It’s fashionable this time of year to making a prediction about the Pirates’ win total. I’m going to go position by position to attempt to come up with an estimate based on some underlying math, not just a wild toss at the dart board. But first, we need a baseline.
I’m a strong believer of all things Pythagorean when it comes to right triangles. I’m not sold on it when it comes to using run differential to re-calculate what a baseball team’s record ought to be. That said, the Pirates overachieved on their way to 98 wins last year and their Pythagorean puts the 2016 Bucs back on a more reasonable baseline of 93 wins.
– 2 Wins
I love Francisco Cervelli as a personality. I really like Chris Stewart as his backup. Part of the Bucs overachieving last year stemmed from Cervelli playing big for his britches. I also have a hard time expecting them to keep their backstops completely healthy for a third year in a row. I expect good productivity, but it’s hard not to expect a couple of snags and a minor step back.
I always predict the Pirates better at first base and it never happens. Jaso isn’t the ideal first base bat, nor is he the ideal leadoff hitter. However, he might walk 50% of the time if spring training means anything (it doesn’t). He likely won’t be a huge help, but he probably won’t hurt too much either. Michael Morse fits the power prototype a little more and could be the X-factor. If he hits closer to his ceiling, he could relegate late signing David Freese to the backup third base role.
And if nothing works, Josh Bell could slide into the role by June. No matter how you spin it, they’ll likely be better at the position at first.
There are quite a few folks who may not buy this, but I don’t think there will be a huge difference between the production the Pirates get from Josh Harrison versus what they would have gotten from Neil Walker. Harrison struggled last season and folks seem quick to forget just how well he did in 2014. I think he will rebound and match Walker’s 2015 production, but make no mistake, his ceiling is higher than the Pittsburgh Kid’s.
+ 0.5 Wins
2016 Jordy Mercer will look to out do the somewhat disappointing version of himself. Mercer will hope to keep up his solid defense while improving his all-around offensive production and he could do that with a better start to the season. So far is his relatively young career, he sports a .181 / .248 / .189 in March and April. Our nerdiest readers would immediately note the .008 ISO that makes singles-hitting 2015 first round pick Kevin Newman look like a slugger. Our readers who still get most of their statistical breakdowns from Topps would see one double as his only extra base hits in 127 at-bats. By the way, May could use some work too.
Jung-ho Kang is going to be a star and it starts in 2016. He was one of the best rookies last season and while he’s a touch long in the tooth for a guy about to enter his sophomore campaign, I don’t think he’s reached his peak. Not even close. Kang exceeded a lot of people’s year one expectations including my own. I expected an adjustment period and if that’s adjusting, I’m looking forward to what he looks like when he’s comfortable.
Every year, I predict improvement in right and every year it’s about the same. Gregory Polanco is often cast as one of the most unlucky players in 2015 based on hard hit outs. In truth, his line drive and hard hit ball rates are in the normal range as is his BABIP. While he made some loud outs, he had 652 plate appearances. That’s going to give you plenty of opportunities to make loud outs. Of course, I think Polanco will hit better, and thankfully he’s still crazy young. In the long run, he’ll be a solidly above-average all-around right fielder thanks to base running and defense, but his offense is still likely to stay below average for at least next season.
+ 1 Win
Andrew McCutchen triple slashed .292 / .401 / .488. He came in fifth place in NL MVP voting. This is what a down year looks like for the Pirates’ center fielder. Cutch is heading into his age-29 season so it’s highly reasonable to expect a big rebound. I’ll go conservative, but I would be surprised if last year wasn’t the worst of his prime. While I still expect a characteristically slow start, I suspect he’ll heat up a little sooner in 2016 before taking over the world in June.
We’ve seen three full seasons of Starling Marte, and as all over the place as his consistency can be during the season, full year totals are remarkably grouped. His OPS, ISO, BA, and OBP have all hovered around the same neighborhood. Every year, the numbers have turned out decent, but he’s yet to take it to the next level. The numbers could tick up, especially if he keeps the K rate under 20% again and finds more grass. Still, it’s hard for me to expect anything but steady.
– 3 Wins
Might as well just end the season now, right? At the moment people are only viewing the rotation as it stands. Here’s my thing, the top of the rotation looks great. Niese and Locke look ‘meh,’ but I’m intrigued by Juan Nicasio and his amazing spring. That makes an above average one and two, a below average three and four, and a complete wild card rounding it out. If Nicasio has a Ray Searage-induced breakout, he could turn out to be the biggest of a long list of steals. Then there are Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon waiting in the wings. I’m not sure if Glasnow will be as ready as some hope, but Taillon has from all reports gotten back on track despite the long lay off. If the Pirates end up with the five they have for the entire season, folks jumping off the bridge could be right to. The rotation will very likely be less productive, but it’s unlikely to be as unproductive as some think with reinforcements on the way.
I think the bullpen is top notch this year, but it was top notch last year. Mark Melancon and Tony Watson are as good a one-two, or should I say eight-nine, punch as anyone in the league. They have a little more depth to start 2016 with Arquimedes Caminero having proven himself as a potential set up man freeing up Jared Hughes for situational use. Neftali Feliz gives the Bucs another solid option and Searage another project.
That brings my projected Pirates win total to 93 in 2016. 1200 words later and I guess I could have just left it at the Pythagorean and saved all of us a lot of time. Thanks for reading I guess.
The good news is that 93 wins almost certainly gets you into the playoffs. The bad news is it’s likely another wildcard game in Pittsburgh. As demoralizing as the ending to last two seasons has been, I’ll take a one game playoff bail out over no playoffs at all.