The 2023 MLB season us upon us. The Pittsburgh Pirates have set their rosters. They take on the Cincinnati Reds today, with Mitch Keller on the mound.
This week’s Roundtable gives our individual outlooks for the season, and our win projections.
JOHN DREKER: 75
I’ve been around 75-76 wins this off-season, because I think this team will be improved enough during the second half of 2023 that they will play .500 ball over the final 70 games or so after the All-Star game.
As they signed some players this off-season, my guess was slowly increasing, but now with JT Brubaker out to start the year, along with Jarlin Garcia being a key bullpen arm out, I’m back down to the 75 win range. Except for Bryan Reynolds, I don’t think there are any positive outcomes on offense you can guarantee from this team, and even Reynolds has his streaky bad moments.
There are too many question marks to predict anything higher than 75 wins. They need a lot to go right to exceed expectations, but I do believe that the second half will give people hope for the future, as more top prospects arrive.
WILBUR MILLER: 72
For all the talk of this year being different, it really isn’t. The Pirates just opted for third tier veterans instead of Triple-A players with no business in the majors.
The rotation looked like it could be a big area of improvement, but JT Brubaker’s injury may mute the potential gains there a bit. The bullpen once again will be loaded with mediocre middle relievers. Ben Cherington achieved the seemingly impossible feat of downgrading the offense behind the plate, and the offense overall still figures to be one of baseball’s worst. The defense also won’t be improved.
The focus of the season, once again, will be on waiting for prospects to arrive, which probably won’t happen until mid-season, if then. Once Endy Rodriguez is safely past Super Two status and the Pirates start to shed veterans to clear a path for other rookies, then we’ll start to see what a potential winning team in Pittsburgh might look like.
ANTHONY MURPHY: 75
I’m not saying that I am predicting 70-75 wins this season, as even now with the season here I’m not sure how I feel about this team. I do feel that this team, at this point in the build, and with what they looked to accomplish in the offseason, should be in a position to make a noticeable increase and finish in that range.
This team absolutely needs to take that next step in being a lot more competitive. A winning season or playoff berth would be a bit much at this point, and still not really necessary, but a noticeable step forward is critical.
To do that, it will have to be the rotation leading the way, as it seems to have the best blend of talent in the majors, with legitimate depth waiting in the minors. It took quite the hit with Brubaker being out, but a blend of Johan Oviedo, Mike Burrows, and Luis Ortiz will all hopefully provide depth to supplement the rotation.
Overall, expectations wise, it just comes down to competitiveness and growth. The Pirates will have a lot of players looking to take the next step, and while they brought quite a few veterans in, it will be the youth that will be relied on for success.
JEFF REED: 70
70 wins. That would be an eight-win increase over the 2022 season. Nothing to get too excited about, but still a step in the right direction.
The Pirates front office appears to be stepping out from the rebuilding process, but still remaining quite conservative. Given the circumstances, there isn’t much more they can do this early in the season than replace JT Brubaker with Johan Oviedo. Hopefully his final Spring Training start was a sign of things moving in the right direction, but I’m not very confident in Oviedo giving the Pirates the same quality of innings Brubaker would have.
A line I often repeat is that bullpens are fungible. So, in my mind, the bullpen could really go a myriad of ways. My initial reaction is that it may be underwhelming to begin. Jarlin Garcia going down didn’t help, but I’m intrigued by Dauri Moreta. Jose Hernandez is a flip of the coin, and I think Chase De Jong’s luck is going to run out. I’m also on the short list of people not really impressed with Colin Holderman, as he’s another on the list of what’s seeming to be a trend of fastball/slider pitchers whose fastball sees way more contact than you’d hope. That said, I think the bullpens success will be contingent more on relievers in the minors ascending to the majors such as Colin Selby, Yerry De Los Santos, and Carmen Mlodzinski.
Defensively, I’m very underwhelmed. I won’t go on a long tangent, as I think it’s improved, but not to the degree it could be. We’re going to see some great plays, and we’re going to see some head shaking ones.
To leave on a high note, I think this is going to be a much more fun team offensively. A full season of Oneil Cruz on it’s own is going to be special. I think Ke’Bryan Hayes himself is geared up for a very special season. Where at season’s end we’re going to be saying, “We still have this guy another seven years for only $50M?”. Look for Bryan Reynolds to have a strong season back in a more comfortable and less demanding defensive position.
From there is as good as anyone’s guess. Will Andrew McCutchen see a boost from a hometown return? Will some players break out of their platoon molds or show growth? I do think the Pirates look to have a much better reserve of depth than they’ve had in recent years. We’ll have to wait and see the role and impact they’ll serve this season, along with waiting for the prospects on what should be a loaded Indianapolis roster to be “ready”.
TIM WILLIAMS: 79
I’m really interested to see how Derek Shelton handles this season. I honestly haven’t cared about the previous three years in Pittsburgh, because the Pirates haven’t cared to add to the team. To me, Shelton has been playing a game of chess without a knight, rook, and a bishop as his queen — and he’s been expected to play a game of strategy by the same rules as teams with a full board.
The Pirates may not have a full board now, but it’s as close to being complete as Shelton has ever had to work with. If they can’t show advancements at this point with guys like Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, and Mitch Keller, then I’d question whether the Pirates have a good system in place. We have still yet to see a top prospect step up and live up to the potential in Pittsburgh that makes him a top prospect. I’m very optimistic that this is changing.
What I like about this year is the fact that the Pirates have stabilized their roster with key veterans. They added Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi to the infield group, Andrew McCutchen to the outfield group, Rich Hill and Vince Velasquez to the rotation, and Austin Hedges behind the plate. All of these guys can play, with the potential to stabilize a lot of weak areas from one of the worst teams in the majors in 2022.
The thing I especially like is the leadership aspect. The Pirates will be graduating a lot of prospects to the majors this year. They will be starting with a few young players on the roster at second base and in the outfield. These veterans can all provide leadership by giving those young players access to older players who know the secrets to remaining in the majors for a long time.
The best part is that the Pirates have a lot of depth from the minor league system. The easiest place to see that is in the outfield. Canaan Smith-Njigba and Jack Suwinski will both vie for playing time in Pittsburgh, with Travis Swaggerty, Cal Mitchell, and Matt Gorski in the upper levels of the minors. What can Andrew McCutchen do to help one or more of those guys reach their upsides?
What can Hill and Velasquez do for the younger members of the rotation? What can Hedges do for the rotation, for that matter? What will Endy Rodriguez learn from Hedges when he eventually arrives? How much will the presence of Santana and Choi at first base provide a calming factor for Rodolfo Castro and Ji-Hwan Bae next door at second base? How can the Pirates maximize the veteran production with the DH?
I think the Pirates are to the point where they’re starting to play chess at the Major League level. I’m interested to see how Shelton manages the team with as close to a full board as we’ve ever seen him work with. I’m optimistic that the current approach will lead to much better results from the younger players than we’ve seen in the past. I think this team surprises, and for my prediction, I’m going with the 50th percentile of 79 wins from my pre-season analysis. Part of me feels that this will be way too optimistic in hindsight. Part of me wants to go bold and predict a winning record, because I think we’ll see a Pirates team with more positive energy and momentum than they’ve had in years. I’ll stay “safe” at 79.
For those of us old enough to remember, this team reminds me a lot of the ’87 team so I say 80 wins.
I like what I saw yesterday around the league, offense was up even though everyone faced the other teams #1 , stolen bases, ground balls finding holes. Fan of the new rules, there are wrinkles to iron out, but so far (including ST) I like!
Has anyone checked avg game times?
3:38 was the longest, but it had a 12 minute delay, two games 2:14! Not at home right now just took a quick look at MLBTV app, bottoms of the box score. Rough estimate, 2:45.
Updated ZiPS thinks we win 69 and asks:
Fair question, but I just don’t think they’re quite so bad.
There’s enough question marks here particularly with the pitching depth, and I don’t think the offense is quite good enough to bail out the pitching on its bad days.
NL Central title
89 wins and a wild card berth, let’s goooo Bucs!!!
67 – 95
*Edit to my win prediction
Stop the count!!!!
We won, we are in the playoffs!
I can’t find my Pirate Girl file!
I have the original file on a drive. Remind me to dig it out and post when they win on Saturday.
Crap, the W doesn’t count without it!!
Mitch Keller holding the Reds to one run in the 1rst was as big as anything today for me besides the dream that Bae is for real
One thing we learned today — Bae needs to be someplace in the lineup where he can impact the game. And as close to Oneil as possible.
I’m thinking the best lineup would be
With the C 7th and somebody like CSN 8th.
I like this lineup Wilbur. You almost just give the team a break at 8 with black hole Hedges or Delay but you keep the gas on 9-4 if Hayes ever does actually hit in the regular season.
I kinda think sequencing is more important than the old formulas with leadoff, cleanup, etc. Maybe that’s BS, I dunno. But this team has actual speed and I don’t like interspersing it with the few Moran types.
I really like what we could do when Endy and Davis and Swaggerty are up and Jack is on the bench or in Indy.
4 Davis (1B)
Hopefully move Smith-Nj to Cutch’s spot in 2025 and sub Dylan Crews in there somewhere and move Davis back
Just wait until Endy comes up
This lineup will look very different.
If Bae’s for real you want him at the top of the lineup because of his speed. And because you want him to get as many AB’s as he can
Exactly. If he can consistently hit/walk, you want him at lead-off. Cruz at lead-off makes no sense, though, given his power. Case-in-point, the run he drove in to win the game. You definitely want him batting “after” someone else.
I’ve dropped the estimate to 84 wins. Oneil, Reynold, Cutch and Jae will rule the field in many games. The pitching will hold up
The core of this team will only get better, especially w the key veterans in the clubhouse
Wire to Wire!
Zman for the WIN!!!!
Did I say 68? I’m a little dyslexic. I inverted the 6. I meant 98 wins! 🙂
Raise it! Love an opening day W!
Dang close though……
Has anyone said 160-2?
Why are you so down on the Pirates?
Oh my bad. I thought the question was how bad will the Brewers beat the Bucs in a 4 game series in August.
Good work squeezing another run out of the bottom of the lineup
I’m going with 73, one better than 2011.
Bae has been fun today. Liking most of the ABs from everyone, though Swags might be up sooner than later based on how Jack’s looked.
I’m in favor of Moreta making the team, but is his first appearance in a tie game on opening day the time to do it?
Cool moment there. Santana and Hedges come to the mound to calm down the rookie Moreta.
With the Reds looking like they’re going to have a long painful season, I’m giddy at the thought that David Bell will eventually get canned. He’s always been a piece of trash, and I’d love for nothing more to come out of the Reds demise than him getting axed.
I think the Reds will surprise a lot of teams in the Central division. Their bullpen pitching is a big question mark, but they are definitely turning a corner and have some really good prospects that are almost MLB-ready and will make their appearance this year. They definitely won’t be a walk-over, as the Pirates saw on opening day.
Is that Derek Shelton in the Home dugout?
What an idiot!
He’s gonna groove one to Cutch
He swung like it 🙂
He DID groove it! 🙂 Cutch just missed it.
and another walk but another run 🙂
That’s some quality patience, two ABs in a row
Good sign for Cruz. Two on, they tried getting him to chase, and he didn’t.
If Greene can’t go 4 against the Pirates, I’m guessing pitch counts are gonna be a serious issue.
Suwinski isn’t just missing the ball, he’s not even close to the ball.
According to Mackey, the Pirates and Reynolds have agreed on Y/D, but are stuck on some unknown provision. No-trade? Opt-out? Maybe front-loading or back-loading?
I’d imagine a no trade clause. He doesn’t want to end up in a Jose Reyes type situation.
I wondered about that, but front-loading makes too much sense for both sides, that I can’t imagine it’s that.
Pirates already did it with Key, so I’d imagine they’re open to it. Then Reynolds would probably need an economics class if he didn’t want it, as money now is worth more than money later. Unless he doesn’t trust himself to not spend it lol
It seems to be something he wants that they don’t want to give. So, opt-out or no-trade, maybe?
Front load with opt out would be a tough sell for the team probably
I’ll say this before someone else does, unless someone already has but whatever. Bae should be leading off and Cruz should be hitting in the cleanup spot. I know he’s fast but power like that needs runners on the bases and that’s not gonna happen much especially as long as Hedges is batting ninth.
I like Bae at 9th spot
I think they’re just trying to get him better pitches. He may force a change.
If he’s gonna hit first, though, Bae should be 9th. Hedges in front of Cruz is criminal malpractice.
Going to coin it now, Cannanball when he hits a homer.
But you get the trademark
ahh bugger. typo’ed
Gameday had Greene at 105.2 on one FB. ?!?
Looked every bit of it live.
Cutch having two great at-bats against Greene.
That was a missile.
Missile. What was the exit velo?
Stumpf said 111. For Cruz, nbd.
If only he would stop making soft contact.
That’s why he’s leading off, slap hitter!
The best thing about Bae’s hit is it prevents Hedges from leading off.
He gets a couple hundred more AB’s and then we can watch Rodriguez
Bae may lead the league in hits just by bunting a ton.
And end a lot of innings on 1st with the black hole in the 9 spot.
Hopefully those opening day jitters are out of the way now for Mitch.
The old Mitch Keller gives up 3 or 4. That was good pitching.
That’s a low bar.
That first inning sucked. Could have been worse!
Well that could’ve been worse
Get the ball down, Mitch.