Rum Bunter’s 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates Staff Preview: David

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 07: Kevin Kramer #44 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits an RBI single to center field in the seventh inning during the game against the Miami Marlins at PNC Park on September 7, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 07: Kevin Kramer #44 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits an RBI single to center field in the seventh inning during the game against the Miami Marlins at PNC Park on September 7, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

With the start of Major League Baseball’s regular season being tomorrow, it is time to begin our yearly previews of the Pittsburgh Pirates here at Rum Bunter.

Major League Baseball’s regular season starts tomorrow for all but the Mariners and Athletics, and the Pittsburgh Pirates will be in Cincinnati to take on the Reds.  Jameson Taillon will take on Luis Castillo at 4:05, with Taillon coming off a season in which he tossed a 3.20 ERA and Castillo a 4.30 mark.

Last season, the Pirates exceeded expectations,

their average projection was 77.5 wins

and the team ended up going 82-79 with an 80-81


.  While they did exceed their projected win, the Pirates didn’t do enough to push into the playoff conversation, even after a hot July that saw the team acquire

Chris Archer


Keone Kela

, the plus 4.5 wins was still within the margin of error in the projection.  For this season, the average of the Pirates Depth Charts and PECOTA projections is a record of 79.5-82.5 with a fourth place finish.  The rest of the league’s projections as of the morning of the 24th are as followed:

Being around the record they were last season makes sense, the Pirates additions consisted of Lonnie Chisenhall, Jordan Lyles, and Erik Gonzalez.  While Jordy Mercer was worth only 0.9 WARP a season ago, Gonzalez projects at 0.1 with a bat that will largely disappoint.  General Manager Neal Huntington talked about how his defense, along with Jung Ho Kang‘s, is why he has been appointed the every day job.  To compete, the bat and glove will both need to exceed their projections and likely need to exceed his 90th percentile projection.

The Pirates main calling card is their pitching staff, which PECOTA projects as having the eighth best deserved run average in baseball.  Even the staff is going to over perform to need to compete for the division and go from average to contender.  Similar to last season, a record between 79-83 wins seems most likely, and with Scooter Gennett missing the first 8-12 weeks and Nick Senzel not starting the year with the big league club, the Pirates are looking at another fourth place finish.  The Brewers pitching staff does leave a lot to be desired, especially with Corey Knebel and Jermey Jeffries being hurt, but their offense along with the addition of the best pitch framer in baseball in Yasmani Grandal, they should still compete for the division.  My predictions for the NL Central are:

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Milwaukee Brewers
  3. Chicago Cubs
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates
  5. Cincinnati Reds

A fourth place finish will be disappointing, but the club didn’t really address any of their biggest concerns and are banking on Chris Archer to pitch to what his underlying numbers suggest he’s capable of and that new hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz can squeeze out offense from a group of players that are essentially the same as last season’s.  With the division predicted, the final categories will be the team MVP, Cy Young, and the biggest surprise.

2019 Pittsburgh Pirates MVP

After being designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays, Corey Dickerson hit .300/.330/.474 and was worth 2.7 wins (fWAR) a season after he was worth 2.6 wins in Tampa Bay.  The left-handed outfielder provided his value in a different way, he saw his power drop from 27 home runs and a .207 ISO in 2017 to 13 home runs and a .175 ISO this past season.  Dickerson also played great defense, earning himself a Gold Glove, not bad for a player that was used primarily as a designated hitter in the American League.

For 2019, Dickerson is projected to hit .270/.320/.451 with 3.0 WARP according to PECOTA, essentially tying Marte (3.1 WARP) for the most wins above a replacement player on the team.  A big part for why I believe Dickerson being the most valuable player will be him returning to being a power threat in the lineup.  The outfielder told the Pittsburgh Tribune in February:

"“Last year, I decided to shorten up and choke up and prove everybody wrong that I could hit the high fastball and up my contact percentage… I was able to get a lot of hits and didn’t want to go back and go away from that. So, I just continued to do what I was doing. I wish I would’ve stayed a little more true to myself and be who I want to be. That’s what I brought into the offseason, get back to being me.”"

Dickerson’s exit velocity stayed roughly the same, but he increased his average launch angle by one degree.  One of the biggest areas in which Dickerson saw a drop is the amount he pulled the ball, going from 34.2 percent in 2017 to 31.1 percent in 2018, and not taking advantage of the short porch in 2018 is a reason for the drop off.  By trading away power for contact, Dickerson saw himself achieve the same production (115 wRC+ in both 2017 and 2018) just in a different way.  Getting back to the power stroke should allow Dickerson to be a better player as that has always been his strength, and because of this he’ll be the team MVP in 2019.

2019 Pittsburgh Pirates Cy Young

Probably the easiest pick to make, especially after a season in which he tossed a 3.20 ERA and 3.41 DRA en route to a 4.2 WARP season, as Jameson Taillon will again be the Pirates Cy Young winner.  The Pirates opening day starter profiled as a number one in the league last season and he looks to build on that success.

For 2019, the pitcher conservative PECOTA projects a 3.45 ERA and 2.7 WARP, ranking 19th among pitchers.  His addition of a slider saw the strikeout rate increase, and as I wrote in the starting pitching rewind,

"“From May 27th and on, the date in which he Taillon really began to throw his slider, he posted a 2.71 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 23.1 percent strikeout rate, and 11.4 percent swinging strike rate in 22 starts.”"

The 27-year-old is the Pirates best pitcher, though Archer does have the talent to challenge for that spot, and there is no reason to believe why he would be anything but the team’s 2019 Cy Young winner.  The stuff is there, the results have been there, and the projections are there as Taillon continues to develop into a top of the rotation arm.

2019 Pittsburgh Pirates Biggest Surprise

The biggest surprise will be middle infield prospect Kevin Kramer, who over the last two seasons has hit .304/.366/.488 in 778 plate appearances across Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.  While his brief time in Pittsburgh – .135/.175/.135 and 50 percent strikeout rate in 40 plate appearances – didn’t produce much, his bat is still intriguing.

Fangraphs has Kramer as the Pirates number six prospect with an overall future value of 45 (a low-end regular/platoon player) with a 55 future hit tool and 45 future raw power.  The 6’1″ and 190 pounder has maximized the power after making an adjustment to his bat path and trying to optimize his attack angle to produce more doubles and home runs.  Fangraphs writes that the ceiling for the type of player Kramer is is Neil Walker, who averaged 1.9 WARP in Pittsburgh, but did average 2.6 WARP in his final three years.

PECOTA projects a slash of .269/.319/.462 with 0.5 WARP and 102 DRC+ in 142 plate appearances, which is why it makes sense as to why Huntington likes the bat and why Kramer will see time in the outfield in Indianapolis in order to find more ways to get Kramer into the lineup in Pittsburgh.  For comparison, Adam Frazier projects at a .271/.335/.415 clip with 1.7 WARP and a 101 DRC+ in 556 plate appearances.  The two project similar offensively, with Frazier having a higher on-base and less power than Kramer.

Just for fun, Kramer’s 90th percentile PECOTA projection is a .309/367/.518 slash, 128 DRC+, and 1.7 WARP in just 211 plate appearances, which obviously if he has that level of production he will get more than 211 plate appearances.  The bat looks to be good and the Pirates will eventually need to find a spot, but by season’s end Kramer will be getting everyday at bats at some position.


Other MLB Predictions

After the Los Angeles Dodgers have won the National League pennant two years in a row, they won’t make the World Series a third straight year and their quest to win their first World Series since 1988 will continue.  Beating them in the NLCS will be the St. Louis Cardinals, which will create a matchup in the World Series with the Houston Astros to see who has the better database security.

Next. Liriano and Cabrera Make Opening Day Roster. dark

After signing a six-year deal worth $100 million, Alex Bregman will be the American League MVP with soon to be free agent Anthony Rendon, who is coming off back-to-back seasons with more than 4.0 WARP, winning it in the National League.

In terms of pitching, despite the trade rumors Corey Kluber wins his third Cy Young Award, as the right-hander looks to extend his streak of at least 5.0 WARP seasons to six straight.  Young Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty wins it in the NL, as the 23 year-old was worth 3.9 wins in just 151 innings last season.  He struck out 29.6 percent of hitters and had a 13.4 percent swinging strike rate.  As he looks to lead the Cardinals rotation into the 2020s, he’ll pick up some hardware in his second season in the big leagues.