2017 Record: 75-87
Fourth Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 4.22 (13th)
Team OPS: .704 (28th)
Editor’s Note: FanDuel is hosting the Rotoworld Beat the Writers Series, where you can play against five Rotoworld football writers for your chance at cash prizes and free entry into their Sunday Million. Put your knowledge to the test!
What Went Right
Andrew McCutchen had a resurgent season, producing an .849 OPS with 28 home runs and 88 RBI in 156 games after finishing with a career-worst .766 OPS in 2016. The veteran outfielder carries a $14.75 million club option for 2018 and it will probably be exercised, though a trade could be coming soon after. Josh Bell enjoyed a strong first full season in the majors, posting an .800 OPS with 26 home runs and 90 RBI in 159 games. Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger is a shoo-in for National League Rookie of the Year, but Bell will probably come second in the balloting. Felipe Rivero emerged as a dominant closer, taking over the job from Tony Watson in early June and registering a 1.67 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 88/20 K/BB ratio over 75 1/3 total innings. The hard-throwing 26-year-old left-hander is under the Pirates’ control through 2021. Jameson Taillon was diagnosed with testicular cancer in May, but he returned to the starting rotation less than six weeks later with a clean bill of health. The on-field results were a little less inspiring.
What Went Wrong
Starling Marte was handed an 80-game suspension on April 18 after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and finished the 2017 season with an underwhelming .275/.333/.379 batting line. There had been designs to make Marte the club’s new center fielder and he did spend the first two weeks of the season in that role, but manager Clint Hurdle opted to put Marte back in left field after he was reinstated from his PED suspension and the club’s outfield defense rated as poorly as you might expect. Gregory Polanco looked like an emerging star in 2016, but he spent three different stints on the disabled list with hamstring trouble and the 26-year-old wound up slashing just .251/.305/.391 with 11 home runs, 35 RBI, and 39 runs scored in 108 games. Gerrit Cole, the Pirates’ ace from 2013-2016, posted a career-worst 4.26 ERA across 203 innings. Tyler Glasnow, a top-10 prospect leading into 2017, finished with a brutal 7.69 ERA and 2.02 WHIP in 62 frames. Daniel Hudson and Ivan Nova, the Pirates’ two big offseason signings, both underperformed expectations. Jung Ho Kang was charged with his third DUI since 2009 last winter in South Korea and spent the entire 2017 season on Major League Baseball’s restricted list. He is still trying to secure a visa to return to the United States.
** Andrew McCutchen was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2016 fantasy baseball season but then became a good mid-round value during his resurgent 2017. His outlook for 2018 will largely depend on what uniform he’ll be wearing and what ballpark he’s going to call home. A move to a more hitter-friendly environment would be a boost. And he’d probably be a better player in the American League, where his defensive limitations can be hidden with regular starts at DH. The soon-to-be 31-year-old doesn’t run the bases like he used to, so it’s all about the power projections at this point. If the Pirates don’t trade McCutchen, you can probably lock him in for a familiar 25-homer, 85-RBI campaign. He could maybe challenge for 30-plus homers in a different place.
** Unless they get a whole lot of bounceback performances next season -- somewhat unlikely -- or spend a whole lot of money this winter -- highly unlikely -- the Pirates are probably going to be an average to below-average team for the third straight year. But we’ve seen other closers do just fine in such circumstances and Felipe Rivero has the goods to make it work. With his lights-out arsenal and now-proven ninth-inning resume, he’s shaping up as a second-tier or maybe even first-tier fantasy option for 2018. Pittsburgh got Rivero from the Nationals in July 2016 as part of the Mark Melancon trade. Melancon is now in San Francisco, coming off an injury-marred 2017.
** We must reflect on the fact that Trevor Williams posted the best ERA of any qualified Pirates starter in 2017. Gerrit Cole fell off to a concerning degree, Ivan Nova was just average, and youngsters Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, and Tyler Glasnow failed to meet expectations for a variety of reasons. Williams doesn’t have the swing-and-miss stuff to carry fantasy relevance into 2018, so this rotation will probably be a minefield of guesswork as fantasy prognosticators begin mapping out rankings for the 2018 season. There should be some late-round value picks in here somewhere. Talent isn’t the issue, PNC Park is a power-sapping stadium, and Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage is famous for successfully executing reclamation projects. Glasnow did put up some exciting numbers at Triple-A Indianapolis this summer before getting shelled in his one September start at the MLB level. He seems worth a flier.
** What to make of Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte? Even when he wasn’t rehabbing a hamstring injury, Polanco was a fantasy black hole. And the same can be said for Marte, who struggled both before and after serving his 80-game PED suspension. If these hamstring injuries become a chronic thing for Polanco, we may have to scale back the stolen base expectations. He swiped just eight bases this year, after stealing 17 in 2016 and 27 in 2015. A concerning trend. Marte is basically all stolen bases at this point, with just 16 home runs in his last 868 plate appearances and his body now presumably clear of exogenous testosterone.
** Josh Harrison sprung back into the general fantasy conscience this year, batting .272/.339/.432 with 16 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 128 games before fracturing the fifth metacarpal on his left hand in early September. Assuming the Pirates make some trades this winter, the dynamic two-time All-Star should have a starting job and a prominent lineup spot in 2018. And he’s probably going to have a late-round ADP.
Key Free Agents: John Jaso
Team Needs: A couple of high-OBP or power hitters would be nice, but the Pirates don’t figure to spend much money and they also don’t have many obvious openings on their roster. Some trades might be necessary to rework the look of this team. If the Pirates do spend, it’ll probably be on middle-relief and setup guys. Those are certainly needs, but they’re also kind of secondary.