First Pitch: Where Can the Pirates Exceed Their Projections?

Earlier today I took a look at the playoff odds for the first time this season. The Pirates were projected just outside of the second Wild Card spot, mostly due to the fact that their poor pre-season projections are still making up a bulk of the projections, despite their early season success. The Pirates are off to a 5-2 start, which really doesn’t mean much this early in the season. The pre-season projections should be making up a bulk of the projections right now, because they’re based on a much larger sample size than the results from this 5-2 run.

I said before the season that there were areas where the Pirates could exceed their projections, with a big area being the pitching staff. I wanted to point out a few of those spots again tonight, as a follow-up to the playoff odds article. I’m including the stats here, but stats at this point are meaningless. A guy can have a horrible average one day, then jump to .300 with one big game. I’ve included analysis and the chances of the player continuing his numbers, which puts the early season results in perspective.

There are three spots in the rotation where the Pirates can get much better production than they’re projected to receive this year. Two of those starters are off to a good start, while one is struggling. Aside from that, we’ve also seen Travis Ishikawa get off to a surprisingly great start in his first week in the first base platoon. Here is a look at those four players, and their odds of giving the Pirates a big, unexpected boost.


Travis Ishikawa

Current Stats: .294/.350/.588, 20 PA

ZiPS Projections: .238/.305/.363, 268 PA

Analysis: Ishikawa is off to a great start, carrying over his hot bat from Spring Training. The production so far makes him the top hitter on the team, although that won’t last. The question is whether he can become a good enough hitter to justify his being in the lineup. ZiPS had him projected at a .668 OPS at the start of the season. He has a career .725 OPS, and a career .741 OPS against right-handed hitters. My opinion on him is still that his upside is 2013 Garrett Jones on offense, with better defense at first base. And I don’t think the defense is enough to make that offense worthwhile. But I’d be happy to end up wrong.

Odds of Continuing Current Numbers: Very Low


Edinson Volquez

Current Stats: 1.17 ERA in 7.2 IP, 7.0 K/9, 1.2 BB/9

ZiPS Projections: 4.50 ERA in 158 IP, 7.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9

Analysis: Volquez threw two innings in relief, followed by a great start on Sunday. Is he the next successful reclamation project for Ray Searage? It’s way too early to tell. I’d say the odds are low that Volquez will become this year’s version of Francisco Liriano. I do think he can pitch well enough to be a productive pitcher, putting up at least league-average numbers over 180 innings this year. The key for Volquez will be his fastball command. He’s got great secondary pitches, and when his fastball command is on, he sets those pitches up well. When his command is off, there’s not a thing that a plus curveball or changeup can do to help him.

Odds of Continuing Current Numbers: Depends on your view of Ray Searage


Charlie Morton

Current Stats: 3.75 ERA in 12.0 IP, 8.3 K/9, 1.5 BB/9

ZiPS Projections: 4.01 ERA in 117 IP, 5.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9

Analysis: (Note: I put Morton on this list before his game against the Cubs, or more specifically, against Starlin Castro. I think he could do better than his projections, so I’m keeping him here, despite the poor outing.) Before the season, when the projection systems released their season predictions, I mentioned that Morton had a great chance of exceeding his projections. The reason for this is because most projections are based on career stats. Morton’s career stats are largely irrelevant, since he had his mechanics overhauled in 2011. He was injured in 2012, and last year he returned from Tommy John surgery to look like a solid number three starter with the new mechanics. In most cases, the career stats would trump the recent history. In Morton’s case, his recent numbers show his true talent level.

Odds of Continuing Current Numbers: High


Wandy Rodriguez

Current Stats: 4.50 ERA in 6.0 IP, 7.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9

ZiPS Projections: 3.72 ERA in 115 IP, 6.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9

Analysis: Unlike the first three, this is a case where you’ve got a guy who played below his projections during the first week of the season (although it was only one start). Rodriguez is in the same situation as Morton. His projections are based off his career numbers, but his injury last year means that you can throw those career numbers out the window. In his first start of the year, his velocity was down, which is a bigger concern than his stat line. Rodriguez is healthy, but there’s the concern that he’s not going to be as good as the pre-injury Wandy.

Odds of Continuing Current Numbers: Medium


Links and Notes

**Over the weekend I’ve been working on adding new writers to the site. I’m still in that process, but we’ll have some new writers starting this week, mostly at the minor league level. Adding new writers is made possible by purchases onthe products page of the site. That’s where you can buy our 2014 Prospect Guide, with information on every player in the minor league system. We also now have a Pirates Prospects logo t-shirt available. It’s my goal to keep all of the website content free, while also adding as much content as possible. The more funds received through these products, the more coverage we can add going forward.

**Prospect Watch: Stetson Allie and JaCoby Jones Lead a Night of Home Runs

**Minor League Schedule: Jeff Locke Starts For Bradenton

**Vin Mazzaro Clears Waivers, Has Three Days to Accept Assignment to Indianapolis

**The First Look at the Pirates Playoff Odds in 2014

**How the Cardinals View the Pirates as Competitors

**Draft Prospect Watch: Justus Sheffield Throws No-Hitter

  • I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect Ishi to put up numbers equal to Loney’s career averages.
    Volquez looks great so far. He’ll likely be inconsistent, but Liriano was last year as well. What I like most was his attitude after the victory, saying he still has a lot to work on. Sounds like he has fully bought in to Searage, et al’s advice, which will help over the course of the Summer. I wish NH had negotiated a team option for 2015.
    I would add Morris as an outperformer. I didn’t like 2013 Morris. Essentially a two pitch pitcher with little velocity separation, marginal control and a tendency to elevate his pitches, he looked headed towards being a bust in spite of his size and velocity. But the 2014 version of Morris, with the sinking two seamer giving him a three pitch mix, his locating pitches down in the zone with better control could make him a keeper. If Grilli goes down with an injury and all the relievers move up a notch his contributions could become significant.
    Marte’s off to a good start. Especially encouraging are his walks. If he can significantly increase his OBP he could really score a lot or runs this year. in fact that could make him a candidate for team MVP. We’ll see how that plays out. Hopefully what has happened in the first week is not a statistical oddity, but represents a true change in his approach.

  • We are getting much better than expected from Ish, Tony Sanchez, and Edvol. Foolish to think they can maintain current numbers, but one large part of winning the Wild Card in 2013 was the unexpected contributions we received from part-timers with the bat and on the mound. My concern is Charlie Morton – not because he had a bad night last night, but because he is a CONFIDENCE pitcher. The better he feels about himself, the better he pitches, but I think he had a lot of problem with the cold last night. I was impressed with the power of Ish in ST, and that quick twitch triple last night was a big, big hit for the Bucs. The ball was in but he got his hands in and squared up the ball. What about the fact that Starling Marte has 5 Walks already in 7 games, or that our Catchers, combined for 8 RBI’s, are responsible for almost a third of our runs scored. Martin, Walker, Ish, and Mercer are extending this lineup.

  • Not sure how much you can read into a game, but Vlolquez lo0oked very sharp on Sunday, in my opinion. Like you said, Tim, it hinges on his fastball, but the breaking pitches are nasty. It would seem that fastball control would be somewhat easier to develop than a good breaking pitch, so would it be say he’s got the harder part of the equation sorted out?

  • Well, if Polance is ready come June and does his Andrew McCutchen 2009, Part 2, that would go a ways toward bumping the win total.

  • Tim, excellent question in the title of this article. The simple (and somewhat glib) answer is everywhere! Using FG’s team projections (which I think combines ZIPS and Steamer) , several players are projected well below their performance last season. I understand regressing to the mean, but Cutch, Marte and Martin are projected to contribute 5.7 less WAR than they did last year. Anything’s possible of course, but I’d bet against each of these guys regressing almost 2 WAR each. The rest of the position players they have under last year’s numbers in the range of .1 to .5 WAR each. Also possible, but since none of them are on the wrong side of the age curve, I’d say it’s more likely most of them match last year’s performance, while a couple either exceed it or fall short. As for SP, again every single one (except for Wandy for obvious reasons) is projected below last year, though none of them by very much. Again this is possible, but not probable.
    This is basically just a problem with projections using career numbers, and the Bucs having so many players just hitting their prime age wise or with very little track record. I’d guess every Pirate except Jones, Snider and Wandy exceeded their projections last year. This year might not see that (though it could), but it could easily still see overperformance by about 70% of the roster

    • If they are using career averages as projections, its not a projection. Any idiot can do that. A projection looks to the future, it doesn’t summarize the past. age and trend, injury history should all be worked into a model for this, just using past as a baseline

  • I disagree about your characterization of Ishi. True, he won’t be a 30 HR slugger. But I believe he has the chance to be an adequate platoon partner for Gaby. He should be able to hit for a decent average with some extra base power. He can handle the bat and shouldn’t strike out a ton. Also, defensively, he is better than the Pirates have had in years. Therefore, no sixth inning defensive substitutions which we’ve seen the past few years.

    He hasn’t had a lot of shots as a full-time player. Maybe this time he makes good.

    • The Trib had an article about how he revamped his swing. I hope it works out. I have my doubts, but overall, I agree with gwbicster. At worst, he is James Loney-lite (oh wait…Loney is already ‘lite’…. 🙂 🙂 🙂 )

    • g dub, I agree completely. I really didn’t look much at his stats since I assumed Lambo was the man at 1B. Once we knew that wasn’t the case, I looked and compared Ishi to Loney (OPS for 3 years were almost identical) and their games are so similar (patient ABs, high OBP, less power than typical 1B, good defense). Loney broke out at 29 in a new environment, Ishi certainly could at 30.
      Then reading this article made me look at his career again, and now I’m really confused. ZIPS projects an OPS of .668? How many times has he done that in his career? Zero, zip, never. His lowest OPS was .712 (throwing out the 19 ABs last year). So unless 30 is the new 40, I don’t see why he would underperform his worst season by almost 60 OPS. It’s almost as if ZIPS weighed Bucco fan blog comments more than his career.
      Odds of Ishi outperforming his projection? 99% since his entire career has been above that line.

    • Ya know- I have to agree with you here. You can’t really compare ishikawa to GI Jones anymore than you can compare Derek Jeter to Jose Reyes. Nothing in common other than they play the same position. Completely different types of hitters, different strengths and different weaknesses, the Net WAR could be the same, but as someone who doesn’t like WAR as a true measure of a hitters worth (until they find a way to be able to measure the value of productive outs specifically) I will always value a more consistent hitter who makes contact over an equal WAR player who is streaky and k’s a lot

    • I hope Ishikawa succeeds and provides some offensive against RHP but Ishikawa spent last year with the White Soxes, Orioles, Yankees, these teams ranked 15th, 11th, 14th, from DH production and Yankees were 26th and White Soxes 24th in production from first base. Ishikawa could not get PAs with any of those team, to me that says a lot more than 20 PAs.

      I understand that sometimes you don’t see these type of guys coming, Mike Carp prior to last year 104 wRC+ and .721 OPS against RHP, but it is a little boisterous to expect solid offensive production from a 30 year old NRI.

      • Sometimes all someone needs is a chance. Ishi had a chance one year with the Giants, didn’t do that well, but didn’t do terribly either. Other than that, he really hasn’t had any other shots as a starter.