After the team missed out on A.J. Burnett, I wanted to examine how the Pirates remaining pitching depth was projected to perform by three projection systems.
- Pecota, by Baseball Prospectus and available in their 2014 annual.
- ZIPS, which is done by Dan Szymborski and published on fangraphs.com
- and Steamer, which is available on fangraphs and published by Steamer Projections
These projection systems do not give predictions, they just take the data on a given player and compare that information to available information on every baseball player who performed similarly. Doing this allows the system to put forth an expectation of how that player might perform. They’re interesting to use when setting expectations for players. So here are the Pirates starting pitching options, and depth.
- PECOTA: 154 IP, 9.00 K/9, 3.40 BB/9, 3.41 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 1.7 WARP
- ZIPS: 161 IP, 7.40 K/9, 3.30 BB/9, 3.13 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 2.9 zWAR
- Steamer: 192 IP, 8.84 K/9, 3.80 BB/9, 3.80 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 2.5 WAR
Francisco Liriano had a terrific 2013 season. Over his career he’s performed all over the map, and he’s not getting younger. The move to PNC Park (which is favorable to left handed pitchers) and the National League (which doesn’t have the Designated Hitter), probably accounts for some part of his success last season, and that’ll continue this year. The projection systems are all over the map with Liriano though, particularly with his K/9. They all project a drop from his 9.11 K/9 last year, and that’ll clearly hurt him if it comes true. Then again, they all project him to have a sub 4.00 ERA with strong secondary numbers, so perhaps the potential drop in strikeouts won’t hurt him too much.
- PECOTA: 151 IP, 7.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 3.24 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 2.0 WARP
- ZIPS: 163 IP, 7.4 K/9, 2.87 BB/9, 3.48 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 2.2 zWAR
- Steamer: 182 IP, 7.76 K/9, 3.34 BB/9, 3.88 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 2.1 WAR
Cole’s very good rookie season is over. Expectations are sky high for the former number 1 overall pick, and justifiably so, but the projection systems indicate he’ll be less successful this year than he was last year. Why? The walk rate. Cole had a 2.15 BB/9 last year. Every projection system expects that to climb, although they each expect it to climb to a different level. If it ends up in the area of the PECOTA, or even the ZIPS projection, Cole will probably still turn in a very good sophomore season. If his walk rate ends up near Steamer’s projection, it should still be a good season for Cole, but it might be disappointing to anyone expecting Cole to take a major step forward this year.
- PECOTA: 80 IP, 6.8 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 3.69 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 0.5 WARP
- ZIPS: 119 IP, 6.28 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, 3.63 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1.4 zWAR
- Steamer: 144 IP, 6.36 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 4.15 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 1.3 WAR
I’ve never had arthritis, but I imagine throwing a baseball with it cannot feel good. When it comes to Rodriguez, I’m inclined to throw out nearly all his past performance as an indicator of what he’ll be in the future. Best case scenario, that’s likely his ceiling. It doesn’t matter what they do to prepare him for pitching, it’s likely going to feel radically different for Rodriguez than it did before he was injured. With that in mind, if I was forced to take the over or under on PECOTA’s projection of 80 innings for Rodriguez this year, I’d take the under.
- PECOTA: 141 IP, 6.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 4.24 ERA, 4.26, -0.1 WARP
- ZIPS: 158.3 IP, 6.71 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, 4.09 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 1.0 zWAR
- Steamer: 134 IP, 7.07 K/9, 3.95 BB/9, 4.22 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.0 WAR
Jeff Locke will have a banner reading “All Star” on his baseballreference.com page for the remainder of his life. Nobody can retroactively take that away from him. Even if Locke wasn’t as good as he appeared in the first half of 2013, there’s probably still some value here. He could slot in as the fifth starter and put up below average numbers, and these projections back that up. Locke won’t strike many batters out, and he’ll walk too many, but that doesn’t completely negate his value. With a projected 1 WAR, Locke could end up being a pitcher fans hate because they expect the all star, but who the team squeezes enough value out of to keep on the MLB roster.
- PECOTA: 153 IP, 8.10 K/9, 4.00 BB/9, 4.12 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 0.3 WARP
- ZIPS: 164.7 IP, 7.10 K/9, 3.99 BB/9, 4.48 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 0.2 zWAR
- Steamer: 48 IP, 6.94 K/9, 4.01 BB/9, 4.41 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 0.3 WAR
The Pirates signed Volquez for 5 million dollars this offseason, and reaction was definitely mixed to negative. Hopefully Volquez’s strikeout rate will be closer to the PECOTA projection than Steamer, because his strikeouts are essential when he walks 4 batters per 9. Expectations for Volquez this year are low, and that’s probably a good thing. He might surprise some people, benefiting from Ray Searage’s guidance and the pitch framing of Russell Martin and Chris Stewart, but even if everything goes well for Volquez this season, and he outperforms his projections, he’s probably going to be a league average pitcher at best. That has value, but it would be foolish to expect Volquez to be the next Francisco Liriano.
- PECOTA: 144 IP, 5.60 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 4.56 ERA, 4.75 FIP, -0.7 WARP
- ZIPS: 142.3 IP, 5.50 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, 4.17 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 0.7 zWAR
- Steamer: 25 IP, 7.20 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 3.75 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 0.0 WAR
Acquired as part of the Joel Hanrahan trade, Pimentel looks like a long shot for the rotation. At only 24 years old he’s already out of options and so would have to clear waivers to make it back to the minors. I don’t know if any other team would claim Pimentel, but I would not be shocked if someone was willing to give him a shot. It’s more likely that Pimentel will slot into a bullpen role, possibly long relief. These projections are all over the map (as they are for some minor leaguers), so at least from this standpoint it’s a tossup on what Pimentel could be in 2014.
- PECOTA: 118 IP, 6.1 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.25 ERA, 4.15 FIP, -0.0 WARP
- ZIPS: 121.3 IP, 5.79 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, 4.01 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 0.9 zWAR
- Steamer: 182 IP, 6.14 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 3.91 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 1.9 WAR
There are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and Charlie Morton getting ground balls. He gets batters to smash the ball into the dirt at near the league’s highest percentage, and with that comes an abundance of base hits (but not extra base hits) and double plays. He parlayed that into a 3 year extension worth 21 million. With that said, he comes with some question marks. His sinker breaks in on righties, and they struggle to hit against him, with a .247 weighted On Base Average against him in 2013. Lefties on the other hand had a .380 weighted On Base Average against him last year. He’s already had Tommy John surgery, and he’s only a year recovered from that. He threw 116 innings last year and he’ll increase that number this year, hopefully continuing to get ground balls in the process.
- PECOTA: 140 IP, 5.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 4.21 ERA, 4.46 FIP, 0.0 WARP
- ZIPS: 139 IP, 4.92 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 4.34 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 0.4 zWAR
- Steamer: 39 IP, 6.27 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 4.11 ERA, 4.09 FIP, -0.1 WAR
Brandon Cumpton is organizational depth. He doesn’t do anything well enough to be more than replacement level, and these projections highlight that. He’ll slot into the rotation in Indianapolis and if the Pirates call him up to the majors it’ll be out of necessity and won’t bode well for the team.
- PECOTA: [No data available]
- ZIPS: 95.7 IP, 6.02 K/9, 2.07 BB/9, 4.23 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 0.4 zWAR
- Steamer: 29 IP, 7.35 K/9, 2.62 BB/9, 3.72 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 0.1 WAR
Kyle McPherson was a prospect two years ago when he came up and performed well over a small sample size. McPherson was viewed as having an inside track to be a part of the future rotation at the time (at least by myself), but he suffered an injury and had Tommy John surgery last year. He’s in the process of coming back from that surgery, and while he likely won’t be ready to start the year he could provide valuable depth if he’s anything like the pitcher he used to be upon his return.
- PECOTA: 130 IP, 6.9 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 4.15 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 0.1 WARP
- ZIPS: 146.7 IP, 6.75 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, 3.74 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 1.5 zWAR
- Steamer: 1 IP, 7.33 K/9, 3.63 BB/9, 4.20 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 0.0 WAR
Too many Pirate fans equate Jameson Taillon to Gerrit Cole (in the same way Mets fans seemed to equate Zach Wheeler with Matt Harvey last year). That’s not fair to Taillon, who is not likely to make the debut that Cole did. He should still be a good pitcher, with ZIPS in particular thinking he could contribute to the Pirates rotation this year. PECOTA and Steamer are less excited about the Canadian/Texan, and I would expect his performance to be somewhere in the middle when he does make his debut.
- PECOTA: 119 IP, 7.1 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 4.25 ERA, 4.30 FIP, -0.0 WARP
- ZIPS: 133 IP, 6.63 K/9, 3.05 BB/9, 4.13 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 0.8 zWAR
- Steamer: 1.0 IP, 6.97 K/9, 3.61 BB/9, 4.31 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 0.0 WAR
Kingham falls into the shadow of sexier pitching prospects like Cole, Taillon, and the younger Tyler Glasnow, but he could end up being just as important in the future Pirates rotation as any of them. He looks like a middle of the rotation workhorse, and since he spent 2013 in AA he could be knocking on the door to the majors before too long.
- PECOTA: [No data available]
- ZIPS: 79.3 IP, 5.22 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 4.54 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 0.1 zWAR
- Steamer: 1.0 IP, 6.97 K/9, 3.61 BB/9, 4.31 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 0.0 WAR
Phil Irwin doesn’t have a lot going for him, but he does have a curveball that can make you look twice. His projections don’t seem to think that curveball will help him put up more than replacement level numbers, although ZIPS is the only projection that can be looked at seriously, what with PECOTA not doing one for Irwin and Steamer only projecting 1 inning pitched. Irwin, like McPherson, is coming off an injury which limited him last year.
The Pirates seem to have a number of pitchers who can serve as depth, although none of their options that appear major league ready seem likely to amount to much more than that. The exception to that might be Stolmy Pimentel, who’ll likely be forced into the majors in a relief role rather than being given time to develop as a starter in AAA. The Pirates might have a problem, though, if they need any of these pitchers who are expected to serve as depth to log any serious amount of time in the majors.
As far as the MLB rotation goes, Liriano and Cole look to repeat their fine 2013 seasons. Morton will look to add to the number of innings he can pitch, and Rodriguez will attempt to be as healthy as he can be at this point in his career. Volquez will be an interesting player to watch, as the Pirates attempt to remold him into the pitcher they think is worth 5 million dollars.