Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 ZiPS Projections: First Base

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

In recent days we have been analyzing the 2017 ZiPS Projections for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Today, I will take a look at what ZiPS projects for first base in 2017.

For the past seven seasons first base has been a revolving door for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ever since Adam LaRoche was traded to the Red Sox in 2009, the Pirates have used more players than I can even begin to count at first base. However, the Pirates *should* now have their long-term answer at first base.

That answer is Josh Bell. The switch hitting Bell made his Major League debut in 2016 and logged 152 plate appearances. In these 152 plate appearances Bell slashed .273/.368/.406/.774 with a .339 wOBA, 113 wRC+, and an ISO of .133. He also posted a 13.8 percent walk rate as part of his incredibly impressive 19:21 strikeout-to-walk rate.

The ability to be an above average offensive player has never been an issue with Josh Bell. All and any question marks associated with Bell have always been due to his defense. And those question marks will not be going away any time soon.

In 2016 Bell had a -32.8 UZR/150 and he had a -3 defensive runs saved (DRS) at first base. Bell also played some right field in 2016 and this went even worse than first base. He had a -5 DRS, a -60.4 UZR/150, and his fly ball routes were, to put it kindly, bad.

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Throughout his Minor League career there was always chatter that Josh Bell’s future might be in the American League as a designated hitter. His defensive performance at both first base and in right field in 2016 only added fuel to this fire. However, his offensive ability is too good to give up on. For this reason, he will be given every opportunity at first base in 2017.

For 2017 ZiPS projects Josh Bell to post a slash line of .270/.347/.426/.773. He is also projected to hit 15 home runs, to post a .332 wOBA, an ISO of .156, and an OPS+ of 110. His OPS+ projects to be the third highest on the team, behind Andrew McCutchen and Jung Ho Kang, while his wOBA is projected to be the fourth best on the team after McCutchen Kang, and Starling Marte.

ZiPS also foresees Josh Bell continuing to have great plate patience in 2017. ZiPS projects him to have a 10.5 percent walk rate, and just a 14.7 percent strikeout rate. Both of which are better than league average.

However, not surprisingly, Bell’s defensive projections for 2017 are not kind. ZiPS projects him to be a -2 DRS defender in 2017. Due to this, his projected WAR is just 1.6.

Honestly, if Josh Bell is a -2 DRS defender the Pirates should be happy. His offensive output should be more than enough to help offset this. It’s not like he’s Pedro Alvarez and his defense will become unbearable due to him failing to get on base and/or striking out far too much.

Josh Bell’s primary backup in 2017 will be John Jaso. Jaso, who is in the second year of a two-year contract, is coming off a .335 wOBA and 111 wRC+ campaign in 2016. Like Bell, Jaso is an above league average hitter who struggles defensively at first base.

John Jaso is projected to have a .264/.350/.405/.755 slash line in 2017. He also projects to own a 10.5 percent walk rate, .334 wOBA, a .141 ISO, and an OPS+ of 105. All of these numbers are above league average for a hitter.

Like Josh Bell, John Jaso’s defensive projections for 2017 are not kind. ZiPS projects Jaso to be a -2 DRS defender in 2017. As a result, Jaso’s projected WAR is 0.7. However, Jaso’s primary role in 2017 will be a pinch hitter and DH when the Pittsburgh Pirates play in American League ballparks. Therefore, his defensive struggles should not hinder the team much in 2017.

Next: Kevin Newman Needs To Be At Triple-A

David Freese may also see time at first base in 2017. What ZiPS projects for him is broken down and analyzed in the ZiPS projections for third base article. That can be found here.

Other ZiPS Projections