HomeMLBPittsburgh Pirates Season Preview 2024 Odds and Predictions

    Pittsburgh Pirates Season Preview 2024 Odds and Predictions

    Adam Burke's season preview for the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of the VSiN 2024 MLB Betting Guide.

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    Pittsburgh Pirates 2024 preview

    The fifth straight season with a losing record and the sixth in seven years for the Pittsburgh Pirates was made even more difficult by injuries. But, it wasn’t the record that was the most disappointing thing for the Pirates last season. It was the “9” next to Oneil Cruz’s name. One of baseball’s most exciting young players was limited to nine games after suffering a horrible leg injury in a collision near home plate.

    On one hand, you can point to the 76 wins without Cruz and be a little bit excited, but it was a major blow to his development to miss a full MLB season. After putting on a laser show in Spring Training, Cruz is ready to go and so are most of his teammates, but it looks to be another year with more futility than victory in the Steel City.

     

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    While the Pirates went 76-86 last season, they were more like a 71-91 team by Pythagorean Win-Loss and 73-89 by 3rd Order Win Percentage per Clay Davenport. They started 20-9, but didn’t have another winning month until September. The Buccos did almost finish .500 in the second half with a 35-37 record. The run differential issues came from getting blown out 27 times, with only 15 such wins by 5+ runs.

    With some very intriguing pitching prospects and hopefully a full year of Cruz, the wins and losses seem secondary to building up the core in hopes of contending again sooner rather than later.

    2024 Pittsburgh Pirates Odds

    (odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 25)

    World Series: +17000

    NL Pennant: +7500

    NL Central: +1200

    Win Total: 75.5 (-105/-115)

    Make Playoffs: Yes +475 / No -650

    Pittsburgh Pirates Preview: Offense

    It was a tough year for the Pirates offense. They posted a 90 wRC+ that ranked 25th and finished 28th in homers with 159. Remember that wRC+ grades offense on a curve based on the park factor and PNC Park is a bit stingy for offense unless it gets really hot. The Pirates walked at a 9.1% clip, so that really helped out their offensive numbers because they posted a .239 batting average.

    The Pirates struck out at a top-10 rate at 24% and simply had too many bad hitters that played too much. The top five guys in plate appearances did all post wRC+ marks above league average, with Ke’Bryan Hayes at 101 and Andrew McCutchen at 115 to define the top and bottom of that group. Cutch is back in the mix after having a pretty solid season overall and his 15.9% BB% definitely helps to get more men on base.

    Bryan Reynolds had a 110 wRC+ and hit 24 homers, while Jack Suwinski was a big-time three true outcomes guy with 26 HR, a 32.2% K%, and a 14% BB%. He wound up with a 112 wRC+ and finished second to Hayes in fWAR. Hayes was a top-tier defender at third base to add a lot of value with his average offensive numbers.

    The problem with the Pirates is that they don’t really have many guys with a high ceiling aside from Cruz. The only other team to have a player lead the team (min 400 PA) with a 115 wRC+ was the Royals and that player was Bobby Witt Jr., who was worth 4.5 more wins above replacement player than Cutch was.

    Cruz hit 17 homers in 2022 over 361 plate appearances, but he still struck out nearly 35% of the time and only posted a 105 wRC+. By Outs Above Average and UZR, he was a poor defender, so that also cut into his value. It will be interesting to see what he does this season. He hit seven homers in just 49 plate appearances in Spring Training and had some eye-popping exit velocity numbers. He also struck out 14 times. He is definitely an exciting player and does special things when he makes contact. How much of it will he make?

    The Pirates did get 54 games worth of quality from Jared Triolo, who posted a 118 wRC+ and graded pretty well as a defender, but he had a .440 BABIP in his 209 PA with a 30.1% K%, so I’m not super optimistic on his profile and neither are the projection systems. He does walk a lot, but a high rate of walks and strikeouts without an abundance of power often leads to a lot of weak contact. Triolo only had a 32.8% Hard Hit% and a 5.9% Barrel%, both well below the league averages.

    The hope is that 24-year-old Henry Davis will pick it back up offensively. His first season in the Majors was ugly, as he posted a 76 wRC+ and also struggled defensively. He hit well in the minors at basically every level and only played 14 Triple-A games before getting the call. He swung it well in the Spring and walks a lot, so he could really take a big leap this season.

    Beyond Davis and Cruz, it is hard to get excited about most of the roster. Suwinski will still hit for some power and Rowdy Tellez is only a season removed from hitting 35 HR for the Brewers. There should be more of a power element and some better contact quality, but this offense still has a long way to go to be considered league average.

    Pittsburgh Pirates Preview: Pitching

    We’re going to have to wait a little bit for former LSU ace Paul Skenes, but a different young and exciting arm made the roster. Jared Jones, the team’s second-round pick out of La Mirada High School in 2020, made the ballclub. Jones didn’t allow an earned run in Spring Training and had some good minor league numbers across 126.1 innings in Double-A and Triple-A last season. The 6-foot-1 right-hander runs it up there in the upper 90s and works up in the zone, so he’ll likely allow some homers to MLB hitters that can get on top of that kind of velo, but he ranked No. 62 in FanGraphs Top 100 list and appears ready to go.

    Like most young arms, Jones has the velo down, but he’ll need to improve his secondaries. I like that the Pirates are letting him learn on the job at the MLB level. They also have some veteran innings eaters in Martin Perez and Marco Gonzales, who are pretty low-ceiling guys, so it makes sense to separate the soft-tossing southpaws with somebody like Jones. With Skenes coming soon, and Mitch Keller still around for a while, things are really looking up.

    Keller is coming off of a career year with 3.3 fWAR. He had a 4.21 ERA with a 4.18 xERA, but his 3.80 FIP is suggestive of some potential improvement this season. Keller still allowed a .310 BABIP despite a 35.6% Hard Hit%, which was the best of his career in a full season. Hayes was worth 17 Outs Above Average per Statcast, but the team was only good for 1 OAA, so everybody outside of Hayes seemed to struggle badly.

    That wasn’t the only reason Keller struggled, though. He had a 5.59 ERA in the second half with a .355 wOBA against. He allowed 14 HR in 77.1 innings in the second half after allowing just 11 in 117 innings in the first half. The other red flag for Keller is that he got bombarded on the road. He allowed a .339 wOBA and had a 5.35 ERA in 104.1 innings on the road, where he allowed 16 of his 25 homers. He had a 2.90 ERA over 90 home innings.

    With the way Keller struggled in the second half and his career-high 194.1 innings, I’m curious to see how he performs this season. Like I said, with rotation fodder like Perez and Gonzales, it’ll come down to Keller and Jones for now. Gonzales had an ERA north of 5 last season with the Mariners. He did have a 4.28 FIP and paid the price for a 62.1% LOB%, but he’s a low-ceiling guy. He also only made 10 starts last year.

    Perez had an out-of-body experience in 2022 with a 2.89 ERA and a 3.27 FIP, but he has well over 1,400 innings with a 4.44 ERA and a 4.41 FIP, so we know what he is. We don’t really know what Luis Ortiz is as he enters his age-25 season, but the MLB and Triple-A returns have not been very good with a 4.73 ERA and a 5.28 FIP over 102.2 MLB innings.

    The Pirates got dealt a big blow when Johan Oviedo needed Tommy John after last season. They’ll get JT Brubaker back from TJS sometime around the All-Star Break. We’ll also see more of Quinn Priester, who made his MLB debut last season, but it was not pretty with 43 runs allowed in 50 innings.

    A healthy David Bednar pairs well with southpaw flamethrower Aroldis Chapman at the back of this bullpen. Former starter Roansy Contreras also appears to be in line for some innings back here, plus the Pirates added Josh Fleming from the Rays to be a multi-inning type of guy alongside Bailey Falter.

    I think we’re going to see piggybacks and tandem starts for the Pirates this season with the composition of the roster, especially to limit the innings for Jones and Skenes and keep them protected with the playoffs a little bit of a long shot.

    Pittsburgh Pirates Player to Watch

    SP Paul Skenes

    Skenes was drafted 1.1 in the 2023 MLB Draft and threw 6.2 innings across five starts after his collegiate season was done. He allowed four runs on five hits with 10 strikeouts against two walks. In three collegiate seasons – two at Air Force and one at LSU – Skenes had a 2.18 ERA over 235 innings with 335 strikeouts against 59 walks. He had a 1.69 ERA over 122.2 innings at LSU in 2023 and the Pirates took it easy with him the rest of the way.

    FanGraphs considered him the 10th-best prospect in baseball heading into the season. The scouting report notes that he’ll need to add to his arsenal, as it’s hard to just pump fastballs past Major League hitters, as good as the velocity is and as promising as his slider was as a swing-and-miss pitch. That’s what he’ll go to Triple-A to learn and also to get stretched out again, as he only threw in two games during MLB camp. He is a very promising arm and he shouldn’t need long in the minors, but there are things to work on.

    Pittsburgh Pirates Season Win Total Odds & Prediction

    The Pirates don’t really stand out to me in a good way or a bad way and I don’t see a whole lot of variance in how this season plays out for them. Finishing somewhere between 72-77 wins is probably where they would end up more often than not. I try to look for wider ranges of outcomes with any futures or season-long prop bets and I don’t see that here.

    If Skenes and Jones prove to be legitimate big league starters right away, Cruz stays healthy, and another hitter or two makes a leap, I could see the Pirates on the higher end of that range. If Keller or one of the higher-upside guys gets injured, this rotation will be very desperate for innings as the year goes along. There are also some guys very likely to get traded in July, like Chapman, Gonzales, Perez, and maybe even a guy like Bednar. Owner Bob Nutting doesn’t really invest a ton into the ballclub.

    I’d lean Under here, but this is not a conclusion I have a lot of confidence in and I’m honestly not sure how many Pirates games I’ll be involved in on a day-to-day basis.

    Slight Lean: Under 75.5

    Get all of our preseason coverage in the 2024 MLB Betting Guide.

    Adam Burke
    Adam Burke
    Adam Burke is the Managing Editor of VSiN.com and has spent well over a decade in the sports betting content creation space. He has been with VSiN since 2021 and covers a wide range of sports, along with hosting the VSiN Daily Baseball Bets podcast.

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