Will PNC Park Host a Wild Card Game For the Third Straight Year?

During the regular season we do weekly playoff odds updates, and they always come with a disclaimer that they’re only projections, and a lot of things can change. That is even more the case early in the season. So as you could imagine, a projection in late-December is pretty much just for the fun of things, with a big disclaimer that a lot can change.

With that said, FanGraphs has the Pirates doing well in their projected 2015 standings. The Pirates are finishing with a projected 86-76 record, one game behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, and hosting either the San Francisco Giants or the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card game, with both teams tied at 83 wins. So I guess if these projections do play out, the good news is that the Giants would be using Madison Bumgarner in the tiebreaker, rather than the Wild Card game.

I’m not sure that it would take just 87 wins for the Central, although I’m not ruling it out. The division will be a lot tougher this year with the Cubs getting stronger. However, the Reds are getting weaker, and the Brewers seem to be stuck in neutral and eventually trending down. It took 90 wins for the Central last year, and I could see a stronger Cubs team chipping away at that total. Still, I think it would be a safe bet to shoot for at least 90 wins in order to have a shot at the division.

Right now the projections have the Pirates contending for the division, and in great position for a playoff spot. At this point it doesn’t seem like they will be adding more players, so it will be up to some of the wild cards on the roster to bridge that gap.

Analysis

  • No, The Pirates win the division!!! Also, no way do the Cubs make the Post Season!

  • Looking at Fangraph’s projections:

    The AL is projected to win 29 more games than the NL because of inter league play. The last time the NL won the majority of inter league games was 2003. The AL leads the inter league series 14-4.

    http://mlbreports.com/mlb-interleague/interleague2014sked/

    Last year the AL won 163 games, the NL won 137. The teams that had losing records last year were:
    Philly – 7 Wins, 13 Losses
    Colorado – 7 Wins, 13 Losses
    Cincinatti – 6 Wins, 14 Losses
    Arizona – 7 Wins, 13 Losses
    Chicago – 9 Wins, 11 Losses
    San Diego – 9 Wins, 11 Losses
    St. Louis – 8 Wins, 12 Losses

    The Pirates finished 11 Wins, 9 Losses versus after getting 15 Wins, 5 Losses the year before. Two years ago the Pirates finished 94-68, this year they finished 88-74. The biggest part of the Pirates backslide was against the AL.

    I think the Pirates regain their stride against the AL this coming year, and so the projected 86-76 record looks thin. I think they get to 90 wins again. Taking a closer look, the Pirates are projected by Fan Graphs to 4.07 runs per game while allowing 3.82 runs per game.

    That makes some sense based on the Pirates big postseason moves – Cervelli replaces Martin, Burnett replaces Volquez, Liriano resigned. But not a lot of sense. The Pirates offense last year averaged 4.1 runs per game pre All Star game and 4.34 runs per game post All Star game. Fan Graphs is projecting that Pirates offense next season will be worse than it was for the first half of last season when Mercer and Marte struggled.

    • I have them at 4.41 Runs & 4.10 allowed.

      • That is a run differential on 162 games of about +50 (last year the Buccos were +51 and the year before they were +57).

        How will the Pirates do in 1 run games by your projections – meaning how good do Watson, Melancon, and Hughes project to be? Last year they were 31-29. The year before they were 29-23.

        • I had Melancon, Watson, Bastardo, Hughes, Holdzcom at 19-14. The pack of Pimentel, Liz, and misc relievers at 6-7…so I have the pen somewhere around 25-21. They had a freakish amount of decisions last year…a lot of it was the struggle to get quality starts early. Watson was 10-2 which threw everything off into an unsustainable number.

          • I had guys like Worley & Locke counting for wins and losses out of the pen though because someone there will have to pitch a substantial amount of innings there you’d think.

            • Hughes and Watson were 17-7 combined in a 143 ip. Take that out to 200+ innings like a starter and it would be like a starter getting a decision every start all season long. Crazy amount of times being involved for two relievers on the same team.

              • Freddylang,

                I was asking about 1 run games, not decisions by the bullpen. Obviously, there is overlap between the two, but teams that have low run differentials can exceed projected win-loss by being successful in one run games. As an example, the 2008 Angels won 100 games despite a plus 68 run differential (they were 31-21 in one run games).

                Another example is the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks. Finished the season 90-72, despite a NEGATIVE 20 run differential. That team was 32-20 in one run games.

                • Like I said I didn’t get anything from a sim or anything like that. I have been guessing stats for 25-30 years just to see how close I come…I don’t have a 1 run game data.

  • Tim: I think the Cardinals have enough to win the Central again, but I see the Pirates, Brewers, and Reds all fighting for 2nd, with the Cubs a lot closer to the middle of the pack than in past years. The Pirates have two consecutive playoff years under their belts and IMO, it is the right time to try to take a giant step forward. Sitting in the shadow of the Cardinals is not the way to get their third consecutive trip to the playoffs. They need to try to separate from the pack. Shields or Hamels – take your pick. It could hurt financially in 2015, but losing Burnett after 2015 and Morton after 2016 and their $8 mil/yr salaries will cut the financial impact as they will be replaced with Kingham, Taillon and/or Glasnow making league minimum. Instead of waiting until August to add something for a stretch run, we add now and get a #1/1.5, or a #2. I like Hamels a lot, but the numbers for Shields reflect all AL pitching – a switch to the NL and a pitcher hitting rather than a DH could result in better numbers naturally.

    • Shields is going to want 6-7 years. Your idea makes sense if you could get him for 3 years. But the back end of the contract is the part that could bit the Buccos hard.

      • 7 years would take Shields to age 40 and that is not going to happen with the Pirates. I think the projections are for 4 or 5 years max between $95 and $110. My preference is Hamels who is 2 years younger, has the 5 year contract already in place which will take him through his age 36 season. Some of the experts think the Phillies would be willing to accept a young #2 or #3 pitcher who would be much more affordable and under control for 3 or 4 years, and a young prospect, and not necessarily a Top Pitcher. Then there is the group that thinks the Cubs giving up 22 year old Javier Baez and 20 year old SS, Addison Russell is where the Phillies would like to be. Whether we get him or not, we have the opportunity to get involved and raise the price to something that might hurt the team that eventually wins that prize – be it St Louis or Chicago, both of whom have been mentioned as being very interested in Hamels.

        • Cole Hamels salary last year was $22.5 million and each of the four years remaining on his contract he is owed the same. He is singed by the Phillies through 2018 with a 2019 option.

          http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/08/09/year-by-year-breakdown-of-cole-hamels-144-million-deal/

          You mention the Cubs and the Cardinals as potential suitors, but don’t forget about the Yankees. With Kuroda heading back to Japan, the Yanks may tell Scott Boras / Matt Scherzer to shove it and swing a deal for Hamels instead.

          http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2014/03/what-might-james-shields-earn-in-free-agency.html
          http://www.pinstripealley.com/2014/12/31/7471991/Max-Scherzer-Cole-Hamels-Yankees-Phillies-Scott-Boras-Ruben-Amaro

          Shields figures to make about $20 million per year on any deal. Even at 33, I think Shields is the better option. No trade compensation is given up.

          Your numbers make sense, but they make better sense next year with AJ off the books and a bigger pool of potential free agents available (Cueto, Zimmerman, etc.). I think the Pirates will want to make sure that Kingham / Taillon / Glasnow can handle the jump to the majors before committing to them.

          Really that is what you would be doing to make the numbers work. If you have a $20+ million pitcher on your staff and a fixed $90-$95 million team salary, you are committed to keeping a rookie pitcher on your staff whether he succeeds or flops.

          • Frank: Fortunately or unfortunately, I do not think the Pirates can afford to ignore the market at this time. There are probably 5 teams who can be seen as seriously interested in Hamels, and another 6 or 7 who are also “window shopping”. The Pirates have been in the Top 5 in the NL the past 2 years. Adding Hamels places them equal to NL powers such as St Louis and San Francisco, and increases their ability to not only make the playoffs, but to go deep into the playoffs.

            I try not to think about the annual team salary numbers. They increase very conservatively from year to year. I look at the Team Value numbers posted by Forbes each April – these are the numbers that mean something. From 2008 thru 2014 the Pirates Team Value almost doubled from $292 mil to $572 mil. From Apr 2012 to Apr 2014, the Pirates Team Value has increased by more than 60%, and with the Pirates making the playoffs the second year and maintaining a solid core of young players, I expect that will increase another 20% to almost $700 mil in Apr 2015. How much would an add of another #1 SP with a very workable 4 or 5 year contract mean to team value? If our team salary rises to $115 mil, but our Team Value rises at a much higher percentage, do you make this deal? I do.

          • Frank: Regarding waiting until next year, Hamels has been a Top 10 MLB pitcher over the past 3 years; Cueto has visited that territory lately as has Zimmerman, but Hamels has shown that consistency each year. If I am going to take a gamble, it would be with that guy, and he is a LHSP.

            Philly has added 3 young starting pitchers in trades so far, and I cannot believe Cincy giving up 22 year old RHSP Ben Lively for a 37 year old Marlon Byrd regardless of the money Philly added to the deal. After getting 3 young pitching prospects, could they be more interested in getting back at least two MLB experienced pitchers like Vance Worley and Jeff Locke, and then add more? Let’s not forget they want to unload $22.5 mil of Hamels salary, get some young MLB ready pitchers under team control for 4 more years, and then possibly some help in the OF and another pitching prospect?

  • The fangraphs projections just push every team towards 81-81. I think that the Pirates will win the NL Central at 93-69 with the Cardinals in second place at 92-70.

  • The only thing we get out of predictions at the end of December is entertainment value and the potential to flap our gums. To borrow a very hackneyed old phrase I’d just like to stay on an even keel for a while. No one has gotten hurt yet or reported to spring training 20 lb overweight.

  • All due respect… I hope not. I’ll take the first post-season game being NLDS. Time to take the Cardinals. But you’re right… they’ll need some of these other folks newly rostered to step up. They’ll also be in a lot better shape if Jordy Mercer hits the ground running instead of starting as slowly as he did. I like the platoon at 1B.

    • Where is that Crazy 8 ball that Santa gave me at Christmas about 50 years ago
      when I need it?

      To everyone, hope you had a Merry Christmas and best wishes for a Happy New Year and happier Buctober.

  • Great timing for me on the article as I have been doing all my projections. Just finished pitching after finishing hitting the other day and have the Pirates as a slightly better hitting team and slightly worse pitching team. (Mostly due to question marks like Liz & Holdzcom and the injury to Morton and addition of aging Burnett so I was really conservative with those guys.) I was also probably too conservative with Cole who I think could take a large leap forward in ’15. Anyways I had them just over20 runs better hitting and 34 runs worse hitting. My won loss prediction after doing individual predictions of over 35 players and general predictions of roster filler I had them at 87-75. So I am one game off the computer.

    • I also think a much better Cubs team will be a factor in it being harder for the Pirates to pass the 88 wins of last year. I feel like it should be the best division in baseball so 87 wins is still an excellent team that could win the division and be dangerous in the playoffs. The Pirates also have the huge X Factors of what Polanco and Kang are capable of, the big 3 young starters at AAA in Kingham, Sampson, and Taillon, and what if no one can touch Holdzcom again in 2015? These are things that could push the Pirates way higher but if most of those factors falter the Pirates should still be good regardless.

      • Not bad, but I wouldn’t count on much out of Taillon this season at the MLB level.

        • Agreed. They might not even need him this year…I feel like if at the end of 2015 one of the big 3 at Indy finish the year with 50+ IP and a 3.00 ERA and 1.200 whip it means the Pirates will have probably won the division. I would actually put Sampson 1 on the depth chart of him, Taillon, and Kingham because he has shown the best ability to pitch the Pirate way: command 3 pitches, throw strikes, drive the ball down in the zone…but as a fan I am extatic to have 3 guys like that behind Cumpton and Sadler. Cumpton is the geezer at 26 all season long. Ridiculous!

          • I am hoping they don’t need him and take it slow. If and when he is fully recovered, folks are going to see just how productive he is going to be toward the top of the rotation.

    • Good stuff. I’ll, however, take some exception to Holdzcom as I’m very optimistic he’s for real. But I understand someone less convinced on such a short body of MLB work.

      • My concern is he threw like 90% fastballs in the mlb. He will need to command a breaking pitch at some point you’d think.

        • Something to remember about those fastballs is that they’re essentially plus cutters, regardless of what you call them.

          Holdzkom gets more horizontal and vertical movement on his fourseamer than Mark Melancon gets on his cutter, and Holdzkom throws his an average of 4mph faster.

          I think the change he showed will be plenty to keep hitters off balance.

    • I’m always amazed when people have their own predictive modeling. seems like a really cool thing to do and I wouldn’t know where to start.. lol

      • Do you have a community college nearby? An intro course in Statistics will be fairly cheap and probably do a lot of good in terms of understanding the numbers involved in good projections, and frankly most sabrmetrics.

        • I actually have a degree in statistics and have a 13 year career as an actuary. . Unfortunately I spend most of my thoughts on premium rate increases..

          • Dang! Forget that advice, then. You should be able to pick up on this stuff rather easily. Good luck!

            • I get the jest of it.. I think we’re only at the forefront though and to use what we currently have available to us comes with too many caveats. . Particularly on the pitching side.. not to put it down cause it’s the best we have.. I admire freddy’s passion of baseball to develop his own models..

              • Fielding is the one thing I feel I lag on. I look at the advanced fielding stats on baseball reference but need to get into studying more advanced fielding stats. Quantifying fielding is the most interesting part of baseball to me right now.

          • Man then you will pick up formulas for advanced metrics & stats easy. Have you read Bill James’ historical abstract?

            • I haven’t no.. I hate to read books though..haha. I tend to just press to get to the end and pay too much attention to what page I’m on : )

              • Me too but I blew through that one. It was interesting…Moneyball is a great read too.

      • DITTO!!!! And I absolutely bombed a prob & stats class. lol

      • There is no real science behind it for me as far as creating models and all that….just 28 years of strat-o-matic, computer sim games, studying stats like its my job, reading, following Bill James and SABR, fantasy baseball, and heavy, heavy watching of mlb games. There are bigger nerds than me but not bigger fanatics. haha!!

    • Freddylang,

      That is funny because FanGraphs has the exact opposite projection – the Pirates will be a worse offensive team and a better pitching / defense team. I can see the argument on the better pitching / defense – a full season of Cole plus Pedro moving to first should help. But I don’t see the argument for the Pirates (even without Martin) being much worse offensively. There offensive production actually jumped last year from 4.1 runs per game (Pre-All Star) to 4.3 runs per game (Post-All Star).

      • Agreed on the hitting for sure. I was ultra conservative with Polanco, Harrison, Marte, Kang, and cervelli too. I only had Polanco at .273/.345/.407 and 428 AB. had Cervlli hitting 6 HR and .268. I had Harrison at .281/.325/.442

        • I think you are low balling Harrison. What kind of numbers do you have on Marte? I think he gets an OPS bump as the right handed 4 spot hitter (Walker hits 4th as a lefty). Polanco is the tougher one to gauge and those ABs (428) may be high if he struggles / is splitting time with Snider.

          • I have marte at 540 AB, 54XBH & 16 HR, 32 SB. .281/.348/.446 I am always hesitant to have him at a high average because of his plate discipline but it is slowly improving. I had him at 37 BB/139K/18HBP 55 times on base by non-hit would be great for him. With that being said I really feel he could break out.

          • Yeah, I don’t know what to do with Harrison. Part of me thinks he is a .300 hitter. But there is a part of me that thiks his average might drop a good amount but he could hit 15-20 HR. I did have J-Hay at 15 HR/16SB.

        • Stick to your guns freddy!! Trust your intuition partner.. lol.. well, unless brian happens to have a comment.. then you might want to double check some assumptions in your model.. haha

  • I’d be surprised if 83 wins gets a WC slot. IMO, the Marlins and maybe even the Mets can reach that, in addition to the Cubs and SF.

    • I’m a huge marlins fan as well. would you care to provide your reasoning to include the mets… I’ve seen them as a couple of years away still, but perhaps i’m mistaken on that..

      • Pitching pitching and more pitching. Mets are deeper than anyone, except possibly Dodgers. Being in the NLE helps. Phillies will still suck – and maybe even be worse. IMO, Braves are worse. And I think the Mets were a better team than what they showed in 2014. They are challenged offensively, but if Wright is healthy and Cuddyer is Cuddyer, they still have some upside elsewhere (C, corner OFs).

        That said, I don’t think 83 wins gets a WC. But I do think Mets & Marlins are over .500.

        None of this matters at this point anyway. Still deals to be made and FAs to be signed. And let’s not forget Fangraphs projected the Bucs below .500 for 2014 right around this same time.

  • 95-67

    • I just saw something recently where no team has won 100 games for 3 years? Or was it 5? anyways it is the longest stretch in years and years. The talent pool in the mlb is the highest maybe that it has ever been and with analytics and metrics every team pretty much is building the right way for the most part…plus so many weaker teams added talent this offseason and now we have the “wild card” play-in game. Winning 85+ is the new winning 95 games.

      • The last 100 win club was Philadelphia (102-60) in 2011 before the second wild card was added.

        Pre-All Star game, Philly was 58-34 (.630 winning percentage)
        Post-All Star game, Philly was 44-26 (.628 winning percentage)

        And so, the Phillies didn’t exactly stack up wins against teams that had given up on the season.

        Before that, the Yankees won 103 games in 2009.

        The LA Angels of 2008 (100-62) were by far the most interesting and fun team in a while that won a 100 games. They finished the season with a plus 68 run differential and an expected win / loss of 89-73.

        Finally, it was way back in 2003 when MLB had more than one 100 game winning team in the same season:
        NY Yankees – 103-58
        Oakland – 103-59
        Atlanta – 101-59

        The Miami Marlins (91-71) won the Series that year beating both the Cubs (in 7 – thanks to Bartman) and the Yankees (in 7). And so as the saying goes – you are only as good as the last game that you played.

    • That is exactly my projection 95-67

  • No, I think they will win the division, I don’t see any other team in their division with the depth the Pirates have, as you said a lot will change, that is why you need depth. On paper you can put a starting lineup with starting pitcher together for the Cards that is arguably better than the Pirates can, but the Cards can’t do that every game and since they have to play 162, I will go with the Bucs. I don’t see the Cubs finishing 3rd either, I think that belongs to the Brewers. I also think the Reds will be better than some people think they are going to be.

    • William Wallace
      December 30, 2014 4:05 pm

      AGREE AGREE AGREEE!

    • I agree that the Bucs will win the division due to the performance of their #3, #4 and #5 pitchers. Their offense should be solid, better than last year due to more consistent offense from Marte, Polanco, Mercer and even Alvarez. Cutch, Harrison and Walker should perform about the same as last year. I don’t think Cervelli will disappoint. Kang is an unknown, but likely a net positive. The real ? is whether Cole and Liriano can step up from the outset of the season and give true #1 and #2 performances. Last year they faltered early in the season, and then came on in the second half. If they can pitch at a high level for the full year the Pirates can be very, very tough.

      • If Cole is healthy — which he was not necessarily at the start of last season — I think he starts hot. Frankie needs to get over his excuse that he doesn’t start well because he doesn’t pitch well in cold weather. This division is too competitive for starting pitchers to limp out of the gate.

      • My # for Cole & Frankie is 380…380 IP m the two. They threw 295 last year. Liriano has thrown over 180 1 time in his career

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