Reliving the 2017 Season: Pittsburgh Pirates Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: Pittsburgh Pirates Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. 

It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.


Many, or even most of the teams covered so far stood little chance of making the playoffs this year. The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the other hand, probably saw themselves as a bit of a longshot that could get in if a few things went their way. Any thought of that being the case ended when Jung-ho Kang was barred from entering the country before playing a game, and then after a handful they also lost the services of Starling Marte for half the season due to a failed PED test. Roughly two weeks into the season a team that needed a lot to go right had received anything but.

Despite losing two everyday players the team trod on showing themselves as a mid-tier team before the writing was on the wall that they should start trying to earn a better pick. That shows up at the end of the season where the offense disappeared and the pitchers performed about as bad as they did all season. Prior to that they had mostly been an average team, rarely much better, but also not suffering from prolonged bouts of abject failure. Playing to the middle can be a curse of sorts as you only serve to get older, more expensive, and worse draft picks compared to joining the race to the bottom. On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to add talent to an already ok team than it is to build upon virtually nothing.

Pirates pitching was mostly fine, but after the position player losses they were going to need to be better than that for the team to really compete. Strikeouts and walks were relatively close to league average, while balls in play were a bit better than that. Actual results on balls in play ere a little higher than they should have been, but still hugged league average. Overall, the pitching side was around 9 runs worse than average. The bats were a good deal worse posting around 61 runs worse than average on the back of very weak contact. They walked well enough, and did well to show a lower strikeout rate than the league, but the production on contact was woeful, to say the least. Actual results were nearly perfectly in line with expectations so it is clear where the Pirates have work to do going into next season.

Starting with the underwhelming side of the equation you can that it wasn’t all bad. Andrew McCutchen rebounded to post a strong season. He was joined by the underrated David Freese and surprising rookie Josh Bell. While Freese does most of his work against lefties they had John Jaso to be the positive contributor against righties. Adam Frazier and Francisco Cervelli were both a little better than average, but neither was able to give a full season’s worth of plate appearances to really boost the offense. Similarly, while Marte missed half the season due to his suspension he was still around league average once he got back despite the lengthy layoff.

Having a group of everyday players around league average is fine to build out from, but when so many of those guys are the supposed core it becomes difficult to really goose the needle. Joining in were Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer who were just shy of league average over a bunch of opportunities. Joining them on the disappointing side would be Gregory Polanco who just never seemed to get going amid a myriad of injuries. Their worst performers, however, were getting absolutely zilch from pitchers Gerrit Cole and Ivan Nova. You don’t expect your pitchers to hit, but they have to do something out there. Otherwise they end up nullifying the fine season posted by McCutchen.

I want to start with Adam Frazier who presents as something of a tweener. This kind of production would be relished from a shortstop, and would be fine at second base. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the glove will play at either of those positions. Being relegated to leftfield means the bat will need to be better. He started off the year very well before going through a rather prolonged lull. He pulled out of it to finish the season mostly fine, though you can see that actual performance lagged behind his expectations during the climb. For a guy that should be just starting his prime he will need to be more of a contributor at the dish for the Pirates to feel comfortable giving him the everyday leftfield job. Avoiding the slump would help a bunch, but you would also like to see his good stretches be a little better. It’s in there, but the ceiling is probably tempered.

Following his cup of coffee in 2016, it was clear that Josh Bell could be a productive hitter in MLB. The question remained whether or not he could do enough at the plate to offset a glove that was only really playable at first base. He started the year putting those questions to bed before settling in as mostly an average or a little better player. There were highlights, and his seasonal line got soaked a bit by an abhorrent finish that is difficult to chalk up to anything other than fatigue from his first full season in the Show. That dampening may present him as a fine buy low, but to really capitalize on the lower price it would be nice to see his expected results mirror that very strong, sustained stretch that actually showed up in the boxscore for most of the summer. If he is more like that guy then you’re looking at a wonderful hitter at an affordable price. Performance regressing to what I have here would be less exciting.

While the bookends leave a little more to be desired, Pirates fans got to enjoy a whole lot of nostalgia as McCutch looked an awful lot like the former Most Valuable Player he had been for many seasons prior for much of the season. Getting a full season of the good would have boosted him back into the upper echelon of players, but we do have the pedestrian start and subpar finish to sort through making it difficult to go fully in on a player whose name might be worth more than his production. It is always possible that he is traded prior to the season, with most parks being better for hitters than PNC, but until that happens it is mere speculation. As is, I am mostly going to stay away from the venerable veteran preferring to buy in-season if I like the start.

While the pitching was mostly fine the Pirates could have really used one of their good starters putting up a great season rather than being merely serviceable. Relief ace Felipe Rivero showed everything that you could want, but Jameson Taillon was again slowed by the recurrence of testicular cancer, though he did everything possible to get back on the field as soon as he could. Gerrit Cole, on the other hand, is supposed to be that ace that stops losing streaks and gives you everything you want every five days. He was not that. I’ve got him as more of a league average arm that showed some things to like, but, well, you’ll see below.

The rest of the starters were something of a mixed bag. They don’t all have to be aces, and I was surprised to see the success of Trevor Williams, but Ivan Nova regressed to his former worse self. Additionally, Chad Kuhl was ok, but rarely good, and Tyler Glasnow continue to show more promise than results. While each of these guys is fine in the back of a good rotation the team will need to get better results from the front end if they hope to compete. If Gerrit Cole has an All Star season then everything here looks a lot better, but without that it looks fairly middling.

I saw Williams in June and was impressed with his ability to pound the bottom of the zone. Bringing in the numbers and you can see that he was mostly fine over the first third of the season before finding another gear. His poor close is not all that surprising given that it was the most inning he had ever thrown in his career. While this may do well to suppress his price going into next year it isn’t a guarantee that he will have the necessary stamina to put in a full season’s worth of work. Therefore, if the price is right I would love to take a flyer on Williams and then think about trading him mid-season.

In 2017 former ace, Gerrit Cole showed a lot more volatility than you would like to see. He was very good to start the year, and had a similar stretch in the middle, but you cannot just blink that horrendous stretch in between away. It happened and he was unusable during that run. Following the roller coaster he mostly settled in as a better than league average guy that occasionally chains a couple of poor starts together. He presents as another player that might have more name caché than actual production making it hard to go after him. If he is something like your second or third best pitcher and you can afford to ride out the bad stretch then he is probably fine in your rotation, but I don’t see a whole lot to get excited about.


Kudos to Taillon for getting back on the horse after dealing with such a personal, difficult diagnosis. I doubt anyone expected him to get back on the bump last year, but not only did he get out there, he performed very well. Looking at results makes him look much worse, particularly that stretch in the middle of the season, but it is easy to cast these concerns aside considering what he was dealing with. I feel there is an excellent opportunity to buy low here. Nearly universally, he was a better pitcher than his line showed, and there is always the chance that he will finally be able to put in a full season worth of work in 2018. The ceiling might not be as high here, but you should have a good idea of what he will give you when it’s his turn to go.


With a third of the league’s data now reviewed we can have a good feel for what the best and worst looks like. Here are the top-20 hitters and pitchers to gain some context and a good idea of who those guys were. Below that you will find the total team lines ranked and aggregate xwRAA ranks for the reviewed teams.



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