The following is an excerpt from PIRATESGUIDE 2018, our 280 page Pittsburgh Pirates season preview book available on Amazon in e-book and paperback formats. See the link at the end of this post for to purchase – on SALE at reduced price today.
When understanding the level the Pittsburgh Pirates are capable of reaching in 2018, the easiest path to find it might be largely based on the trajectory of their win totals of the previous two seasons.
After reaching 98 wins in 2015 – a franchise watermark of wins that had last been met in 1991, the second of three consecutive National League East Division championship seasons – their win total declined sharply to 78-84 (.481 win percentage) in 2016, and then again slightly to 75-87 (.463) in 2017. In order for the Pirates to be in contention – at least theoretically – for the postseason in 2018, that number would need to bounce back to at least 88. But finding the cause for that radical change in trajectory could be difficult to pinpoint.
The theme of overcoming significant changes that could severely alter the Pirates’ run totals carries over into 2018 in the wake of Gerrit Cole’s trade to the Houston Astros, and Andrew McCutchen’s to the San Francisco Giants. They allowed 27 fewer runs in 2017 (731), but also scored only 668, a drop-off of 61, leaving their run differential at -63 and their Pythagorean expected record at 74-88 (.457), just one win less than their actual total. But in order to invert that win-loss total, they would need a Pythagorean expected win percentage of .543. The question therefore is: how would they get there given the drastic changes made in the offseason?
The departures of McCutchen and Cole make overcoming that number even more insurmountable both on the mound and at the plate. McCutchen collected a total of 37.8 runs above replacement level (RAR), translating into 3.7 wins above replacement (WAR) per FanGraphs (fWAR), while Cole was responsible for 30.3 RAR and 3.1 fWAR, accounting for 68 runs and nearly seven wins that would need to be spoken for in addition to improving on their previous negative differential.
So how can the Pittsburgh Pirates get there?
In order to reach the expected win percentage .543 in relation to last season’s run outputs, the Pittsburgh Pirates would either need to score at least 129 more runs (797) while maintaining the 731 runs allowed in 2017, or allow 55 fewer runs if they repeat their 668 runs scored from the season before. By comparison, a reduction in runs allowed might be the more plausible scenario of the two, but is there a way the two desired outputs could meet in the middle? An adjustment of 61 runs on both offense and defense would give them a total of 729 runs scored and 670 allowed, which might not be as insurmountable given some late additions to the roster.
Reaching the desired number of wins would mean both the offense and pitching staff overwhelmingly outperformed their 2018 projections. According to the ZIPS model, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Ivan Nova and Joe Musgrove are expected to see improvements in RAR and in turn, WAR, but Williams and Kuhl – two expected starters to start the season – are projected to take steps backward. Perhaps the continued development and presumed good health of Taillon, a better response to a heavy workload by Nova (his 31 starts and 187 innings last season were both career highs), and more consistency by Williams and Kuhl could help the starting rotation exceed expectations.
To read more on this topic and much more on the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates, CLICK HERE to learn about PIRATESGUIDE 2018, a complete 2018 preview resource for Pittsburgh Pirates fans!