It’s akin to Christmas morning…well, for me at least. FanGraphs finally released the Pirates 2017 ZiPS projections and here are my observations.
First, let me say that while these are fun to look at and can be frightening accurate sometimes, these are computer-based projections off their previous numbers. Projections are essentially a regression machine based off a player’s previous stats and hidden ones like BABIP.
Second, take the IP and plate appearance projections with a grain of salt as they do not try to predict playing time breakdown and all that. For instance, Austin Meadows is projected for 474 PA’s and a 2.0 zWAR. He will not hit that total for plate appearances just because he’ll be in the minors for half, if not most of the season. Instead, it’s showing you their stat projections had the player received a majority of the playing time.
Now let’s get into these projections:
It shouldn’t be a big surprise, but Andrew McCutchen is projected for a nice rebound after the worst season of his career. ZiPS has him down for a .276/.370/.474 slash line, a .361 wOBA, 128 OPS+ and a 4.1 zWAR, which is the highest projected WAR total on the team. This would be an increase of all major categories and OPS+ would rise from 128 from last year’s disappointing 103. This projection is not MVP-like numbers, but they are a significant improvement that the Pirates would definitely take this season. Not only would it help the team on the field in 2017, but it would help restore Cutch’s value should they look to deal him at the deadline or next offseason with Meadows getting closer. The projection computer uses past performances past 2016 to compute these totals, and it’s basically saying what we’ve been saying this offseason, McCutchen is too good of a player to not rebound offensively.
Glasnow Projection Optimistic
ZiPS projects Tyler Glasnow as an above-average pitcher with a 3.60 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 90 ERA- and 95 FIP-. And that’s even with a projected 12.8% walk rate in the Majors. It’s an optimistic projection for the No. 2 MLB pitching prospect that shows him as the second best pitcher on the Pirates staff with a 2.1 zWAR. My gut has been telling me that Glasnow will start the season in Indianapolis with Drew Hutchison (projected 0.8 zWAR) in the rotation, but it’s nice to see this projection. Of course, there’s no computer projection for the Ray Searage effect that Hutch will hope to benefit from this season. It’ll be an interesting spring training for these two and maybe even Chad Kuhl (projected 0.8 zWAR) to see who joins Cole (3.1 zWAR), Taillon (1.8 zWAR), Nova (1.5 zWAR) in the rotation. Hell, even Steven Brault (1.4 zWAR) has better projection numbers than Kuhl and Hutchison, which clouds the rotation outlook even further.
Meadows, Newman Already Solid Projections
Even though the playing time most likely will not be there this season, Meadows (as I mentioned above) and prospect Kevin Newman are already projected as average players in their rookie seasons. ZiPS projects Meadows with a .267/.316/.433 line with a 2.0 zWAR. Anyone at 2.0 zWAR is considered an average player. Newman is nearly there as well with a 1.7 zWAR and on the positive side of defensive runs saved. Like I stated in the second paragraph, projections are regression machines and are usually on the conservative side. These are two very promising projections for two players not even slated for Pittsburgh on Opening Day.
Hanson > Frazier?
According to ZiPS projections, that header is correct—Alen Hanson is projected to have a better season than Adam Frazier. This may surprise a lot of fans who watched Frazier put together a solid .301/.356/.411 hitting line in his rookie season. Frazier, however, benefitted from a fortunate .353 BABIP that is unsustainable. ZiPS drops his BABIP to .308 and his line suffers accordingly—.266/.319/.346 for a 0.5 zWAR while Hanson checks in at a 1.5 zWAR, a full win higher than Frazier. Hanson is projected for more stolen bases (25), double-digit home runs (11) and even 11 triples, which would be something for him at this point. Of course, this is based off playing time as well and both of these players are most likely headed to bench roles, so it’s unlikely either reach 500 PA’s unless there’s a significant injury. Both players are projected with positive defensive runs saved though, which I think is very optimistic.
Overall, the numbers project the Pirates as an above average team. Especially the lineup, which features six starters at or above 2.0 zWAR and add in first base that has David Freese (1.9 zWAR), Josh Bell (1.6 zWAR) and John Jaso (0.7 zWAR) most likely combining for some kind of above average platoon at first base and the Pirates have 7-out-of-8 starters that project to be average to above average.
Take a look at all the ZiPS projections and let us know what stands out to you.