Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 ZiPS Projections: The Outfield


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

The Pirates are supposed to have one of the best outfields in all of baseball.  Since 2015, the Bucco outfield ranks ninth in fWAR, and they ranked eighth in 2016.  The major problem with fangraphs leaderboard in terms of positional stats by team, is how Kris Bryant‘s total production is included in the Cubs total.  That’s a problem, but for the most part it’s a safe bet.

The main reasoning the Pirates haven’t reached the number one spot, or a top three spot, is Gregory Polanco not adjusting to the majors in 2015 like we thought he would, and then Andrew McCutchen and the second half of Gregory Polanco struggling.  Starling Marte has been a consistent threat since 2013, with his lowest wRC+ being 116 and lowest defensive runs saved being five (all other seasons over 15) in that span.

The main three will be back, especially considering the talks around Andrew McCutchen have all but gone away since Adam Eaton was dealt to the Nationals by the White Sox.  So lets take a look at what ZiPS has for the Pirates trio next season.

Starling Marte

Starling Marte is coming off a season in which he hit .311/.362/.456 with a .351 wOBA, 121 wRC+, and 47 stolen bases.  ZiPS pegs Marte in for a .281/.336/.436 season with a .351 wOBA, which makes him an above average bat once again.

Most projections have Marte being worse, for instance Steamer has a .338 wOBA.  This is mainly due to Marte’s high average on balls in play, .363/.373/.333/.380 since 2013, when league average has been .297/.299/.299/.300.  The other concern is his walk rates of 4.4/6.1/4.3/4.3, well below the averages of 7.9/7.6/7.7/8.2 since 2013.

Marte is consistently below average in swinging strike percentage and contact percentage, and in 2016 his 87.9 mph exit velocity was below the league average of 89.1 mph.  Which makes it some what interesting how he has been 23 percent above league average offensively with the bat.

His speed makes up for a good portion of it, as he is able to leg out base hits.  Marte’s speed score (spd) has constantly been above 7.0, which is excellent and the top ranking, with the only time coming below 7.0 being in 2015, when he was at 5.9.  The other advantage Marte has is when he hits line drives and fly balls.  As his average exit velocity of 92.7 mph was a tad over the 92.2 mph average.

This explains his consistently low projections, but he’s shown the tendency to out perform them, especially when he’s maintaining such a BABIP.  But with his ability to be an above average bat, something ZiPS projects, and his defensive ability, it’s a safe bet Marte will be the best Pirates outfielder in 2017.

Andrew McCutchen

Let’s start by looking at McCutchen’s 2016 ZiPS projections: a .293/.393/.493 slash with a .379 wOBA.  The projection makes sense given McCutchen was a .313/.404/.523 hitter with a .397 wOBA from 2012-2015.  McCutchen really struggled in April of 2015, posting a .285 wOBA, and then posting only a .335 wOBA in September/October (which still put him 15 percent above league average, 115 wRC+).  But there were some definite signs of McCutchen’s struggles in 2015, his career high 10.5 percent swinging strike rate, and his career low 75.9 percent contact rate.

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ZiPS still projected a strong season for McCutchen, one that he did not live up to.  He struggled for the most part, hitting .256/.336/.430, posting career lows in wOBA (.329), and wRC+ (106).  His strikeout rate of 21.2 percent was a career high, 1.6 percent higher than his previous career high in 2012.  His walk rate was just 10.2 percent, a career low.  His .297 BABIP was his lowest since 2011 (.291), and his 10.7 percent swinging strike rate was a career high also.

McCutchen did show some promise after his three-day rest against the Braves at the beginning of August.  He posted a .365 wOBA, 131 wRC+, 13.9 percent walk rate, and a 14.8 percent strikeout rate.  He was more McCutchen than the previous four months, a .308 wOBA, 92 wRC+, 8.1 percent walk rate, and a 24.8 percent strikeout rate.

ZiPS sees McCutchen hitting .276/.370/.474 with a .361 wOBA, making him more than just six percent better than league average, closer to about 30 percent better (128 OPS+).  If McCutchen comes close to this, the Pirates will be in great shape to making the playoffs in 2017.

Gregory Polanco

Gregory Polanco started off 2016 with a bang, as he hit .299/.377/.515 with a .373 wOBA, and 136 wRC+ through the end of June.  Polanco also showed patience, posting a 11.9 percent walk rate.  Polanco was also hitting the ball 91.8 mph in the first three months.

The final three months, however, Polanco only hit .216/.261/.409 with a .284 wOBA, and a 76 wRC+.  He was rather unlucky, having just a .228 BABIP, but his patience went away, walking only 5.8 percent of the time.  His average exit velocity was only 89.5 mph, a decrease of 2.3 mph.  But Polanco was hampered by a knee and shoulder injury.

Add all this together, and Polanco still finishes with his first career above average season offensively.  He finished with a .258/.323/.463 slash, .331 wOBA, 108 wRC+, 9.0 percent walk rate, and a 20.3 percent strikeout rate in 587 plate appearances.

ZiPS does not project much of a breakout season for Polanco, having him hitting just .259/.322/.420 with a .326 wOBA.  This essentially makes Polanco league average, a 101 OPS+, which is not what we were hoping/expecting from the former number 10 overall prospect according to Baseball America.

The good bit of hope of Polanco out performing these projections, are his numbers pre injury in 2016, and his consistently better than average contact rate and swinging strike rate.

Next: How Will The Bucco Outfield Shape Up?


Overall, the Pirates are projected to have three above average outfielders in their starting lineup.  Where each one is playing remains to be unseen, I’m a fan of just flipping Polanco and McCutchen.  The growth of Polanco and the resurgence of McCutchen, especially defensively, and a move off of center should help, to go along with Starling Marte, the Pirates may reach top outfield status, something we’ve been wanting to see for years.

*Numbers from fangraphs and baseball savant

Other ZiPS Projections