Pittsburgh Pirates 2018 Season Preview

The Pittsburgh Pirates won 75 games in 2017 and that was before they traded their two best players. Long time face of the franchise, Andrew McCutchen and front of the rotation guy, Gerrit Cole are gone and the Pirates didn’t do much to get better. After the top three in the NL Central, there is a relatively big drop off to the Buccos. Although they’re not a complete lost cause, losing the pieces who could lead them to a possible playoff berth is disheartening from their front office. They will look to guys like Starlin Marte, Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon to lead the charge in 2018.

Key Additions:

Corey Dickerson, OF

Collin Moran, 3B

Joe Musgrove, RHP

Key Losses:

Andrew McCutchen, OF

Gerrit Cole, RHP

Why they can win: Ugh, this feels like I should be writing a piece on why they should actually be able to win and not forcing something. They can win because Josh Bell and Starlin Marte are better than people know, Josh Harrison and big addition Corey Dickerson can provide some offense as well. An Xfactor for the Pirates is Colin Moran, who was the big piece in the Gerrit Cole trade. He’s a top prospect who could provide stability at the hot corner if all goes well. Realistically, they don’t have an Ace but will look to guys like Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon to step up while Ivan Nova can surely eat quality innings.

Why they can lose: Because Bob Nutting is the villain and ruined a team that was close to competing. They will surely not make the playoffs in a stacked top three of their division due to moves that look to save money rather than look to win. It’s sad. Do they really think Corey Dickerson is the answer?! Pre 2018, they have no ace to rely on, a very average bullpen and a lineup of mostly mediocre bats. If Josh Bell or Marte get hurt, this lineup has no direction or threat. If Taillon, Glasnow or Nova gets hurt, they lack depth at an already lackluster portion of their roster.

Bottom Line: If stuff goes poorly, this could be a very ugly year. They could lose anywhere from 80-95 games from the vibe around the team. It honestly sucks for a fanbase that they let go such big names. Marte and Bell are ball players and the ladder could be a .270•30•100 guy. They NEED their two young, talented pitchers to step up and Colin Moran to pan out for them to be relevant but those are big needs. They have a few good prospects in Mitch Keller and Austin Meadows but the front office seemed to give up on a team that had guys headed into their prime mixed with All Star, veteran familiar faces and its mind boggling.

Major4 Numbers Game:

Stud: Jameson Taillon, SP

Taillon had a very solid 2017 campaign with an 8-7 W/L and strong peripheral metrics (3.48 FIP) in 133 IP, which contributed to his 2.9 WAR. Those numbers aren’t even the most impressive part of his season, as he overcame testicular cancer that cost him roughly 10 starts. He was a highly touted prospect after being selected 2nd overall in 2010 and the stuff to back it up (95 MPH avg FB velo) and a sharp curve that generates ground balls and whiffs (12.2 % swinging strike rate on CB, Brooks Baseball). He still has lapses in command (7.8 BB%) due to his tall 6’6 frame. Should he look to take the next step in his development, he should post a 3.5+ WAR and mid-3’s ERA barring injury.

Sinkhole: Colin Moran, 3B

Pushed out of the stacked Astro’s system, post-hype prospect is looking forward to his first opportunity at regular playing time. He appears to have the inside track at the 3B gig with the Pirates following a breakout year at AAA. He finally tapped into his raw power (.543 Slug, 18 HRs in 78 games) due to a swing change that focused on elevating the ball (40% Flyball rate). The bad news, none of the major projection models (ZIPs, Steamer) expect his new found power to play up in the MLB (0.8, 0.9 projected WAR, respectively). That projects to be the weakest position player on the Pirates during the upcoming season. His upside and ability could allow him to succeed that, but it’s better to be conservative on an unproven talent.

Regression Candidate: Corey Dickerson, OF

Dickerson had a very respectable 2017 season as the Rays DH (.285 Avg, 27 HRs, 2.6 WAR). Do not expect him to repeat. He refuses to take walks (5.6 BB%), strikes out a ton (24.2%), and swings at bad pitches (45.6 O-Swing%). Also, despite an increase in overall production, he hit more groundballs and less flyballs than in the previous season when he had a pedestrian 101 wRC+. Add in the fact he has a career -8 DRS in the outfield, having him as an everyday player is less than ideal. He should still be a positive contributor in terms of WAR, but a regression seems natural. Hot take: Dickerson records a WAR of <1, or a third of what he recorded last season.

Impact Acquisition: Joe Musgrove, SP

Another player acquired in the Gerrit Cole deal, Musgrove appears to be a lock for a starting gig in the Pirates rotation. He has a power sinker (70% GB on BIP, Brooks Baseball),  a four-seamer that generates a solid amount of whiffs (11.4 %), and two average breaking balls. He had respectable distribution of K-BB% (15.1%), which shows he had good command of the strike zone. He isn’t a world beater by any means, but he looks to be a good middle-rotation arm, who looks like he could post around a 2 WAR with regular starts.

Major4 Prospects, (Top 100):

Mitch Keller, RHP (15)

Austin Meadows, OF (45)

Shane Baz, RHP, RHP (67)

Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B

Why We Love Them: Unbelievable stadium and it’s electric when they raise the Jolly Roger. They have some fun pieces in the puzzle but other than that there isn’t much. Loved Cutch. Love Cervelli, he’s insane and don’t mind the return for Cole. Also, classy mascot, I dig the Pirate Parrot ALOT. Why are you the way that you are, Bob Nutting? Great sports city and you’re too cheap to give the fans a consistently great product.

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