2021 ZiPS Projections: Pittsburgh Pirates

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for nine years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Batters

Ke’Bryan Hayes! Hayes has been a long-time favorite of ZiPS, with the computer already seeing him as a league-average player entering the 2019 season despite having topped off at Double-A Altoona at that point. In recent years, ZiPS has been using a probabilistic method derived from MLB’s Gameday data for minor-league defensive stats, generating a rough catch probability for every ball hit. Sadly, it’s not UZR and DRS, but it can generally tell the good defensive players from the poor ones, and it’s certainly better than some GB/FB-modified range factor or throwing up your hands in despair. ZiPS had Hayes as the best minor league third baseman from 2017-19, at 13 runs above average per season. Now, that doesn’t mean ZiPS is going to project him quite that strongly, due to the inherent issues with this kind of defensive estimation. But it does mean that there’s a high probability that his positive scouting reports are on-point and his good major league performance in a small sample was not a fluke.

Hayes was good defensively in the majors, and between him and Luis Robert, I felt pretty good that this methodology successfully identified minor-league glove standouts without any scouting data involved. What ZiPS did not see coming was just how solid Hayes was with the bat in his rookie season. If I had voted this time around, he likely would have gotten a tally on the back of my Rookie of the Year ballot. Hayes is not a big dude, but his power was impressive where previously it had been a work in progress. Five homers in 95 major league plate appearances isn’t a huge body of work, but he was in the top 20 in exit velocity, between Kyle Schwarber and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. A .700 slugging percentage isn’t in the future, but both ZiPS and Statcast think that he hit the ball like a .500 slugger in 2020. ZiPS isn’t fully there in 2021, but he’s one to watch.

Or should I call Hayes “the” one to watch? The general theme of Pittsburgh’s offense is that although there are few gaping maws of performance in the lineup, there’s a real dearth of impact offensive talent. Being uninteresting is arguably even worse than being lousy, at least from the position of an analyst. There’s a reason the 1962 Mets are fondly remembered by history for losing lovably, and the 1962 Houston Colt .45s are not. Bryan Reynolds and Adam Frazier are competent regulars, but there’s little upside here, and they feel more at home for a risk-averse contender with a single, specific hole to fill, such as Houston, Atlanta or Cleveland (if that team still counts). Colin Moran‘s not a difference-maker, just Josh Bell’s replacement as an uninspiring first baseman. As for Gregory Polanco, the best the Pirates can hope for is that he’s healthy, returns to 2017-18 form, and nets the team a couple of good prospects when he follows his former outfield teammates out of town. That Phillip Evans ranks so highly in this list should be a great deal of concern for the front office, though the de facto starting shortstop having a Pat Meares top comp is ZiPS being mean, not me.

Ownership refused to aggressively invest in the team when there was a chance to go over the top, so I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for investment when the team is lousy. At this point, it’s a waiting game to see if prospects like Oneil Cruz and Travis Swaggerty can make the roster before the Pirates panic about the prospect of having to pay Hayes actual money, though Cruz’s future remains uncertain.

Pitchers

When I ran the Pirates ZiPS, my biggest surprise was how the team as a whole didn’t project quite as poorly as I expected. Now, I’d be lying if I said that this wasn’t more a function of my complete lack of faith in the roster than any real fount of excellence, but there are actually a few things to like about this pitching staff. I’m specifically talking about the rotation, the main reason the Pirates are projected to be somewhere around 90 losses rather than challenging the century mark. I wouldn’t call this a good rotation, but the results may stay comfortably above replacement-level, which is at least something to look forward to.

Heading the starters is Joe Musgrove, who just missed my breakout list last spring and will likely make it this time around. He’s been trying to refine his curveball for a while, but 2020 was the first time it ever really clicked for him. Taking a little speed off, he got four more inches of horizontal break than he previously had, and it reflected in his stats, with only a single curve out of 139 ending up as a hit. The walks crept up a bit as well, but as in 2020, ZiPS thinks Musgrove is a good No. 2 who has a real shot at being something better.

Jameson Taillon still has upside remaining, but his second Tommy John surgery cost him another year and a half, a huge blow after he finally put together a healthy season in 2018. Just to show how fast time flies, Taillon is pushing 30 at this point and can hardly be classified as a prospect, but if he can finally stop rolling snake eyes when it comes to injury, there’s still a chance for him to have a real career beyond endless rehab. It may not ever happen, and if it does, it might not be in Pittsburgh, but many of the reasons we all liked him as a prospect are still there.

As for the rest of the rotation, ZiPS sees competent innings-eating, but not much more than that. Mitch Keller is the lone exception, but after walking 18 batters against 16 strikeouts, the computer’s giving him more side-eye than it did a year ago. JT Brubaker’s projection also hints at a peak-Trevor Williams level of adequate excellence. Still, while he’s more explosive than his former teammate, there’s also no real ace potential here.

Richard Rodríguez was a real find by the Bucs, but ZiPS sees little past him. One pickup the projections are a fan of is Shea Spitzbarth, taken in the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates have done well in the Rule 5 historically, and this looks like no exception, with Spitzbarth and his 92 mph fastball, solid change, and 12-6 curve getting the second-best projection in the ‘pen. That the team’s second-best reliever was just acquired for $100,000 ought to tell you quite a bit about the state of the relief corps.

Batters – Standard
Player B Age PO PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Ke’Bryan Hayes R 24 3B 513 456 64 119 30 6 12 50 48 105 8 2
Adam Frazier L 29 2B 572 519 68 138 28 4 12 54 41 78 5 6
Phillip Evans R 28 3B 467 421 53 108 21 2 11 48 38 78 2 4
Bryan Reynolds B 26 CF 549 493 69 122 24 5 16 58 49 137 4 3
Jacob Stallings R 31 C 332 298 33 76 17 0 6 33 25 74 0 1
Kevin Newman R 27 SS 580 535 57 141 26 3 7 47 34 74 11 6
Colin Moran L 28 3B 505 458 57 118 24 2 17 66 38 118 0 2
Kevin Kramer L 27 2B 515 462 56 107 27 3 12 53 40 142 7 6
Pablo Reyes R 27 LF 456 415 51 99 23 3 11 48 33 93 9 6
Michael Perez L 28 C 286 259 29 59 13 0 7 31 23 72 0 1
Hunter Owen R 27 3B 437 397 48 85 18 2 15 49 22 143 2 2
Travis Swaggerty L 23 CF 543 490 61 112 18 3 10 42 45 142 19 10
Socrates Brito L 28 RF 489 454 56 111 25 6 13 54 30 126 9 5
José Osuna R 28 3B 405 374 48 93 26 1 13 51 25 76 2 2
Cole Tucker B 24 SS 510 463 60 105 21 5 7 39 38 122 11 4
Anthony Alford R 26 CF 359 326 41 71 16 2 9 32 26 109 19 5
JT Riddle L 29 SS 350 329 36 74 17 2 9 33 16 71 4 1
Gregory Polanco L 29 RF 424 380 45 82 20 2 16 54 38 120 9 2
Oneil Cruz L 22 SS 452 417 46 97 20 6 10 45 30 133 11 8
Sherman Johnson L 30 2B 339 297 34 60 13 2 4 23 37 85 5 3
Will Craig R 26 1B 507 452 54 97 21 1 15 54 39 142 2 2
Jared Oliva R 25 CF 456 412 44 89 17 5 5 32 31 123 23 7
Robbie Glendinning R 25 SS 389 348 37 71 15 2 8 33 34 138 6 6
Andrew Susac R 31 C 208 178 21 33 7 0 6 19 27 60 1 1
Arden Pabst R 26 C 305 286 25 55 12 3 6 27 13 88 0 2
Chris Sharpe R 25 LF 467 418 49 88 19 3 10 41 35 150 11 11
Erik González R 29 SS 374 352 34 83 19 2 6 32 15 97 5 5
Jason Delay R 26 C 288 264 26 50 8 1 6 25 16 80 1 0
Charles Tilson L 28 LF 421 390 39 94 15 3 2 29 24 82 9 4
Rodolfo Castro B 22 2B 430 398 42 86 20 3 9 40 23 131 5 5
Cal Mitchell L 22 RF 549 508 55 111 23 2 15 58 33 175 3 3
Justin Harrer R 24 LF 240 213 23 36 8 1 5 18 19 85 4 1
Deon Stafford R 25 C 370 339 34 65 12 2 7 30 26 127 1 2
Bligh Madris L 25 RF 491 447 44 93 18 4 8 41 34 124 2 4

Batters – Advanced
Player BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP RC/27 Def WAR No. 1 Comp
Ke’Bryan Hayes .261 .334 .432 105 .171 .316 5.4 7 3.0 Edgardo Alfonzo
Adam Frazier .266 .327 .405 96 .139 .294 4.7 3 2.1 Jerry Lumpe
Phillip Evans .257 .325 .394 93 .138 .292 4.5 2 1.5 Ramon Martinez
Bryan Reynolds .247 .319 .414 96 .166 .312 4.7 -3 1.5 Jeff Fiorentino
Jacob Stallings .255 .318 .372 86 .117 .321 4.2 6 1.5 Damian Miller
Kevin Newman .264 .312 .363 82 .099 .295 4.1 0 1.2 Gus Polidor
Colin Moran .258 .317 .430 99 .172 .313 4.9 -5 1.2 Scott Cooper
Kevin Kramer .232 .298 .381 82 .149 .308 3.9 3 1.0 Andujar Cedeno
Pablo Reyes .239 .298 .388 83 .149 .283 4.0 8 0.9 Mike Dzurilla
Michael Perez .228 .290 .359 74 .131 .289 3.6 4 0.8 Carlos Maldonado
Hunter Owen .214 .280 .383 76 .169 .293 3.6 5 0.8 Joe Mitchell
Travis Swaggerty .229 .295 .339 71 .110 .302 3.5 6 0.8 Troy O’Leary
Socrates Brito .244 .291 .412 87 .167 .311 4.3 4 0.7 Brant Brown
José Osuna .249 .296 .428 92 .179 .281 4.5 -6 0.4 Joel Chimelis
Cole Tucker .227 .288 .339 69 .112 .293 3.5 1 0.4 Vance Law
Anthony Alford .218 .285 .362 73 .144 .298 3.8 -1 0.2 Damon Mashore
JT Riddle .225 .261 .371 68 .146 .261 3.4 2 0.2 Eddie Zosky
Gregory Polanco .216 .288 .405 84 .189 .270 4.2 -1 0.2 George Canale
Oneil Cruz .233 .285 .381 78 .149 .318 3.7 -7 -0.2 Carlos Garcia
Sherman Johnson .202 .294 .300 61 .098 .269 2.9 0 -0.2 Drew Niles
Will Craig .215 .290 .365 75 .150 .278 3.6 3 -0.2 Tommy Everidge
Jared Oliva .216 .280 .318 61 .102 .296 3.3 1 -0.2 Aron Weston
Robbie Glendinning .204 .279 .328 63 .124 .312 2.9 -1 -0.2 Ross Jones
Andrew Susac .185 .293 .326 67 .140 .241 3.1 -4 -0.2 Jayhawk Owens
Arden Pabst .192 .228 .318 45 .126 .255 2.3 6 -0.2 Pascual Matos
Chris Sharpe .211 .281 .342 67 .132 .302 3.0 7 -0.2 Charles Hillemann
Erik González .236 .267 .352 65 .116 .309 3.2 -1 -0.3 Pat Meares
Jason Delay .189 .251 .295 47 .106 .247 2.5 0 -0.6 Fausto Tejero
Charles Tilson .241 .289 .310 62 .069 .301 3.2 4 -0.6 Corey Coles
Rodolfo Castro .216 .262 .349 63 .133 .298 3.0 -1 -0.6 Edwin Diaz
Cal Mitchell .219 .270 .360 68 .142 .302 3.3 2 -0.9 Radhames Polanco
Justin Harrer .169 .256 .286 46 .117 .252 2.5 0 -0.9 Eddie Brooks
Deon Stafford .192 .252 .301 49 .109 .283 2.4 -6 -1.3 Francisco Morales
Bligh Madris .208 .266 .320 58 .112 .270 2.8 1 -1.5 Erold Andrus

Pitchers – Standard
Player T Age W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO FIP
Joe Musgrove R 28 10 10 3.99 28 26 140.0 133 62 19 33 141 3.79
Jameson Taillon R 29 6 6 4.23 18 18 106.3 108 50 15 27 89 4.21
JT Brubaker R 27 6 6 4.39 24 22 112.7 114 55 13 44 97 4.29
Trevor Williams R 29 8 10 4.64 25 25 139.7 142 72 21 46 114 4.62
Mitch Keller R 25 6 7 4.52 25 25 121.3 118 61 17 54 127 4.39
Chris Archer R 32 5 6 4.51 19 19 101.7 103 51 15 38 107 4.20
Felipe Vázquez L 29 3 2 2.94 48 0 49.0 39 16 4 14 59 2.81
Chad Kuhl R 28 5 6 4.64 21 19 97.0 97 50 13 47 87 4.71
Sean Poppen R 27 4 5 4.62 22 15 89.7 93 46 11 38 76 4.52
Steven Brault L 29 4 5 4.73 27 17 99.0 95 52 12 55 91 4.80
Cody Bolton R 23 6 8 4.79 21 21 92.0 94 49 14 36 81 4.73
Sam Howard L 28 5 5 4.48 43 10 82.3 79 41 12 37 87 4.53
Clay Holmes R 28 4 5 4.58 30 10 76.7 73 39 7 46 72 4.52
Richard Rodríguez R 31 5 4 3.84 61 0 63.3 57 27 10 20 72 4.05
Keone Kela R 28 3 2 3.21 37 0 33.7 25 12 4 13 45 3.30
Chris Stratton R 30 5 7 4.91 37 13 102.7 106 56 17 40 95 4.71
Shea Spitzbarth R 26 3 3 3.97 50 0 68.0 60 30 9 30 79 4.03
Cody Ponce R 27 5 6 4.86 27 12 79.7 83 43 13 32 68 4.95
Hector Noesí R 34 6 8 5.18 23 19 113.0 123 65 22 38 92 5.25
Nik Turley L 31 3 4 4.72 30 6 53.3 52 28 7 27 52 4.68
Geoff Hartlieb R 27 3 3 4.28 54 0 67.3 64 32 6 36 65 4.19
Austin Davis L 28 2 2 4.20 46 0 60.0 56 28 7 28 60 4.25
Jeffrey Passantino R 25 3 5 5.12 24 10 82.7 89 47 16 28 74 5.10
Montana DuRapau R 29 3 3 4.33 45 1 54.0 49 26 8 24 64 4.24
Blake Weiman L 25 3 3 4.47 34 0 48.3 47 24 6 21 45 4.36
Kyle Crick R 28 3 3 4.50 51 0 48.0 42 24 6 29 52 4.70
Edgar Santana R 29 2 3 4.53 47 0 51.7 54 26 7 17 40 4.55
Michael Feliz R 28 2 3 4.64 52 1 52.3 48 27 8 26 60 4.48
Nick Mears R 24 2 3 4.58 30 0 37.3 35 19 6 17 40 4.73
Beau Sulser R 27 4 6 5.11 33 5 79.3 90 45 12 27 50 5.10
Luis Escobar R 25 3 5 5.38 32 12 85.3 89 51 13 50 75 5.37
Jandel Gustave R 28 2 3 4.67 57 0 54.0 54 28 6 26 42 4.62
Derek Holland L 34 4 6 5.45 32 15 99.0 99 60 19 50 97 5.35
Wil Crowe R 26 5 8 5.61 20 20 101.0 114 63 18 45 77 5.49
Carson Fulmer R 27 4 7 5.42 34 12 81.3 80 49 13 52 76 5.53
Blake Cederlind R 25 2 3 4.96 36 0 45.3 45 25 6 25 42 4.83
Dovydas Neverauskas R 28 3 4 4.86 52 0 63.0 59 34 10 35 71 4.80
Tyler Bashlor R 28 2 3 5.06 47 0 48.0 46 27 7 26 44 5.06
Cam Vieaux L 27 5 8 5.74 23 23 116.0 131 74 22 53 86 5.71
Williams Jerez L 29 3 4 5.08 53 0 62.0 63 35 11 31 60 5.20
Miguel Del Pozo L 28 2 3 5.19 41 0 43.3 43 25 6 26 40 5.07
Matt Eckelman R 27 3 4 5.40 44 2 51.7 54 31 7 34 42 5.46
José Soriano R 22 4 7 6.08 18 17 63.7 64 43 10 55 55 6.27
Luis Oviedo R 22 4 7 6.04 17 16 70.0 78 47 12 43 47 6.12
Joe Jacques L 26 3 5 5.77 34 2 53.0 55 34 6 42 40 5.69

Pitchers – Advanced
Player K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BB% K% BABIP ERA+ ERA- WAR No. 1 Comp
Joe Musgrove 9.1 2.1 1.2 5.7% 24.1% .297 109 92 2.4 Donne Wall
Jameson Taillon 7.5 2.3 1.3 6.0% 19.8% .295 103 97 1.6 John Buzhardt
JT Brubaker 7.7 3.5 1.0 8.9% 19.6% .302 99 101 1.4 Dave Lemanczyk
Trevor Williams 7.3 3.0 1.4 7.6% 18.9% .291 94 107 1.4 Jim Bagby
Mitch Keller 9.4 4.0 1.3 10.1% 23.8% .306 96 104 1.4 Todd Eggertsen
Chris Archer 9.5 3.4 1.3 8.6% 24.2% .315 96 104 1.1 Todd Ritchie
Felipe Vázquez 10.8 2.6 0.7 7.0% 29.6% .292 148 68 1.1 Don Mossi
Chad Kuhl 8.1 4.4 1.2 10.9% 20.1% .299 94 107 1.0 Rip Collins
Sean Poppen 7.6 3.8 1.1 9.5% 19.1% .306 94 106 0.8 Erv Palica
Steven Brault 8.3 5.0 1.1 12.3% 20.4% .294 92 109 0.8 Joe Sullivan
Cody Bolton 7.9 3.5 1.4 8.9% 20.0% .299 91 110 0.7 Shawn Hill
Sam Howard 9.5 4.0 1.3 10.2% 23.9% .302 97 103 0.7 Jerry Augustine
Clay Holmes 8.5 5.4 0.8 13.1% 20.6% .301 95 105 0.6 Frank Reberger
Richard Rodríguez 10.2 2.8 1.4 7.5% 27.1% .292 113 88 0.6 Terry Leach
Keone Kela 12.0 3.5 1.1 9.4% 32.6% .280 135 74 0.6 Rich Garces
Chris Stratton 8.3 3.5 1.5 8.9% 21.2% .302 88 113 0.5 Dickie Noles
Shea Spitzbarth 10.5 4.0 1.2 10.2% 27.0% .297 109 91 0.5 Turk Farrell
Cody Ponce 7.7 3.6 1.5 9.1% 19.3% .298 89 112 0.5 Jim McDonald
Hector Noesí 7.3 3.0 1.8 7.6% 18.5% .297 84 119 0.4 Flint Rhem
Nik Turley 8.8 4.6 1.2 11.3% 21.8% .302 92 109 0.3 John Curtis
Geoff Hartlieb 8.7 4.8 0.8 12.0% 21.6% .305 102 98 0.3 Paul Schneider
Austin Davis 9.0 4.2 1.1 10.6% 22.8% .297 103 97 0.2 Rich Folkers
Jeffrey Passantino 8.1 3.0 1.7 7.7% 20.3% .303 85 118 0.2 Joe Roa
Montana DuRapau 10.7 4.0 1.3 10.2% 27.2% .301 98 102 0.2 Ernie Camacho
Blake Weiman 8.4 3.9 1.1 9.9% 21.2% .297 97 103 0.1 Jim Crawford
Kyle Crick 9.8 5.4 1.1 13.4% 24.1% .288 97 104 0.1 Marc Pisciotta
Edgar Santana 7.0 3.0 1.2 7.6% 17.8% .297 96 104 0.1 John Boozer
Michael Feliz 10.3 4.5 1.4 11.3% 26.1% .299 94 107 0.0 Ryan Houston
Nick Mears 9.6 4.1 1.4 10.3% 24.2% .293 95 105 0.0 Danny Frisella
Beau Sulser 5.7 3.1 1.4 7.6% 14.1% .300 85 118 0.0 Mickey Weston
Luis Escobar 7.9 5.3 1.4 12.7% 19.0% .303 81 124 0.0 Chuck McGrath
Jandel Gustave 7.0 4.3 1.0 10.8% 17.5% .293 93 107 0.0 Bruce Dal Canton
Derek Holland 8.8 4.5 1.7 11.3% 21.9% .293 80 126 -0.1 Ewald Pyle
Wil Crowe 6.9 4.0 1.6 9.8% 16.7% .306 77 129 -0.1 Rick Sutcliffe
Carson Fulmer 8.4 5.8 1.4 13.8% 20.2% .293 80 125 -0.1 Jesse Jefferson
Blake Cederlind 8.3 5.0 1.2 12.2% 20.5% .300 88 114 -0.2 Rick Greene
Dovydas Neverauskas 10.1 5.0 1.4 12.4% 25.2% .301 89 112 -0.2 Ryan Henderson
Tyler Bashlor 8.3 4.9 1.3 12.0% 20.4% .287 86 117 -0.2 Jamie Emiliano
Cam Vieaux 6.7 4.1 1.7 10.0% 16.2% .301 76 132 -0.2 Rich Rundles
Williams Jerez 8.7 4.5 1.6 11.1% 21.5% .299 85 117 -0.3 Carmen Cali
Miguel Del Pozo 8.3 5.4 1.2 13.1% 20.2% .298 84 120 -0.3 Todd Rizzo
Matt Eckelman 7.3 5.9 1.2 14.0% 17.4% .301 80 124 -0.3 Don Timberlake
José Soriano 7.8 7.8 1.4 17.8% 17.8% .292 71 140 -0.4 Jesus Silva
Luis Oviedo 6.0 5.5 1.5 13.0% 14.2% .296 72 139 -0.4 Rob Purvis
Joe Jacques 6.8 7.1 1.0 16.5% 15.7% .299 75 133 -0.6 Jeff Ridgway

Players are listed with their most recent teams wherever possible. This includes players who are unsigned, players who will miss 2021 due to injury, and players who were released in 2020. So yes, if you see Joe Schmoe, who quit baseball back in August to form a Finnish industrial death metal fourth-wave ska J-pop band, he’s still listed here intentionally.

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR, which is to say, WAR values as calculated by me, Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in the full release of ZiPS. Finally, I will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on a depth chart to produce projected team WAR. ZiPS is assuming that the designated hitter will continue in force in 2021; if it does not, there will be widespread minor adjustments across the board come April.

ZiPS is agnostic about future playing time by design. For more information about ZiPS, please refer to this article, or get angry at Dan on Twitter or something.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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