Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 Team Preview

2016 Recap: 78-83, 3rd in the NL Central. After three straight playoff appearances, everything that could go wrong for the Pirates in 2016 did go wrong. Face of the franchise Andrew McCutchen had the worst season of his career, young ace Gerrit Cole dealt with mid season elbow issues, and All Star outfielder Starling Marte missed more than 30 games with an injury. The Pirates will return the majority of their team from last season, but it’s possible they have left a bad taste in some players mouths after how they shopped Andrew McCutchen during the offseason only to end up keeping him. Awkward. The Pirates will be competitive again this season and with some better injury luck could find themselves back in the playoffs once again, but something just feels off about this club in 2017.

Offseason Moves:

Significant Additions: RHP Daniel Hudson

Significant Subtractions: RHP Neftali Feliz, LHP Jeff Locke, INF Sean Rodriguez, OF Matt Joyce, LHP Jon Niese

Projected Lineup and Breakdown:

  1. 2B Josh Harrison
  2. 1B Josh Bell
  3. RF Andrew McCutchen
  4. CF Starling Marte
  5. LF Gregory Polanco
  6. 3B Jung-ho Kang
  7. C Francisco Cervelli
  8. SS Jordy Mercer

The Pirates actually scored the most runs they’ve scored in a season in nearly a decade despite the steady decline of Andrew McCutchen. Cutch saw his batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage drop for third straight year as he had the worst statistical season of his career. As much as I like Cutch as a player and with everything he’s done to put the Buccos back on the map after almost twenty years of losing, I have to say he just isn’t an All Star caliber player anymore. Luckily for Pittsburgh, Starling Marte has emerged as an All Star level player and Gregory Polanco may not be far behind him after his breakout 2016 campaign. For the Pirates to repeat their offensive success from 2016, they will need Jung-ho Kang to get his off the field issues in order. I’m honestly surprised he’s still on the team, but it shows how badly the Pirates need his power in the middle of their order.

Projected Rotation, Bullpen, and Breakdown:

Rotation –

  • RHP Gerrit Cole
  • RHP Jameson Taillon
  • RHP Chad Kuhl
  • RHP Ivan Nova
  • RHP Drew Hutchison

Bullpen –

  • LHP Tony Watson – Closer
  • RHP Daniel Hudson
  • LHP Felipe Rivero
  • RHP Juan Nicasio
  • LHP Antonio Bastardo

The main part of Pittsburgh failing to reach the playoffs in 2016 was their lack of starting pitching. Young star Gerrit Cole was injured and inconsistent. Veterans Jeff Locke, Jon Niese, Francisco Liriano, and Ryan Vogelsong all finished the season with 4.81 ERA or higher. Hard to have success with that kind of futility from your starting staff. The good news is all four of those guys will not be on the opening day roster this year and there are some young arms set to take the place of those failed veterans. Highly touted prospect Jameson Taillon was up and down in his rookie season, but showed real flashes and walked just 17 batters in 104 innings. Former Blue Jay Drew Hutchison was a trendy prospect a few years ago, but never really panned out in the AL East. A switch to the National League could go a long way in helping out the homer prone right hander. Former Yankee pinata Ivan Nova was phenomenal after coming to Pittsburgh in a trade posting a 3.06 ERA and an amazing 17/1 strikeout to walk rate with the Buccos. The Pirates bullpen has been a real strength over the past few seasons, but without their rock Mark Melancon it will be interesting to see how the current bullpen adjusts to their new roles over a full season.

Fantasy Analysis:

Stud: OF Starling Marte. Stolen bases appear to be at a premium heading into 2017 and if you’re not careful this draft season you could be really scrambling for steals once the season starts. Over the last four seasons, Starling Marte has averaged 37 steals including a career high 47 last year. Unlike other speedsters like Billy Hamilton and Rajai Davis, Marte actually helps you in other categories besides SB’s. Marte hasn’t hit below .280 the last four years and has averaged 13 homers over that span providing just enough power to justify him as an early round pick in your drafts this year.

Sleeper: SP Ivan Nova. I already talked about Nova’s ridiculous second half of 2016 and although that could be a total fluke, Nova isn’t even being drafted in all leagues which is crazy to me. When you’re in your last couple rounds taking chances, guys like Nova can help win your league. Pitchers like Ian Kennedy and Hisashi Iwakuma although solid offer little to no upside as guys like that are a dime a dozen. If Nova’s second half skills are real he could be a game changing pick for you in 2017.

Bust: RP Tony Watson. Watson has been a really good reliever for several years now and finally got a chance to close in the second half of 2016. Watson did well as expected and will start the season as the closer in 2017. The problem? Watson is very likely to get dealt during the season and would almost definitely be dealt to a team where he would no longer close. If you know your league and know you can grab a closer if you need one, then take Watson and enjoy him while he lasts, but most leagues do not have that luxury and losing your closer in mid season can be devastating. Let Watson slide in your drafts if you have the chance.

2017 record prediction: The Pirates will competitive again this year and although their starting pitching should be better this season, I have still my doubt about them having quite enough overall talent to get back into the playoffs. They could end up being the best non playoff team in 2017. 82-80, Third in the NL Central.

-Randy Haines

Check out our other 2017 team previews here.

Photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball reference and Fangraphs

Projected rosters are courtesy of rosterresource.com and accurate as of 3/10

Fantasy ADP data courtesy of STATS.com and The NFBC

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