Bucco Bloggers Predict the 2nd Half, 2016 Edition


07.15.16 Posted by

Hey, it’s this again.

For the fourth straight year, we’re asking prominent Pirate bloggers, over the All-Star break, to predict the Pirates’ win total at the end of the season. Tim and I make our own predictions, and we compare it to a few algorithms, and then see who comes out on top.

In 2013, Jim Rosati of North Side Notch was the only one to nail the final total (94). In 2014, Rosati tied with Brian McElhinny of Raise the Jolly Roger, with both coming within two of the final total. And last year, only Rich of This is Getting Old correctly predicted at the break that the Bucs would win 98 games.

If we took this poll a couple of weeks ago, it’s fair to say these predictions would be a good deal less optimistic, and I think more than one would’ve been sub-.500. But for the second year in a row the Bucs enter the break on a hot streak, and with a big series win against the division leader.

Here are the predictions:

Bloggers

Algorithms


87 (Blogs: 88.4, Skynet: 83.7)Average

Things of note:

  • The average algorithm prediction is almost exactly in line with the Pirates’ current win pace
  • The most optimistic algorithm prediction is still lower than the most pessimistic blogger prediction.
  • The algorithms and bloggers were virtually identical in 2013, but the bloggers have won the last two years, once by more than two full wins on average.

Related to that last point, there’s been some speculation, based on the last few years, as to whether or not projection systems have trouble accounting for things like defense, defensive shifts, teams that emphasize contact hitting, or exceptionally good bullpens, given that both the Pirates and Royals keep outperforming their projections. Hopefully that’s the case here.


Filed under: Predictions!

Best Second-Half Predictions: 2015 Results


10.05.15 Posted by

In 2013, we asked Bucco bloggers for their second-half win predictions at the All-Star break. We did the same thing last year, and then we did it again this year. And the results are in:

Just one person correctly pegged the eventual win total of 98, Rich of This is Getting Old. This is noteworthy in large part because he’d been among the more pessimistic of predictors the prior two years, but this year he was the most optimistic (nobody overshot the total, though really, who could’ve predicted 99/100 wins?).

Second place was a tie between yours truly, and Cory from Three Rivers Blog, with 96.

Once again, the bloggers beat the statistical algorithms. Last year they were two full wins closer to the eventual total, and this year it was nearly three.

Here are the full results:

Bloggers

Algorithms


94.2 (Blogs: 95, Algos: 92.1)Average

Filed under: Predictions!

Chris and Tim Discuss the Second Half


07.17.15 Posted by

Chris: Do we catch the Cardinals? If not, why not, and if so, why…er…so?

Tim: I really think we do. While I think our pitching regresses more than theirs, but I think the difference might end up being the offenses. We’re both sitting in the middle of the pack, but ours is on the upswing and theirs is headed the other way. They’ll get a boost from Holliday coming back, but Peralta and Carpenter were backsliding into the break. Heyward and Molina didn’t get off to good starts, either.

Chris: I think I agree. I was actually really struck by the Cardinal lineup when I saw it. Even sliding Holliday back in there, it really isn’t scary. If that pitching comes back down to earth, it’s easy to imagine them playing just a handful of games over .500 the rest of the way.

Tim: And they do have to come back down to earth; the Cardinals’ opponents are OPS’ing .576 w/ RISP; their overall OPS that they’re allowing is almost .100 points higher. That’s either clutch or flukey, but clutch doesn’t exist, so…

Chris: Of course, our pitching’s bound to regress, too. But who, and by how much?

Tim: Among starters, I’ll say Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett end up closer to an ERA of 3.00 than 2.00; Liriano, Locke, Morton all stay about the same. For relievers, Melancon’s ERA maybe doubles to the mid-to upper-2.00′s; Tony Watson, Jared Hughes backpedal a bit; Caminero (Editor’s note: Cam-in-er-oooooo!) improves by a half run.

Chris: I agree about Liriano, Locke, and Morton. Liriano’s numbers are very good (best he’s had as a Pirate, I believe), but they look totally sustainable. I think Cole, since he’s been a little less dominant leading up to the break, actually might not regress too much either. Burnett’s the only one that seems like he might be significantly worse. But I actually think there’s way less regression coming than you’d think if you just glanced at the ERA/FIP splits.

Tim: Let’s talk trade possibilities. The trade deadline, now and forever with the second wild card, will probably be a seller’s market given that there are only two teams 10 or more games out of a playoff spot. Using FanGraphs’ playoff odds there are 11 teams with less than a 15% of making the playoffs, so there should be more sellers. But not all of them have a lot of tradable commodities (e.g. the D’Backs are mostly young and will probably only move a couple of modest relievers, if anything) and they might not all sell (the Padres and White Sox should, but given that they wanted to contend this season, will they? Unclear).

Because this is fun, here are a few viable trade partners/targets:

  1. Brewers (Adam Lind, Will Smith, K-Rod)
  2. Oakland A’s (Ike Davis, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez)
  3. White Sox (Jeff Samardzija, Zach Duke)
  4. Rangers (Yovani Gallardo, Mitch Moreland)
  5. Padres (Ian Kennedy, Yonder Alonso)

I think they could use an upgrade at 1B, right field, starting rotation (#4 or #5), and in the bullpen. I think the Pirates will probably make two or three modest moves, rather than large splashes, and probably address two of the four needs (1B and RP are my best guesses).

Chris: It really feels to me like the Bucs are happy with their rotation. I think they’re going to stand pat there. Landing Lind would be great, but I think the Napolis and Morelands (Dave Cameron at Fangraphs predicted we’d get Napoli) of the world are closer to our price range. Huntington has shown a shrewd willingness to part with a whole lot of second-tier prospects in these deals, but basically zero first-tier guys. And I’m skeptical that second-tier prospects are going to bring us someone like Lind, who’s not only having a good season, but has reasonable options (in the $7-8 million range) the next two seasons.

Tim: I really hope they don’t acquire Napoli – he’s been terrible all year.

Chris: Whoever we get, I agree it’s going to be the same song this year: moderate upgrades of the bench/depth variety. I’ll be a little surprised if we got anyone who’s actually going to start regularly down the stretch. And while I know this will make some people mad (“They don’t want to win?%@#@#?!”), this is a team on roughly a 98-win pace that figures to say good for the next several years. I’m not sure how much you want to change course to compensate for the crappy luck of being stuck in a division with the best team in baseball. Though that obviously should be a consideration.

Tim: Biggest first-half surprise?

Chris: Has to be Burnett. I was one of the most optimistic people about his return–everyone agreed he’d give us needed depth and eat up a bunch of innings with acceptable stats, but I actually thought he’d be good again. But I still didn’t think he’d be *better*, let alone this much better. So while I’m not surprised we’re talking about him as a pleasant surprise, the sheer degree to which it’s happened makes him the only real choice.

One of the reasons he’s the only real choice, of course, is that the other two players to take major strides forward (Cole and Marte) are both guys we saw coming a mile away, to the point where some of us thought they might break out last year. That both have taken the next step shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows the team, though in Marte’s case there’s one more step to take before he reaches his true potential.

Tim: Biggest disappointment?

Chris: Biggest disappointment is Polanco. That sounds harsh, because I’m still optimistic about his future, but I think we all expected marginal improvement and to this point his performance has been identical. That’s not all that damning, really, but disappointment is relative to expectation, and our expectations were for improvement.

I’m sure some would make a case for Harrison, but everybody had a lot of his regression baked in. And even Pedro’s problems are a far cry from where he was sitting around the same time last year. So it’s Polanco by process of elimination, and expectation.

Tim: I’m with you on Polanco being the biggest disappointment and Harrison being the runner-up.

So what’s the key to the second half?

Chris: In a boring, technical sense, the key to the second half is staying healthy (which we’ve been really good at so far this year). But that’s the key to every half for all competitive teams.

Excluding that, I think it’s the offense following through on its recent signs of life. I have a fair bit of confidence that the pitching will stay formidable, but there’s way larger range of outcomes for our hitting. One of the reasons people talk about Pedro and Polanco “putting it all together” is that it really feels like we’re one more good hitter away from having a genuinely scary lineup. If that happens, their current win pace (97+) might actually be within reach.


Filed under: Chris and Tim Talk About Stuff, Predictions!

Bucco Bloggers Predict the 2nd Half, 2015 Edition


07.14.15 Posted by

The last couple of years we’ve asked prominent Pirate bloggers, during the All-Star break, to predict the Pirates’ win total. We line that up with our own, and that of a few algorithms, and then see how they all fare.

The first year, Jim Rosati of North Side Notch was the only one to nail the final total (94). Last year, he tied Brian McElhinny of Raise the Jolly Roger; both came within two.

This year, the Bucs enter the break on fire following two ridiculous, absurd wins over the Cardinals, and the projections reflect that sense of momentum: nearly all of the predictions we received are higher than the highest were back in 2013, even though our record was similar.

Let’s get to it:

Bloggers

Algorithms


94.2 (Blogs: 95, Algos: 92.1)Average

Worth noting: only one of these projections (Rich’s) is consistent with the team’s current pace, which is 97.5 wins, even though he’s been among the more pessimistic predictors the last two years. I said as much, and he gave his reason:

At this point in the season, though, a Wild Card game is obviously the floor, and a given short of a genuine collapse. So perhaps the more important question is: how many games are the Cardinals going to win?


Filed under: Predictions!

Best Second-Half Predictions: The Results


09.29.14 Posted by

So, for the second consecutive year (it’s an annual tradition!), we went around the webtubes at the All-Star break and asked Pirates bloggers for their second-half win predictions. We threw in a couple of algorithms/projection systems, too, for the added Man vs. Machine element.

On August 29th FanGraphs’ SQL server became self-aware

Last year, Jim Rosati of North Side Notch won by hitting the 94-win total on the nose. Nobody hit this year’s 88-win total just right, but three people came close, at 87: yours truly (yay), Brian McElhinny of Raise the Jolly Roger and…Jim Rosati again! How annoying. Dude’s like the Cardinals of this competition already.

Also worth noting that the human bloggers were closer than the average projections by more than two full wins. Take that, Matrix.


Filed under: machine overlords, Predictions!

Bucco Bloggers Predict the 2nd Half, 2014 Edition


07.16.14 Posted by

Last year we asked a number of prominent Pirates bloggers (and fine upstanding young algorithms), at the All-Star break, to predict the Pirates’ win total. Most came pretty close, but the consensus/average undershot the total by 2-3. The only person/algorithm to nail the total was Jim Rosati of North Side Notch, and his prediction was also the highest.

So, we decided to do this again. And I think it’s safe to say that the degree of difficulty is higher. Last year the margin the Bucs had racked up by the break made a low-90s win total almost a foregone conclusion, but everyone was pretty clearheaded about the likelihood of some second-half regression.

This year, on the other hand, has defied narrative at almost every turn. From a slow start to a tremendously strong two months, to performing as well or better even after key injuries. An inexplicable number of players have stepped up to outperform the people they replaced, but some of them might be doing it with smoke and mirrors. There are a lot of major variables at play.

Bloggers

Algorithms


84.7Average

Note that there’s a slightly larger range this time among the bloggers, and that Rosati is once again the highest (though tied with a couple of others). Also worth noting, but not evident from the table above: of the six non-TWNDAI bloggers listed above, five gave the exact same win prediction they had in the preseason.

The thing I find most encouraging is that the Bucs are on pace for 84 wins even with all the injuries, and with that horrid start, so they can afford to play a bit worse than they have been the last couple of months and still finish in the high 80s, which is probably what they’ll need to snag a playoff spot.


Filed under: Predictions!

TWNDAI Round Table


03.26.14 Posted by

Welcome back to TWNDAI! Our baseball hibernation has come to an end and Chris and I are ready to resume sharing our two cents with you on these electronic pages.

With spring training winding down and the Pirates’ home opener a mere five days away, Chris and I sat down to discuss the 2013 season, the off-season, and 2014.

 

Drinking the Sweet, Sweet Nectar of the 2013 Season Once More

Tim: A year ago we were discussing The Great Collapse of 2012TM and what it might mean going forward. A lot of fans thought it portended calamity for 2013. The 2013 season proved to be a step in the right direction and exceeded all reasonable expectations. What are you going to remember from the 2013 season?

Chris: First and foremost, I’ll remember the play-in game against Cincinnati, where I hugged people I’d just met, shouted so much I was literally hoarse for days after, and felt a sense of elation that, as an under-30 Pirates fan, I had genuinely not realized was possible in baseball.

The runner-up–though it’s way, way back–is probably hitting 50 wins on June 29th, before anyone else in baseball. Because of the way the two previous years unfolded, there was just too much wariness for me to sit back and think “This is it. This is definitely happening” until it had already happened. But the closest I came was on that day. That’s when I was as convinced as I was ever going to be before it actually took place.

How about you?

Tim: In chronological order, my most memorable moments were:

-Taking 4 of 5 from the Cardinals at the beginning of August

-Beating the Reds in the WC game/CUUUEEEETTTOOOOOO

-The rollercoaster series against the (wretched, awful, villainous) Cardinals

I was fortunate enough to go to the Wild Card game and Game Four and I’ll never forget my first real taste of playoff drama.

Chris: Yeah, CUETO is always going to be the most defining part of that game, too. The most memorable part *of* the most memorable part. Good call on taking 4 of 5 from the Cards, too. I should have mentioned that–I was even at the Wainwright game. I guess, now that I think about it, that’s the first point I can remember being pretty much totally convinced we were for real.

 

On the 2013-2014 Off-Season and the Possible Consequences of Idling

Tim: To put it nicely, the Pirates had a “quiet” off-season.  They lost AJ Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Garrett Jones, and John Buck to free-agency, while only bringing in Edinson Volquez and the now-injured Chris Stewart. With concerns at 1B, RF, and SP, do you think the off-season should be considered a failure or is it acceptable given both the internal options?

Chris: If my options are Pass/Fail on this offseason, I’ll go Pass, if only because it’s pretty clear we have the talent to win in the coming years and we didn’t give any of it up just to try to win 90-ish games again this year.

Tim: It’s important that the Pirates didn’t trade a valuable prospect or tie a big, dumb albatross around their neck that they have to overpay for the next several years.

 

 

Chris: If I can answer with a bit more nuance, I’ll say that while I support the overall decision not to Do Too Much With It, we probably should have made a marginal move to upgrade at 1B. I find it hard to believe that wasn’t possible without locking ourselves into anything or giving up anyone especially valuable.

Tim: Through almost every lens, the off-season was disappointing, but in most respects, I don’t think it’s a reason to panic or vaguely threaten the Pirates (a la Bill Peduto).

Charlie Wilmoth at Bucs Dugout outlined a likely explanation of how the Pirates had two plans for the off-season, but both fell through, mostly.

Chris: I think Wilmoth’s right in that we had some plans, and nothing quite came through. Look, we’ve all been the guy at the fantasy draft who misses all four dudes in his queue and then panics about position and takes Martin Prado in the 8th or something. The Bucs didn’t do that. That’s something.

Tim: Losing AJ hurts for sure, but Morneau? Byrd? Not so much. Justin Morneau’s bat has been running on E for the last three years and his defense is vastly overrated (I think it has something to do with wearing eye black). Likewise, it’s beyond trite to call Marlon Byrd a regression candidate at this point. Father Time is going to be on the on-deck circle taking practice swings every time he’s up in 2014.

Jose Tabata is an average baseball player, with an average bat and he will suffice in RF until Gregory Polanco arrives. I’m not thrilled with the Sanchez/Lambo platoon at 1B, but I think the Pirates are going to try it out and then, if need be, trade for a Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland, Mike Carp, Ike Davis, Adam Lind to fill the void.

Chris: I agree with you in regards to all the free agents we’ve let go. Listen, Bucco fans: if you like this new feeling of the Pirates actually trading FOR people at the deadline, the flip side of that is that we let them go when the year ends. That’s how this works.

Tim: As a straight up replacement for AJ Burnett, Edinson Volquez shouldn’t sit well with anybody. If you consider him as a guy signed to a cheap, 1 year deal who should contend for (and will win) the last spot in the rotation, he’s okay.

Chris: I think Volquez probably isn’t going to work out, but one of the guys over on Honest Wagner said something a couple years back that seems salient. I’ve totally lost the phrasing, but the basic idea was: I’m not going to rag on a failure in a strategy whose success is specifically based on failing a bunch of times. Maybe Liriano’s the General Sherman and Volquez is the one you throw back, but you’ve gotta haul them into the boat before you decide, to really stretch an analogy far beyond the point at which a more reasonable person would have abandoned it.

Yeah, it’s completely unsexy to talk about payroll flexibility, but that’s the game. Not signing a bad contract is like drafting an interior guard in the first round. You’re not going to get excited about it, but it’s the kind of thing teams do to stay in contention year in and year out.

 

On AJ Burnett’s Departure to Philadelphia and Its Discontents

Tim: After promising to either retire or re-sign with the Pirates, AJ Burnett signed with the Phillies. Do you harbor any negative feelings toward him or fault the Pirates for not extending him a qualifying offer?

Chris: I harbor no ill feelings towards the Pirates front office for taking him at his word, but I do feel some towards him for going back on it. I don’t mind the decision itself, but the complete 180 is a little irksome. Obviously, athletes are allowed to change their mind, but it’s kind of exasperating when a grown man lacks the self-knowledge to know that how they feel right now might not be how they feel in a few months. All this Favre-ing will-he-or-won’t-he is easily avoided by avoiding definitive statements about things you’re not actually definite about.

Tim: I can’t hold it against the guy for taking more money to be closer to his family; given that he’s already won the World Series, the deal with the Phillies seems to be perfect for him. I only fault him for making a promise that he didn’t keep and effectively handcuffing the Pirates for most of the off-season. He probably walks around the clubhouse in Affliction gear and says things, like “A man’s word is his bond” and stuff while practicing karate moves.

 

On the 2014 Roster

Tim: Unlike most of the last 20 years, most of the Pirates’ roster was largely locked into place heading into Spring Training with only a few question marks. The fifth starter spot is essentially Volquez’s to lose, but there are some other guys in the mix, like Jeff Locke, Stolmy Pimentel, and possibly Brandon Cumpton; the left-handed half of the RF platoon is a battle between Jaff Decker and Travis Snider; and Andrew Lambo is basically battling himself for how much he’s going to get to play at 1B and doing such a poor job that he’s left the door open for Travis Ishikawa. Do you have any insights on who you expect to win the spots?

Chris: Insights? I dunno about that. But opinions, yes! I’d love to be wrong about Volquez and see him run with it, and he’ll probably be given that chance. But if he doesn’t pan out, I think I kinda like Cumpton to take the last spot. Every other guy has something about them that makes me worry, but Cumpton’s actually had a really solid track record throughout the minors, with his best numbers coming in AAA. He was arely impressive, but never particularly bad, either. I feel like that’s what you want out of a fifth starter.

Tim: For the 5th starter, I would suspect that it will belong to Volquez until he proves to be completely terrible, if he is indeed completely terrible. After Volquez, Stolmy Pimentel is my favorite guy in the mix, followed by Locke, and Cumpton. I was going to say that I think that Pimentel has the most upside, but all three of them have similar AAA numbers so that thought is largely based on abstract, unsubstantiable feelings.

Chris: I like Snider to play a lot over Decker–the front office just gave him $1.2 million, and we heard a lot about how his injury was dogging him more than was let on. And it’s easy to forget what a great fit he seemed to be when we traded Lincoln for him. I think a lot of people have given up on him way too quickly. I’m not sure if he can rise to the level of Giles Lite, but I think he’ll get (and deserves) a chance to.

Tim: Snider has more upside given his power potential, but Decker is the safer pick to be productive given his ability to get on base (he has an impressive walk rate). If April and May are the months to experiment with the roster, I’d put Snider on the team and have Decker in the wings. Given Brandon Moss’ production since leaving Pittsburgh, I think the front office wants to give these cheap power threats every chance to succeed. It’s frustrating that between Jose Tabata, Brandon Moss, Garrett Jones, Jaff Decker, Travis Snider, Alex Presley, Nate McLouth, Felix Pie, Josh Harrison, and Andrew Lambo that none of those guys can just claim the job by simply being an average player.

Chris: I still have no idea what I expect Lambo to do, but I guess falling on his face is still the most likely scenario. There’s a really good chance 1B is a black hole most of the year. I hope everybody remembers how much crap they talked about Adam LaRoche, because I think we might be begging for that (admittedly backloaded) production by June.

Tim: I have no idea what to predict from Lambo. He’s hitting .100 or so in spring training and didn’t hit much in the majors last season. If he bombs, then I expect the Pirates to pursue Ike Davis et al to compliment Gaby Sanchez.

As for back-up catcher, in spite of a good showing last season and in spring training, the Pirates were hell-bent against letting Tony Sanchez break camp with the club. Even after Chris Stewart went down with an injury, there were reports of the Pirates looking to make a trade. In the end, ostensibly against their wishes, Tony Sanchez will make the team (and bat to this). What’s the deal, Chris?

Chris: The Tony Sanchez thing is interesting. Obviously, on the surface it seems like he should start the season with the team and learn from that guy that Greg Brown is always talking about in a ridiculous French accent. Robert Poutine or whatever.

I think this is a Black Hole situation, where we can surmise the reason for something based on looking at the things around it. We know they acquired Stewart, and we can safely assume they wouldn’t have done so without good reason. We know that Poutine’s particularly adept at framing pitches (thanks to the irreplaceable Pat Lackey). And we know that Stewart has a reputation for that, too. So if I had to guess, I’d say that Sanchez is lacking in this department.

Either that or they have a Former Yankee Catcher punch card and they were one short of a free sub.

 

On Market Inefficiencies of Today and Tomorrow(?)

Tim: Since you mentioned pitch framing, I might as well jump to that question now. Last season, the Pirates benefited from capitalizing on pitch framing, as well as pairing groundball-heavy pitching with defensive shifts. This year, several teams, including the Reds and Cardinals, have said that they are going to employ shifts more often. Are you worried that if this advantage disappears it will hurt the Pirates? Any ideas on what the next big advantage will be?

Chris: If I knew what the next undervalued metric was, I wouldn’t even be here. I’d be pulling in that sweet Huntington coin, riding my yacht on the Mon and eating the finest pierogies in all the land. Boats ‘N Hoes. And pierogies.

I think any superior strategy has diminishing returns, but the timeline on this stuff is probably years, rather than months. And that’s particularly true in this case, because the strategy is interconnected: the emphasis on ground ball pitchers feeds into the emphasis on defense, which is buttressed by the shifts themselves. And that last part is the only thing other teams can start doing pretty much right away–and even then, you have to imagine they’ll be a bit behind on the proprietary data that presumably drives these choices.

This stuff is less revolutionary than “pay a lot more attention to OBP,” but it’s also harder to start replicating, because it’s a holistic organizational strategy. And even with more young, enterprising GMs in the game today, you still have a lot of cultural inertia that’s going to make turning those ships a slow affair. Burnett seemed to hate this stuff, even though he was in the midst of benefiting from it. Deciding to do it is one thing, amassing the data to do it is another, amassing the players who fit the strategy is another still, and on top of all that you have to get everyone to buy into it.

So, it’s not just a strategic advantage: it’s a structural one. It’s riskier to build an organization so speculatively, but the upshot is that you’ve got a genuine head start on everyone else.

Tim: I often worry that the well is going to run dry and in, say, ten years all of the MLB teams will be caught up with pitch-framing, infield shifts, etc and it will come down to how much money is spent and how effectively it is spent. But I worry about everything all of the time, so sometimes I have to temper that with blind optimism and assume there will always be new angles to be exploited by savvy baseball men.

Chris: Yeah, it’s easy to feel like we’re going to “run out” of sabermetric edges, and there probably is a point at which all sports reach highly diminishing returns. But research is still way, way cheaper than signing the wrong guy, so I suspect teams will just be fighting over more marginal aspects of the game. None of them are cost effective now, with lower-hanging fruit around, but they will be. Maybe in twenty years the cutting edge will be which pitches the starter should throw based on atmospheric conditions at gametime. Or bribing RoboUmps with coolant.

Tim: Here’s a not-quite-a-non-sequitur: In the 19th century, everyone in baseball was terrible at defense, except for Jack Glasscock (Yes, that’s his real name. Yes, that link IS safe for work). He was head and shoulders above the other defenders. One reason that he was successful was because he picked the pebbles (as well as Civil War-era rifle rounds and rebel bones) out of the infield to minimize the likelihood of a groundball taking a weird bounce. Considering that, players and managers have been looking for small advantages for as long as baseball has been played.

That said, the A’s have taken what feels like a novel approach with their roster construction. Opposed to having stars and scrubs, they have a league average (or better) player at every spot on their team, 1-25. Accordingly, they are expected to contend with a team (Texas) that is going to spend about $50 MM than them.

So of course, it’s difficult for us to know what the next big thing is, but emphasizing on positioning on defense, pitch-framing, efficient baserunning, and smarter lineup construction from top to bottom represent the current edges that smart teams are capitalizing on.

 

On Prospects and the Second Charge of the Pittsburgh Cavalry

Tim: The Pirates have Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon poised to become long-term fixtures on the team. Over the last several seasons, the Pirates have shown that they are not going to rush a guy to Pittsburgh to fill a team need. When do you expect to see those guys in Pittsburgh? Do you think either will be able to make an impact? Are there any other rookies that you’re keeping your eye on?

Chris: I’m glad you brought up Polanco, because I think Pirates’ fans are taking a lot for granted here. As soon as it became clear we weren’t going to acquire anyone substantial, people started saying “well, Tabata can hold the fort down until June when Polanco comes up.” I think this assumes too much. It’s probably what’s going to happen, but it’s easy to imagine a scenario where it doesn’t. Maybe Polanco takes a step back and they decide to wait, and then everyone flips out. Look at the drumbeat to bring Lambo up; it’ll be ten times louder if we get past Polanco’s Magic Service Time Line of Demarcation and Tabata’s OPS-ing .730 while we’re straddling .500.

Tim: In the absence of a very pressing team need (a la Wandy going down to lead to Cole’s promotion), I don’t expect to see either Taillon or Polanco until August or so. Assuming that the RF platoon is okay, I think Taillon will have a better opportunity to make an impact on the team given that his upside is a lot higher than the performance that we can reasonably expect from the bottom of the rotation. That and I’ve started to temper my enthusiasm for Polanco given that he has, like, half a season above A ball.

Chris: As for which will make a bigger impact: I think there’s a weird split here: I think Tallion has a better chance to make a BIG difference, but Polanco is more likely to make a decent one. For Tallion, the reason is obvious: we might have a black hole or two at the back of the rotation, and if Tallion can fill that even half as well as Cole did last year, that’s a huge upgrade, even if his overall numbers are league average at first.

For Polanco, I think his skillset gives him a reasonably high floor. One thing we saw with Marte, I think (as well as lots of other young players on other teams) is that fielding and baserunning can translate from the minors to the majors with little to no dropoff. Obviously, adjusting to big league pitching is a really big deal, but the fly balls don’t fly that much faster, and it’s still 90 feet from base to base. A guy like Polanco, who runs and fields well, has a very strong chance of contributing at least a moderate amount.

I can’t really think of any other rookies to talk much about. We already seem to have a never-ending supply of decent fifth-starter fill-ins and bullpen guys, but Taillon and Polanco are it for the moment. We’ve got a second Cavalry coming in another two years or so, I think, but for now it’s all about them.

Tim: Other than those two, Phil Irwin is the guy that could be a surprise on the team. Two years ago, he struck out 111 batters in 125 innings between AA and AAA. Last year, he was the first guy called up to make a spot start, but his season ended prematurely with a nerve problem. If healthy, I have high hopes for Filthy Phil going forward.

Chris: We know the front office can keep its eye on the prize in regards to free agents and trades, but I hope they’re prepared to take the abuse that’ll be heaped on them if they happen to decide that Polanco or Taillon aren’t quite ready.

 

Quantified Conjecture

Tim: The Pirates scored 634 runs last season (20th in MLB), allowed 577 runs (2nd fewest), and won 94 games. Can you give an OVER/UNDER for those three numbers?

I’m going to go OVER on runs scored. I expect that Marte will have the largest improvement this season, but the Pirates will get more production from Pedro, SS (by way of more Mercer than Barmes), and RF (healthy Tabata, Snider, Jaff Decker?). Those improvements should offset a slightly worse 1B situation, which was pretty bad last year too.

Runs allowed: OVER. No matter how you look at it, losing Burnett hurts. Volquez could very well be this year’s Jonathan Sanchez rather than the Francisco Liriano. Speaking of, Liriano and the bullpen are due for some regression. On the other side, a whole year of Cole is a thrilling proposition, Wandy should be able to log a significant number of average innings, and the depth at the bottom is there with Taillon, Cumpton, Irwin, Pimentel, and Locke all waiting in the wings.

94 wins: UNDER. I’m going to go with 88, which should put them in solid contention for the final wild card spot. I’ll predict the Pirates beating the Braves in a one game playoff to go on to play the Nationals in the Divisional Series.

Chris: I think you’re dead on: Over on runs scored, Over on runs allowed, Under on wins. I think these three predictions are way, way easier for this team than almost any other team in baseball this year. The only really tough prediction is where it all nets out.

You pretty much swiped my win prediction, too. I’ll go with 86, to be a little different. I think we’ll be in contentions in September but ultimately finish a few games out.

It’s not exciting to think of this as a transitional year, but that really feels like what it is. I expect to enjoy the 2014 Pirates the way I did all the teams before last year’s: by watching how individual players progress and fantasizing about how the pieces will fall into place.

The 2015 Pirates, on the other hand, have a triple-digit-win ceiling. Mind you, I say ceiling; that’s insanely hard to do. But when you imagine a third season for Cole and Marte, and a second for Taillon and Polanco, along with Cutch and Pedro smack dab in their primes, it’s hard to find an upper bound on what they might accomplish. And if they actually do threaten 90 wins again this year, look out.

Tim: Alright, that feels like a good stopping point for now. Welcome back. It’s time to get excited for the 2014 edition of Pirates Baseball. You’ll be hearing from us soon.


Filed under: 2014 Season, Cavalry!, Chris and Tim Talk About Stuff, down on the farm, Hope Springs Eternal, Predictions!