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2016 Team Previews: Pittsburgh Pirates

Throughout the long, cold offseason, I am doing team by team previews to get you ready for the 2016 fantasy baseball season. Today it's the Buccos.

This gentleman is just one of the under-appreciated Pirates stars. How will 2016 look for the Bucs?
This gentleman is just one of the under-appreciated Pirates stars. How will 2016 look for the Bucs?
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to my 2016 fantasy team previews. I will be breaking down 2016 prospects for the relevant fantasy players on all 30 teams, one team at a time. Check back throughout the offseason for new team previews. You can catch up on old ones in my archive (here) or in the section (here). Because there are 30 teams to cover in limited time, I have to get started now, even though there will certainly be some trades that move players around and open up larger roles for existing players. Also, free agents and guys that moved midseason will be analyzed with one of the teams they played for, even though they likely (or definitely) won't be on that team in 2016 so they don't get missed. Hopefully you can bear with me on those issues and remember that these were written before those trades occurred.

I am starting at the bottom of the standings and working my way up. In each team preview, I will attempt to follow the same layout. First, there will be two tables of stats for hitters (showing stats acquired while playing for this team; traded players will be missing some stats) followed by quick analysis of the most fantasy relevant of those hitters (relevance at my discretion). After that, two tables for the pitching stats and some pitcher analysis. I will then present one breakout player (aka sleeper) and one breakdown player (or bust, if you prefer) for the team. Got it? Ok, let's get started.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Hitters

Name Position PA HR R RBI SB CS BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
Pedro Alvarez 1B, 3B* 491 27 60 77 2 0 9.80% 26.70% 0.243 0.318 0.469
Sean Rodriguez 1B, OF, 2B* 240 4 25 17 2 2 2.10% 26.30% 0.246 0.281 0.362
Neil Walker 2B 603 16 69 71 4 1 7.30% 18.20% 0.269 0.328 0.427
Josh Harrison 2B, 3B, OF 449 4 57 28 10 8 4.20% 15.80% 0.287 0.327 0.39
Aramis Ramirez 3B 214 6 18 33 0 0 7.00% 12.10% 0.245 0.299 0.413
Francisco Cervelli C 510 7 56 43 1 1 9.00% 18.40% 0.295 0.37 0.401
Chris Stewart C 172 0 9 15 0 0 3.50% 16.90% 0.289 0.32 0.34
Andrew McCutchen OF 685 23 91 96 11 5 14.30% 19.40% 0.292 0.401 0.488
Starling Marte OF 633 19 84 81 30 10 4.30% 19.40% 0.287 0.337 0.444
Gregory Polanco OF 652 9 83 52 27 10 8.40% 18.60% 0.256 0.32 0.381
Jordy Mercer SS 430 3 34 34 3 2 6.30% 17.00% 0.244 0.293 0.32
Jung ho Kang SS, 3B 467 15 60 58 5 4 6.00% 21.20% 0.287 0.355 0.461

Name BABIP LD% GB% FB% HR/FB SwStr% Soft% Med% Hard% ESPN Player Rater
Pedro Alvarez 0.279 20.40% 52.80% 26.90% 32.50% 13.20% 18.40% 43.90% 37.70% 3.56
Sean Rodriguez 0.325 20.40% 47.80% 31.80% 8.00% 15.60% 24.70% 49.40% 25.90% -1.82
Neil Walker 0.306 21.40% 41.80% 36.80% 9.90% 9.10% 13.60% 54.40% 32.00% 4.00
Josh Harrison 0.336 24.90% 41.60% 33.50% 3.40% 10.00% 19.30% 52.00% 28.70% 2.31
Aramis Ramirez 0.253 16.30% 40.70% 43.00% 8.10% 8.70% 18.00% 48.80% 33.10% 1.80
Francisco Cervelli 0.359 21.00% 52.10% 26.90% 7.30% 7.40% 15.80% 53.60% 30.70% 2.30
Chris Stewart 0.348 22.30% 53.80% 23.80% 0.00% 6.80% 22.20% 60.00% 17.80% -2.29
Andrew McCutchen 0.339 23.50% 38.20% 38.20% 13.60% 10.50% 13.10% 48.00% 38.90% 8.63
Starling Marte 0.333 23.60% 53.80% 22.70% 18.60% 13.70% 21.30% 50.00% 28.70% 9.87
Gregory Polanco 0.308 19.70% 45.40% 34.90% 5.50% 8.00% 17.50% 52.60% 29.90% 5.61
Jordy Mercer 0.29 20.70% 48.80% 30.60% 3.00% 7.20% 16.50% 58.50% 25.00% -1.18
Jung ho Kang 0.344 22.60% 49.80% 27.60% 16.90% 9.90% 18.00% 47.70% 34.40% 3.97

*Will lose this eligibility in 2016

**The ESPN player rater is based on a player's standard 5 x 5 category performance relative to average. A score of 0 is replacement level and negative values mean the player is actually hurting your team. Values in the 1-2 range generally are for your worst starting player, unless you are unlucky. There are no positional adjustments, though, so shortstops and catchers will often have very low scores relative to everyone else. It is normalized so that guys with little playing time can be compared to guys that played all year.

Analysis

Because defense doesn't matter in fantasy baseball, Pedro Alvarez isn't as bad as you might think. He offers significant power and his OBP isn't as hurtful as his average because he takes a good number of walks. Now that he will be just first base eligible, however, and permanently stuck in a platoon situation, and is not signed to a team at the moment, he has lost a lot of value. He is still just 28 and has that rare power, but he should probably be a DH and platoon DHs aren't very popular, so who knows when he will be signed. In fantasy, he can be used in deep leagues with daily moves, but he's probably somewhere around the #33 or 34 first baseman.

Neil Walker is now with the Mets and is a reliable second base option in all leagues. He doesn't really excel in one particular area, but his all around production is good for a second baseman. I see him producing very similar stats in 2016 and being in the 10-13 range among 2B by the end of the year. There might be some playing time concerns with a crowded infield in New York, but I think Walker gets the most ABs of the group.

Josh Harrison turned back into a pumpkin after his breakout 2014. He bounced around several positions and never really got his power going. He is penciled in as the starting second baseman now and I think he will settle in somewhere between his 2014 line and 2015 line, weighted toward 2015. I think his power will bounce back to the 10-12 HR range, with a boost in slugging up to 0.410 or so, but the average and OBP will stay about the same. 10-15 steals sounds about right as well. I think he will be underrated as a second baseman in many leagues and could be a good target after a down year. He is probably in the 10-15 mix among all 2B.

Francisco Cervelli had a career year and made fantasy owners very happy. It was also a weird year because, despite a good hard hit %, he hit only 7 home runs and had a bad HR/FB ratio. His high average was very much propped up by an unsustainable BABIP. I see his power actually increasing to 9 HR or so, but his average falling back to the 0.250 range. With all those changes, his value probably drops to #17-18 among catchers, which is deep league only (or 2-catcher league) territory.

Despite a very slow start to the season, Andrew McCutchen ended up about where he always does. His knee injury slowed down his baserunning, but everything else looked normal. I think he can replicate his 2015 this year with a small boost up to 15 steals thanks to good health. Make no mistake, this is still one of the best hitters in baseball in his prime. He slides into the second group of hitters in the first round behind the Trout/Harper/Goldschmidt group. His group includes Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo, Nolan Arenado, and maybe Carlos Correa. I like his track record more than all of those guys except Donaldson (Cabrera's injuries worry me), so I would probably slot him in just after Donaldson.

Starling Marte has established himself as a clear top 10 OF in fantasy baseball and real baseball. The only regression I really see for 2016 is in his power. His HR/FB ratio was well above league average, he had a very high ground ball rate, and only a mediocre hard hit %. I think he hits only 15 HR to go with 30 steals and his usual 0.290 average. That is still a five-category contributor, which makes him a top 10 outfielder. I don't think there is much upside left, just more of the same.

Gregory Polanco looks like a younger Marte. His 2015 batting stats look very close to Marte's minus the power. There were some differences between them, however. Polanco actually had a much lower swinging strike rate, better walk rate, better hard hit rate, less fortunate HR/FB ratio, and hit fewer ground balls. I'm not saying Polanco is better than Marte, but I think the gap between them will close some more in 2016. Polanco should pick up a few home runs and gain a little power as he is still developing. Keep in mind he is only 25 and just finished his first full season in the majors. I see gains in power and maybe even average with the same speed. That puts him in roughly the 25-30 range among outfielders, maybe even lower 20s if you are especially bullish on the average and power upside.

I don't have anything positive to say about Jordy Mercer's 2015 season or his 2016 outlook, so I'll just leave it at that.

Jung-ho Kang had a very productive major league debut. If it weren't for a nasty knee injury on a questionable slide, maybe he could have helped Pittsburgh go farther in the playoffs. For fantasy owners, his injury and subsequent surgery mean that he might miss the first couple weeks of the season while he recovers. Setting that aside, he is SS-eligible (cha-ching!), has great power for the position, hits the ball hard, and wasn't overmatched at all by the pitchers he saw. That makes him an easy top 10 SS in my book. He's very similar to Jhonny Peralta and that puts him right in that 8-10 range.

I'm going to touch on two top Pirates prospects set to debut this year. Josh Bell is one of the best first base prospects in baseball (I'd have him second behind AJ Reed) and is ready to fill the black hole at first base. I didn't even mention the motley crew of castoffs set to start at the position for Pittsburgh (John Jaso and Mike Morse are involved). I think Bell spends a couple months in AAA before being called up. He has a very good hit tool and should develop above average power. It sounds like a 0.290 average and 20 HR aren't unreasonable in his prime. With first base being so deep in fantasy, he's more of a deep league option. In dynasty leagues, he's probably owned already. Alen Hanson is a second base prospect with good speed and a decent hit tool to go with below average power. He will probably be in the mix with Josh Harrison for starts at second if there are injuries elsewhere (Harrison can play third and OF), but his lower ceiling and lack of playing time makes him not worth stashing, but he could be helpful in deep leagues when injuries strike.

Pitchers

Name Position IP ERA FIP xFIP WHIP BABIP LOB% GB% SwStr%
Tony Watson RP 75.1 1.91 2.84 3.6 0.96 0.251 82.20% 47.60% 11.60%
Joakim Soria RP 26.2 2.03 1.93 3.15 1.16 0.324 77.40% 40.60% 11.50%
Mark Melancon RP 76.2 2.23 2.82 3.07 0.93 0.251 75.70% 57.50% 11.80%
Jared Hughes RP 67 2.28 3.81 4.1 1.33 0.306 81.70% 63.70% 9.90%
Rob Scahill RP 30.2 2.64 4.5 4.15 1.6 0.306 76.40% 61.60% 9.40%
Antonio Bastardo RP 57.1 2.98 3.33 4.27 1.13 0.246 78.50% 31.00% 14.60%
Arquimedes Caminero RP 74.2 3.62 3.8 3.77 1.23 0.276 76.00% 47.60% 12.60%
Radhames Liz RP 23.1 4.24 4.98 3.95 1.63 0.367 84.80% 34.90% 10.30%
J.A. Happ SP 63.1 1.85 2.19 2.9 1.03 0.299 85.50% 40.40% 9.90%
Gerrit Cole SP 208 2.6 2.66 3.16 1.09 0.304 74.90% 48.00% 10.20%
A.J. Burnett SP 164 3.18 3.36 3.55 1.36 0.336 77.80% 53.40% 8.90%
Francisco Liriano SP 186.2 3.38 3.19 3.16 1.21 0.293 74.20% 51.20% 14.30%
Jeff Locke SP 168.1 4.49 3.95 3.94 1.42 0.312 67.10% 51.00% 9.00%
Charlie Morton SP 129 4.81 4.19 3.87 1.38 0.309 65.80% 57.30% 7.80%
Joe Blanton SP, RP 34.1 1.57 2.11 2.77 1.02 0.287 83.80% 48.90% 15.50%
Vance Worley SP, RP 71.2 4.02 3.82 4.32 1.42 0.323 71.10% 46.20% 6.00%

Name SV HLD K% BB% Soft% Med% Hard% ESPN Player Rater
Tony Watson 1 41 21.20% 5.80% 24.80% 52.40% 22.90% 3.41
Joakim Soria 1 11 26.20% 7.50% 28.60% 44.30% 27.10% 4.79
Mark Melancon 51 1 21.20% 4.80% 27.00% 47.40% 25.60% 9.38
Jared Hughes 0 21 12.70% 6.70% 23.00% 52.70% 24.30% 0.51
Rob Scahill 0 1 16.90% 11.30% 21.80% 50.50% 27.70% -1.14
Antonio Bastardo 1 9 26.80% 10.90% 22.60% 45.20% 32.20% 1.42
Arquimedes Caminero 0 15 23.00% 9.10% 24.30% 53.30% 22.40% 1.00
Radhames Liz 0 0 25.50% 11.30% 20.30% 54.70% 25.00% -1.78
J.A. Happ 0 0 27.70% 5.20% 16.80% 52.70% 30.50% 3.76
Gerrit Cole 0 0 24.30% 5.30% 20.00% 50.50% 29.50% 10.00
A.J. Burnett 0 0 20.50% 7.00% 18.20% 47.80% 34.10% 3.05
Francisco Liriano 0 0 26.50% 9.10% 25.40% 50.70% 23.90% 5.87
Jeff Locke 0 0 17.50% 8.20% 21.30% 51.70% 27.00% 0.06
Charlie Morton 0 0 17.10% 7.30% 21.50% 47.60% 30.90% -0.05
Joe Blanton 0 0 28.50% 6.60% 19.30% 48.90% 31.80% 2.95
Vance Worley 0 0 15.80% 6.80% 15.10% 55.90% 29.00% -0.79

*If they were outside the top 550 pitchers on the player rater, they will show up as #N/A

Analysis

J.A. Happ was covered in detail with his new team, the Blue Jays, so check out that preview for more.

A.J. Burnett is retired, Charlie Morton has taken his very mediocre stuff down to Atlanta, where he will continue being barely streamable, if he can be used at all.

Can we just stop and appreciate how good Francisco Liriano has been for years now? His last three years have been great: ERAs in the low 3s, close to 10 K/9 the last two years. His 2015 swinging strike rate of 14.3% was fourth best among qualified starters, behind only Kershaw, Scherzer, and Sale. Not bad company. He should be valued in the 20-25 range among starters. He has one of the best pitching coaches in the game, a great defense behind him, and a pitcher's park.

Don't be fooled by Joe Blanton's gaudy looking stats. He was primarily a reliever. He's now in Los Angeles, where he will be in the bullpen again, so he won't be starting. He could do well again as a reliever there, but he won't get any save or even hold chances with so many good pitchers in front of him in that 'pen.

Other than get ground balls, I'm not sure Jeff Locke does anything very well and I would not feel good about running him out there in a streaming start at any point in the season. Streaming him at home against bad teams is the best possible fantasy scenario for him.

I've buried the lede here by waiting until now to cover the best pitcher in the rotation. Gerrit Cole has developed into the ace he was supposed to be. He has all the skills and peripheral stats to maintain similar production in 2016. He is a top 15 starter for me, but not top 10 yet.

Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong will round out the rotation, but neither has much fantasy value at this point.

Mark Melancon had a roller coaster season with a huge velocity drop early on and poor performances only to finish up with the most saves in baseball. The velocity dip was concerning, but he ended up with stellar ground ball rates, K%-BB%, WHIP, and a good swinging strike rate. He should be fine to draft as the number 6 closer or so. Behind him is the holds leader from 2015, Tony Watson, and he should be another top holds guy in 2016. He doesn't have the dominating stuff of some of the other top holds guys like Andrew Miller, but he is consistent and reliable. Behind him Arqumides Caminero is a good pitcher in his own right and worth owning in leagues with holds.

The second best pitching prospect (or maybe third, depending on how you feel about Urias) in baseball may debut for Pittsburgh this season. That should be all you need to know to stash and/or watch out for Tyler Glasnow. He has dominated every level in the minors and is now at AAA. He is a strikeout machine with a deadly and bullet-speed fastball. He is a future ace and now is your chance to get him while he is still available. Once the top pitching prospect in Pittsburgh, Jameson Taillon will have to play second fiddle now. He had TJ surgery and is now fully healthy and should debut this year, maybe before Glasnow. He doesn't have the same ceiling as he once did or as Glasnow, but he's still a very good pitcher and one that should be startable immediately in fantasy.

Breakout

Gregory Polanco

I could have picked one of the several good prospects, but I think people are forgetting how good Polanco's scouting reports were and how he still hasn't reached his potential. I see upside here and he's my breakout pick for the Buccos.

Breakdown

Francisco Cervelli

As I mentioned above, the average is coming down and there isn't much fantasy value left at that point. He was great for his 2015 owners, but don't buy in 2016.

Check back soon for the 30th and final installment of the 2016 Team Previews. Tschus!