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Reviewing Preseason Pirates’ Steamer Projections

There have been a couple cats let out of the bag since my last byline here. TPOP is going into that good night, and I am at greener pastures at DKPittsburghSports.com. (I leave for one week and it all goes to hell.) But before the site goes dark, I have a little unfinished business here.

At the beginning of spring training, I took the Steamer projections for the 25 man roster. I did the same in 2018 too, but what good are preseason projections without holding them accountable? It???s time to see who overachieved those forecasts and who fell short.

There is a little chunk of the season left, so some of these final results will change a bit, but as a whole, we know how each of these player???s season went. If they beat (or are going to beat) their Steamer projections by 0.5 WAR or more, they overachieved. If they were within half a WAR either way, they performed as expected. If they were at least half a WAR worse, they underachieved.

We???ll start with those who did better than expected.

Courtesy of Steamer and FanGraphs. Click to enlarge.

That???s a…pretty short list.

Kevin Newman is at the top of the list, more than quadrupling his modest 0.5 WAR projection. I???ll talk more about him later.

Bryan Reynolds (3.3) and Jacob Stallings (1.0) did the heavy lifting on the ???other hitters??? category, but the Pirates did get noticeably more from AAA than expected. It just came with a Jake Elmore or two along the way.

Josh Bell had a fine season, though he has basically been a slightly above average hitting replacement level player since June. Jordan Lyles and Trevor Williams make the cut, though that is mostly due to Steamer???s low expectations for the two. Felipe Vazquez just might finish with the best season of his career.

And??? that???s about it. There weren???t a lot of positives this year. There weren???t a ton of ok performers, either.

Courtesy of Steamer and FanGraphs. Click to enlarge.

Joe Musgrove can jump into the overachiever list with one or two more good starts and Starling Marte could technically drop into the disappointments with a poor final two weeks, but the safe money is they???ll finish in this category. Same goes for Adam Frazier, who was a very streaky, but overall average player. Steven Brault was a pleasant surprise for the rotation, and Mitch Keller???s solid FIP gives him a respectable 0.8 fWAR (in fairness, he has -1.3 bWAR, too). Besides that, a couple bullpen arms turned out to be basically replacement level, as expected.

Dare we look at the final list?

Courtesy of Steamer and FanGraphs. Click to enlarge.

Yikes. That???s not only a lot of names, but important names. Sure, injuries tanked Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, Francisco Cervelli, Corey Dickerson and, to a lesser extent, Chris Archer and Keone Kela, but every part of this team had multiple people fail to come close to their projections. The catchers, the infielders, the rotation, the bullpen, the outfielders??? this was a mess.

Before the season, Steamer projected the Pirates to finish with 36.3 WAR. At the moment, it???s 19.9. Perhaps Neal Huntington is right in referring to this as a .500 that went on a 8/10,000 stretch, but if that???s the case, they are missing a whole lot of WAR. More than can be accumulated or lost in a month.

But, wait! There???s another way to measure the over and underachievers. By subtracting xwOBA from a player???s actual wOBA, we can see how a batter???s or pitcher???s results compare to their batted ball profiles. This is how Pirate batters fared:

Courtesy of Baseball Savant. Click to enlarge.

Bryan Reynolds and Newman at the top is a bit of a concern. A .362 xwOBA is still a really solid season for Reynolds, but a .321 for Newman is barely above average. I???ve already written about this, and since that story was published, he has a .334 wOBA and a .328 xwOBA. He???s making better contact and is proving his OPS doesn???t need to rely on infield hits. The two look like building blocks for the future.

On the other end of the spectrum, a .289 xwOBA for Tucker isn???t exactly good, but it is significantly higher than his actual results. Stallings??? surprise offensive season might not be a mirage, and Elias Diaz???s offensive struggles continue as we venture into the sabermetric world.

Now for the pitchers.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant. Click to enlarge.

More good news for Keller. A .308 xwOBA is actually the lowest out of the Pirates??? starting pitchers. There have been plenty of growing pains for the rookie this season, but the underlying metrics are very encouraging.

Overall, Pirate pitchers have the worst team wOBA compared to xwOBA in baseball. That???s a product of the defense, which ranks dead last in baseball in defensive value and UZR, per FanGraphs. While the juiced ball may have been the main reason why this staff struggled, the defense shouldn???t be let off the hook.

In short, the Pirates underachieved their projections, but they were built as a volatile .500 team. The hope was that volatility would play in their favor. It didn???t, and they turned out far worse than expected.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

3 Comments on Reviewing Preseason Pirates’ Steamer Projections

  1. Something something regression to the mean. Something 2012 something something.

    In 2020, I would LOVE to overanalyze a largely different list of players. What’s the definition of insanity again? Who cares, it’s re-written in the dictionary to say, “Care about something meaningless as Joe does about the Pirates roster construction”

    I want to read Alex’s article next season about how Chris Stratton, in May, was used as an opener, a starter, a fireman, and a closer in the same week he hit from the 8th spot in the lineup. INJECT THAT STORY AND HIS RPMS DIRECTLY INTO MY VEINS.

    Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but that team didn’t look great on paper in April. Anyway.. Thanks, Alex. Good to hear from you again. Looking forward to that Stratton article.

  2. Phillip C-137 // September 14, 2019 at 7:33 PM // Reply

    Not that it matters, but isn’t it a bit unfair to Dickerson to say he should have produced 2 WAR when he only played 2/3rds of the season as a Pirate? Even at 1.3 vs 0.7 he’s in the negative, just not so much.

    As was ably pointed out the Pirates needed to get to 40 WAR and they’re at 19.9

    Also, as a review. TPOP ably pointed out that the Pirates needed 40 WAR to make the post season. They’re at 19.9 – UGH. Also, TPOP was both right and wrong about signing Iglesias.
    Would he have been a better signing that Gonzalez? Yes
    Would Newman have broken out with Iglesias around? Maybe, maybe not
    Would Iglesias have T-boned Marte, so Reynolds gets to play? Probably not

    So ya’ll were absolutely correct that Iglesias was a much much better get than Gonzalez, but IMO signing the wrong guy actually worked out for the Pirates, this time.

    • I???ve wrestled w the Iglesias question a lot recently. It may be an article if I???m starved for an idea!

      Gonzalez trucking Marte was one of the key points of the season. Without it, Reynolds doesn???t come up although he was so white hot he would have come up late May/early June (Super 2)

      Iglesias would have been ready to go from Opening Day and prevented the Gonzalez/Tucker debacle while Newman was hurt too.

      A real butterfly effect, but I still would have signed Iglesias for a minor league deal at $2.5M

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