Record – 73-89
If I’m being honest, I think this is being a game or two conservative. Given the talent in the upcoming pipeline, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them win upwards of 75-77 games. However, I’ll go just under with 73 wins.
Look at it like this; the opening day roster will house some pretty good talents. Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes are easy bets to reach 3+ fWAR. Reynolds reached 5.5 last year, and if Hayes hits for a 110-125 wRC+, he’d easily get that benchmark. Right-hander Zach Thompson had a 1.3 fWAR in only 75 innings of work. If he improves just the slightest, he’s another player who could conceivably reach 3 fWAR.
Oneil Cruz and Roansy Contreras could reach 2-3+ fWAR each if they have 300-400+ plate appearances and 110-120+ innings pitched. They’re both Rookie Of The Year candidates and are now among the best prospects in the league. If both come to the majors after the first month of the season, they could even get to that benchmark.
The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have to give Kevin Newman everyday plate appearances with guys like Oneil Cruz, Diego Castillo, Ji-Hwan Bae, Rodolfo Castro, and Tucupita Marcano. In the last two years, Newman has been last in the league in OPS, wOBA, wRC+, while ranking in the bottom 3 of OBP and slugging (min. 500 plate appearances). The only noteworthy offensive stats he doesn’t rank in the bottom 3 of is batting average (24th worst), walk rate (15th worst), or strikeout rate (ranks #1, ironically).
The outfield should also see some improvement. Travis Swaggerty, Matt Fraizer, and Canaan Smith-Njigba will likely be upgrades over Ben Gamel and Anthony Alford. Some mix of that trio should all be in the majors by June, making them players that should see most of the season.
The Pirates won’t have to have Chad Kuhl be their opening day starter in the pitching staff. They don’t have to guarantee Wil Crowe double-digit starts this year. Steven Brault was also non-tendered. Along with Thompson and Contreras, Miguel Yajure and Bryse Wilson will get looks in the majors. Eventually, Carmen Mlodzinski should take up a rotation spot as well. A mix of Contreras, Thompson, Yajure, Wilson, Keller, Brubaker, and Jose Quintana by May is a massive improvement over what the Pirates had by May last year. Their rotation by May 2021 was a mix of Kuhl, Brault, Trevor Cahill, Tyler Anderson, Brubaker, and Crowe.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will also have some addition-by-subtraction from 2021. Gregory Polanco, Phillip Evans, Erik González, and Colin Moran combined for -2.6 fWAR. On the pitching side of things, Kyle Keller, Shelby Miller, Chase DeJong, Shea Spitzbarth, Cody Ponce, Chad Kuhl, and Luis Oviedo combined for -1.8 fWAR. Of these 11 players, the only ones still in the organization are Oviedo, who was a Rule 5 pick and will undoubtedly be sent to Triple-A for most of 2022, and DeJong, who was re-signed to a minor league deal.
Adam Frazier and Jacob Stallings are the only pieces that played an essential role in 2021 that aren’t returning next year. As fun as the first half of Frazier’s season was, in all reality, he’s still only a league-average hitter who provides 1.5-2.0 fWAR a year. That’s something the Pirates could likely find among their myriad of utility prospects. Stallings hurts the most, but the Pirates easily replaced his defense in Roberto Perez. The offensive output lost between Stallings and Perez could easily be made up by adding even a league-average hitter over Newman.
I think there are a lot of comparisons you can make to the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers last year to the Pirates this year. Both AL Central teams had a multitude of young prospects make their way to the major leagues, and both finished with a respectable record. The Royals finished 74-88, and the Tigers managed a 77-85. This was after finishing with two of the worst records in baseball in the two seasons prior to 2021, including both teams losing well over 100 games in 2019.
Overall, the amount of improvement the Pittsburgh Pirates will see next year will be more than just noticeable. They’re already improved just by the fact that Chad Kuhl isn’t their Opening Day starter, post-2018 Polanco isn’t a starting outfielder, Wil Crowe won’t reach double-digit starts as long as three-quarters of the pitching staff don’t suffer season-ending injuries, and Kevin Newman’s regular playing time likely won’t last past the first few weeks of the season.