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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.