First Pitch: Looking Back at Last Year’s Pre-Season Projection

Tomorrow the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates ZiPS projections will be released on FanGraphs. Last year when the projections came out, I decided to take a look at my projected roster to get a feel for the overall talent level of the team. I ended up using the ZiPS WAR totals to project 81-84 wins.

The range in wins was due to where the Pirates were during the off-season. The deal with Francisco Liriano wasn’t yet official, and there were rumors that the Pirates were looking at Shaun Marcum. The 81 win total was without either pitcher. Liriano would have made the projection 83 wins, and Marcum would have put them at 84 (showing how pre-season projections aren’t gospel).

In the article I wrote that the 81-84 win range was a good starting point. That was actually during a time where many people were expecting another losing season, since the additions of Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano gave Pirates fans about as much inspiration as they’re feeling this off-season. That was a good starting point, because it meant the Pirates didn’t need to see a ton of positions exceed projections to become contenders.

Of course we now know that the Pirates were contenders. Here were the positional projections last year, along with the actual results:

Position – Projection / Actual

C – 3.1 / 3.8

Russell Martin exceeded his projections, although the backup catchers brought the overall production down.

1B – 1.9 / 0.5

The Pirates were almost a win and a half short here, mostly due to Garrett Jones.

2B – 2.9 / 2.7

The combined second basemen actually ended up with 2.4 WAR. However, the projection focused only on Neil Walker, who came very close to the ZiPS numbers.

SS – 2.9 / 1.5

This is where I put the bulk of the backup infielders, because ZiPS had most of them getting a lot of playing time. Jordy Mercer carried the shortstop position here, with a 1.4 WAR. Most of the production from Clint Barmes was cancelled out by John McDonald.

3B – 2.7 / 3.1

When you include the time Brandon Inge had, the third base position was right at a 2.7 WAR. But just like Neil Walker and second base, the projection here was only for Pedro Alvarez.

LF – 2.6 / 5.0

The Pirates really exceeded expectations here, mostly due to Starling Marte’s 4.6 WAR.

CF – 5.3 / 8.2

Here is another spot where the Pirates exceeded the projections, thanks to the MVP, Andrew McCutchen.

RF – 2.0 / 0.9

The Pirates slumped in right field, although Jose Tabata’s 1.1 WAR wasn’t bad.

SP – 8.1 / 12.2

I don’t know if this is a case of the starting rotation exceeding the projections, or the projections being low on the Pirates’ starters. I think it’s more of the latter. I think the defensive shifts helped, but that wouldn’t account for an additional four wins. Based on the early numbers I’ve seen for this year’s projections, it seems the starting rotation will be low again.

RP – 1.1 / 3.9

Once again, ZiPS might have been low on the Pirates’ bullpen. In this case I think the exceptional performances from Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli helped. They were projected for a combined 1.0 WAR, and ended up with a combined 4.0 WAR. There’s your extra three wins.

Overall the Pirates were below expectations at first base, right field, and shortstop. They exceeded expectations in left field, center field, catcher, and the entire pitching staff. It will be interesting to see how the numbers look for the 2014 projections. I plan to take the same approach this year, with an article tomorrow looking at the projected win totals, based on the ZiPS WAR and my projected playing time.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is now available. You can purchase your copy here, and read about every prospect in the Pirates’ system. The book includes our top 50 prospects, as well as future potential ratings for every player.

**We have been releasing our top 20 prospects for the 2014 season. Today the countdown resumed with #12 – Clay Holmes.

**Pirates Sign Travis Snider for $1.2 M

**Instant Replay Officially Approved in Baseball

**Reese McGuire Ranks Among Top Catching Prospects

**Winter Leagues: Kennelly and Hutchings Square Off In Australia

First Pitch

  • It will be interesting to see where ZIPS nets out on the Pirates. I looked at Steamer and Oliver and the numbers for the pitching staff seem really light. Cole is being projected in the 2 range after delivering a 2.3 WAR last year – for essentially 2/3 of a season. Liriano is down in the 2 range after a 3.1 for 2013. Total WAR for the pitching staff on Steamer came in at 9.4. The batters fare better 26.3. Unless ZIPS sees the pitchers significantly better the team WAR looks closer to 35 than 40. I seem to recall a 40 is where playoff contenders tend to be.

    Maybe it is just me being a delusional fan – but I think that pitching depth is a real strength of this team-both starters and bullpen.

    • I don’t see pitching depth. I see a lot of questions. Hopefully those are answered in ST. But I take no comfort in having an arthritic Wandy, an unreliable Locke and major reclamation project Volquez slated in some combination to be 4-5 in what’s supposed to be a playoff contending rotation. Keep in mind also that Morton hasn’t put together two consecutive healthy seasons.

      Yeah, Taillon is coming. Yeah, Cumpton and Irwin are in reserve. But I’d feel better if there was one more proven guy on the starting staff.

      If Garza doesn’t get a multiyear deal he’s looking for before ST, I might try to wow him on a 1 year deal. I’d even talk to Maholm, who might do better here now with the defensive shifts.

      • Pimentel and Gomez give them a TON of flexibility. I would lover to see them try Justin Wilson as a starter in Spring Training and end the Volquez experiment early if that works… They got Welker back for a reason – he could take Wilson’s spot in the bullpen. I frankly think they will end spring training with a bit of a “surplus” that they will have to try and trade or release

  • CalipariFan506
    January 17, 2014 9:56 am

    Lee I agree with you. Alvarez HR total masks some pedestrian offensive numbers.

  • The Masked robshelb
    January 17, 2014 9:46 am

    Well, at least projections are usually a little more accurate than are prospect rankings. Two fairly recent examinations of success rates among BA ranked prospects. McKinney’s —

    and Matt Perez’ —

    Both results are pretty much the same. Most prospects fail (more so pitchers than position players) at the ML level. And beyond each year’s most highly-regarded prospects, the success or failure rate is pretty much random. (And using the BA rankings, even among the top twenty prospects in all of baseball, 51.76% of them turnout to be busts. [Per the Perez data.])

    Apparently, even trying to rank prospects is pretty much a hit-or-miss proposition. Person A says Player X should be ranked higher. Person B says Player Y should be ranked lower. Who really knows ?? Probably no one. At least with Sabermetric projections, there’s some correlation with what actually turns out/comes about.

    Part of the problem (perhaps) lies in the fairly subjective manner in which prospects are ranked in the first place. You take 4 – 5 different performance categories, and “judges” rank each player on the 20 – 80 scale. Then somehow aggregate those sub-totals, and one player is ranked 15th and another is ranked 24th and another is ranked 71st, etc. etc. etc.

    All of which is (at best) marginally predictive of subsequent ML success.

    I’m looking at the Perez data, Prospect Success by Decile and Quintile.

    BA ranking, 21 – 30, a 18.24% probability of becoming a “superior” ML player.
    BA ranking, 71 – 80, a 14.12% probability of becoming a superior ML player.

    Looks like (practically) no difference to me.

    Again, as postulated above, maybe this is all because of the “fuzzy”way rankings are determined in the first place ?? (That, along with the oft-cited maxim of potential never becoming realized.)

    Bottom line, for me “projections” are fun to discuss. Prospect rankings ?? Not so much.

  • scbucsfan

    Pedro’s Slug Pct was slightly up and his OPS was slightly down.

    The main reason: Less doubles and more HRs.

    Will he do the same THIS year?

    Pedro is what he is…a true two result guy it seems. K or HR. He should walk more, but he doesn’t

    If he did cut down on his K rates, he would be a monster, but I don’t see it ever happening.

    For a guy with his power to have OPS’s below .800 is terrible, imho.

    So, yes, like Matt, I will complain. People just see the bombs and the RBI’s and think he had a great season.

    All in all, Pedro is a polarizing figure.

    • lee ~ Do you remember the infrequent times when Pedro took the outside pitch and slapped a single in LF? We were all astounded!

      I expect Pedro to continue to improve, as well as staying away from more sinkers

    • foo: agree about Pedro being a polarizing figure, and I happen to be on the glass half full team. The kid started well then had the worst possible season and is now fresh off of two seasons where he averaged 33 HR’s, 93 RBI, and on the wrong end, 183 K’s. He is free-swinging and making contact enough of the time to be a team leader, but I fully expect him to develop better pitch recognition as his experience grows. I do not expect miracles, just getting the K’s down to around 170 and the W’s around 65 in 2014 – those numbers are perfectly achievable, and as a 30+ HR guy, he is going to have to get prepared for seeing less good pitches as his number of HR’s and RBI’s increase. The numbers posted in the post-season are proof that he can do it under pressure, and eventually a 2K/W ratio is where he can be a monster in the middle of the lineup.

  • CalipariFan506
    January 17, 2014 8:38 am

    My biggest concern this year is probably one that not many people agree with. I’m worried about the durability of the bullpen. Only Tony Watson has held up year after year from Hurdle’s borderline abuse.

    Last year Hughes and Grilli were the other returning bullpen guys and both went down for a period of time. Hanrahan wasn’t here but he obviously is still waiting to return.

    I worry about if guys like Melancon, Mazzaro, Wilson etc are ready for another high appearance season.

  • Fair numbers for a very young group of players and they made the playoffs. Another year of experience, and for guys like Marte and Alvarez, more experience at the plate should mean improvement by means of cutting down K’s. I also like our chances to improve our numbers in RF, 1B, SS, 2B, and C. I hope that ‘Cutch has another year like last year, and I will take an 8.2 anytime. The SP’s could be down from the actual of last year, and can we expect another year like we had last year out of our bullpen? On an overall basis, the Offense and Defense should both be better, thereby helping to offset a year where our pitching may struggle compared to last year. The fact that our No. 1 is gone, our No. 2 had his career year in 2013, our No. 3 is a Rookie and pitched more than projected, our No. 4 had his career year although only pitching a half season, our No. 5 was injured . . . . . . .?

    • Unfortunately, Pedro’s K rate has sat at 3.2 – 3.3 his whole major league career. I have no expectation that it will go down.

      • He hits 36 HR and 100 RBI’s and you focus on his K rate. HR hitters have high K rates, would you be happier with a higher batting average, lower K rate and 60 RBI’s. When you add in a 1.362 OPS in the post season, complaining about Pedro K rate is just crazy.

        • If you’d have bothered to read/understand the post I was replying to, you would have realized that I was addressing the statement that Pedro’s K-rate should drop.

        • MattINMD, you should not have to defend or even qualify your statement on K rate, as it and swing strike rate are two of the most durable hitter stats, these are two things Pedro does exceedingly high rates.

    • emjay ~ Your post got me to thinking about our starting pitching, vs. last year.

      Burnett, Rodriguez and Liriano (in spring 2013) are replaced by Liriano, Cole and Morton. I prefer this year’s top starting three.

      Last spring, our back-end of the staff was Locke and Jonathan Sanchez. This year Rodriguez and Volguez are penciled in at nos. 4 and 5. Locke and others remain a possibility. I prefer this year’s back-end starters.

      You brought forth a vital point, that many of us miss, and that is the natural progression of athletes. I agree that improvements can be expected from Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, anyone in right field, as well as stronger seasons from Cutch, Walker and Pedro.

      Therefore, I will predict another 90+ win season. (BTW, I predicted an 89 win season last year)