The Pittsburgh Pirates' decision to re-sign Jeff Karstens has been the team's biggest piece of recent news, but it has also been a very active week for those who follow the Pirates closely in the online community.
Kiley McDaniel, a well-respected prospect evaluator, has posted two informative articles to FanGraphs regarding Pirate pitchers: Her first article was a breakdown of Gerrit Cole, and her second was a detailed assessment of a few other Pittsburgh pitching prospects.
The most exciting release this week, however, was Dan Szymborski's always-anticipated ZiPS projections for the 2013 season (h/t Carson Cistulli, FanGraphs). Szymborski takes a much more favorable view of the Pittsburgh offense than he does of the team's pitching staff. As always, there were a few items in particular worth discussing.
Andrew McCutchen Will Have Some Help
Not surprisingly, ZiPS projects another excellent season for McCutchen. What Pirate fans should be more excited about is the increased depth of his supporting cast.
Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte, all expected to be core components of the Pittsburgh offense for years to come, are all projected to be above-average hitters this season. With Walker and Alvarez playing solid defense at important positions and Marte an excellent defensive outfielder, all three players have the potential to be very valuable this year.
Another encouraging sign is Russell Martin's projection. ZiPS has Martin compiling a .701 OPS in 2013, perfectly respectable from the catcher position and good enough for 2.3 WAR. Compared to Michael McKenry's markedly inferior projection, Martin would easily be worth the Year 1 money the Bucs are giving him if he meets these expectations.
Interestingly, ZiPS projects a pretty sizable regression for Garrett Jones, so the Pirates may be onto something if they can trade him for a valuable starting pitcher.
The Starting Rotation May Be in Line for Regression
Neal Huntington may be even more interested in dealing Jones for a starting pitcher after reviewing the projections for the Bucs' starting rotation.
Only 2012 acquisition Wandy Rodriguez is projected to pitch at a remotely above-average level in 2013. A.J. Burnett's projection is particularly notable, as ZiPS is indicating a potential increase in his FIP of nearly half a run.
The projection system doesn't have many nice things to say about the inconsistent James McDonald or the recently re-signed Karstens either, and ZiPS even projects a so-so debut from Gerrit Cole.
ZiPS does project strong production from the Pirate bullpen, including another good performance by Jason Grilli and a bounce-back year for Mark Melancon.
Pirate Prospects Have a Few Intriguing Comps
It is not worth actually reading much into the comps spat out by Szymborski's system, particularly as they apply to prospects and other very young players, but Pittsburgh fans can't help but enjoy the high-profile players that their young guns are associated with (Andrew McCutchen's comparison to 1930s standout Ben Chapman notwithstanding).
In addition to projecting a rather strong full-season debut from Starling Marte, ZiPS lists his closest comparable as Adam Jones. The two players do have rather similar styles, as both are relatively impatient in the plate yet make a lot of solid contact, and both also play excellent defense. If Marte can make the same leap at some point in the medium-term future that Jones made in 2012, the Pirates will be very happy.
Jameson Taillon is not yet ready for the majors, but if he turns out to be anything close to Kevin Brown, Pirate fans will be beyond ecstatic and Taillon will find himself in the Hall of Fame.
It's obviously optimistic for either Marte or Taillon to match these lofty comparisons, but it's a pretty nice reminder of the kind of high-impact talent in the Pittsburgh organization.