By Jason Shetler
With Jung-Ho Kang having a terrific rookie campaign, I thought I’d look back at the ten best rookie seasons in Pirates history.
10. Neil Walker 2010: Aki Iwamura began the 2010 season as the Pirates second baseman. Iwamura struggled immensley, which prompted the Bucs to call up Neil Walker. In 110 games, Walker batted .296 with an .811 OPS and a 119 OPS+. He finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
9. Andrew McCutchen 2009: After the trade of Nate McLouth in June of 2009, the Pirates replaced him with Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen made an instant impact, hitting .286 along with an .836 OPS and a 121 OPS+ in 108 games while finishing fourth for NL Rookie of the Year.
8. John Candelaria 1975: Throughout the 1970’s, the Pirates were known mostly for their offense, but the pitching wasn’t bad either, particularly with John Candelaria. The Pirates brought up Candelaria in 1975. In 18 starts that season, Candelaria posted a 2.76 ERA with a 128 ERA+ and a 1.09 WHIP.
7. Randy Tomlin 1990: Randy Tomlin joined the Pirates rotation in 1990, and pitched very well as the fifth starter that year. Tomlin made 12 starts, posting a 2.55 ERA, a 142 ERA+ and a WHIP of 0.95.
6. Richie Hebner 1969: In 1969, Richie Hebner became the Pirates starting third baseman. The former first round pick had himself a solid rookie season, as he hit .301 along with an .801 OPS and an OPS+ of 127 in 129 games played.
5. Jason Bay 2004: Following the trade of Brian Giles in August of 2003, one would think that Jason Bay was going to have some big shoes to fill, but he responded extremely well. Bay played in 120 games for the Bucs in 2004 where he batted .282 with an OPS of .907 and a 132 OPS+. He would go on to become the first Pirate to capture the NL Rookie of the Year honors.
4. Richie Zisk 1973: If you were to put together a list of the most underrated Pirates, Richie Zisk would certainly have to be one of them. Zisk played in 103 games during his rookie year in 1973, batting .324 with an .890 OPS and a 147 OPS+.
3. Tim Wakefield 1992: The Pirates were looking for some help as the 1992 trade deadline approached, but it wasn’t a trade that did the trick, it was the call up of rookie Tim Wakefield. The former position player turned knuckleball hurler was able to really stabilize the rotation, as he posted an ERA of 2.15 along with a 162 ERA+ and a 1.21 WHIP in 13 starts. Wakefield’s efforts were good enough for him to place third in the NL Rookie of the Year ballot.
2. Garrett Jones 2009: After spending several years in the minors with the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins, the Pirates signed Garrett Jones to a minor league deal prior to the 2009 season. With a strong showing in both Spring Training and with AAA Indianapolis, Jones was called up to Pittsburgh, and put up monster numbers, posting a .938 OPS and a 146 OPS+ in 82 games. Despite the great numbers, Jones didn’t even finish Top 5 of the Rookie of the Year voting, which was very surprising.
1. Zach Duke 2005: There wasn’t much to cheer about regarding the 2005 Pirates, but without question the biggest bright spot that year for the Bucs was the phenomenal rookie season of Zach Duke. Although Duke didn’t have overpowering stuff, opposing teams just had a very difficult time scoring runs off him. He made 14 starts that year, posting a 1.81 ERA along with a stellar 233 ERA+. Duke’s 2005 rookie campaign is certainly one of the better ones from a starting pitcher in the live ball era.