I realized that in the couple months I’ve been writing these articles, I haven’t covered any Pirates players. Maybe it’s a personal bias, or maybe I’m struggling with the idea that so many Pirates players are worth owning this year. When was the last time that happened? Seriously, I don’t remember. So to make up for ignoring them, here are a few Pirates:
Andrew McCutchen – I know I’m not going out on a limb here, but McCutchen has been fantastic this year. His improvements have been even more pronounced in OPS leagues, as his current 1.060 OPS is second to Votto in the entire league. This is even more remarkable because he had previously been a low 800s OPS guy. In 2012, he’s producing a career-low walk rate and contact rate, yet managing a career-high OBP. Yes his BABIP is very high, but this appears to mostly be the result of a more aggressive approach and better contact, as evidenced by a higher swing percentage and line drive rate. He’s also hitting a ton more homers and his home run to fly ball rate is twice that of his career rate, which is typically a sign of future regression. However, his approach seems to have changed and I’m betting that he maintains most of this power increase. It may have sounded crazy at the start of the season, but I’m expecting a line of .380/.540/.920 for the rest of 2012.
Neil Walker – Having an OPS over 1.000 is not something you would expect from Walker, but that’s what he’s done over the last month. However, he started the season hitting less than what you would expect from him, so I believe that this is largely a fluctuation over the course of the season. His OPS is roughly in line with his career average, but there are reasons for optimism with Walker. Most importantly, he’s walking and hitting line drives at higher rates than he’s previously done. Over the rest of the season, I think he will produce a line of .350/.440/.790.
Pedro Alvarez – Pedro has seemingly come back from the dead this year and become a respectable third baseman in OPS leagues. Yes, he is frustrating to own on a weekly basis because it feels like he will either crush or not get a hit, but he has produced well over the season. He basically is what he is and I don’t see any factors that have changed significantly in his plate discipline. His slugging will likely decrease because he will not continue to have a HR/FB rate of 27.5%, but he is capable of maintaining something near 20%. I see a .320/.470/.790 line for the rest of 2012. I’ll caveat this by saying that if you are in an OBP league that doesn’t count slugging as a category, you’ll want to run far away from him because expecting anything greater than a .320 OBP from him is a stretch.
Garrett Jones – Here’s another low OBP, high slugging player. His current .789 OPS is his highest since 2009, but his HR/FB is also well above his levels the past two years. One significant cause for concern is his career-low 3.8% walk rate and career-high 24.3% strikeout rate. I think he will continue to have a low OBP and will see a decrease in his slugging going forward, with .300/.460/.760 as a reasonable projection.
I’m not going to cover Starling Marte here, but he’s definitely worth a look as well. And for all you non-Pittsburgh people out there, here’s a few other players that I find interesting:
Casper Wells – Despite playing in dreaded Safeco, Wells has become a decent outfield option. This year he has benefitted from an increase in his BABIP, but this is partly driven by his increase in line drives. He’s currently walking a little more than he usually does, but his 30% strikeout rate is holding him back from being a great option. Fortunately, he should see improvement upon his current line to attain .330/.450/.780 for the rest of the season.
Buster Posey – Posey keeps getting better. This year he’s retained last year’s improved walk rate, while slugging like he did in 2010. He’s also posting career highs in his line drive rate and contact rate, which suggest that he still has more upside. I believe that he will be able to maintain his current .380/.500/.880 line that is second to Carlos Ruiz among catchers.
Alcides Escobar – Alcides has an OPS 100 points above his career average, but I don’t see any real improvement in his numbers. One positive factor is that his line drive rate has improved, but his strikeout rate and contact rate are both trending in the wrong directions. He also has a higher BABIP and HR/FB than he’s produced in recent years. For the rest of 2012, it is likely that he will be much closer to his career .665 OPS than his current level.