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The 2018 Pirates Over And Underachievers

Going by preseason projections, Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz were the Pirates’ biggest overachievers this year. Who were the biggest underachievers? (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Back in March, I wrote about the significance of 40.9 WAR. Entering this year, the average playoff team since the inception of a second wild card had 40.9 WAR as a team. Half of the wild card winners fall within 10% of this total, including this year ?s Cubs (43.7) and Athletics (44.4). The rule may need to be tweaked going into next year since there were three 100 win teams, but the bottom five playoff teams in WAR averaged out to 41.1. No team reached 40.9 WAR and missed the playoffs. If 88 wins is a rule of thumb for a wild card berth, 40.9 WAR should be too.

The Pirates didn ?t reach that figure this year, finishing the season at 32.7. They missed the wild card by eight games. Rule of 40.9.

In March, Fangraphs ? Steamer projected the Pirates ? lineup to have 27.6 WAR. If you want a reminder on who was supposed to do what, here are Fangraphs ? prognostications:

Click to enlarge. Courtesy of Fangraphs.

Click to enlarge. Courtesy of Fangraphs.

I took it a step further at the time and projected what it would take to get the Pirates into the postseason, using the 40.9 rule and Steamer ?s baseline. To get the Pirates to 40.9, I spread out the 13.3 they needed to add ?equally ? among the roster. Since position players are worth a bigger chunk of the WAR pie, they needed to beat Steamer by 0.6 WAR each. The starters needed to be 0.9 WAR better, and each reliever 0.2. It was a tall order, but nobody was asked to be an MVP. They just needed to have good seasons. Here’s what everyone had to do for the Pirates to be in playoff contention:

Click to enlarge.

Obviously this was doomed to some degree from the start. Rosters constantly change, and we simply do not live in the same world as we did in March. Chris Archer is now a Pirate. Kanye is now a water bottle. It ?s impossible to foresee stuff like this. So there ?s some mild bending of the rules in play. The spots dedicated to Max Moroff, Kevin Siegrist and A.J. Schugel are now for bench players, lefty relievers and righty bullpen arms. Chad Kuhl, Nick Kingham and Archer are all going to be combined into one rotation spot. Besides that, everyone else is fair game.

So to kick off the offseason, let ?s look at who overachieved, underachieved or simply did what they were supposed to to put the Pirates on a playoff pace in 2018.


Francisco Cervelli: Needed 2.1. Worth 3.3– fWAR isn ?t a perfect benchmark for catchers, but Baseball Prospectus ? WARP — which takes pitch framing into account — echoes Fangraphs ? sentiment, pegging him at 3.4 WARP. Cervelli had a career year offensively, but he could have done more had he not taken the abuse the catcher position puts him through.

Elias Diaz: Needed 1.0. Worth 2.0– I felt counting on Diaz for a full WAR would be asking a lot this spring, but he ended up doubling that total in just 277 PAs. A goal for 2019 should be to get his bat in the lineup more often without sacrificing too many Cervelli starts.

Corey Dickerson: Needed 1.8. Worth 2.7– Dickerson ?s bat was about the same as it usually is, so the jump in his value came from his improved defense. He and this Andrew McCutchen guy finished in a virtual tie in WAR for the season, too.

Kyle Crick: Needed 0.1. Worth 1.0– A pretty good return for that McCutchen guy.

Felipe Vazquez: Needed 1.3. Worth 2.1– Vazquez ?s ERA may have risen a run this year, but it ?s still his second straight campaign of 70+ IP with a FIP below 2.50. He had a few hiccups, but he proved that 2017 wasn ?t a fluke.

Adam Frazier: Needed 1.2. Worth 1.9– 1.6 of his WAR came after the All-Star Break. If those final 10 weeks of the season weren ?t a mirage, then he could be a high quality player.

RHP Mishmash: Needed 0.4. Worth 1.1– Richard Rodriguez (1.3), Edgar Santana (0.6) and Keone Kela (0.3) all turned in strong seasons, but their contributions were weighed down by some lackluster performances by Dovydas Neverauskas (-0.6), Clay Holmes (-0.2), Tanner Anderson (-0.2) and Nick Burdi (-0.1). The potluck offering of righties still turned out to be better than expected and needed, but not by as much as it could have been.

Trevor Williams: Needed 2.0 Worth 2.5– Williams has me convinced that FIP is not a good basis for starting pitcher WAR. I suppose I could use bWAR instead since both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs divide their position player and pitcher WAR in a 57/43 ratio, but I ?ll stick with the original model. Williams still gets a checkmark next to his season, but it really should be ?checkmark plus. ?

Starling Marte: Needed 3.3. Worth 3.7– Marte finished with 600 PAs for just the second time in his career. Mix in a plus bat, glove and base running abilities and you have yourself a very good ball player.


David Freese: Needed 0.9. Worth 1.2– Freese was worth 0.8 WAR in his one month as a Dodger. Josh Bell, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison and Colin Moran combined for 2.9 WAR, or about 0.7 each. Expect to see plenty of infielders in the underachiever list.

Gregory Polanco: Needed 2.3. Worth 2.5– Big Greg probably would have made the overachiever list had he not been injured in September. He did prove he can be a big bat in the middle of the order, so health is just the last hurdle for him to clear.

Sean Rodriguez: Needed 0.4. Worth 0– If I ?m being totally honest, S-Rod should be in the underachiever list, but I figured he ?s taken enough abuse this year. He was projected to be below replacement level and turned in a 0 WAR season. It ?s less than the Pirates needed, but I ?m not going to pretend he held the Bucs back as much as others would lead you to believe.


Chad Kuhl (and Chris Archer and Nick Kingham): Needed 2.8. Worth 0.7– The trio didn ?t do too well, with Kuhl and Kingham averaging out to 0 and Archer posting just 0.7 WAR. This is Archer ?s spot next year and Kuhl may not have a chance at the rotation when he returns from Tommy John Surgery.

Ivan Nova: Needed 3.1. Worth 1.1– A three win season for Nova seemed a little steep from the get go, and he couldn ?t keep up with that pace. I may have something on him in the near future, so stay tuned.

Josh Harrison: Needed 2.1. Worth 0.3– Since 2014, Harrison was an All-Star twice and had two down years where he was still at least a reliable glove and a roughly league average player. This was a steep drop-off for him, and you have to wonder what the next step in his career will be.

Joe Musgrove: Needed 3.5. Worth 2.1– Musgrove was worth that 2.1 WAR over 19 starts. If he could have kept that pace over 32 starts, he would have reached 3.5.

Tyler Glasnow: Needed 1.5. Worth 0.2– Glasnow was never going to reach 1.5 WAR as a reliever.

Bench: Needed 0.6. Worth -0.5– September brought us the joy of Pablo Reyes (0.5 WAR), but it also came with the disappointing debuts of Kevin Newman (-0.8) and Kevin Kramer (-0.4). Outside of those three, basically every other fringe 25th man averaged out to roughly a replacement level player.

Josh Bell: Needed 1.8. Worth 0.9– A lot of people called Bell ?s second full season in the majors a sophomore slump, but he really just duplicated what he did in 2017. He had a 108 wRC+ last year and a 112 this season and went from a 0.6 WAR player to a 0.9.

George Kontos: Needed 0.4. Worth -0.5– The Giants had a bad bullpen in 2017 and gave Kontos away for free. Perhaps he wasn ?t the ideal set-up man candidate.

LHP Mishmash: Needed 0.2. Worth -0.6– Josh Smoker manager to hit -0.3 WAR in just 5.2 IP as a Buc. Brault didn ?t help matters much, either (-0.4). Enny Romero ?s bat was as valuable as his pitching (0.1).

Jameson Taillon: Needed 4.5. Worth 3.7– The Pirates needed Taillon to pitch like an ace and he looked like a high end number two starter. He did finish seventh in ERA among all pitchers with 100 IP after June 1, so there ?s another gear within reach for 2019.

Michael Feliz: Needed 0.9. Worth 0.1– This is my biggest disappointment of 2018. He had a disastrous opening day, but he still finished April with 0.3 WAR and a 2.99 FIP. Things took an ugly turn after that. You have to wonder if he ?ll be pitching for a job this spring.

Jordy Mercer: Needed 1.7. Worth 1.0– Jordy was worth at least 1.5 WAR in each of the last three seasons where he played at least 120 games, so 1.7 seemed within reach. It wasn’t.

Colin Moran: Needed 1.4. Worth 0.7– All three of the major league ready pieces in the Gerrit Cole trade failed to do what the Pirates needed them to do to become contenders. With Ke ?Bryan Hayes heading to AAA next year, Moran may be on the clock already.

So what did we learn? The infield was bad, but we already knew that. The outfielders and catchers excelled. The starting pitchers, as a whole, did not do their share. That might be on me for putting a little too much emphasis on them, but Nova and Kuhl ?s spot in the rotation were both well below the Steamer projections anyway. It may have been the strong suit of the team, but it needed to be stronger. But the core of that rotation are young, improving arms, and Chris Archer is a definite upgrade over Kuhl. They ?ll need to carry the Pirates next year, but they seemed better prepared for that task than they did this season.

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.

1 Comment on The 2018 Pirates Over And Underachievers

  1. Remember Mark Melancon? How he had a few bad relief outings with the Red Sox and was sent to the pirates in the Brock Holt deal. And how Melancon became the closer for Pittsburgh? Feliz has more stuff and less command/control.

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