Fantasy Baseball 2013: Pirates Hitting-Pitching Projections

A look at Neil Walker. Photo courtesy of Blue Jet Jane.

A look at Neil Walker. Photo courtesy of Blue Jet Jane.

Pittsburgh Pirates — Predicted Finish: Fourth Place, AL Central

The Pirates stayed in the wildcard race for much of the season, before a collapse that for many is beginning to feel inevitable. But maybe a losing season doesn’t have to feel inevitable for the Pirates.

Gemeral Manager Neal Huntington has shown that he’s willing to wheel and deal, almost from the moment he was hired in 2007. He has also interestingly discussed player moves to the press with very detailed sabermetric terms, name dropping FIP, VORP, EqOBP, ERC, and BIP%. I’ve never met the guy, but I think I really like him.

Still, it’s beginning to feel like it’s do or die time for the Neal Huntington era, but more so it feels like it’s do or die time for the Pirates’ infamous military-style player development methods. Even though they are working off a small budget, it’s past time they win that wildcard race.

But 2013 might not be the year.

Pirates Offense
Player Name Pos. Age Bats AB R HR RBI SB AVG.
Starling Marte LF 24 R  491 69 15 54 21 .257
Neil Walker 2B 27 S 534 75 18  82  7 .280
Andrew McCutchen CF 26 R  600 103 30  91  23 .303
Garrett Jones 1B 31 L  446 66 23 77 4 .258
Pedro Alvarez 3B 26 L  528 67 26 82 1 .241
Russell Martin C 30 R 419 54 16 56 6 .248
Travis Snider RF 25 L 379 52 12 48 5 .259
Clint Barmes SS 34 R 387 37 7 40 1 .257

Crackerjack Fantasy Options: McCutchen, Walker, with Jones and Alvarez to a lesser extent.

More on Andrew McCutchen in a moment, but there are others who will give you some fantasy baseball value, the first of which is Walker at 2B. Second is shallow this year and it wouldn’t be the worse strategy to pass in the bidding war for the top tier guys, and wait instead for a guy like Walker, who should be about the 9th to 12th two-bagger off the board. He’s not exciting. He’ll contribute a little here and a little there, just don’t draft him hoping he’ll blow past the above projections.

The Pirates have a lot of players who would work best in a platoon and Jones is one of them. Catherine Zeta-Jones can hit lefties better than Garrett Jones, so he’ll lose some at bats to Gaby Sanchez (or possibly Jerry Sands). But he crushes righties and is good for 20+ homers. So while his average might not be great, power is power, and you could do worse in your UTIL slot.

Pedro Alvarez has consistently struck out in over 30% of his at bats, and I don’t need to remind you that you can’t get a hit with a ball you can’t put into play. But he hits the ball a megaparsec when he does make contact. Power is power.


Pirates Pitching
Role Player Age Hand IP   W K SV ERA WHIP
1 Starter A.J. Burnett 36 R 196  13 172 0 4.04 1.24
2 Starter Wandy Rodriguez 34 L 191 11 147 0 4.31 1.26
3 Starter James McDonald 28 R 184 13 163 0 3.89 1.36
4 Starter Francisco Liriano 29 L 145 7 139 0 4.61 1.39
5 Starter Kyle McPherson 25 R 99 6 71 0 4.04 1.26
Closer Jason Grilli 36 R 64 2 76 32 3.64 1.23

Crackerjack Fantasy Options: Burnett and Rodriguez

The Twins actually improved the Pirates rotation by signing away Kevin Correia. Striking out just 4.5 per 9 won’t give you an ERA under 4. The bad news is that the Pirates still may not have a pitcher with an ERA under 4 in their rotation, which means there won’t be a run on Pirates pitching in your fantasy baseball draft.

Little value here, mainly just as cheap pitching. A.J. and Wandy are worth a look if they start out solid. It’s worth a buck to grab them and see if they stick in your rotation. Just don’t give them a long leash.

James McDonald’s first half of 2012 mirrored Francisco Liriano’s (Oof. Broken arm.) first half of 2010. One wonders if you could cut them down the middle and rejoin them into Francisco McDonald, a frankensteinian cryptid that can lead you to fantasy baseball dominance. You can’t. But do keep an eye on McDonald. Snatch him up and ride him if he gets out to another hot start, only to drop him when it looks like the wheels are getting loose.

All the excitement around Pittsburgh pitching revolves around Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, there two young pitching phemons, but it’s too early in their careers for them to provide fantasy baseball value.


Fantasy Star: McCutchen

The Dreaded One is proof that you can find a good pilot in a wretched hive of scum and villainy. While the rest of the lineup doesn’t stand out, McCutchen is an absolute star.

McCutchen put it all together in 2012: 107 Runs, 31 HR, 96 RBI, 20 SB, .327

A season like that makes you a first round pick in the following season, so we need to see if he deserves it. His contact rates are descent, meaning the average should regress a bit, while still remaining well above league average.

His power jumped, but his batted ball distance on fly balls was among the best in baseball. I would not be a bit surprised if he gives us another 30 homer season. He has legitimate speed, but it’s hard to picture him approaching 30 steals, unless he runs more, which isn’t likely to happen.

So he won’t be a perennial 30/30 player. But a .300+ AVG and 20 steals coming with real power will always push a player into the top rounds of any draft. It’s an odd comparison, but those are the numbers of Matt Holliday in his heyday.

Draft him confidently in the first round.


Fantasy Bust: Snider / Tabata

I mentioned it before, but the Pirates have a lot of players who work well as a platoon. This is true for Travis Snider and Jose Tabata.

Neither player is going to live up to hype that was assigned to them at one point. Snider can’t even stay healthy. Don’t draft either of them thinking that this is the year they live up to their sleeper label. It’s time to assign the bust label to both of them.


Fantasy Sleepers: Grilli

When did Jason Grilli get good? If you didn’t read that sentence rhetorically, you would answer that question as 2011.

He’s a classic fastball / slider kinda guy who was plucked out of the Phillies system and once he began to throw his fastballs for strikes, it was lights out.

While some will have hesitation in seeing a 36-year-old journeyman reliever as a closer, he’s now had 2 1/2 seasons to prove that his new approach is real. He is legit and will be a good late round source of saves.


More National League Central Previews

Topics: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates, Projected Lineup

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