Clay Davenport has the first run of his projected standings up at his site this week, and I think they're interesting to look at since they're specifically geared to generate standings with scaled playing time, etc. He has the Pirates projected for 83 wins, which seems low until you remember that projections are always made for 50th percentile performance and so teams and players tend to clump together in the middle of the pack more than they will in real life (only the Tigers are projected for more than 90 wins and only the Cubs, Rockies, and Astros are projected for more than 90 losses, while in 2013 there were 10 teams with more than 90 wins and six with more than 90 losses). In these projections, 83 wins gives the Pirates the sixth best record in the NL and puts them two games behind the Giants and Braves, who are tied for the wild card spots at 85 wins. I think their positioning relative to the rest of the league is probably what's most important here. If you want to see Davenport's projections from last year as a comparison, click here.
Davenport projects the Pirates for 660 runs scored and 639 allowed, which is a few more runs scored than last year's 634 and a lot more runs allowed than last year's 577. This is pretty normal; when David Manel extrapolated ZiPS, Steamer, and Oliver for playing time to get a projected record, Steamer and Oliver projected the Pirates to score more runs, and all three projection systems said they'd give up more runs. I feel like a bit of this has to do with PNC Park and the Pirates' defensive shifts and general alignment; the Pirates' defensive personnel and pitching staff and shifting all fit really well into PNC Park (moreso than might be represented in a park adjustment, I think), whereas the park also penalizes guys like Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte by taking home runs away from them (again, moreso than might show up in a park adjustment). I will also point out that in general, most projection systems just use a flat line to represent pitcher hitting across the National League and for the Pirates, reaching that line is like trying to swim to the surface of a lake in a suit of steel armor. Pitchers only bat maybe 330-350 times in a year, but the Pirates' pitchers make much less of those at-bats than most other teams.
Anyway, last week I wrote that it seems like the projection systems are more or less in agreement that the Pirates won't be as good as last year and that right now they look like a mid-to-low-80s win team. Using Davenport's league-wide standings projections, we get some more context; in general the Pirates look like they likely belong in a pack of wild card contenders, a level below the best teams in the National League. Of course, these are projections and they should be taken as such; we're light-years away from real baseball games being played and last year's Pirates showed that projections can be blown out of the water. Still, it's nice to have a starting assumption for a season to base expectations on, and I think that's starting to clear up a bit.