, right?

I took a look at each players Offensive and Defensive Runs Above Average (Off and Def) as well as Wins Above Replacement (WAR) from Fangraphs, and stretched them out over a per-162 game average to compare how last year’s Opening Day lineup compared to this year’s projected starting nine.

  Off Def WAR Off/162 Def/162 WAR/162
2022 -8.1 -24.9 6.9 -1.99 -6.10 1.69
2023 -9.3 -11.2 11.8 -1.47 -1.76 1.86

 

The biggest difference is the defense, seeing an improvement of nearly five runs per 162-games played. Most of that is due to Suwinski taking over right field for Cole Tucker, just in that is an improvement of over 30-runs (-28.80 Def/162 for Tucker, 5.96 for Suwinski). 

While Hedges is known as one of the better defensive catchers in the league, and helped the teams overall Def rating, Roberto Perez himself was on a really strong pace. If he was able to stay healthy and keep on the path he was on, he was on a 10 run saved pace higher than what Hedges did in 2022.

The question with Hedges was if his defense was going to make up for the complete lack of offense. His -25.8 Off mark not only brings down the overall mark but also makes the projected lineup just a half a run better than one that featured Yoshi Tsutsugo (-46.98 Off/162) and Tucker (-57.60 Off/162) as well as Hoy Park and Ben Gamel.

Perez was off to a fantastic start, on pace for a 4.63 WAR/162, which would have been the best on the Opening Day lineup. He played in only 21 games, so that would have been a hard mark to maintain over a full season.

When it comes to WAR/162, the Pirates are set to feature five players that present upgrades from a year ago: Choi, Castro, McCutchen, Suwinski, and Santana.

The biggest key for the Pirates would be progress. They are going to be counting on some of the younger players in the lineup to take that next step forward and improve on their own marks from a season ago. 

Should Reynolds play the entire season in Pittsburgh, a bounce-back to his 2021 form would go a long way as well. Hayes posted a -6.8 Off and still had a 3.0 WAR. If he starts finding open spots with his high exit velocity numbers, he could be in for a big breakout year.

The Pirates should also have some of their top prospects, including Endy Rodriguez, up in the majors this year, potentially boosting their output later on in the season.

Most projections have been high on the Pirates and do see most making the necessary steps forward, but of course we will have to see how everything plays out on the field.

Highlight of the Day

Pirates Prospects Daily

By Tim Williams

**I looked at the 80th/20th percentile ZiPS projections to focus on the range of possibility for the Pirates’ lineup.

**John Dreker has scouting reports on the nine international players who the Pirates signed on Tuesday. Be sure to bookmark the International Signing Tracker to follow every move the Pirates make this year.

**Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis rank among the top ten catching prospects for MLB Pipeline.

**Four Pirates rank among the top 100 prospects for Baseball America.

**Missed yesterday? Anthony looked at whether infield prospect Dariel Lopez can be an exception to the Greensboro effect.

Song of the Day

Pirates Prospects Weekly

In my column this week, I looked at the 80th and 20th percentile ZiPS projections to see the range of possibility for the Pirates’ 2023 lineup.

Williams: What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Our latest Roundtable will hit the site on Thursday at noon.

Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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Scrappy2499

I wonder how much the removal of shifts will help the old OBP for a few of our hitters. Not every infield they will play against will have elite defenders. Should be a few more gaps to hit through. Heyes could see a good benefit since he hits the ball hard just no lift…

Anthony

Check out xwOBA versus wOBA. The larger the divergence, xwOBA>wOBA, the higher probability the player will benefit from the removal of shifts. Santana is the poster child for this divergence. His xwOBA was in the 88th percentile of all MLB players, meaning his quality of contact (EV and launch angle) is boarderline above average to great. However, a much lower wOBA indicates the actual results lagged despite the quality of contact, i.e., he hit into the shift.

Choi and Cutch should also see a benefit, Hayes not so much. Interesting note, Choi had the second highest xwOBA on the Rays roster.

Last edited 13 days ago by Anthony
Scrappy2499

Thanks for the reply Anthony, could surprise some of the expectations this year if these guys find those gaps…

phieralph

Ohhh!

A boygenius! song!

Diggit!

leefieux

5-7 won improvement sounds about right. Still, 70-72 wins could prove challenging. How much do our ‘over the hill gang’ have left in the tank?

1979andCounting

Anthony, plug in Heineman for Hedges on offense…..does that change the Runs Scored at all? If the Bucs can increase their runs by 1.0 run/game, that would be substantial….equal to 7th best in MLB in 2022. An increase of .5 runs per game doesn’t move the needle much, only to 21st best in MLB.

b mcferren

OT: how about drop Underwood in favor of left handed reliver Daniel Castano?

PirateRican21

I like this evaluation/ analysis, hope to see one done for pitching soon!

TNBucs

I think we have improved and just the opportunity to watch Cutch along with the young players (hopefully) taking steps forward has me looking forward to the season. However, going into last year we were somewhat optimistic about Yoshi, thought Gamel would be a positive player (he finished with 0 fWAR), and had varying degrees of hope for Alford, Allen, Chavis, Perez, and Vogelbach. Greg Brown (of course) reported how there was a new vibe in spring training (Vogelbach, clubhouse leader, Alford, getting his chance to shine, Chavis, ready to live up to his prospect pedigree, Gamel, the gamer, …). But we still lost 100 games so I’m tempering my expectations about the lineup, especially with the uncertainty around Reynolds. I am optimistic, just cautiously so.

I’m a little more optimistic about the pitching, and would feel even better if we added someone who has demonstrated the ability to close games for those times when Bednar is unavailable.

jaygray007

I would project a lineup of:

Cutch, Reynolds, Suwi/Joe Platoon, Hayes, Cruz, Bae/Castro platoon, Choi/Andujar platoon, Santana, and Endy

to provide a wrc+ above 100, from top to bottom. Honestly Hayes is the riskiest spot IMO, but as long as he’s popping a 90 wrc+ with elite glovework it’s ~fine~.

a few notes:
obviously Hedges isnt gonna hit well, but hey that’s why i skipped right to the Endy days
Castro has hit lefties a lot better than righties, so that platoon is probably better than what you realize if you just look at castro’s entire body of work
I dont think that Joe will hit lefties particularly much higher than a 90ish wrc+ but i expect very strong work by suwi vs righties to make up for it.

1979andCounting

Not sure if this is your projected 1 – 9 lineup…….but surely Hayes cannot hit cleanup! Joe should be getting DFAed today……Andujar will NOT play any 1B. Cutch should not play much OF. But otherwise you are spot on 🙂

b mcferren

Joe instead of Mason as Indy starting first baseman?

1979andCounting

Not sure we should give him a 40-man spot, that’s the issue here.

jaygray007

i mean i wouldnt be shocked if they option him but id be surprised

Last edited 14 days ago by jaygray007
jaygray007

that lineup isn’t in lineup order. i did it in order of defensive position, reading the diamond like reading a piece of paper. left to right, top to bottom. My brain threw DH in there by 1b since Santana will be there too.

LF CF RF 3b SS 2b 1b DH C

cutch will play a lot of OF, as santana and choi cannot be on the diamond at the same time.

i dont think Joe’s getting DFA’d, as he seems to me to be a reasonable player to have around, but who knows.

maybe joe plays 1b and andujar platoons in LF or RF. who knows. who cares. Maybe Andujar DH’s vs lefties and Santana slides to 1b. whatever.

it sounds like you just want everyone to be the DH.

They are gonna have some bad defenders in the lineup and some good defenders in the lineup. not everyone can dh. Cest la vie.

Last edited 14 days ago by jaygray007
1979andCounting

Ok gotcha ya, you just were going around the horn. I think DH will be Cutch and Santana almost exclusively.

jaygray007

if you’re saying that DH will be almost exclusively Santana and Cutch, and that you dont want cutch in the OF, then that means that every single game, one of Santana Choi or Cutch will have to be on the bench.

i dont think theyre going to do this.

If they do this, then what’s the outfield on most days? Suwinski, Reynolds, and Joe (who you also say that you wanna DFA)?

Cutch is going to play a significant amount of corner outfield.

Last edited 14 days ago by jaygray007
1979andCounting

Andujar is likely in OF. If Cutch can move first step, laterally, etc. maybe he can be passable thru 7th inning. Vilade may be the surprise of ST. looking forward to seeing what he’s got.

jaygray007

im also mildly interested in vilade. i like the k:bb numbers and think theres at least a tiny bit more pop in there

TNBucs

I have mixed feelings about platooning Suwinski as that would likely limit his development but he obviously needs to show dramatic improvement on his .511 OPS against lefties. That split (.794 vs. .511) is extreme, but not nearly as extreme as his home/road split (982 vs. .395). We’re sure he’ll improve on the road, and maybe the same can be true for facing lefties so that he can continue on a path to be an everyday player.

jaygray007

i guess it kinda depends on what they think he’s capable of

jaygray007

clearly the team is better. clearly there was an effort to get better.

what i’d like is to hear the team talk about the value that they plan on getting out of being “better” but not “good”

traditionally, we all think that if you don’t make the playoffs, its best to just get a high pick. i want to hear them talk about why they think its important to post a respectable year before the win window opens. i want to hear about how that helps draw free agents. i want to hear how that’s good for developing the guys.

i just want to hear them share the logic of being “okay”. im glad theyre okay instead of bad. i just want to hear them share the strategy of it al

ArkyWags

Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t they out of the draft lottery for 2024 since they won it this year? So even if they were terrible again, the highest they could draft is 6.

jaygray007

“Teams that receive revenue-sharing payouts can’t receive a lottery pick for more than two years in a row”

*more than two*

ie, it sounds like two would be allowed.

i guess it’s possible that theyll count Termarr as a lottery pick even though he was in a non-lottery draft?

CC: Ethan

Last edited 13 days ago by jaygray007
RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

I am pretty sure this is right

skliesen

I think you saying they are going to be ok is the most likely outcome. But I think Pirates FO thinks they can be good. I would imagine they believe bringing in winning vets, who also have been high OBP players, will both create more runs offensively, and help young players like Cruz, Castro, Hayes, Bay, Jack, etc. mature faster.

Will it be more than ok? Probably not. Could it be? I’m not saying no.

jaygray007

sure, but “we could be good if we hit at our 95th percentile outcome” isnt the same as saying “we are already good, and could be outstanding if we hit our 95th percentile outcome”

if you need luck and need to hit on all cylinders to be good, then youre not really good.

skliesen

I get what you’re saying and agree with it. My point is I think Pirates brass views this roster differently than you do. And even though the data suggests this team will be just ok, or even worse, the data is primarily based on past results. Which as we all know isn’t foolproof.

clemo83

“Most of that is due to Suwinski taking over right field for Cole Tucker.”

Cole Tucker was a very good defensive infielder, moving his anemic bat to the outfield was non-sensical. That guy still bums me out, all the tools and intangibles except for the bat. Always pictured him, diving head first for a double in the playoffs with that hair everywhere, standing up and firing up the whole dugout. Alas, hitting is really really hard and so is getting Nutting to spend money.

Last edited 14 days ago by clemo83
bianco599

I was looking forward to him sliding headfirst into second in the playoffs, firing up the dugout, and then the camera panning to Vanessa Hudgens in the stands. I would have accepted a sac bunt and a camera pan to Vanessa.

Scam likely

I don’t know if suwinski is a lock to start the season in pittsburgh. But yes this team will score more runs than last year’s team, but still be in the bottom 25% league wide.

leefieux

Yep. Extremely low bar to hurdle, lol.

bianco599

You had to say hurdle. Brought back both good and bad memories of Old Clint. Hope he is doing well.

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