Let’s get the easy and non-controversial part of this out of the way first.
I project that the 2014 Pirate pitching staff will have a 3.75 xFIP and an identical 3.75 ERA. That’s a big increase in ERA, but last year’s 3.27 did come with some luck, as indicated by the 2013 team’s 3.58 xFIP and .285 BABIP.
The 17 point increase from last year’s xFIP to my projected 3.75 xFIP could be almost entirely attributed to having Edinson Volquez in the rotation rather than A.J. Burnett. I’m projecting Volquez to have a 4.16 xFIP/ERA. Burnett had a 2.92 xFIP last year with a 3.30 ERA.
That might all make some sense. But what comes next is going to require some thorough justification.
How in the world can I be projecting that the 2014 Pirates will have a batting line that is almost identical to what they did last year, when, just two days ago, I wrote that they will score 74 runs more than they did in 2014?!
I had to seriously ask myself that question when I came up with my batting line numbers. And if I couldn’t come up with an answer, then I might need to re-think the whole thing, rather than posting this post . . . But I am posting this post . . . so . . .
The Pirates hit .245/.313/.396 — .709 OPS last year and I project that they will hit .243/.312/.393 — .705 OPS in 2014. Almost exactly the same in every category.
But the Pirates scored just 634 run last year, yet, I am projecting that they will push 708 runs across the plate this year. For what sane reason could I believe that a .705 team OPS will produce 74 runs more than a .709 OPS?
Well, the simple answer is that the Pirates hit well enough last year to score a lot more runs than they did. Among the 15 National League teams, this is where they ranked in the following offensive categories:
weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+): 5th
weighted On-Base Average (wOBA): 7th
On-Base Percentage: 8th
Slugging Percentage: 7th
Home Runs: 3rd
One could make the argument, based upon wRC+, that the Pirates had the fifth best offense in the National League in 2013 Yet, they ranked 9th in runs scored.
Take a look at their rankings in the same categories with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP):
Home Runs: 13
So, what makes me think that the Pirates will suddenly become good hitters when the “pressure” of runners at second and/or third is on?
Well, they won’t. They’ll just be the same hitters with RISP that they are otherwise. You see, I firmly believe what many consider to be something beyond a grave mistake and more akin to a full-blown heresy:
When a player or team hits better – or worse – with runners in scoring position than he or they do otherwise, it is all about luck. There is no such thing as a clutch hitter. And, if there is some reason – other than luck - for why a specific hitter does better “in the clutch,” then I have to ask why he doesn’t do that particular thing all the time and not just when he hits “in the clutch.” — Richard Jarzynka, SABERBUCS.net
The truth is that most hitters, over the course of their career, have “overall” batting lines that are very similar to their RISP batting lines.
Compare the 2013 “overall” major league batting line with the RISP major league batting line:
Overall / RISP
Average: .253 / .255
OBP: .318 / .336
SLG: .396 / .388
OPS: .714 / .724
wRC+: 96 / 95
The only significant difference between the overall and RISP batting lines comes in on-base percentage. And that is entirely explained by the fact that Intentional Walks are only issued when there are runners in scoring position.
This isn’t something that is limited to the 2013 season. Every year the MLB overall batting line is very similar to the MLB batting line with runners in scoring position.
Last year, the Pirates had an overall batting line of .245/.313/.396 — .709 OPS, 98 wRC+. With RISP, the Pirates hit a very unlucky .229/.316/.334 — .650 OPS, 78 wRC+
The St. Louis Cardinals had an overall batting line of .269/.332/.401 — .743 OPS, 106 wRC+. With RISP, the Cardinals hit an incredibly lucky .330/.402/.463 — .865 OPS, 138 wRC+.
The Pirates and Cardinals were at the far opposite extremes of the 2013 “RISP Luck Factor.” That’s good news for the 2014 Pirates. It is extraordinarily unlikely to happen again.
The Pirates RISP numbers this year are most probably going to look a whole lot like their overall hitting numbers. I projected a .705 overall team OPS for the Pirates in 2014 and I am projecting that same .705 team OPS with runners in scoring position.
It is not the Pirates .705 overall OPS that is going to produce 74 more runs than last year’s .709 OPS. It is this year’s .705 OPS with runners in scoring position that is going to produce 74 more runs than last year’s .650 OPS with runners in scoring position.
And here’s another reason why I expect so many more runs this year. The Pirates team “Runs Created” total last year was 708. If that number doesn’t look familiar, take a look up toward the top of this page. 708 is exactly how many runs I am projecting the Pirates to score this year with a .705 OPS. And they would have scored just about that many with last year’s .709 OPS . . . if their RISP batting line had not been so unlucky.