Last week, the 2019 Steamer projections were released. The offseason is officially underway, and while these projections are not always perfect, it ?s a good way to whet the appetite and find out if cold, emotionless math thinks your team is any good. If you want to peruse for yourself, here are the leaderboards.
Currently, Steamer projects the Pirates ? roster to be worth 34.2 WAR. That ?s the sixth best in the National League, which puts them right on the fringe of the postseason. That position could fluctuate based on free agent signings and trades, but at this moment, the Bucs look OK.
Here is what Steamer says about the 2019 Pirates:
There are a couple notable standouts there, but we’ll get to that later.
This year ?s team combined for 32.7 WAR, so they ?re expecting a modest boost next season. Steamer projected them to be worth 27.6 WAR before the 2018 campaign, so the Pirates are trending in the right direction. But we already knew that. The real question is how close are they to being a playoff team?
I have a theory I call the ?40.9 rule. ? If you took the total fWAR among the wild card teams from 2012-2017, it averaged out to 40.9. With this year factored in, it ?s 41.3 WAR. If you reach that total, your team is playing in October.
To get to 41.3 team WAR, the Pirates will either need to A. acquire 7.1 wins worth of players, or B. have their current players outperform their production by that much (or some combination of the two).
So let ?s assume that the Pirates stay pat. There is 7.1 WAR to be made up, so let ?s divide the same way FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference does. 57% of the burden goes to position players, and 43% goes to pitchers. That comes out to 4 extra WAR for position players and 3.1 for pitchers.
I ?m going to simplify it: if every member of the rotation and lineup beats their projections by 0.4 WAR, and every bench guy and reliever beats their ?s by 0.2 WAR, the Pirates will reach the magic number of 41.3.
Some of these prognostications are more realistic than others. fWAR hates Williams, but he could regress and still easily crack 1.4 wins above replacement. They peg Cervelli for a 106 wRC+ because of his subpar 2016 and 2017 campaigns. He had a giant spike in productivity because of his changes to his swing, so he too seems like a good candidate to exceed expectations. If I was a gambling man, I ?d take the over on Elias Diaz (0.9), Kyle Crick (0.4) and Felipe Vazquez (1.2), too.
On the flip side, Chris Archer was streaky last season. The Pirates traded for him to be a 4+ WAR pitcher, and it will be tough for them to be relevant if he fails to be that guy. A three-win season from Gregory Polanco may be too much to ask from him. It’s going to depend on how long he is on the DL.
What if the Pirates decided to open the purse and help close the gap with acquisitions? After all, counting on 1.5 WAR from Kevin Newman seems like a tall bill. It wouldn’t be for Jose Iglesias. While he screams “uninspired pick-up,” he has been worth at least that amount over the last five seasons. 2 WAR may be too much to ask from Colin Moran, but not for Mike Moustakas. If you want to get bold (like me), most experts are forecasting a one year deal for Brian Dozier. Giving him the second base job and letting Adam Frazier bounce around as a super-utility guy would not only potentially upgrade the lineup, but the bench as well.
As for their free agents, Jung-Ho Kang is forecasted for 1.5 WAR over 267 PAs. That ?s basically the same pace as he had in 2016, but that isn ?t factoring in his nearly two year absence from major league baseball. Steamer says Josh Harrison would be a quality bench/role player (1.2 WAR) while not thinking highly of Jordy Mercer (0.3 WAR). All three look to be below average regulars or good backups for 2019.
So how close are the Pirates to the playoffs right now? Pretty close, and they could close the gap if they make an acquisition or two. That ?s a pretty big if, though. They didn ?t make a free agent signing last offseason. The only addition they had the year before that was Daniel Hudson. At the moment, the Pirates project favorably, but they could easily be passed by aggressive teams in the coming months. The Bucs could flirt with 41.3 WAR with the team they have, but a little help could go a long way. They are contenders now. They might not be this spring if they do nothing this winter.