Pittsburgh Pirates: 2016 Season Predictions

Mar 29, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle (13) walks the dugout during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 29, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle (13) walks the dugout during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /
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Let’s get one thing straight. I am not high on predicting what will happen over the course of a baseball season. There are some many things that happen over of 6 months, that more often than not, whenever pundits open up their crystal balls and foresee future events, they end up looking like fools by the time the leaves change colors. That said, it’s always fun too, when the baseball season is done, look back and see how dead on or far off you were about the team that you love when you looked into your crystal ball way back in the spring. For example, in 2014, the genius that is Joseph Arthur Smeltzer predicted his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates to finish their upcoming campaign with a record of 88 wins and 74 losses. Their final record turned out to be exactly what I had predicted.

Unfortunately, my luck did not carry over into the next season. The reason for this is that I did not formally post a prediction on my blog known as ‘”Smeltzer on Sports”. However, in my mind, I remember predicting the Bucs to finish with a record of 95-67. The team slightly outperformed that and finished with a record of 98-64, which made me three games off the mark. Not too shabby. Hopefully, I will be able to return to my 2014 form this year and get the win-loss total right on the money.

In an attempt to increase the items that I will be able to hit the jackpot on, I have decided to expand my arsenal this year and give some more Pirate predictions. I will be making educated guesses on some things that either will or won’t take place during this season. Let’s get into why I think what I think.

Answer #1: Gerrit Cole

Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

Gerrit Cole is one of the better pitchers in all of baseball and came within one win of reaching the 20 win plateau last season. While I do not expect Cole to match his 19 win season, I do expect him to be the anchor of this Pirate pitching staff with anywhere between 13-16 wins. Cole is a stud, and unless we see a 32-year-old Francisco Liriano improve somewhat significantly from 2015, I don’t see anybody stopping the Cole train dead in its tracks from being the chief of staff.

Question #2: Will the Jaso/Morse Combination Be Enough To Keep Josh Bell Down?

Answer #2: No

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pirates first base situation consists of two players who are far from superstars, a utility infielder, and a guy signed as a quick fix. Out of Mike Morse, John Jaso, Jason Rodgers and David Freese, Morse and Jaso will be seeing the most playing time. While Jaso has done well this spring and there are $16 million dollars invested between him and Mike Morse, the Pirates #1 first base prospect, Josh Bell, is too good to be kept down in AAA for very long. Bell is relatively old for a prospect at 23, and he is ranked #49 on MLB.Com’s list of top 100 prospects. Simply put, Bell is too good for John Jaso or Mike Morse to keep him in AAA, and Neil Huntington is not dumb enough to let $16 million dollars get in the way of giving his team a better chance at a championship.

Question #3: How many home runs will Jung-ho Kang hit?

Answer #3: 14

Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

Kang has some power, but not that much. 14 seems like a decent number for him to top out at.

Question #4: Which key Pirate players will spend time on the DL?

Answer #4: Gregory Polanco, Francisco Cervelli, Mark Melancon 

There could be any number of injuries that plague the Pirates this season, but I’ve singled out three players who I think are due to spend time on the shelf. Francisco Cervelli somehow made it through 2015 playing the sport’s toughest position and not missing any significant time due to injury. Neither Mark Melancon or Gregory Polanco have even been on the DL in a Pirates uniform, so I’m going to say they’re due as well. Just a gut feeling about these 3.

Question #5: Who will be the weakest link in the starting rotation?

Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

Answer #5: Jeff Locke

No surprise here. Locke is a humble guy, but he has not been an effective starting pitcher since the first half of the 2013 season. I expect his struggles to continue, and I expect him to be replaced in the rotation once Tyler Glasnow and/or Jameson Tallion are ready for the show.

Question #6: Will Andrew McCutchen be the 2016 National League Most Valuable Player?

Answer #6: No (cautiously) 

Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

I am very confident that the 2016 Andrew McCutchen will improve from 2015. I am convinced that Cutch will thrive hitting in the #2 hole and be a top 5 player in the NL. However, I’m not ready to predict that he will win his second NL MVP Award. Bryce Harper is the best baseball player on the planet, and I am too awestruck by him as a player to pick anybody over him in the MVP race. I would love to be wrong here, but I will be cautious and predict that Cutch finishes 3rd in the MVP voting.

Question #7: Will Mark Melancon break his 2015 team single-season saves record of 51? 

Answer #7: No

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Mark Melancon is arguably the best relief pitcher on the planet, but it would be asking an awful lot of him to duplicate what he accomplished in 2015. If Melancon can somehow surpass his gaudy total of 51 saves from last year, he will officially be the greatest relief pitcher in Pittsburgh Pirates history (you can make that argument already). I love Mark, but he is not Mariano Rivera. He will have a good year, go on the DL at some point, and top out closer to the 40 save plateau.

Question #8: Will Starling Marte manage to hit 20 dingers?

Answer #8: Yes!

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Starling Marte is on the cusp of being one of the games superstars. He has gotten better every year since debuting in 2012, and Marte has been said to have ”20 home-run potential” for quite some time. I think 2016 will be the year that Super Starling finally reaches that potential. Marte will hit exactly 21 homers and finish in the top 8 of the MVP voting. Believe it.

Question #9: Which Pirates rookie will make the biggest immediate impact

Answer #9: Tyler Glasnow 

Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

With all of the success that the major league team has had over the past 3 seasons, it’s easy to forget that the Pirates minor league system is still among the best in baseball, and there are three guys from that system who have the potential to make an immediate impact this season. Out of pitchers Jameson Tallion and Tyler Glasnow and first baseman Josh Bell, I think Glasnow will make the biggest splash, at least for the time being. Glasnow is the #1 prospect in the Pirates system, and #10 in all of baseball according to MLB.Com. I compare Glasnow’s situation to Gerrit Cole’s from three years ago. Like Glasgnow in 2016, Cole came into the 2013 season as a blue-chip prospect. Two months into the season, the Pirates rotation was decimated by injuries, and Cole got the call from AAA Indianapolis. The kid did not disappoint and earned himself the right to start Game 5 of the NLDS as a rookie.

I can see Glasnow making a similar impact in 2016. Only this time, the rotation will need his services because they are not very good. Out of Jeff Locke, Juan Nicasio, and Jon Niese, at least, one of them (probably Locke) will falter, and when that happens, Glasnow will get the call. I expect Glasnow to give the rotation a shot in the arm once called upon, and I will boldly predict that he will win between seven and ten games when all is said and done. Take that to the bank.

Question #10: How many times will Clint Hurdle be ejected?

Answer #10: 4

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Don’t have any deep analysis here. 4 just seems like a good number.

Final Question(s): How many games will the Pirates win, and where will the end up?

Final Answer(s): 90/Second Place in the NL Central, home wildcard game again

The 2016 Pirates won’t be as good as the 2015 Pirates. 98 wins are hard to duplicate, and this team has too many problems to do so. However, there will be some things this season that are an improvement from 2015, and because of that, I think 90 is a fair estimate. I believe that Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco will elevate their game to the point where there is no doubt about what team has the best outfield in baseball. I think that Jon Niese will surprise some people and become a reasonably competent #3 starter. I think Jung-ho Kang will replicate and maybe even improve from his exhilarating 2015 campaign, and I think that a fully healthy Andrew McCutchen will enhance his game from one year ago. The Pirates bullpen will be solid as usual, and David Freese, John Jaso/Mike Morse will give the team some bench depth, which they have lacked for….. longer than I’ve been alive. This team will be in the mix from April-September, but, unfortunately, I see them finishing behind the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central race and being forced to play….. Another wild card game at PNC Park. I know that is not what anybody wants to hear, but I don’t think this team will win the NL Central. The Cubs are ready to roll, and I see the Bucs finishing around three games behind them when all is said and done.