How will the Pittsburgh Pirates replace McCutchen’s production?

With the Pittsburgh Pirates having traded Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants, how will the club replace his production at the plate?

Two days after shipping Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros, the Pittsburgh Pirates have now parted ways with the former face of their franchise.

McCutchen was the pulse of the organization for 8.5 seasons.  He was the driving force in bringing winning baseball back to Pittsburgh.  2013-15 now seems like a distant memory.  Success came and went like a comet.  The harsh reality is that the Pittsburgh Pirates will never sign a star player when it’s their turn to make substantial money.

I digress.

How will McCutchen’s production be replaced in 2018?

Last season, McCutchen led an overall abysmal offense in plate appearances (650), home runs (28), runs (94), batting average (.279), slugging percentage (.486), wRC+ (122), and fWAR (3.7).  For the Pittsburgh Pirates to replace that production on the field, a few things need to happen.

Polanco and Marte

Most obviously, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielders Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte need to step it up.

Last season, they combined for an fWAR of 1.7.  Doubling that total in 2018 wouldn’t come close to making up McCutchen’s production.  These two need to dramatically improve their play and stay on the field.  They are now leaders on this team, if only by default.

Realistically, Marte and Polanco need to be worth about three to four wins each.  Marte is certainly capable of that.  From 2013-16, he never had an fWAR below 3.4.  In 2013, he was worth 4.8 wins.  Marte will yet again have the chance to prove himself as the team’s center fielder.

In 2016, Polanco was worth 2.5 wins, a career high.  Last season, he looked ready to break out at times.  His season was derailed by injuries and inconsistency.  This year will be another opportunity.  Polanco is still just 26 years old.  He is not a bust just yet.  That said, if he has another season like last, the perception of him being a bust will greatly increase.

Colin Moran

Last season, David Freese had a wRC+ of 100.  He was a league average hitter.  His offensive production at third base will not be impossible to replace if he too is dealt.  Freese was a gold glove finalist last season with solid defensive metrics.  His defensive abilities may be harder to replace.

Colin Moran will more than likely have the opportunity to be the everyday third baseman in 2018.  If he can be worth two or so wins, that will provide a nice boost.  Moran has worked on his swing to hit more fly balls.  Any sort of power would be welcomed for the power starved Pittsburgh Pirates.

For more on what to expect from Colin Moran, click here to read our recent introductory piece on the team’s likely Opening Day third baseman.

Some remaining math

The combination of Adam Frazier, Josh Bell, Jordan Luplow, Max Moroff, Jose Osuna, and Austin Meadows will need to progress.  There’s no other way to put it.  This is their team now.

Now that Cole and McCutchen are gone, Josh Harrison will be the next to be traded.  Jordy Mercer, Francisco Cervelli, and Freese could all be traded as well.  The kids will have a chance to start and thrive.

Last season, McCutchen, Harrison, Mercer, Cervelli, and Freese were worth a combined 10.2 wins above replacement.  They played a total of 640 games.  Moran, Frazier, Bell, Luplow, Moroff, Osuna, Marte, and Polanco combined for 3.4 wins above replacement in 659 total games played.

The only way the Pittsburgh Pirates will have any chance of relevance in 2018 is if their young players progress.  A lot.  This new core needs about a 10 win increase in 2018 for the Pirates to have a chance to be relevant.

Can that happen?

We shall see.

Photo Credit – Flickr Creative Commons

Nathan Hursh

Nathan is a graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in journalism. He has been a lifelong Pirates fans and loves watching baseball. Along with baseball, Nathan also has a passion for watching football and basketball. When he is not sitting on his couch indulging in sports, Nathan likes to be active outside. Along with Twitter, he can also be found on Instagram at nathan_hursh.