Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 ZiPS Projections: Third Baseman

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Here at Rum Bunter, we have been analyzing the newly released ZiPS projections for the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates. Next up: third baseman.

Last season, Jung Ho Kang played in just 103 games, and only had 370 plate appearances.  Jung Ho Kang was still extremely valuable, as he ranked 12th in BWARP/PA among batters with at least 300 plate appearances in 2016.  His 2.2 fWAR was third highest on among hitters on the team.

With just the bat, Kang blasted 21 home runs, finishing behind Andrew McCutchen (24) and Gregory Polanco (22).  Among the 268 players with 300 plate appearances in baseball, Kang finished 22nd in home runs per plate appearances and 19th in home runs per at-bat.  His isolated power (slugging-average) of .258 was the highest on the Pirates, and 16th in baseball among hitters with 300 plate appearances.  Kang’s power was one of the games best in 2016.

Jung Ho Kang also saw his walk rate improve from 6.0 percent in 2015 to 9.7 percent in 2016.  While his walk rate increased, he was able to keep a similar strikeout rate, 21.2 percent to 21.4 percent.  His swinging strike percentage dropped 9.9 percent to 9.1 percent, and his contact percentage went from 76.5 percent to 77.7 percent.  Kang’s power and contact skills, to go along with an improved plate discipline were strong.

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

2017

In 2016, Kang hit .255/.354/.513 with a 133 wRC+, and .369 wOBA.  For 2017, ZiPS projects Kang at a .259/.338/.472 with a .350 wOBA, 8.1 percent walk rate, and a 24.9 percent strikeout rate.  These numbers would put Kang as an above average offensive threat again (118 OPS+), and with his defense – career 2 defensive runs saved at third base – projects him as the Pirates third best player in zWAR (3.2).

David Freese, who split time at third and first base last season, will be the backup third baseman for most of the season, assuming no suspension for Kang.  Last season, Freese hit .270/.352/.412 with a 110 wRC+, and a .334 wOBA.  He had the same offensive value as he did in 2015 with the Angels when he also posted a 110 wRC+ and a .325 wOBA.

David Freese

The underlying numbers for Freese’s success in 2016 are concerning for the future.  His batting average on balls in play (baBIP), was .372, the highest it has been since 2010 (.376), and his 2011-2015 baBIP was just .333.  Freese was extremely fortunate in 2016, especially for a non-speed guy, and as his baBIP falls to where it should be in 2017, Freese’s production will too.

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Freese’s 28.9 percent strikeout rate was a career high, his previous high was 24.3 percent in 2014.  His swinging strike percentage of 11.1 percent was his highest since 2012 (11.5 percent).  Freese also posted a career low contact percentage of 74.8 percent.  But the one good number, was the increase in walk percentage, having his second best year at 9.2 percent, the best being 2012 (10.1 percent).

In fact, Freese’s season was a struggle.  In the first half, Freese posted a .365 wOBA and 131 wRC+ in 287 plate appearances, and a 26.8 percent strikeout rate in 287 plate appearances.  However, Freese struggled in the second half, having a .290 wOBA, 80 wRC+, and a 31.7 percent strikeout rate in 205 plate appearances.

2017

With his underlying numbers, it is expected for Freese to regress in 2017. ZiPS projects him to hit .257/.330/.395 with a walk rate of 8.1 percent, 24.1 percent strikeout rate, and a .318 wOBA.  This puts Freese near an average bat, ZiPS has him at a 97 OPS+.

Freese is a nice player to have on the bench, especially if he can be near league average. However, his $6.250 million hit is a steep price to pay for a team constantly focusing on payroll flexibility.

Next: Pirates Prospects In Top 100

Jung-Ho Kang will provide great value, and as long he stays healthy and suspension free, his production will be a key factor in the Pirates getting back to the postseason in 2017.  Freese will be an adequate backup, and the Pirates will be encouraged by their third base production.

*Numbers from FanGraphs

Previous ZiPS Projections

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