By Jason Shetler
The Pirates have had some great teams during their storied 127 years as a Major League franchise. Just for fun, I’m going to list the Top 10 teams in Pirates history by looking at not just the records, but measuring players OPS+ and ERA+ during that season.
10. 1990 Pirates – After struggling throughout most of the 80’s, the Pirates were a force to be reckon with in 1990, as they won 95 games that year to win the NL East division, but lost in the NLCS to the Cincinnati Reds in six games. Barry Bonds led the Bucs with a 170 OPS+ and became the first Pirate to win the NL MVP award since Willie Stargell in 1979. They also got productive seasons from Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla who each posted a 132 OPS+. Doug Drabek led the rotation with a 131 ERA+ and also won the Cy Young award, joining Vern Law as the only other Pirate to do so.
9. 1925 Pirates – Led by Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie, the 1925 Pirates won 95 games and captured their second World Series title by defeating the Washington Senators in seven games. Three players had an OPS+ of 120 or better (Kiki Cuyler 152, Max Carey 126 and George Grantham 125) while all five of their starters had an ERA+ above 100 including Vic Aldridge who posted a team best 123 ERA+.
8. 1960 Pirates – After winning just 78 games in 1959, the Pirates of 1960 put together an improbable World Series club that won 95 games and defeated the heavily favored New York Yankees in seven games, which is arguably the greatest World Series upset in baseball history. Four players that year posted an OPS+ of 120 or better including Hal Smith (131), Rocky Nelson (131), Roberto Clemente (121) and Don Hoak (120). Bob Friend put up a 125 ERA+ while Cy Young award winner Vern Law and Vinegar Bend Mizell had an ERA+ of 122 and 121 respectively.
7. 1992 Pirates – The Pirates were able to win their third straight NL East division title in 1992, but it wasn’t a sure bet when the season began. After losing Bobby Bonilla to free agency and trading John Smiley during Spring Training, the Pirates were 10 games over .500 in the first half, which was seven games less than the first half of 1991, but finished 20 games over in the second half to win 96 games and capture the division. However, the Pirates would fall short of the World Series yet again losing in seven games to the Atlanta Braves. Barry Bonds had a phenomenal season in his last year with the Bucs, winning his second NL MVP award and posting a 204 OPS+. Andy Van Slyke had an MVP type season, putting up a 150 OPS+. Doug Drabek anchored the staff in his final year in Pittsburgh with a 126 ERA+ while rookie Tim Wakefield gave the Pirates a huge shot in the arm, as pitched to a 162 ERA+.
6. 1972 Pirates – Looking to defend their World Series crown in 1972, the Pirates recorded 96 wins that season and won the NL East title under first year manager Bill Virdon. They would fall to the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS in five games. Three Pirates that year had an OPS+ of 130 or better, which were Willie Stargell (164), Richie Hebner (153) and Roberto Clemente (138). All five starters posted an ERA+ over 100 including Steve Blass (135) and Dock Ellis (125).
5. 1979 Pirates – The Pirates had some of their best seasons during the 70’s, and they were able to end the decade by winning 98 games and capturing their fifth World Series championship, as they defeated the Baltimore Orioles in seven games. The offense of course was led by a couple of MVP winners in Dave Parker (140 OPS+) and Willie Stargell (139 OPS+). They also got production from midseason acquisition Bill Madlock, who posted a 130 OPS+. The pitching was steady, as all five starters had an ERA+ above 100, which included Bruce Kison (122) and John Candelaria (121).
4. 1991 Pirates – As great as the 1990 and 1992 Pirate teams were, the 1991 club may have been the best out of the three. They won 98 games that year, but just like the other two teams, they fell short in the NLCS. Barry Bonds led the way with a 160 OPS+, while Bobby Bonilla posted a 149 OPS+ and Andy Van Slyke had a 126 OPS+. As good as the offense was, their pitching staff was even more solid having four of the starters post an ERA+ of 115 or better with Randy Tomlin (120), Doug Drabek (117), John Smiley (116) and Zane Smith (112).
3. 1971 Pirates – Out of all the teams the Pirates put together in the 70’s, the 1971 Bucs had to be considered the best of the decade. They won 97 games, took hold of the NL East division crown and defeated the Orioles in seven games to capture their fourth World Series title. The offense was loaded with production, as five players had an OPS+ of 125 or better with Willie Stargell (185), Roberto Clemente (143), Bob Robertson (135), Rennie Stennett (134) and Richie Hebner (126). They also good pitching that year from Steve Blass (121 ERA+), Dock Ellis (113 ERA+) and Bruce Kison (102 ERA+).
2. 1902 Pirates – The Pirates of 1902 had a very talented team, as they won 103 games and were the National League champions. They never got to play in the World Series since it wasn’t introduced until a year later in 1903. The Pirates had four players with an OPS+ above 130 including Hall of Famers Honus Wagner (162) and Fred Clarke (159), as well as outfielder Ginger Beaumont (151) and Tommy Leach (134). All five starters had an ERA+ over 100, and were led by staff ace Jesse Tannehill who posted a 140 ERA+.
1. 1909 Pirates – The greatest Pirates team of all-time belongs to the 1909 Pirates. The offense was led by Honus Wagner, who had an OPS+ of 177. Three other players had an OPS+ of 115 or better, which included Fred Clarke (131), Dots Miller (121) and Tommy Leach (115). The Pirates that year had six pitchers post an ERA+ above 100, including Babe Adams who put up an incredible 232 ERA+. They won 110 games and captured their first ever World Series championship by defeating the Detroit Tigers in seven games. The 110 victories still remains the franchise record.