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

The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to start this week, as their series with the Cardinals was postponed. They were supposed to play the Cardinals in today’s OOTP simulation, but the game was postponed due to weather. It will be made up tomorrow as a double header.

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 two and a half games in the race for the second Wild Card spot.

With the real life Pirates off, I’ve started a series comparing the early results for the 2020 season with the results from our OOTP simulation.

Yesterday I looked at what OOTP got right and wrong with the Pirates’ hitters. For more on the Pirates’ hitters in real life, check out Wilbur Miller’s article from earlier today.

Today we take a look at the pitchers — an area where the simulation and the real results are massively different.

WHAT OOTP GOT RIGHT

The Pirates pitching has been horrible this year, ranking in the bottom five in ERA, FIP, and xFIP. In the simulation, the Pirates rank 8th in the majors in ERA. So it’s going to be difficult to find areas where OOTP had an accurate prediction. There was one player who really stood out to me.

I had the disclaimer yesterday that we’re dealing with a small sample size of results in real life. So keep that disclaimer in mind when I say that Chris Stratton’s 9.1 innings in real life have matched the OOTP simulation. Stratton has a 2.89 ERA, fueled by a 12.54 K/9, and his advanced metrics support the ERA. That has come in the bullpen in real life. In the simulation, he won the fifth starter role out of camp, and has a 3.41 ERA in 126.2 innings. His strikeout rate isn’t as high as real life, but he’s been one of the best pitchers in the simulated world.

The early results for Trevor Williams are interesting. He has a 3.52 ERA, but his advanced metrics suggest a regression, with a 4.46 FIP and a 4.94 xFIP. In the simulation, Williams started off strong, with a 3.59 ERA through the end of May. He has since put up a 4.88 ERA, which is a bit freaky when you look at the real life results, and the expected future regression.

Derek Holland didn’t make the team out of Spring Training in the simulation, and went on to struggle a bit in Triple-A before going down for the season with an injury. The OOTPirates went with Stratton over Holland, and it looks like that might have been the better call in real life, though the small sample size disclaimer still applies.

WHAT OOTP GOT WRONG

The Pirates have used 23 pitchers in 16 games in real life. They’ve used 18 pitchers in 118 games in the simulation. The abbreviated Spring Training likely played a big role for the real life team.

Because of the conditions of the 2020 season, it’s difficult to say whether OOTP was wrong about certain players. I pointed out the same situation yesterday, with guys like Josh Bell and Adam Frazier struggling in real life, but performing to their expectations in OOTP. In these cases, do we believe there’s anything legitimate from the real 2020 season?

Joe Musgrove has struggled in real life, with a 6.75 ERA and a 5.05 xFIP. He’s the Pirates’ top pitcher in the simulation, with a 3.66 EA in 137.2 innings. The biggest difference is that he has 22 walks allowed in the 137.2 simulated innings, and 11 walks in his 16.1 innings in real life. His walk rate was 4.7% in 2018, 5.4% in 2019, and is at 16.2% in 2020. I feel it’s more likely that Musgrove has been impacted by the unorthodox season, rather than the possibility that he just suddenly lost his control.

In the “What Might Have Been” department, Chris Archer had a 3.34 ERA in 105 innings before going down with an injury. I feel like OOTP imports real life injuries to running seasons, because Archer went down shortly after his real life season was officially over, and Nick Burdi later went down right after going down in real life.

WHAT IS REAL?

I feel like every single year since Jeff Locke’s 2012 breakout first half has led to the same type of discussion around pitchers: What is real? Are the results we’ve seen so far the real deal, or are the advanced metrics and predictions real?

We’ve got an extreme case with the pitchers this year. Not only do we have less than a month of games to go on, but we also have a league that is essentially a bad version of Spring Training.

Things are even more difficult to gauge because the Pirates made massive changes this year to their pitching coaches. You’d hope to see signs that their development has caught up to the rest of the league, and it’s hard to even detect that noise in the early results.

I think the OOTP results show what the best case could be with this team if their development did start paying off early. You wouldn’t see a top five pitching staff, but you could see a staff in the top half of the league, with more promise in the rotation than in the bullpen.

Next Up: The Prospects

OOTP

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