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Potanko: Five Pirates Predictions for 2023



Pittsburgh Pirates, Ke'Bryan Hayes

With flowers blooming, birds singing, and warmer weather comes the start of regular season baseball. Now is the time for the optimistic Pittsburgh Pirates fans to come out of hibernation with the hopes of a brand new season.

With that in mind, it’s time for us at Pittsburgh Baseball Now to give you our five predictions for this Pirates season.

Starting off with number one, I firmly believe that Mitch Keller will receive some Cy Young votes for the 2023 season. One of the main reasons is his confidence level.

In years past, it seemed like Keller couldn’t get out of his own head most nights. There would be some spectacular performances, and then all of a sudden, there have been eight runs given up in 2.1 innings pitched.

It seemed like Keller was destined for that same exact trend during the 2022 season, but he finally put everything together with the introduction of his sinker pitch, and learning how to control his slider.

Entering into the ’23 season, Keller looks to have a six-pitch arsenal with a pretty nifty-looking cutter that he introduced to us during spring training.

My second prediction for the ’23 season seems like a cop-out, but I firmly believe the Pittsburgh Pirates will avoid their third straight 100-loss season.

Losing 100 games is a very hard task in of itself, and even though the Pirates aren’t going to battle for any N.L. pennants this year, they have compiled enough talent through the off-season to avoid 100 losses.

Much of this will depend on how Derek Shelton uses his pitching staff and if a very questionable bullpen can put forth a much better effort than last year.

As we all know, Shelton has made some confusing decisions regarding the usage of his arms, but you could also point to a lack of depth as the issue.

Now, the Pirates SHOULD have enough depth to fix this issue. Point blank, it’s sink or swim for Shelton regarding his usage. There are no more excuses.

My next prediction for the Pirates involves a very controversial center fielder.

Travis Swaggerty will become the Pirates every day center fielder by mid-season. Swaggerty has run into some bad luck throughout his career, but it’s hard to ignore what he’s been doing.

Thanks to the majority of the minor leagues not having public numbers on exit velocities, we haven’t been able to get concrete numbers on Swaggerty, but it always seemed like he hit the ball hard more often than not.

With Swaggerty in big league camp, we finally could see those exit velo numbers, and it would seem I, along with some other people, were right about Swaggerty.

On several occasions, he was hitting balls with 100+ mph exit velocities.

When/if Swaggerty gets his shot in Pittsburgh, it shouldn’t be that long until he proves he deserves to be in the lineup daily.

Slow starts are natural for most ball players, and Andrew McCutchen is notoriously a slow starter, which brings me to my next prediction.

McCutchen will have a slow start, as he does every year.

For his career, McCutchen has a slash line of .241/.338/.402 with an OPS of .739 in March/April. As the months get hotter, so does McCutchen, so when he starts slow, don’t hit the panic button or do the typical knee-jerk reaction.

As much as we want the early/mid-2010s McCutchen to show up, it probably won’t happen, but this doesn’t mean he can’t be an integral part of the team.

McCutchen hasn’t had a wRC+ below 102 before ’22, and even then, it was still a 98.

If he can get his wRC+ up to even a 105, that’s a bonus. With the banned shift being implemented, I could see that happening easily.

In ’22, Cutch pulled the ball 43.8%, so if you take the shift out of the realm of possibilities, you’re probably talking about a slightly better season.

My final prediction is that Ke’Bryan Hayes has a fairly healthy season and a 20/20 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hayes has been plagued with nagging injuries throughout his major league career, and if he is healthy, a 20/20 season isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

Hitting the ball hard was never an issue for Hayes; the issue has been lifting the ball or his launch angle for you advanced analytics folk.

Hayes’ average launch angle is 4.4 degrees, meaning the ball is getting hit on the ground more often than not. Now if you take Hayes’ average exit velocity of 90.9 and add around six degrees more to his launch angle, we’re talking about a ton of line drives.

Hayes has homered four times this spring, which is three short of what he had all of ’22.

In his four home runs, Hayes has kept his launch angle in the 20s for the most part, with his lowest exit velocity coming in at 97.2 mph.

On Feb. 27, Hayes hit a homer at 108.2 mph with a 22-degree launch angle.

On Mar. 11, Hayes blasted a 106 mph homer with a 25-degree launch angle.

On Mar. 18, Hayes smoked a 107.1 mph homer with a 19-degree launch angle.

Finally, on Mar. 24, Hayes hit a 97.2 mph homer with a 22-degree launch angle.

I think it’s fair to say Hayes has worked on more than just his physique during the off-season. A healthy Hayes would do wonders for this Pirates’ lineup.

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