This year's roster looks better, at least it does to me. Obviously it's not really fair to look back in hindsight, because a year ago we didn't know that Jose Tabata was going to become nearly irrelevant, in fact a lot of still thought he was going to develop into a pretty good player. Same goes with Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas, at the time of their signing we were all expecting better things than what they gave us. A year from today we could easily be saying the same things about Russell Martin, Travis Snider, and Starling Marte (and who knows what a guy like Pedro Alvarez is going to do in a given year).
I compiled the preseason ZiPS projections for the last two years and compared them together, you can download that whole spreadsheet here. I just used the projected starting eight position players and the starting rotation that you see above and averaged out all of their ZiPS. The end result was this:
So the Pirates are expected to be a better (starting) pitching team in 2013 than they were expected to be in 2012. Keep in mind that the 2012 numbers were preseason projections, not what actually happened. The pitching staff outperformed those numbers. It's the opposite on the offensive side, the Pirates are expected to perform worse than they were expected to perform in 2012. ZiPS was actually rougher than I expected on the Pirates. They have McCutchen hitting .283/.369/.480 after a season where he hit .327/.400/.553. I mean, sure, you shouldn't absolutely expect him to be have another MVP like season, but I think he deserves to be projected better than he is. I also think the numbers for Alvarez and Marte are low too, but I'm terrible at predicting the future anyway.
The numbers don't give us too much hope that this is the Pirates team that will take us past .500, but there is a lot of potential that these numbers don't account for, and I think that's enough of a reason to get ready for baseball again.