Thursday, March 10, 2005

2005 Pirates

Enough with steroids and Ankiel - on with the NL Central outlook.

The Pirates are coming off of their 3rd straigh somewhat respectable season, even though they haven't managed to have a .500 season since 1992 - back when they had a guy named Bonds on their roster. This year, their most notable move was unloading the overpaid but solid Jason Kendall. How will they fare in 2005?

Rotation

Last year, the Pirate's rotation totaled 40 Win Shares, including an impressive 17 from Oliver Perez. In fact, their rotation featured 2 young lefty pitchers in Perez (22) and Sean Burnett (21), who both hold a lot of promise for the future. And, of course, the geezer of the rotation (Kris Benson, 29) was traded to the Mets at the deadline.

As of right now, it looks like the rotation will contain Oliver Perez, Mark Redmon, Josh Fogg, Kip Wells, and someone else. And even the first four are spotty, as I read that Wells is a little banged up as we speak. The 5th slot is up for grabs among a cast of plenty, with Zach Duke not completely out of the question.

Oliver Perez - Had a breakout year in 2004, posting a 2.98 ERA (139 ERA+) over 196 innings. And it wasn't the first time that he had been solid in the majors, as he posted a 109 ERA+ over 15 starts as a 20 year old for San Diego in the 2002 campaign. It's hard not to be impressed by a guy that has struck out 474 batters over 412.2 major league innings. I think that Perez will improve by a bit this year, posting 20 win shares.

Mark Redman - Gives the Pirates a solid 2nd left in their rotation this season, as he's pitched over 190 innings with an ERA+ of 99 or better the last three seasons. Redman will likely see a bit of a "Jeff Suppan" effect this year, with his ERA getting better with the move to the NL. Over the last 3 seasons, he's had 9, 11, and 10 Win Shares. Pretty consistent. Mark him down for 10 again this year, giving the Pirates a much better #2 pitcher than they had in 2004.

Josh Fogg - Has been a solid yet unspectacular pitcher for the Pirates for three years now. He's thrown 142 or more innings each year, getting 10 or more wins - but with an ERA+ fluctuating between 81 and 99. Last year, at the age of 27, Fogg had posted an 89 ERA+, just under his career average of 92. Fogg has likely settled in as a slightly below average major league starter. Pencil him in for 7 Win Shares in 2005, matching his 2004 mark.

Kip Wells - Is a very important piece of the puzzle for Pittsburgh this season. In 2004 he struggled with an injury, which required surgery in October. His ability to come back healthy this year is huge, as he was able to post ERA+ seasons of 121 and 129 in 2002 and 2003. (And once again - what exactly did Kenny Williams see in Todd Ritchie that made him give up both Fogg and Wells for him?) Along with the solid ERA+ seasons, Wells posted 13 and 16 Win Shares leading up to last year, when he only had 6. In other words, his injury cost the Pirates roughly 3 wins last year. To be conservative, let's split the difference and say that Wells can give the Pirates 10 Win Shares in 2005.

5th Starter - I don't know who it's going to be, as Burnett had elbow surgery and isn't an option in the early going. Dave Williams got 6 starts last year, posting 1 Win Share. Burnett managed to get 2 WS over 13 starts despite a 5.02 ERA. Rather than get too carried away, I'm just going to say that the 5th slot will be even this year over last, giving the Pirates 3 Win Shares, or 1 win.

Lineup

In 2004, the Pirates regulars and Win Shares totals looked like this.

Jason Kendall - 25
Jack Wilson - 23
Jason Bay - 18
Craig Wilson - 18
Rob Mackowiak - 15
Tike Redman - 11
Jose Castillo - 8
Daryle Ward - 7

More or less, anyway. The 3rd base job floated around a lot, but since Mackowiak had 15 Win Shares compared to Chris Stynes with 0 - well, I'm going with this. That's 135 WS out of the starting lineup, which isn't bad. Of interest to me is the oddity of a catcher and a shortstop providing the most WS from the lineup on a team. As mentioned, Kendall is gone. Not mentioned is the fact that both Oliver Perez and Jason Bay were received from San Diego for Brian Giles. That trade looks to be working out well for the Steel city.

Gone is Kendall, in is Matt Lawton, acquired from the Indians, and Benito Santiago, who is as resilient as Jason Vorhees. And to be honest - I don't know who in the heck is going to start for the Pirates in the outfield and at 1st base, because it's crowded. I assume Jason Bay and Matt Lawton are locks in the corner outfield, leaving 1st base for Craig Wilson and Daryle Ward. Centerfied could go to either Redman or Mackowiak, with 3rd base going to either Wiggington or Mackowiak. For the purposes of this exercise, I'm assuming Redman in center, Mackowiak at 3rd, and Wilson at 1st. Which means it won't happen, of course.

Benito Santiago - Turned 40 yesterday, but is still going somewhat strong. The Carlos Santana look-alike still has some pop in his bat, as he slugged .434 last year over 175 at-bats. His ERA+ over the last 3 years has been 107, 96, and 96 - which is decent for a catcher. His glove work still appears to be adequate as well. The biggest question I have, of course, is why did he only play in 49 games last year? (I could look it up, but....) I seriously doubt, of course, that the Pirates are expecting him to play in 150 games this year. In fact, his high over the past three years is 136 back in 2002. Over the past 3 seasons he's posted 3, 13, and 15 Win Shares. I can only assume that he'll play in roughly 120 games this year. Assuming a similar level of play to 2004, that translates into about 7 Win Shares this season, or a loss of 6 wins at the catcher position for the Bucs.

Craig Wilson - I have a soft spot for Craig Wilson. He was, after all, the starting catcher for my 2002 Simulation St. Louis Cardinals, who went on to win the World Series. Wilson still caught 4 games for the real Pirates last year, and maybe it's not out of the question to play him more there now that Kendall is gone. Whatever the case, the man can hit pretty well. He has a career OPS+ of 121, which he has exceeded in each of the past 2 seasons. Last year was the first time the Pirates let the guy get more than 375 at-bats, and he did not disappoint as he piled up 29 home runs, 35 doubles, and 5 triples while looking like one of the Alman Brothers. Wilson, who'll be 28 this year, has had 18, 10, and 10 WS over the past 3 seasons. If they actually let the guy play, he'll continue to hit. Give him another 18 WS this season, with low 20's not out of the question.

Jose Castillo - I don't have much to say about. He was only 23 last year as a rookie, posting a 75 OPS+ with an above average glove. He'll be starting again this year, unless Bobby Hill manages to beat him out this Spring. I'll take the easy way out and project him for 10 WS this season, as he gets more playing time, but struggles a bit against pitchers seeing him for the 2nd time.

Rob Mackowiak - A Tony LaRussa favorite, I'm sure, as he hits left handed, and plays all three outfield positions along with 3rd base. Honestly, I doubt he'll start at 3rd base this year, but it has to be an option considering his 15 Win Shares last year. His OPS+ last year was 93, matching his career mark. From an historical WS perspective, he had 6 in 2003, 12 in 2002. Most likely, you'll see him play at about the same level this season as last, with playing time the determining factor of his total production. Let's just assume a repeat, giving him 15 again this year.

Jack Wilson - After a torrid 1st half, Wilson came back to the pack a bit in the 2nd half of the year, but still had a great season. The always spectacular fielder added hitting to his game at the age of 26, posting a 107 OPS+, along with 41 doubles. Here's my concern.

2002 - 527 at-bats, 37 BB's, .252 average
2003 - 558 at-bats, 36 BB's, .256 average
2004 - 652 at-bats, 26 BB's, .308 average

Without digging too deeply, I have to think that a lot of his improvement last year was due to luck more than anything else, as his plate discipline actually decreased. And while it's not unusual for power to develop as a player ages, his 100 point jump in SLG last year seems a bit out of the ordinary. In other words - I'm not going to be a believer unless he repeats this year. He's had 23, 11, and 12 WS over the past 3 seasons. I'm going to say he can create 15 this year.

Jason Bay - In 2003, over 87 at-bats, he posted a 148 OPS+. Last year, over 411 at-bats, he posted a 135 including 24 doubles, 4 triples, and 26 home runs. The power is there, even if the plate discipline needs some help. Considering that this is his 26 year old season, he should continue to show improvement. I'm going to say that he can post 25 Win Shares this year. That may be a bit high, but I think it's reasonable.

Tike Redman - He's good defensively, but that's about all he brings to the table. Which, of course, isn't the end of the world for a Center Fielder. His career OBP is .319, and he was under that last year. It's unlikely that he'll improve much more over his current numbers, so I'll give him 11 WS again in 2005.

Matt Lawton - Might be a nice pick-up for the Pirates this year, although the Indians may have traded him when his stock was about as high as it was going to get. He's a career 105 OPS+ hitter, exceeding that mark in each of the past 2 seasons. He's a decent BB guy, as he averages 84 every 162 games played. Over the past 3 seasons, he's had 15, 10, and 9 WS, with the spike coming last year due to him saying healthy for a change. I think it's likely that either injuries, competition, or both will limit his playing time this year over last, pulling his WS total down to 12 for 2005.

Bullpen

The Pittsburgh bullpen last year was actually pretty solid, albeit a little top heavy. Jose Mesa got 43 saves with an ERA of 3.25, with Saloman Torres and Mike Gonzalez providing right and left handed setup options with ERA's under 3.00. Additionally, Brian Meadows served as a good long man, posting a 3.58 ERA. Those four pitchers combined for 33 of the 36 WS out of the pen last year.

This year, all 4 of them will return to the Pirate bullpen, along with another couple of players. Who? I don't know. Most likely they will be from the ranks of John Grabow, Mike Johnston, and Dave Williams.

Jose Mesa - After a horrible 2003 season, in which he got 0 win shares for 58 innings of 6.52 ERA pitching, Mesa rebounded to have a solid year, including a 128 ERA+. Unfortunately, he turns 39 in May and only struck out 37 batters over 69.1 innings last year. It's hard to imagine him repeating this year, making it likely that the Pirates will regret not trading him last year (even though he said he didn't want to be.) Mesa had 9 WS last year. I'll put him down for 8 this year, and expect him to miss that mark.

Saloman Torres - 2004 marked the first time since 1997 that Torres was a full time bullpen pitcher, and he did not disappoint as he got 7 wins with a 2.64 ERA, 157 ERA+. Most notably, Torres kept the ball in the park in 2004, which was a problem for him the previous season. I suspect that Torres will be solid again in 2005, most likely becoming the Pirate closer by mid-season at the latest. He had 11 WS last year in relief. This season, I'm going to say that he will improve slightly due to extra save opportunities, posting 13 WS.

Mike Gonzalez - Came out of nowhere last year, posting a 1.25 ERA and a 332 ERA+. Frankly, it's hard to imagine someone repeating that season, considering it was his rookie campaign and didn't come until he was 26 years old. Usually, a season like his is followed by a bit of a disappointment. He had 8 WS in 2004. I'll cut it in half for this year, giving him 4.

Brian Meadows - Here is another interesting player. He's never given up many home runs, never given up many walks, yet has had problems getting work over the past few years. Over the last 3, he's had ERA+ seasons of 116, 90, and 111. Last year he set career highs in ERA+, as well as games (68) as he had his first season as a full time reliever. Personally, I think last season was a sign of things to come for the 29 year old left hander. He's had 5, 3, and 3 WS over the past 3 seasons. I'm going to predict that he'll put together a 7 WS season in 2005, with more not out of the question.

5th and 6th Bullpen Slots - I simply don't know who to project into these slots. Last year, they only got 3 WS out of the back end of their pen, and it's hard to imagine it being that bad again this year. Rather than getting too carried away, I'm simply going to say that these slots will provide 2 extra wins this year over last, or a total of 9 WS.

Bench

Ah, the bench. How I hate trying to guess this one. Last year, the Pirates bench combined for an ugly 15 Win Shares led by Bobby Hill with 4, plus Raul Mondesi and Ty Wiggington with 3 apiece. This year, I'm projecting Daryle Ward to join the bench. Leaving are Mondesi, along with Tony Alvarez and Abraham Nunez. And, of course, Wiggington may end up starting with Mackowiak being on the pine, but I'm going to stick with my methodology for now.

Basically, I know that Bobby Hill, Daryle Ward, and Ty Wigginton (for me) are on the bench, along with catcher Humberto Cota. Ben Grieve is in Spring training tearing things up, which bodes well, and infielder Freddy Sanchez is another likely bench candidate.

To make this simple - I assume that Bobby Hill and Ty Wiggington will provide the same amount of production as last year, or 7 WS. Humberto Cota, getting more playing time, will improve from 1 WS to 3 WS in 2005. Freddy Sanchez will replace the production of Abraham Nunez, getting 1 WS.

That, however, will leave Daryle Ward and Ben Grieve to add to the bench. Ward had 7 WS last year, while Grieve had 9 WS between time with the Brewers and the Cubs. It may not be realistic for both of them to get any playing time on a team chocked full of RF/LF/1B types, but they still should improve the bench. I'm going to say that they can both repeat last year's numbers, adding antother 16 WS to the Pirates bench.

Totals

Starting Pitching - 50 Win Shares (40 in 2004)
Bullpen - 41 Win Shares (36 in 2004)

Lineup - 113 Win Shares (135 in 2004)
Bench - 32 Win Shares (15 in 2004)

That's a total of 236 Win Shares, or 78 Wins in 2005. Adjusting for luck, we add 2 wins, giving a prediction of 80 wins for the Pirates in 2005. Let's see if that looks right.

Improved rotation? Check - especially if Kip Wells can revert to pre-2004 form.
Improved bullpen? Maybe. They need help from the back end, though.
Improved bench? Should be, with Grieve and Ward joining it (by my logic, of course.)

Worse Lineup? With Kendall gone and me not believing in Wilson, yes.

So, could the Pirates actually make a run at a .500 season this year? It's not out of the question. They'll need Wilson to repeat his 2004 season and for Wells to come back - neither of those are impossible to imagine.

NL Central (2005 Wins)

Cardinals - 95
Cubs - 95
Astros - 88
Pirates - 80
Reds - 74

Note - I'm working on revising the way I factor in "luck" into my predictions. I believe that simply adjusting the previous year on a 1 to 1 basis is too harsh. Once I finish the Brewers recap, I'll come back and adjust my predictions slightly, explaining my reasoning at the time.

4 Comments:

At 2:04 PM, Blogger cardsfanboy said...

I know that you are using win shares for your analysis, but one way I like to figure luck into the equation is to look at a teams offense with runners in scoring position, if it is noticeably higher than their normal numbers I'll move their runs scored down somewhat to compensate for luck on the offense side of the ball. The other side is tougher, even though dips era helps, it isn't the best way to judge...maybe component era if the defense stays roughly the same might be a better tool to predict which direction luck will bounce.

 
At 4:06 PM, Blogger Robb said...

I'll go into more details when I do the post, but it's actually pretty accurate to simply use last year to guess this year's luck. By doing the method I currently am, you actually end up withing 3 wins of actual about 60% of the time - which isn't great, but isn't horrible.

By making an adjustment to the luck correction, you can up the figure to 80%. Close enough for me.

The work involved with really, truly coming up with a luck prediction borders on ESP.

I suspect that an inconsistant offense factors into bad luck, ala the Cubs last year. Standard deviation of runs scored would be an interesting study.

 
At 8:48 PM, Blogger Nate said...

Keep up the team-by-team analysis, I for one am having fun reading them.

In the Benito Santiago analysis, you meant OPS+ and not ERA+, right?

 
At 8:49 AM, Blogger Robb said...

Thanks Nate.

Yes, in fact I messed that up, thanks for the catch.

Look for my Brewers preview sometime this week. Maybe tomorrow if I can get my taxes done tonight.

 

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