If I didn’t have any projections right now to predict the results of individual members of the 2022 Pittsburgh Pirates, my predictions for the record would be low. I’d start by expecting another bottom-five finish, with the hope that they end up more middle of the pack due to promising results from the farm system.
The ZiPS projections just came out, and with that comes my favorite exercise in analyzing the Pirates. Each year I take a stab at who will receive playing time, then add the ZiPS projections in to anticipate a win total for the Pirates.
That playing time projection is going to be difficult this year, for reasons dealing with the farm system, rebuild, and lockout that I’ll break down below. Mostly, we’re reaching a point in the Pirates’ rebuild where it’s time to see what the farm system can do.
Below are the projections for the 2022 Pirates.
Generally the accepted baseline for a team of replacement level players is anywhere from 45-50 wins. The average usually falls around 48. We’ll start with that figure.
WAR: +48.0 (48.0)
The Pirates are trying to replace Jacob Stallings with Roberto Perez and according to ZiPS, it might not be much of a drop off. Last year the Pirates catching position combined for 644 plate appearances. The ZiPS projections have Perez and Jamie Ritchie combining for 637 plate appearances and a 2.1 WAR. By comparison, Stallings had a 2.6 WAR last year, while Michael Perez brought the group down with a -0.9 WAR.
WAR: +2.1 (50.1)
Yoshi Tsutsugo was brought back by the Pirates, and they parted ways with Colin Moran, signaling that Tsutsugo will be the starter here. ZiPS has him projected at 439 plate appearances and an 0.4 WAR. He had an 0.7 WAR last year in 144 plate appearances with the Pirates. It’s not surprising that ZiPS is lower on him, due to the career totals. The career in the majors is a small sample size, and the Pirates could benefit if the late-2021 Tsutsugo returns.
The Pirates had 707 plate appearances at first base last year. I’ll save the remaining 231 for the bench, probably going to Michael Chavis.
WAR: +0.4 (50.5)
Your guess here is as good as mine. If we want to pad the ZiPS projections, we could start with Hoy Park, who has a 1.3 WAR in 442 plate appearances. Kevin Newman has a 1 WAR in his projection, but will likely spend time at shortstop. Cole Tucker has an 0.8 WAR, and could spend time at second. Other options in this range are Rodolfo Castro (0.8), Michael Chavis (0.8), Diego Castillo (0.7), and maybe even Nick Gonzales (0.7). Chavis and Gonzales have the best PA/WAR numbers.
I think that the middle infield positions will be a mess, and that mess will spill over into the outfield. To make this easier, I’m going to pick Park here, because I think he will get his full amount of time between the infield and outfield. The actual second base position will be fielded by others beyond Park, and I’ll deal with that in the bench section. I see Park as a super utility type, but the Pirates would still have 265 plate appearances remaining at this position if he took all of the second base time.
WAR: +1.3 (51.8)
Kevin Newman will get time here, but eventually Oneil Cruz will take over. Newman is projected for a 1 WAR in 566 plate appearances. If he does get 566 plate appearances with a 1 WAR, it will have meant a lot of things went wrong with Cruz, the second base position, and any other shortstop depth. Cruz is projected for 361 plate appearances and a 2.5 WAR. I’m going to give him his full projection here, and give Newman the rest of the time. The combined total would be a 3.0 WAR.
WAR: +3.0 (54.8)
Ke’Bryan Hayes is projected for 471 plate appearances and a 2.5 WAR. Last year the third base position had 697 plate appearances. I’ll give Hayes the full amount here and save the remaining 226 for the bench. I think Hayes could exceed this projection if he stays healthy and boosts his power.
WAR: +2.5 (57.3)
The corner outfield spots will be difficult to project. Ben Gamel, Greg Allen, and Anthony Alford are the top candidates, but the Pirates have a lot of options in the minors to eventually replace them. Gamel is projected for 388 plate appearances and an 0.5 WAR. Alford is projected for 383 plate appearances and an 0.1 WAR. Allen has the best projection at 437 plate appearances and a 1.4 WAR. Gamel will get the full amount here, while Allen and Alford will go to right field.
WAR: +0.5 (57.8)
Bryan Reynolds is projected for a 3.9 WAR in 636 plate appearances. This is down from his 2021 production, which Dan Szymborski explained in the writeup. Obviously the Pirates would benefit if Reynolds can repeat his 5+ WAR production again. There are 50 plate appearances remaining here, which go to the bench.
WAR: +3.9 (61.7)
I’m using Greg Allen here, while adding that Anthony Alford’s strong finish to the 2021 season is something to watch. If he returns with the same hitting in 2022, he’ll be the best option over Allen and Gamel. Allen is projected for a 1.4 WAR in 437 plate appearances.
WAR: +1.4 (63.1)
The bench has 1875 plate appearances left over, which is a lot. The Pirates will most likely be turning to prospects this year with a youth movement. It will be impossible to predict which prospects will arrive and which will perform up to expectations. I’ll be focusing on Travis Swaggerty, Matt Fraizer, Canaan Smith-Njigba, and Jack Suwinski in the outfield. The infield focus will go to Michael Chavis, Cole Tucker, Rodolfo Castro, Diego Castillo, and Tucupita Marcano.
I’m leaving Nick Gonzales out of this, and any other prospect who was in A-ball last year, as I don’t want to project such an extreme promotion for the Pirates.
To start, I’m going to give Chavis his full projection. He’s getting the remaining time at first base, plus some of the second base time. His projection is an 0.8 WAR in 397 plate appearances.
I’m also giving Cole Tucker his full projection, with a disclaimer. He’s projected for 0.8 WAR in 462 plate appearances. Rodolfo Castro has almost the same projection. Think of this projection as combining both players and hoping one of them reaches or exceeds their expectations. I think Tucker will get the first shot, and could get time in the outfield.
On that same note, I’m giving Travis Swaggerty his full projection. That’s a 1.2 WAR in 469 plate appearances. This is very similar to Matt Fraizer’s projection, again with the hope that one or both can produce this aggregate result.
There are 331 plate appearances remaining that I’ve budgeted for the outfield, and 216 more for the infield. I’m giving that time to Canaan Smith-Njigba and Diego Castillo. The combination adds another 0.8 WAR.
In total, this experiment off the bench gives 3.6 WAR to the team, mostly from the upper levels of the farm system. The Pirates could improve on this if they see one or more of these guys break out.
WAR: +3.6 (66.7)
The starting rotation is going to be a big weakness on this team, though it does have some opportunities for massive improvements. A lot of that will depend on Oscar Marin getting most of the younger guys adjusted to the majors with their best stuff. There are a lot of options for the rotation, and no one really stands out to lead the group.
Here are the projections for the expected Opening Day rotation.
SP: JT Brubaker (115.0 IP, 1.3 WAR)
SP: Mitch Keller (133.3 IP, 1.1 WAR)
SP: Jose Quintana (103.0 IP, 0.9 WAR)
SP: Zach Thompson (81.7 IP, 0.8 WAR)
SP: Bryse Wilson (131.7 IP, 0.9 WAR)
That’s not a good total, and there are still 189 innings remaining until the Pirates reach their 2021 rotation innings totals. I’m going to also include the full projections for Roansy Contreras and Max Kranick, which adds another 182 innings and 1.9 WAR. The remainder will go to the bullpen.
WAR: +6.9 (73.6)
I would expect most of the post-lockout additions to come in the bullpen. This group has the start of a strength with David Bednar and Chris Stratton. I’d expect Stratton to be gone by the end of the season, but I’m giving him his full projection below. The rest of the options are a mix of starting depth and middle relief innings eaters.
CL: David Bednar (60.7 IP, 0.6 WAR)
RP: Chris Stratton (88.3 IP, 0.3 WAR)
RP: Duane Underwood Jr. (82.7 IP, 0.2 WAR)
RP: Sam Howard (58.3 IP, 0.2 WAR)
RP: Dillon Peters (86.3 IP, 0.4 WAR)
RP: Miguel Yajure (73.3 IP, 0.4 WAR)
RP: Wil Crowe (59.3 IP, 0.1 WAR)
There are still 141 innings remaining. I’ll note here that I’ve yet to give Cody Bolton consideration in this article, even though ZiPS has him as the fourth best pitcher. With his injury history, I don’t want to project that performance on the team. I’ll leave that as a potential area for improvement if he does come up and do well. I’m going to leave the remaining innings to Trey McGough and Omar Cruz, who both pitched in Double-A last year as starters, and both profile better as relief options. This adds another 0.9 WAR.
By comparison, Bolton would add 1 WAR, and Carmen Mlodzinski could add another 0.4 for the same playing time. There’s room for improvement here, but it’s not going to make this team.
WAR: +3.1 (76.7)
At this point, the Pirates are projected for 77 wins. That’s not horrible, and probably much higher than most expected. It’s a move toward 82 wins, which is a move toward the postseason.
What’s encouraging about this projection is that some of the highlights come from guys who will be here when the Pirates are expected to contend. There’s also some room for improvements internally, especially on the pitching side.
The Pirates will focus on another starting pitcher after the lockout is finished. That should boost the projections. They could also benefit from adding to the bullpen.
Overall, this looks like a growing year in the rebuild. I don’t expect this team to finish bottom-five, and I think it’s going to be a fun year to watch the first wave of prospects breaking in to the big leagues.