Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 ZiPS Projections: The Bullpen

Aug 21, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Felipe Rivero (73) pitches against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning at PNC Park. Miami won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 21, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Felipe Rivero (73) pitches against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning at PNC Park. Miami won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

This week, we have been dissecting the 2017 ZiPS Projections for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Today, we take a look at their projections for the bullpen in 2017.

A big reason the Pittsburgh Pirates made the postseason in three consecutive seasons from 2013 through 2015 was due to their bullpen. Each of these three seasons the Pirates had one of the best bullpens in baseball. Personally, I would argue that they had the best bullpen in all of Major League Baseball in both 2013 and 2015.

However, like many other areas on the team, the bullpen regressed in 2016. There were a variety of reasons for this. Tony Watson and Jared Hughes both had the worst seasons on their careers, the bullpen was overused due to sub-par starting pitching, and prior to acquiring Felipre Rivero and, re-acquiring Antonion Bastardo, at the trade deadline the Bucs struggled to find another left-handed reliever to pair with Watson.

Regardless of the ultimate reason(s), the struggles of the Pirate bullpen in 2016 is a big reason why the team failed to make the postseason. If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to return to the postseason in 2017 the bullpen must be better and must bounce back. In my opinion, there is a very good chance of this happening.

Right-Handed Relief Pitchers

We will start by looking at the Pirates’ right-handed relief pitchers. In my eyes there are four right-handed relievers that are locks to make the bullpen. These four pitchers are Daniel Hudson, Jared Hughes, Juan Nicasio, and Nefi Ogando.

Jun 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher
Jun 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher /

This offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Daniel Hudson to a two-year, 11 million dollar contract. He will be relief upon to be a big part of the back-end of the Pirate bullpen this offseason. And, personally, I think Hudson will have a big year for the Bucs.

ZiPS projects Hudson to post a 4.02 ERA, 3.62 FIP, and an ERA+ of 94. ZiPS has Daniel Hudson averaging 8.29 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, and allowing 0.88 HR/9. Additionally, ZiPS projects Hudson to a post a 0.0 WAR.

Personally, I believe these numbers do not do Hudson justice. I believe he will be better than this for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017. However, if he pitches to his ZiPS projections he would still be a good contributor to the bullpen.

Jared Hughes is a pitcher I expect to make the Pirate bullpen out of Spring Training due to Clint Hurdle‘s trust in him. However, unless Hughes is the far superior pitcher in the spring, I would take A.J. Schugel. But seeing as both have Minor League options, I do not envision any scenario in which both make the Major League team.

Jared Hughes is projected to average 5.52 K/9, 2.98 BB/9, 0.89 HR/9, and to post a 0.3 WAR. All of these numbers, minus WAR, are inferior to Schugel who is projected to average 7.35 K/9, 2.67 BB/9, 0.80 HR/9, and post a WAR of 0.3.

A.J. Schugel is projected post a 3.74 ERA and a 3.69 FIP. Meanwhile, Hughes projects for an ERA of 3.69 and a FIP of 4.42. As I said, I would take Schugel over Hughes to start the season. However, I do not see that happening.

Last year, Juan Nicasio started the season in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting rotation. However, in late June he was moved to the bullpen. And after being moved to the bullpen Nicasio was one of the best right-handed relief pitchers in the National League.

After being moved to the bullpen Nicasio posted a 2.96 ERA, 2.45 FIP, and a 2.87 xFIP in 54 2/3 innings pitched. He also averaged a staggering 12.02 K/9, while walking just 2.96 BB/9 and allowing just three home runs.

ZiPS, however, does not foresee Nicasio repeating this dominance. They project the hard-throwing Nicasio to post a 4.08 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and a 0.7 WAR in 2017. This includes averaging 9.15 K/9, 3.53 BB/9, and 1.00 HR/9. Good numbers, but not great. In my opinion, Nicasio will be better than that in 2017.

Finally, there is Nefi Ogando. The Pirates claimed Ogando off waivers on December 23rd. Ogando is out of options, due to this he can not go to the Minor Leagues, and for that reason I expect him, barring a disastrous Spring Training, to be on the Opening Day roster.

ZiPS projects a 4.50 ERA, 5.07 FIP, and a -0.2 WAR for Nefi Ogando in 2017. I feel safe saying that if Ogando makes the team out of Spring Training and his results are anywhere near this, that he will not be on the team long. He would quickly be replaced by whomever does not make the team between Jared Hughes and A.J. Schugel.

You can read here for a more in-depth look at Ogando.

Left-Handed Relief Pitchers

If the 2017 Major League Baseball season started today, the Pittsburgh Pirates wold have four left-handed relievers in the bullpen. However, the season does not start today. For the Pirates, it starts April 3rd.

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Between now and April 3rd I expect the Pirates to trade a left-handed reliever and I expect that reliever to be Antonio Bastardo or Tony Watson. And, if Neal Huntington has his way, it will be Watson whom he has been shopping throughout the offseason.

The Pirates will head north with three left-handed relievers after Spring Training. Those three pitchers will be either Bastardo or Watson, Felipe Rivero, and Wade LeBlanc.

Tony Watson is coming off the worst season of his career. Combine that with the fact he has pitched more innings than any other relief pitcher in Major League Baseball since the start of 2012, and I am very surprise that his ZiPS projections are so strong.

ZiPS projects Tony Watson to post a 3.03 ERA, 3.49 FIP, and a WAR of 0.9 in 2017. They project him to average 8.13 K/9, 2.34 BB/9, and 0.83 HR/9 while doing this.

Like Watson, the projections for Wade LeBlanc surprise me. However, I am surprised that LeBlanc’s are as strong as they are. Especially considering he will enter the season as the Pirates’ longman.

ZiPS projections LeBlanc to average 6.85 K/9, 2.64 BB/9, and 0.99 HR/9. Furthermore, ZiPS projects him to post a 4.05 ERA, 4.06 FIP, and a 1.2 WAR. If the Pittsburgh Pirates can get that out of their longman this summer, Clint Hurdle and company will be very happy.

Finally, there is Felipe Rivero. In my opinion, Rivero is the team’s best reliever. Rivero has absolutely dominant stuff, it comes from the left-side, and he is very difficult to hit.

The Pirates acquire Felipe Rivero at the trade deadline last season. After being acquired he was one of the team’s best relief pitchers. And I expect that to be the case once again in 2017.

This is one pitcher where ZiPS agrees with me. Felipe Rivero is projected to post a 3.39 ERA, 3.17 FIP, and a 0.6 WAR. He is also projected to average 9.36 K/9, 3.26 BB/9, and 0.68 HR/9.

I believe that Rivero will be the Pirates’ best relief pitcher in 2017. If Clint Hurdle goes with a designated ‘closer’ in 2017, I expect it will be Felipe Rivero.

Next: Top 10 OF Prospects In Baseball

Now, obviously, the Pittsburgh Pirates will use more relievers in 2017 than just the pitchers discussed above. Clay Holmes, Dovydas Neverauskas, Drew Hutchison, Jhondaniel Medina, Lisalverto Bonilla, and Steven Brault are all pitchers I could see being used in the Pirate bullpen in 2017.

Additionally, Neal Huntington has a track record of adding bullpen help at the trade deadline. As he has done this in each of the past three seasons.

Personally, I believe the Pirates can have a strong bullpen once again in 2017. Hopefully, this will come to fruition.

Previous ZiPS Projections