By Jason Shetler
Around this time, the MVP awards are decided, which usually is followed by debate on who really should have won. The Pirates have had several MVP winners, including Roberto Clemente, who was the first Latin born player to win it, two-time winner Barry Bonds, and Andrew McCutchen, the most recent recipient in 2013. However, there have been Pirates players who have had great years, but no prestigious hardware to show for it. Here now are the five greatest non-MVP seasons in Pirates history.
5. Barry Bonds 1991: As mentioned, Barry Bonds was a two-time recipient of the National League MVP for the Pirates in 1990 and 1992. Although his 1991 campaign wasn’t as strong as the other two, he was still very productive, leading the NL in OBP (.410), OPS (.924) and OPS+ (160). Bonds finished runner-up that year to Terry Pendleton.
4. Willie Stargell 1971: In 1979, Willie Stargell was named NL MVP, sharing that honor with Keith Hernandez. His first MVP season almost happened in 1971, as he was runner-up to Joe Torre. Stargell led the NL in home runs (48), OPS (1.026) and OPS+ (185), while posting a 7.9 WAR.
3. Willie Stargell 1973: Stargell’s 1971 season was certainly outstanding, but the numbers he put up in 1973 were even better. He was tops in the NL that year in homers (44), doubles (43), slugging percentage (.646), OPS (1.038) and OPS+ (186). Despite this, he lost out on the MVP again, this time to Pete Rose.
2. Ralph Kiner 1949: Ralph Kiner had some extraordinary offensive seasons during his career with the Pirates. The best of those seasons came in 1949. Kiner posted a league leading 1.089 OPS, an OPS+ of 186 and had an 8.1 WAR. Even with traditional stats, he led the NL in homers with 54 and had 127 RBI, both of which were career best. Surprisingly, Kiner didn’t even finish in the Top 3 of the NL MVP ballot. The Pirates won only 71 games that year, so there’s no doubt that the voters held that against him.
1. Arky Vaughan 1935: The greatest season for a Pirates player to not capture the NL MVP was Arky Vaughan’s in 1935. He put up astonishing numbers for a shortstop that season, as he was tops in OBP (.491), which still remains the single season franchise record, OPS+ (190) and had a WAR of 9.2. Vaughan finished third in the voting.