With the regular season just around the corner let's take a look at some predictions for the 2023 campaign
It's that time of the year again; time for the predictions to start rolling out. The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off one of the best off-seasons they've had in years, at least in terms of the major league roster. They actually acquired a handful of veterans who have an excellent chance of positively impacting the team, both on and off the field. With the up-and-coming young talent, the Pirates' roster is starting to take shape.
This year will be interesting. If things play out right and the Pirates play their cards right, they could make the National League Central a somewhat competitive division. With that being said, what are my predictions for the Pirates' 2023 season?
Most Valuable Player - Bryan Reynolds
No, I do not think Bryan Reynolds will be dealt any time soon, if ever. A lot of fans may have Oneil Cruz as the team's MVP for 2023. After all, Cruz has a sky-high offensive ceiling and could hit 30-35 home runs, even if he plays to even three-quarters of his potential. But I am going with the safe bet of Reynolds here as the team's MVP.
Reynolds is coming off a 'down season,' but only by his highly lofty standards. In 614 plate appearances, the switch hitter batted .262/.345/.461 with a .349 wOBA and 122 wRC+. His OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ were all his career worsts, but he was still well above average. On the plus side, he smashed 27 home runs, which was a career-best. But he also struck out 23% of the time (another career worst). His 9.1% walk rate was also above average.
So what reasons are there to believe Reynolds can 'rebound'? Reynolds got off to a dismal start to the season. But by late May, he was back into the swing of things. From May 25th through the end of the season, Reynolds slashed .279/.358/.497 with a .367 wOBA and 137 wRC+. In terms of OPS, wOBA, and wRC+, these fell right in line with his 2019-2021 numbers. Reynolds also had a career-best 90.2 MPH exit velocity and a 42.9% hard-hit rate.
Another positive that will work in Reynolds' favor is the new shift rules. Although he is a switch-hitter, he was shifted on in about three-quarters of his plate appearances when he faced a right-handed pitcher (when Reynolds was batting left-handed). He had just a .346 wOBA when the shift was on compared to .373 with no shift.
Not only do I think that Reynolds will continue being a .850+ OPS, .360+ wOBA, and 135+ wRC+ batter, but I also believe that he'll be more valuable overall. Reynolds has primarily worked in left field this Spring. Reynolds had a poor season in center field last year, being worth -14 defensive runs saved, -7 outs above average, and having a UZR/150 of -3.2. Granted, he did have +10 defensive runs saved in 2021, but both DRS (-5) and UZR/150 (-5.6) still viewed him in a negative light. In 2019, the only season he was given an extended look in left field, he only had -2 OAA but +3 DRS.
Reynolds actually played a very good right field in the brief time he was given there in 2019. It was only 241 innings, but he racked up +3 DRS and +2 OAA. For those worried about how his arm would play in right field, he was in the top 80th percentile of arm strength in 2022 and has consistently been in the 77th+ percentile since fielder arm strength has been measured.
Reynolds will hit .290/.370/.480 with a 135+ wRC+ once again and be worth 5+ fWAR now, given he'll be at a position he can fully take advantage of his defense. It should be another big season for Reynolds, but this time around, he may have more opportunities to drive in runners given the improved line-up he'll be housed in.