Diary of a long-suffering Pirates fan: Still no love from MLB prognosticators despite Pirates' improved offense

Are their backs turned while the Pirates launch home run after home run?
Melbourne Racing
Melbourne Racing / Vince Caligiuri/GettyImages
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Last I checked, the Pirates were still in a five-way tie at 0-0 for the National League Central Division crown. Their magic number to win the division remains at 162. And the horse race has not yet begun. But to hear MLB prognosticators tell it, you can pencil your Pittsburgh Pirates in for last place in the NL Central.

The Pirates' home run barrage in Spring Training (they lead all teams in spring homers) and run production increase (they rank fourth in runs scored in Spring Training games as I write this article) has not moved the needle whatsoever on these predictions.

The PECOTA projection system projects the Pirates at 71 victories with a 1.9 percent chance of making the wild card, a 1.7 percent chance of winning the division, and a 0.1 percent chance of making the World Series. PECOTA is the Baseball Prospectus proprietary system that projects player and team performance based on comparison with historical player seasons.

Meanwhile, MLB came out with their power rankings recently. And they have the Pirates at #25 (out of 30 teams). The Pirates apparently moved up one spot from #26 since the last ranking.

And a look at the betting sites shows that the Pirates are given the longest shots of any of the NL Central teams of winning the division. Bet 65 has the Pirates at +1800. FanDuel gives them odds of +1200. Other sites have them somewhere in between.

Why aren't these prognosticators seeing the same thing I am seeing this spring through my rose-colored glasses?

Perhaps the prognosticators are looking at the current Spring Training standings and basing their predictions on that. After all, despite the Pirates' home run barrage, they still have an overall losing record. A look at those standings shows the following win-loss records:

NL Central Teams

2024 Spring Training record (as of 3/23)

Chicago Cubs

16-12

St. Louis Cardinals

11-11

Milwaukee Brewers

13-14

Pittsburgh Pirates

12-15

Cincinnati Reds

10-14

Have Spring training standings been a predictor of the regular season in the NL Central in recent years? The answer, thankfully, is no. Let's review:

In the Spring of 2023, the St. Louis Cardinals posted the best spring record at 17-7, followed by the Cubs at 17-12, the Reds at 15-14, Milwaukee at 12-15, and your Pittsburgh Pirates at 9-18. While the Spring Training standings accurately predicted the Cubs' second-place finish and the Reds' third-place finish, those spring standings were not predictive of the eventual regular season champion Milwaukee Brewers. And they certainly were not predictive of the St. Louis Cardinals, who went from first in Spring Training to last in the regular season.

The Cardinals had the best spring record in the division in 2022 and went on to win the NL Central, so the 2022 spring numbers were somewhat accurate in their forecast.

But 2021 saw the Cubs with the best Spring Training record in the NL Central, who then went on to finish fourth in the regular season. The Cubs also had the best spring training record of the NL Central teams in 2019 and then finished third in the division.

So the point of this is that the NL Spring Training standings are not a good tool to use when forecasting the NL Central regular season finish. So, the Pirates' losing record thus far is nothing to worry about.

So, what else might these naysaying prognosticators be looking at? Probably pitching. While individually, there have been some very good pitching performers this Spring for the Pirates, collectively, the Pirates remain middle of the pack in terms of team pitching. They currently rank 15th in team ERA. But at 15th, this is a significant improvement from where they have placed in previous springs (25th in 2023 and 22nd in 2022) or in the regular season (22nd in 2023 and 26th in 2022).

But, of course, we Pirates fans know the true reason for these poor predictions. History. The Pirates have never won the National League Central. Just bet the Pirates NOT to win the National League Central. It is a wager that has never lost.

History shows that the Pirates in most seasons will finish fourth or fifth in the Division. So, why, unless you're an overly optimistic and very gullible Pirates fan (why are you looking at me?), would you predict them to finish anywhere else?

Yep, you'll see a lot of "Spring-Training-stats-are-unreliable" articles this time of year. But, those articles themselves are sometimes unreliable.

If I'm honest, the Cubs look formidable this year. But what the Pirates are doing this spring looks very different from years past. And while I try to make light of my rose-colored glasses, I nonetheless think the prognosticators have it wrong. I choose to believe with my eyes and not with historical data. And what my eyes are seeing this spring is the Pirates hitting Spring Training home runs at a historic pace for this franchise. The Prognosticators and so-called experts seem to be ignoring it, but I cannot.