OOTP: What the Simulation Got Right and Wrong About the Pirates Hitters

The Pittsburgh Pirates are off the next three days, as their series with the Cardinals was postponed. The Pirates did play the Cardinals today in our OOTP simulation, losing 2-1 in ten innings. Mitch Keller made the start, giving up one run in five innings of work.

The Pirates are 61-57 in the simulation, trailing the first place Cardinals by five games in the NL Central. They trail the Mets by three games in the race for the second Wild Card spot.

In real life, the only thing the Pirates are chasing is the right to draft Kumar Rocker.

With the Pirates off the next few days, I thought it would be a good time to compare the OOTP simulated results with what we’ve seen in real life, to see if there’s some kind of takeaway from the comparison. Spoiler alert: Just like the simulation, this is all for fun, and I disregard everything in the final section.

WHAT OOTP GOT RIGHT

In real life, the Pirates have the worst offense in baseball. They rank 30th in wOBA and wRC+, and their combined offensive result has led to a -0.2 WAR.

Phillip Evans (.932 OPS, 45 PA), Colin Moran (.833, 59), and Erik Gonzalez (.833, 36) are the only Pirates in real life who have an OPS above .700.

In the OOTPverse, the Pirates rank last in the NL Central with a combined .707 OPS. Only four teams in the simulation have a worse OPS, and all four are below .500. As you can imagine, the pitching is far out-performing the hitting in this simulation, which we’ll get to tomorrow.

The overall results for the offense are close to what we’ve seen in real life. The difference is that the players who are performing in OOTP are the guys you’d expect to perform well, while the guys performing well in real life seem like a simulation gone awry. Somehow that makes perfect sense in the year 2020 that a computer simulation would be more realistic than real life.

There is one early trend that seemed unrealistic in OOTP, but which has been matched in real life: The struggles of Bryan Reynolds.

When we were doing the daily simulations, a lot of you were asking why OOTP didn’t like Reynolds. He had turned into a strikeout machine, and wasn’t coming close in the simulations to his 2019 breakout season. He’s hitting .248/.310/.369 in the simulation, to date.

Then real life hit, and Reynolds has matched those numbers thus far. He has a .189/.306/.283 line with a 29% strikeout rate. That’s a hefty jump from his 22.2% rate last year.

If the simulation provides any hope, it’s that Reynolds has been stronger in the second half. He had a .780 OPS in July, while trimming his strikeout rate to 15% for the month. He has carried the offense into August with an .816 OPS, although the strikeouts have spiked back to 28%. Reynolds also had a strong month of May, then a horrible June, so he’s been pretty inconsistent.

The other big thing that the simulation got right was that Jacob Stallings would be the primary catcher. Luke Maile was injured early in the simulation. Since then, Stallings has a .649 OPS and an 0.5 WAR. In real life he has a .624 OPS and an 0.3 WAR. I’ve always compared Stallings to Chris Stewart, in part because of the size, and in part because he’s a strong defensive catcher who can hit enough to stick in the majors as a backup role.

The fact that OOTP and the early 2020 season have both come to this conclusion isn’t a huge help for Pirates fans, as it just means they have their backup catcher in place, with no upgrade in the system.

WHAT OOTP GOT WRONG

The top performers in the simulation are Josh Bell and Adam Frazier. This seems like it’s something where the simulation would be correct.

Bell has a .932 OPS and 21 homers in the simulation. He’s got a .574 OPS in real life, with a massive 30% strikeout rate, and a very low 4.6% walk rate. OOTP was predicting a follow-up to Bell’s 2019 season. In real life, we’ve seen the total opposite.

Frazier has a .348/.408/.517 line in the simulation, with 33 doubles. He has been flirting with the batting title all year, and from what I gather, that is happening in a lot of your simulations. In real life, Frazier has a .177/.239/.290 line. His defense is strong, but the offense has fallen off. We’re talking about 67 plate appearances, and Frazier has started slow before. The positive in real life is that his defense has remained strong at second base.

OOTP also predicted a nice season for Gregory Polanco in the power department. He’s got a .768 OPS and 22 homers, which is one shy of his career best. In the real world, he contracted COVID and has since returned to hit for a .358 OPS with a 45% strikeout rate.

THE REAL SEASON ISN’T REAL

The simulation was originally meant for fun, as an alternative thing to follow while there was no baseball. Now that we have baseball, it provides a nice look at what might have been.

Don’t think that I’m taking the real life results seriously here. I honestly don’t care about the results of this season, because they’re not real.

In the OOTP world, there was a full Spring Training on a regular schedule, and the biggest thing is that there’s no global pandemic taking place.

We’ve managed to have some “real” baseball this year, although that term should be used loosely. The global pandemic exists, and has wrecked any kind of normal in the game. There was an abbreviated Spring Training, following several months of lockdown. Players are getting injured at a massive rate — likely due to the rush to get back on the field — and contracting the virus that has made this new normal, which makes you wonder why they’re playing at all.

Aside from that, we’ve seen enough baseball for me to write my normal “don’t trust the April results” type of article. I wouldn’t trust one month of results in a non-pandemic season, and I won’t trust them in this season.

That doesn’t mean the overall results can’t be trusted. It was expected that the Pirates would have a poor offense this year. The only difference is that the guys who are performing in real life are not the guys who were expected to be leading the team.

I think we’re all just hoping for the best of both worlds: Guys like Phillip Evans, Colin Moran, and Erik Gonzalez to be the real deal going forward, while Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, and others live up to their simulated results.

Next Up: The Pitchers

OOTP

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