December 14, 2010

2011 Pirates: An Above Average Lineup

Although I am sure the Pirates aren't done with their offseason yet, it's starting to look like the 2011 lineup is set. Chris Snyder, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata were pretty much guaranteed starting jobs. At right field and first base the Pirates signed two of the players with the most pronounced left/right splits in baseball, Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay. Those guys are looking suspiciously like platoon partners for Garrett Jones and Steven Pearce respectively. And at shortstop, the other position I hoped to improve, Ronny Cedeno resigned for $2 million and the Pirates' attempts to trade for J.J. Hardy or Jason Bartlett have failed.

Clearly the defense has improved over 2010. Diaz/Jones is better than Lastings Milledge/Jones in right, Overbay/Pearce is light years ahead of Jones/Jeff Clement at first, and Snyder as the primary catcher is much better than Ryan Doumit. But how many runs will this lineup score?

I don't think projections are that accurate for individual players, but for an entire team they're not bad since some players are bound to underperform while others overperform their projections. The only major projections that are fully released for 2011 are the Bill James estimates so we'll use that. As he usually does, I expect Diaz to end up starting more than half the games despite being the righthanded half of a platoon. So here's what James predicts the Pirates' most common starters to do (predicted AVG/OBP/SLG in parentheses):

2011 Pirates
CF McCutchen (.287/.364/.445)
LF Tabata (.287/.339/.387)
2B Walker (.270/.324/.438)
3B Alvarez (.277/.352/.501)
1B Overbay (.253/.345/.431)
RF Diaz (.292/.341/.454)
C Snyder (.219/.326/.401)
SS Cedeno (.250/.294/.371)

The Baseball Musings lineup analyzer says this lineup will generate 4.466 runs per game. That's 723 runs over a full season which would have ranked seventh in the National League in 2010. The average team scored 701.

That's right, this is an above average lineup. And I might have underestimated it. For the #9 spot I used the Pirates' numbers in that spot in 2010 which were .150/.183/.219. Almost no team has had poorer hitting pitchers and pinch hitters than the 2010 Pirates. Credit the Pirates with the National League's 2010 average #9 batting line, .180/.223/.250, and the run expectancy goes up to 4.566, 739 runs over a full season, which would have been fifth in the league in 2010.

What if the Pirates addressed the Cedeno issue by trading for Marco Scutaro as I previously advocated? After the Carl Crawford signing, Boston has an even greater need to shed payroll. James predicts a line of .266/.339/.374 for Scutaro. This hardly would be an earthshattering move, but now we're up to 4.635 runs a game - 751 over a full season, fourth in the 2010 NL, and the defense is improved now too. That would be exciting.

I don't think the assumptions here are wrong either. James actually expects the first three hitters in the lineup - McCutchen, Tabata and Walker - to regress slightly in 2011. Snyder hitting .213 is hardly optimistic. Alvarez's projection is good, but nothing in his background suggests that he can't attain those numbers in 2011.

I know an average lineup seems like a pipe dream to most, but the Pirates actually beat the league average in runs as recently as 2008. Don't let 2010's 587 run disaster blind you to the fact that this is a pretty solid lineup. It's another reason to be excited about the 2011 Pirates.

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