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Williams: Are the 2024 Pittsburgh Pirates a Winner Yet?

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FanGraphs released their ZiPS projections for the 2024 Pittsburgh Pirates, providing my favorite look ahead to what could be possible from each individual player. You can check out the full projections here.

The Pirates have been busy over the last week adding players, and yesterday they signed left-handed pitcher Martin Perez to a one-year deal.

The offseason is far from over, and I would expect more moves from the Pirates between now and the start of the season. To get an idea of where the team stands right now, let’s take a quick rundown of the projected starters as the team sits right now.

CATCHER

Starter: Ali Sanchez
ZiPS: 1.0
High/Low: 1.8 / 0.4

Analysis: With Endy Rodriguez out for the season, Ali Sanchez is expected to split catching duties with Jason Delay. I would also expect Henry Davis to factor into this mix, perhaps a bit more than he would have prior to the Rodriguez injury. It would be difficult to get worse at the catching position than where the Pirates were last year. Unfortunately, the injury to Rodriguez prevents them from improving. The silver lining would be Davis spending the year vastly improving his catching skills, which would set the Pirates up nice for 2025 and beyond.

FIRST BASE

Starter: Rowdy Tellez
ZiPS: 0.6
High/Low: 1.7 / -0.7

Analysis: The Pirates added Rowdy Tellez as their first baseman, though ZiPS actually likes Connor Joe better overall at a 1.2 WAR, and a 2.3/0.2 high/low split. Jared Triolo is also a candidate for first base, but I have him factored in at second in this look. The Pirates added Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi last year. They could add someone in addition to Tellez, which would make more sense than committing to his defense and low OBP as the regular starter at the spot.

SECOND BASE

Starter: Jared Triolo
ZiPS: 1.3
High/Low: 2.4 / 0.2

Analysis: The Pirates have some options here. Nick Gonzales is the highest projected player by ZiPS, although I think it’s more likely that Triolo gets the playing time. Liover Peguero and Ji-Hwan Bae are lower rated by ZiPS, but both could be candidates here or elsewhere in the field. You could make an argument that the Pirates would be better spreading this group around across the first base, second base, and one of the outfield spots. The Pirates would be trying to fill three spots with four prospects, with Connor Joe already existing on the roster as a bench option across those spots.

SHORTSTOP

Starter: Oneil Cruz
ZiPS: 2.1
High/Low: 3.5 / 1.0

Analysis: It’s important to remember that Oneil Cruz has yet to play a full season in the majors. He’s an impactful guy who you could pencil in for multiple WAR, and that’s where ZiPS has him. The upside here for his first full MLB season is probably going to be around that 80th percentile range of 3.5 WAR. Still, Cruz will be one of the biggest boosts the Pirates will get between 2023 and 2024.

THIRD BASE

Starter: Ke’Bryan Hayes
ZiPS: 2.6
High/Low: 3.8 / 1.4

Analysis: I think ZiPS ends up low on this one. Ke’Bryan Hayes put up a 3.2 fWAR last year, following a 2.9 the year prior. He also took steps forward with his offense in the second half last year. I think Hayes has a better chance of reaching his 80th percentile projection than Cruz. The duo could easily combined for 7+ WAR from the left side of the infield in 2024.

LEFT FIELD

Starter: Bryan Reynolds
ZiPS: 2.7
High/Low: 4.2 / 1.4

Analysis: The left side of the field in general is where the Pirates will find their value. Bryan Reynolds hasn’t produced consistent results from a WAR standpoint, averaging around 2.5 WAR over the last two years, following his 6 WAR season in 2021. You could reasonably expect his ZiPS projection, while putting him down as another guy who could exceed and reach his 80th percentile.

CENTER FIELD

Starter: Jack Suwinski
ZiPS: 2.3
High/Low: 3.7 / 1.0

Analysis: I’ll start by saying that the Pirates might be better off putting Jack Suwinski in right field, while seeking out a better defensive center fielder. He’s already shown that he can put up a 2.8 WAR as a center fielder, so his ZiPS projection is another that seems obtainable. If he moved to a corner, he’d need more offense to produce the same value. Thus, I wouldn’t count him as likely for that 80th percentile like the previous three players.

RIGHT FIELD

Starter: Henry Davis
ZiPS: 1.5
High/Low: 2.7 / 0.4

Analysis: The Pirates have a lot of options here. If they increase time behind the plate for Henry Davis, they would need a replacement in the outfield. That would create playing time in the outfield for one of the new guys, and Davis could leave more playing time by spending time as the designated hitter. With the injury to Rodriguez, you could make an argument that the Pirates would be better off using Davis as a catcher/DH in 2024, allowing him to focus on his defense behind the plate and his offense in the majors.

DESIGNATED HITTER

Starter: Andrew McCutchen
ZiPS: 0.6
High/Low: 1.7 / -0.5

Analysis: Andrew McCutchen isn’t on the team right now, but he’s expected to be brought back soon. He was a designated hitter last year, and went down toward the end of the year with an injury. The Pirates would do well to reduce his time, spreading out about 350 plate appearances across the entire season. They could mix Davis in at the spot when he’s not in the field. There’s also the option of Tellez getting time at this role if they add another first baseman.

OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION

Adding up the ZiPS totals above, and giving the 80th percentiles to Reynolds, Hayes, and Cruz would result in almost 19 wins above replacement. The bench has some depth that can add a few wins, but there would be a lot of pressure on the pitching. This isn’t a great method to project team wins, but it’s also December 19th, so we continue to the pitching…

STARTING PITCHERS

Starter: Mitch Keller
ZiPS: 2.5
High/Low: 3.6 / 1.4

Starter: Marco Gonzales
ZiPS: 0.9
High/Low: 1.5 / 0.3

Starter: Martin Perez
ZiPS: N/A
High/Low: N/A

Starter: Bailey Falter
ZiPS: 1.5
High/Low: 2.0 / 0.6

Starter: Luis Ortiz
ZiPS: 1.3
High/Low: 2.1 / 0.5

Analysis: Mitch Keller is the best candidate to reach and exceed his 80th percentile projection. He’s coming off a year with a 3.3 WAR, marking his third year in a row with an improvement of at least 1 win above replacement, year-over-year. That 3.6 projection, following a year where he set the Pirates’ single-season strikeout record for right-handers, seems very obtainable. The Pirates will be looking for innings from additions Marco Gonzales and Martin Perez, and will hope that each can produce positive WAR in the process. From there, Bailey Falter, Luis Ortiz, Quinn Priester, and Roansy Contreras would be best working in a bullpen combination for the final two starting spots at the beginning of the year. All four starters project very similar, with an upside of multiple WAR, and a likely outcome in the 1 WAR range for each pitcher. The Pirates can mix and match this group, based on matchups and rest needed. The hope would be that at least one of them would emerge as a regular starter by the end of the season.

RELIEF PITCHERS

Closer: David Bednar
ZiPS: 1.4
High/Low: 2.1 / 0.6

Analysis: I’m only going to focus on the numbers for David Bednar, but the Pirates have the makings of a good, young bullpen. Bednar is one of the best relievers in the game, and exceeded this 80th percentile projection with his performance last year. What I like about last year is that Bednar got a full season with a team that won a reasonable amount of games. He could still use some help in the late innings with a veteran reliever addition. The Pirates have Carmen Mlodzinski, Dauri Moreta, and Colin Holderman as emerging late inning options from the right side, with Jose Hernandez and Ryan Borucki adding to the left. Guys like Andre Jackson and Kyle Nicolas could add to the bullpen game mix.

PITCHING PRODUCTION

The Pirates could reach about 14 WAR from this pitching group, assuming 80th percentile from Keller and Bednar, and 1 WAR each from the new lefty starters.

THE 2024 PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Add the 14 WAR from the pitching to the offensive production above, and the Pirates are currently sitting around 33 wins above replacement if all goes well. That is about a .500 record. Again, it’s December 19th, and this is a quick look, so don’t take that too heavily.

We should already know that not all will go well. If you downgraded the 80th percentile players (Cruz, Hayes, Reynolds, Keller, Bednar), you get 76 wins, which is around where ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski had them projected (75 wins). This is a team that still needs outside help, or a boost from their young players, in order to have a winning season in 2024.

The good news is that it’s only December 19th.

Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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