Thursday, April 01, 2021

2021 Pittsburgh Pirates Predictions

With the 2021 baseball season starting today, I asked people to share their predictions for the Pittsburgh Pirates. While I’ve done similar predictions posts over the years about the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, the 2020 elections, and even the entire 2020s decade, this might be my favorite group of participants yet. Let’s begin with the introductions:

* Bob Pompeani - Longtime KDKA sports director and sports anchor

* Rich - Host of the Why, Bloody Valentine? podcast

* Josh - Creator of one of my favorite blogs, Josh’s World

* Brian - Founder of the now defunct Raise the Jolly Roger blog

* Jim - Founder of the now defunct North Side Notch blog.

* Dillon T. Pickle - The mascot and heart of the Portland Pickles baseball team (I really want to buy some Pickles gear.)

* Matt Gajtka - A jack of all trades in the Pittsburgh sports community including on Pittsburgh Sports Live and Pittsburgh Golf Now.

* Aaron Brame - Among his many accomplishments, Aaron wrote this really cool baseball poem.

* The Moose - My now 10 year old son. Please excuse his writing as he’s only in 4th grade.

And now to the predictions.

1. Most Pirates fans and many baseball fans are excited about 3rd baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes. How do you think he'll do this year? (Feel free to give predicted statistics.)

Bob: Hayes will have solid start but I believe the opposition pitcher will make adjustments to him in time...but still he is the bright spot on this franchise....281 16 HR 81 RBI

Rich: Great! Based on his performance last year and this Spring he could have a Rookie of the Year type season, if the rest of the offense doesn't completely tank. But honestly,  they might tank.

Josh: I think Ke'Bryan has a great year. I would say between .280-.300 average, 15-20 HRs...but I think he ends up finishing second for the ROY. Someone will emerge with a bigger year. And yes, I realize in my prediction post, I picked him to win the award. I like to hedge my bets.

Brian: There is no reason not to be extremely high on Hayes - he has the prospect pedigree, he was phenomenal after being called up in 2020, and has looked great again this spring. I do want to pump the brakes just a little bit, but that's not really because of anything he's done - it's just that the hype (ROY favorite, undisputed star of the team 24 games into his career) is going to be difficult to live up to for just about anyone. The numbers have to come down from the crazy production he put up last September - I'll be happy if he's able to stabilize as an above average hitter for a full season. Something like ~15 homers with an OPS north of .800 , maybe a .280 AVG or so would be a reasonable expectation. 

Jim: Count me as one of the fans expecting big things. As far as traditional statistics go, I think he could hit .280 with 20 HR. If we want to get more advanced, I think the glove will greatly help him and we’re looking at a 5 WAR season. 

Dillon: Ke'Bryan is not going to hit .376 again, but he will still rake. .300/350/450 sounds right 

Matt: I love Hayes' raw tools. He hit the ball so darn hard last year and his defense is off the charts for a youngster, especially. I think he gets a little more lift on those liners this year and hits 25 homers with a .350ish OBP.

Aaron: A dependable third baseman who can hit in the two spot? Yes, I am excited about this. Let’s make 2021 be the year of Ke’Bryan Hayes. May he become my favorite new Pirate and give a reason for me to tune in.

The Moose: I think he will be really good for the Pirates because he was so good last year at the end of the season.

2. What pitcher will have the most wins for the Pirates this season?

Bob: Most wins for the Pirates will be Chad Kuhl..  11

Rich: Kuhl? Who knows? I fear the Pirates won't hit enough to put their starters in a position to win many games and whoever the sixth starter/bullpen guy (Cahill?) might pick up enough wins between starting and relief to contest for the lead.

Josh: The Pirates pitchers are not good. I am guessing the team leader has nine wins and in all honesty, I would not be shocked if it ended up being a relief pitcher. I guess I will take Mitch Keller, but I would not count out someone like Michael Feliz or Chris Stratton. 

Brian:  Ugh, what a tough and sad question. Chad Kuhl is probably the best bet to get the most opportunities at the moment, so I'll choose him. 

Jim: So I think it’ll be a reliever. I’ll go with Chris Stratton. 

Dillon: Mitch Keller will get the most wins. 

Matt: When you're talking pitcher wins, you're pretty much talking about volume of innings. But there's no reliable vet on this pitching staff, and Steven Brault is out at least a  month, so ... I suppose I'll go with Chad Kuhl here. I remain a fan of his potential.

Aaron: I thought sabermetrics killed questions about win totals for pitchers. Or maybe not. I’m quite out of touch, so much so that none of the names on the current rotation ring a bell for me. 

The Moose: Chad Kuhl

3. Who will have a break-out year or at least surprise you (in a good way) in 2021?

Bob: Breakout season for Pirates will be Anthony Alford

Rich: Gregory Polanco! I don't know if it's my natural inclination to be a contrarian or the fact that I bought his jersey as a Rookie or that I truly believe it but I feel like he's going to turn it around. He's legitimately playing for his career this season, so hopefully that adds some motivation.

Josh: This is weird, but I think Gregory Polanco has a breakout year. If he can stay healthy and can get off to a hot start, then he should find himself a new home before the trade deadline. 

Brian: People are so down on Gregory Polanco, and (mostly) deservedly so. I get it. But we all know the potential that's in there, and now that things have been pointing in the wrong direction for a while, and you know it's at least possible he can play a lot better, that makes for a good breakout or surprise pick, right? His big (by Pirates' standards) contract can be bought out after this year, so if he wants to continue being overpaid or put himself in a position to be even a mildly attractive free agent, he needs to perform this year, and that can also help fuel surprise seasons sometimes. 

Jim: Tough question. I don’t know if it constitutes a “break-out” label, but I think Polanco can top his 2018 campaign. 

Dillon: Steven Wright will have a great year. His ERA flip flops from horrible to amazing every year he pitches, and considering he last pitched in 2019 to an 8.53 ERA, you can only expect greatness when the pendulum swings back. 

Matt: Bryan Reynolds will bounce back in a big way. I think he's too talented to be what we saw last season for any kind of significant period of time. Honorable mention to Kevin Newman, who made some swing adjustments and looks strong at the plate in spring.

Aaron: Your question prompted some googling, during which I discovered a rookie center fielder named Dustin Fowler who seems to have just made the squad recently. Yesterday, in fact. So let’s pull for this to be the year of the prospects and hope for both Hayes and Fowler to blow up. 

The Moose: Probably Ke’Bryan Hayes because he is so fast and so physical with the ball he can hit, steal bases so fast and good at saving singles. (Sean’s note: We need to work on grammar.) 


4. What is manager Derek Shelton thinking in this picture?

Bob: Shelton is thinking, where can I get more power in my lineup?

Rich: Pineapple on pizza. Obviously.

Josh: "Is it too late to go back to Minnesota?"

Brian: Haha, how about “What have I gotten myself into??”

Jim: This is the worst job I’ve had since I was in that Speed Hitter commercial. 

Dillon: "Will Bob Nutting be mad if we only get a 2nd round pick this year?"

Matt: "How many losing seasons do I get before my bosses get restless and I have to step on the gas pedal?"

Aaron: “This is fine.”

The Moose: About all the teams he has been on.

5. The Pirates have the #1 pick in the 2021 Major League Baseball draft in June. Who do you think they will pick: Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker, or someone else?

Bob: It's a nice problem to have....I prefer Leiter but I believe they will take Rocker...either will give them a bona fide top of rotation guy....the question is when?  How soon?

Rich: It doesn't appear that you can go wrong with either one. I want them to pick Leiter because I think his last name will give endless wordplay opportunities for all of the unlicensed merchandise producers. I think they'll take Rocker though because of his size.

Josh: They should take Rocker. They would be crazy not to take Rocker. They will anger fans if they do not take Rocker. I can see the case for Jack Leiter, but I just think Kumar Rocker is the more complete, more MLB ready pitcher. 

Brian: Smart money is probably still on Rocker - bigger, probably more durable, and been #1 on the board for a while. But Leiter has been absolutely insane lately and to my very untrained eye (that also has barely actually seen either one pitch), he is starting to feel like the "safer" pick . I saw one Vanderbilt fan comment "Rocker COULD win a Cy Young, but Leiter WILL be an 8-time all-star. Obviously that is just one person's assessment (and more of a wild guess) but I can't get that thought out of my head, and if it's me with that choice I take Leiter. But if the draft was tomorrow, I would be thrilled with either and would not complain either way.

Jim: I think they take Kumar Rocker. His overall presence on the mound and excellent stuff makes him look like the prototypical ace you want on your staff. There’s still a lot of time for stuff to develop, though, so we’ll see!

Dillon: Kumar Rocker. He has all the hype

Matt: I'll go with Kumar Rocker since he has the longer successful track record in Division I ball. Disclaimer: I'm not a scout.

Aaron: They got the #1 pick? Sweet. Is that because they won 19 games last year? It’s probably because they only won 19 games last year isn’t it? But both those dudes sound like studs; I hope it works out! 

The Moose: Kumar Rocker

6. The Pirates traded many of its bigger name players during the offseason. What player or players will be traded before the end of the 2021 season?

Bob: Adam Frazier is the most likely to be traded...versatile, defender who can also be a good top of lineup on base guy....If he gets off to a good start, he should bring back more in a deal...  They can only hope Polanco gets off to a good start and somebody would be interested....but in any event, the Pirates will have to pick up a large portion of salary

Rich: Polanco if possible. Richard Rodriguez. Chad Kuhl will go if he performs well too.

Josh: I think they trade as much as they can if teams offer anything. This is a rebuild, so almost none of these guys will be here when they turn the corner. The only players to not trade are Hayes and probably Keller. Other than that, if someone makes an offer, they should take it. 

Brian: Well if my Polanco breakout pick comes true, he's probably out of here. But the other clear pick is Adam Frazier. I honestly have no idea how he wasn't traded during the offseason firesale, but if he can even somewhat carry his hot spring into the season, that will turn out to be a wise choice. 

Jim: I think there are a lot of good candidates: Trevor Cahill, Richard Rodriguez, Adam Frazier, and Gregory Polanco all seem to be pretty good guesses. 

Dillon: Say goodbye to Tyler Anderson, Adam Frazier, and Richard Rodriguez.

Matt: Now that it turns out Todd Frazier is sticking around -- which I like, since he always seemed fun to watch when he was tearing up the Pirates -- I think I'll go with him. Like you say, there's not much left on the ol' Pirates ship to deal.

Aaron: Josh Bell’s departure to the Nationals bummed me out, but then again the 2020 season was just a baseball shipwreck in a global quagmire. My wife and I got to see Bell in spring training in 2017, before he’d played much in the bigs, and I was hoping that he’d be around for years with the club, and that I could tell the story to my kids. Yeah, your mom and I saw that dude play when he was just starting out. But he’s gone, gone.

I don’t know if it will be a trade, but Polanco will be gone soon too. The Pirates aren’t going to pay him $12.5 million next year to lead the team in strikeouts. (They might.)

The Moose:  Adam Frazier 


7. Finally, what do you think the Pirates record will be, and what place will they finish in the National League central division?

Bob: Pirates will be 62-100 but that would be made more palatable IF they can develop a core beyond Hayes…

Rich: 69 -93, Fourth in the division.

Josh: 67-95. I do not think they lose 100 games. They will be bad though, and they will definitely finish last in the division. Most likely they finish in the bottom five of MLB. 

Brian: The last over-under I saw is 58.5. I have seen many people call that way too low - but let me remind these people that this team played at a 51-win pace, and the roster got worse, not better. I love the direction they have taken and the commitment to acquiring prospects, but this year is still going to be extremely ugly. There are a few things to be optimistic about - Hayes, potential bounce-backs from a couple of guys (Reynolds/Newman in particular), I really like Anthony Alford, and am excited to hopefully see some of these new young guys get some run .... plus, I do *somewhat* buy that last year was just so bad that they have to be a *little* better....but a little better still means 100 losses. 62-100.

Jim: This team is bad. 54-108, 5th place. 

Dillon: The Pirates will win a generous 66 games, good for last place. Next year! 

Matt: I think they'll go 65-97 and finish DFL (dead-freaking last) in the National League Central.

Aaron: My first real memory of watching a Pirates game was also my first visit to a bar. I was six, and we were visiting Pittsburgh, and my dad took us to a dark dive to meet the owner. They’d grown up together. There was a small television in the corner of the room broadcasting a day game from Three Rivers Stadium, and I watched a few innings. At the time the game was still new to me, and I wondered about things like why batters choked up high on the bat or why the ump would roll a clean baseball toward the mound after a final put-out. When I’d see a player bounce a liner off the right field wall and then slide safely into second I would say to myself, “That was a double.” I remember the Pirates’ white jerseys and their shiny yellow helmets. I recognized Jim Bibby’s name from a pennant my brother had hanging on his wall. Jim Bibby was the first Pirate to let me down. 

The Pirates are going to lose 95 games this year and end up in the cellar. Garrit Cole is going to win the Cy Young for the Yankees, and we’ll watch him in the playoffs and think bitter thoughts. Let’s go Bucs!

The Moose: They will probably do a little bit better. I will say 87- 75 and 2nd place.

So who will get the most predictions correct? I guess we'll find out in October. Please feel free to leave your own predictions in the comments section below.

In case you're wondering, I decided not to participate because I felt like I was taking other people's predictions. Besides, I'm kicking myself for not having any questions related to the Cole Tucker-Vanessa Hudgens relationship. What a missed opportunity! 

Ke'Bryan Hayes photo by Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images. The Tucker-Hudgens photo is from Vanessa's Instagram. (Vanessa and I are on a first name basis!)

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