Series (and NL Central Team) Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates (0-0) at Chicago Cubs (0-0)

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It’s baseball time! Since the Pirates are the last team we have left to do and the first team the Cubs play, we’re going to combine my usual series preview with my Pirates season preview. My Cubs win projections based on the system I used to make all of these previews is included below the Pirates content. Thanks to MB for his additions to this preview.

Last year:

The Pirates went 57-105 last year.  The record seems like typical Pittsburgh, but it was the worst winning percentage the team ever has had since they started playing 162 games.  It was their 8th worst overall winning percentage in club history.  Three of the teams worse than them were the 1952-1954 Pirates.  The 1917 Pirates were worse and there were three more Pirates teams in the 1800s worse than the 2010 version.

The Cubs never would have known the Pirates were putting together one of the worst seasons in club history.  The Pirates beat the Cubs 10 of 15 times last year.  The Pirates record vs the other 28 teams was 47-100.

Their offense ranked 3rd worst with an 82 wRC+, they had the 4th worst FIP at 4.45, and their fielding was atrocious (-66.2 UZR, -87 TZL, -81 DRS).  They were the worst in the league in UZR and TZL, but only second worst in DRS.

Offseason moves:

In November the Pirates traded Zach Duke to the Diamondbacks for Cesar Valdez.  Valdez is a 25-year old reliever who isn’t all that great, but Duke wasn’t either.

In December the Pirates signed a number of low to mid tier free agents. They picked up former Jays and Brewers 1b Lyle Overbay to a 1/5 deal. Overbay was an slightly above average first baseman earlier in his career whose skillset largely revolved around OBP and defense. He’s now past his peak, and the Pirates are paying him about what he’s worth.

They also signed former Marlins up and comer LHP Scott Olsen, whose career has gone down in flames following a shoulder injury and multiple run-ins with teammates, not to mention the police. He signed to an incentive-laden league minimum deal and is hoping to turn his career around.

They signed former Rockies 3b Garrett Atkins to a minor league deal. Atkins had a few good years with the bat in Colorado, especially in 2006 when he posted a .410 wOBA. However, he’s a butcher with the glove and his offensive numbers have fallen off a cliff since 2008. The Pirates cut him in spring training.

The Pirates signed former Braves outfielder Matt Diaz to a two year, $4.25 million dollar deal. Diaz has seemingly been with the Braves forever and has always pounded left-handed pitching.

The Pirates nontendered former top prospect Lastings Milledge in December.

Players to watch:

Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutcheon represent the future of the Pirates. The question is whether or not they, like so many other future franchise cornerstones in the Steel City (Jason Bay, Brian Giles, Jason Kendall, etc.) will ever actually be a member of a Pirates team with a winning record. Looking at the current pitching on the roster, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon. There are no pitchers on KG’s list until number 6, Brad Lincoln, who isn’t expected to be more than a third or fourth starter type. Overall, given their stable of above-averageish ceiling SP prospects it looks like their pitching draft strategy leans more towards predictability rather than ceiling.


Here’s a rough look at their team headed into the 2011 season. Since we don’t know a ton about not the Cubs, we used Baseball Prospectus’s depth charts to estimate playing time. The players OBP/SLG are a simple average of their PECOTA and Oliver projections. The defensive numbers are from the players’ 2010 Fan Scouting Report, and baserunning was ignored unless a player was especially good or awful on the basepaths.

Hitter Pos PA OBP SLG Fld WAR
Chris Snyder CA 400 0.327 0.389 0.1 1.41
Jason Jaramillo CA 100 0.297 0.325 -0.1 -0.01
Ryan Doumit CA 105 0.321 0.413 -1.3 0.2
Lyle Overbay 1B 574 0.341 0.413 0.4 1.02
Steve Pearce 1B 101 0.329 0.427 0 0.1
Neil Walker 2B 600 0.306 0.420 -0.1 0.98
Josh Rodriguez 2B 107 0.311 0.351 0 0
E-6 SS 500 0.283 0.373 0 -0.02
Pedro Ciriaco SS 140 0.264 0.330 0 -0.31
Pedro Alvarez 3B 600 0.329 0.469 -0.5 2.19
Josh Rodriguez 3B 91 0.311 0.351 -0.5 0.16
Jose Tabata LF 558 0.332 0.383 0.6 0.81
Matt Diaz LF 166 0.326 0.414 0.2
Andrew McCutcheon CF 659 0.354 0.428 0.2 3.12
Jose Tabata CF 92 0.332 0.383 0.1 0.2
Garrett Jones RF 400 0.317 0.441 -0.7 0.21
Steve Pearce RF 139 0.329 0.427 0 0.24
Ryan Doumit RF 119 0.323 0.416 0 0.13


Pitcher S/R IP ERA WAR
Maholm S 200 4.80 1.33
Ohlendorf S 160 4.76 1.13
Correia S 150 4.43 1.61
McDonald S 190 4.24 2.46
Olsen S 145 5.15 0.45
Morton S 73 4.80 0.49
Hart S 46 5.10 0.17
Hanrahan R 65 4.25 0.33
Resop R 65 3.72 0.81
Meek R 75 4.08 0.37


They should be better than last year, but that’s a low, low bar to clear. I still think they’re better than the Astros, but things can get ugly pretty quickly with that pitching staff.

Cubs projections

MB is going to release the officially official Obstructed View projections sometime soon, but I wanted to post the Cubs projections arising from the methodolgy I used for the rest of the NL Central teams so we can compare apples to apples.

Hitter Pos PA OBP SLG Fld WAR
Geovany Soto CA 536 0.360 0.463 -0.1 3.78
Koyie Hill CA 124 0.289 0.340 0 0
Carlos Pena 1B 625 0.351 0.481 0.5 2.75
Tyler Colvin 1B 62 0.292 0.425 0 -0.06
Darwin Barney 2B 280 0.298 0.331 0.5 -0.14
Jeff Baker 2B 217 0.321 0.412 -0.3 0.41
Blake DeWitt 2B 124 0.329 0.381 -0.1 0.21
Starlin Castro SS 626 0.325 0.392 0 1.66
Darwin Barney SS 110 0.298 0.331 0 -0.05
Aramis Ramirez 3B 549 0.344 0.481 -0.4 2.69
Jeff Baker 3B 91 0.325 0.418 -0.3 0.21
Blake DeWitt 3B 63 0.329 0.381 -0.1 0.11
Alfonso Soriano LF 521 0.320 0.467 -0.4 0.96
Tyler Colvin LF 130 0.292 0.425 0 -0.03
Marlon Byrd CF 598 0.340 0.433 0 2.32
Tyler Colvin CF 122 0.292 0.425 -0.5 0.06
Kosuke Fukudome RF 415 0.360 0.394 0.3 1.15
Tyler Colvin RF 340 0.292 0.425 0 -0.07


Pitcher S/R IP ERA WAR
Z S 168 4.12 2.42
Garza S 182 4.13 2.6
Dempster S 203 4.09 3
Wells S 168 4.48 1.7
Cashner S 168 4.57 1.53
Coleman S 85 4.94 0.44
Marmol R 65 3.29 1.82
Wood R 60 4.07 0.39
Marshall R 65 3.94 0.43

Win total: 78.8 wins.

Here are the projected divisional standings coming out of these previews

STL 85.5
CIN 81.6
MIL 79.2
CHC 78.8
PIT 68.4
HOU 68.4

Mini Series Preview

Pitching matchups (with PECOTA ERA projection):

Friday Friday: Kevin Correia, RHP (4.49) vs Ryan Dempster, RHP (4.12)

Saturday Saturday:  Paul Maholm, LHP (4.89) vs Carlos Zambrano, RHP (4.30)

Sunday Sunday: Ross Ohlendorf, RHP (4.82) vs Matt Garza, RHP (4.13)

Mini Game Preview

Pirates wOBA
Jose Tabata .331
Neil Walker .337
Andrew McCutchen .361
Lyle Overbay .333
Pedro Alvarez .354
Ryan Doumit .334
Garrett Jones .332
Ronny Cedeno .299
Kevin Correia .175
Cubs wOBA
Kosuke Fukudome .342
Starlin Castro .332
Marlon Byrd .338
Aramis Ramirez .350
Carlos Pena .378
Geovany Soto .362
Alfonso Soriano .339
Darwin Barney .293
Ryan Dempster .175


Starting Pitcher IP/GS FIP
Kevin Correia 5.67 4.53
Ryan Dempster 6.23 3.95

I have a cable company showing up shortly and I’ll be without internet for awhile so I can’t explan this as much as I’d like to so you’re getting the bare minimum of information today. Those are the 2011 ZiPS projections. With that information we can calculate how many runs each team would score against an average lineup. Well, if we add in the bullpens, which for now I’m using a 4.25 FIP for all teams. That will change as the season moves on. Also included is a defensive projection so the expected defensive contribution is included. More importantly than a projected run total today, we can then assign an expected win percentage, or the odds of each team winning today’s game.

Baseball has 162 games and is often so random so if you think these are going to be accurate or even reflect reality on a daily basis you’re not going to be too happy. These are nothing more than the talent level of the teams on the field. It includes batting, pitching and defense. Basically, if you wanted to make a bet on a baseball game, you’re probably going to bet on the team that is most likely to win. The better team. It depends on the pitching matchups of course, which are included. Today could end up being a 17-13 game. It could be 1-0. I don’t have any idea what it’s going to end up being, but if they did play this game a million times, I’d bet money that the average of these games would look something like below.

Runs RS RA R
Pirates 4.49 4.88 4.63
Cubs 4.47 4.53 4.95

R is what we would project the final score to resemble over many trials. The Cubs have a significant advantage today and it shows in their win expectancy.

Win Probability
Pirates 42.8%
Cubs 57.2%

Tomorrow I’ll explain more, but the Cubs should win today. Then again, they should have killed the Pirates last season and instead the Pirates got about 15% of their wins against the Cubs.

UPDATE @ 8:20 PM: The numbers are off slightly here because of an error in my spreadsheet. I’ll fix the spreadsheet before I post these again. Hopefully I get it fixed before Saturday’s game.