Pittsburgh Pirates All-Time Tournament Team

Pirates All-Time
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Pittsburgh Pirates All-Time Team

Last Word on Baseball is running a tournament pitting all 30 all-time rosters against each other. Here is the Pittsburgh Pirates All-Time Team. The Pirates have one of the longest and richest histories in baseball, beginning play with the American Association in 1882 as the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. They joined the National League in 1887 and adopted the “Pirates” moniker in 1891.

The Pirates have won seven pennants in the World Series era: 1903, 1909, 1925, 1927, 1960, 1971, and 1979. In addition, they won the NL pennants in 1901 and 1902, giving them nine total. Of teams that have been in the World Series more than twice, they have the best winning percentage (.714), only losing in 1903 to the Boston Americans (now Red Sox) and 1927 to the New York Yankees. A fun piece of trivia: the 1927 loss was the last time any Big Four team from Pittsburgh lost a title game or title series until the Steelers lost Super Bowl XXX in 1996.

Despite all this success, they have not even won a pennant, let alone a World Series, since the “We Are Family” 1979 squad. (Author’s Note: The Pirates are one of two teams to never win a pennant in my lifetime — and the other one, the Seattle Mariners, hasn’t won any pennants.) They have only made the playoffs six times since then: three straight NL East championships from 1990–92 and three straight Wild Card berths from 2013–15.

Format

Each all-time team roster has the eight position players, a designated hitter (even the NL teams, for consistency), a starting pitcher, three relievers, and four honorable mentions. For the relievers, starters can be used if a) there aren’t enough elite relievers to fill out the roster or b) if the starters are simply too good to be excluded. Statistics used to determine the spots on the Pirates All-Time roster are only from each player’s time with the Pirates. WAR was used as a baseline but not as the be-all, end-all statistic. Due to being overloaded with talent at some positions, we had to leave off some incredibly great players. Two Hall of Famers are in the Honorable Mentions, for crying out loud. Without further ado, here is the Pittsburgh Pirates All-Time Team.

Pittsburgh Pirates All-Time Tournament Team

Manager

Hall of Famer Fred Clarke will man the helm. He spent 16 seasons as the manager of the Pirates, 15 as a player-manager. Clarke tallied a record of 1422–969, winning the 1909 World Series. His .595 winning percentage is highest in franchise history for anyone who managed more than five games.

Catcher

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Jason Kendall gets the nod here, with apologies to Manny Sanguillen. In nine years with the Pirates (1996–2004), Kendall slashed .306/.387/.418 (1409-for-4606) with 256 doubles, 29 triples, 67 home runs, 471 RBI, 454 walks vs. 403 strikeouts, and 706 runs scored. In addition, he stole 140 bases out of his career total of 189. Of his 189 career stolen bases, 183 came as a catcher, which puts him first on the positional leaderboard. His numbers gave him a .358 wOBA and 117.5 wRAA. Defensively, Kendall was slightly below average, with -8 Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average (Rtot) as a Pirates catcher.

First Base

No Pirates All-Time Team would be complete without Pops. Hall of Famer Willie Stargell played more games in left field, but we’re putting him at first base. Not only does this make room for other talented left fielders, but he blows away any of the Pirates who were primarily first basemen.

Stargell was one of the most feared sluggers in major league history. He was the first player ever to hit a ball completely out of Dodger Stadium in a game. Furthermore, Pops is also the only player to ever win his league’s MVP, LCS MVP, and World Series MVP all in the same season. Not only was he excellent on the field, but he’s one of the most beloved players by any fanbase. In 21 seasons, all with the Pirates, Pops slashed .282/.360/.529 (2232-for-7927) with 423 doubles, 55 triples, 475 homers, 1540 RBI, and 1194 runs scored. This gave him a .387 wOBA and 511.5 wRAA.

Second Base

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Bill Mazeroski — the best defensive second baseman ever — is more well-known to many fans as the guy who ended Game Seven of the 1960 World Series with a home run. He is still to this day the only player ever to do so and is one of only two to end any World Series with a game-winning homer. (Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays hit his in Game Six, 1993.)

Mazeroski played 17 seasons (1956–72) in his Hall of Fame career, all with the Pirates. His offense is low compared to the rest of this team. However, his numbers were typical for middle infielders of his era, since those were “defense first” positions. (They still are, but there isn’t as glaring of an offensive difference between middle infielders and other positions nowadays.) In 2163 games, he slashed .260/.299/.367 (2016-for-7755) with 294 doubles, 62 triples, 138 homers, 853 RBI, and 769 runs scored. This gave him a .293 wOBA and -115.6 wRAA.

But he isn’t in the lineup for his bat. Mazeroski has the career record for most Rtot as a second baseman — 148. He is 22 ahead of Frank White and 33 ahead of Willie Randolph, the second- and third-place players on the leaderboard. For reference, the active leader — DJ LeMahieu — has 78.

Shortstop and Third Base

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The only two logical choices here were Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan. They were first and fourth, respectively, in WAR as a Pirate. The only question was where to play them, since both were shortstops for the bulk of their careers. Since Wagner played a higher percentage of games at third, we put Vaughan at shortstop and Wagner at third.

Arky Vaughan played 10 seasons (1932–1941) with the Pirates. He was one of the best hitting shortstops in the majors during that time, slashing .318/.406/.453 (1709-for-5268) with 291 doubles, 116 triples, 84 homers, 764 RBI, 778 walks vs. 227 strikeouts, and 936 runs scored. This gave him a .409 wOBA and 340.8 wRAA, with his wRAA as a Pirate ranking sixth all-time.

Honus Wagner was the greatest player ever to don a Pirates uniform, and his stats more than back this up. He joined the Pirates in a trade with the now-defunct Louisville Colonels, where he spent his first three seasons. Wagner spent the remaining 18 seasons (1900–17) of his distinguished career in Pittsburgh, serving as player-manager in the last one. In 2433 games with the Pirates, he slashed .328/.394/.468 (2967-for-9034) with 551 doubles, 232 triples, 82 home runs, 1474 RBI, 639 stolen bases, 877 walks vs. 665 strikeouts, and 1521 runs scored. This gave him a .411 wOBA and a franchise-record 665.7 wRAA. Wagner also got the 3000th hit of his career while playing with the Pirates, the second player in major league history to do so.

Furthermore, Wagner’s career WAR (130.8) ranks seventh amongst all position players in major league history. He is also 10th in doubles (643), third in triples (252, trailing only Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb), and 10th in stolen bases (723).

Left Field

Barry Bonds was our choice for left fielder, although we heavily considered Ralph Kiner. Kiner was a tremendous slugger and six-time All-Star for the Pirates from 1946–53 before heading to the Chicago Cubs in a mid-season trade. In 1095 games, he slashed .280/.405/.567 (1097-for-3913) with 153 doubles, 32 triples, 301 homers (leading the league each of his first seven seasons), 801 RBI, and 754 runs scored. This gave him a .438 wOBA and 372.2 wRAA, with his wRAA as a Pirate ranking fifth all-time.

Bonds played 1010 games in seven seasons with the Pirates. He slashed .275/.380/.503 (984-for-3584) with 220 doubles, 36 triples, 176 homers, 556 RBI, and 672 runs scored. This gave him a .383 wOBA and 213.7 wRAA. At first glance, it seems like Kiner should be the choice. However, Bonds was also a tremendous base stealing threat, with 251 swipes in 323 attempts. This gave him a wSB (weighted stolen base runs above average) of 20.3 vs. 3.8 for Kiner.

Furthermore, Bonds was a far superior defender. Many seem to think that Bonds was a lousy defender due to his off-target throw while trying to gun down Sid Bream at the plate at the end of Game Seven of the 1992 NLCS, but nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is Bonds the career Rtot leader for left fielders (184, 49 ahead of second-place Carl Yastrzemski and 62 ahead of third-place Alex Gordon), but he also holds the single-season record of 37 (1989). While with the Pirates, Bonds had an Rtot of 115 because he had such incredible range. We didn’t have Rtot until the third-to-last year of Kiner’s career, but his negative dWAR tells us what we need to know. Bonds is our left fielder, and Kiner is the DH.

Center Field

Hall of Famer Max Carey played at least part of 17 seasons with the Pirates from 1910 to 1926. (He played two games in 1910 and was waived mid-season in 1926.) In 2178 games, Carey slashed .287/.363/.391 (2416-for-8406) with 375 doubles, 148 tripls, 67 homers, 721 RBI, 688 stolen bases, 918 walks vs. 646 strikeouts, and 1414 runs scored. This gave him a .360 wOBA and 194.4 wRAA.

Right Field

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This was an obvious choice — Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. He spent his entire 18-season career in the majors with the Pirates, playing in 2433 games. He slashed .317/.359/.475 (3000-for-9454) with 440 doubles, 166 triples, 240 home runs, 1305 RBI, and 1416 runs scored. This gave him a .365 wOBA and 405.9 wRAA. Clemente was also, according to Rtot, the best defensive right fielder ever. Only five players have 200 or more career Rtot, and one is Clemente (204). He is 49 ahead of the runner-up, Al Kaline. Chuck Cottier, who has played/coached/managed/advised in the majors since the 1950s, told this author that Clemente had the best arm he’s ever seen.

Designated Hitter

We went with Kiner here, but it was extremely difficult to pass on Paul Waner. Unfortunately for Waner, he played the same position as Clemente. He also wasn’t quite the slugger that Kiner was. But we will give Waner his due here. In 2154 games across 15 seasons for the Pirates (1926–1940), he slashed .340/.407/.490 (2868-for-8429) with 558 doubles, 187 triples, 109 homers, 1177 RBI, 909 walks vs. 325 strikeouts, and 1493 runs scored. This gave him a .409 wOBA and 512.4 wRAA.

So why Kiner over Waner? For one, Kiner had a .438 wOBA. Secondly, wRAA is cumulative. Waner notched his 512.4 across 2154 games, while Kiner’s 372.2 came in 1095 games. Per 154 games (length of their seasons), this gives Waner 36.6 and Kiner 52.3.

Pitching Staff

For the pitching staff, we went with three starters and a reliever.

Babe Adams is the official starting pitcher. He pitched in 481 games across 18 seasons for the Pirates (1907, 1909–16, 1918–1926), playing for each of their first two World Series champions. In 2991 1/3 innings, he went 194–139 with a 2.74 ERA (85 ERA–), 205 complete games, 44 shutouts, 1036 strikeouts vs. 428 walks, and a 1.090 WHIP. He is also the all-time leading pitcher in WAR as a Pirate (50.6).

Wilbur Cooper, Bob Friend, and Kent Tekulve make up the relief corps, although Cooper and Friend were primarily starters. Cooper pitched in 469 games across 13 seasons for the Pirates (1912–24). He went 202–159 with a 2.74 ERA (84 ERA–), 263 complete games, 33 shutouts, 1191 strikeouts vs. 762 walks, and a 1.199 WHIP in 3199 innings. Friend pitched in 568 games across 15 seasons for the Pirates (1951–65), which included some lean years. He went a deceptive 191–218 with a 3.55 ERA (92 ERA–), 161 complete games, 35 shutouts, 1682 strikeouts vs. 869 walks, and a 1.287 WHIP in 3480 1/3 innings.

Kent Tekulve pitched 11 full seasons and part of a 12th for the Pirates (1974–85). He appeared in 722 games, all as a reliever, finishing 470. The submariner went 70–61 with a 2.68 ERA (72 ERA–, tops among pitchers who threw 500 or more innings with the team), 158 saves in 221 opportunities, 552 strikeouts vs. 367 walks, and a 1.245 WHIP in 1017 1/3 innings. He also pitched the last out of the Pirates’ last World Series championship.

Honorable Mentions

Paul Waner, Andrew McCutchen, Pie Traynor, Roy Face

Batting Order for Pittsburgh Pirates All-Time Tournament Team

1 Max Carey (CF)
2 Honus Wagner (3B)
3 Barry Bonds (LF)
4 Willie Stargell (1B)
5 Ralph Kiner (DH)
6 Roberto Clemente (RF)
7 Arky Vaughan (SS)
8 Jason Kendall (C)
9 Bill Mazeroski (2B)

 

Pitchers: Babe Adams, Wilbur Cooper, Roy Face, Kent Tekulve

Looking Ahead

Stay tuned in the coming days for coverage of the all-time tournament, including matchups and the results.

Main Photo:

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Players/managers mentioned:

Fred Clarke, Jason Kendall, Manny Sanguillen, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Joe Carter, Frank White, Willie Randolph, DJ LeMahieu, Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Sam Crawford, Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds, Ralph Kiner, Sid Bream, Carl Yastrzemski, Alex Gordon, Max Carey, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Chuck Cottier, Paul Waner, Babe Adams, Wilbur Cooper, Bob Friend, Kent Tekulve, Andrew McCutchen, Pie Traynor, Roy Face