By Jason Shetler
After doing a post on the Pirates all-time on base team, I’m now going to assemble the best all-time players from the defensive side in franchise history.
Catcher – Tony Pena: The Pirates have had their fair share of above average defensive catchers, but perhaps the best all-time is Tony Pena. During his seven seasons with the Pirates, Pena was the recipient of three consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1983 to 1985. His best season behind the plate was in 85′ when he put up a 2.5 dWAR and 42% caught stealing rate, which was 12% above league average.
First base – Jake Beckley: Not only was Jake Beckley the first ever first baseman with the Pirates, but he was also the greatest defender at first base in franchise history. The 1971 Hall of Fame inductee had his best season on defense in 1893 with a .986 fielding percentage, 8% above the league average.
Second base – Bill Mazeroski: The best all-time defender at second base in the history of the Pirates is also the greatest defensive second baseman in baseball history. Bill Mazeroski spent his entire 17 year career with the Bucs where he won eight Gold Gloves, five of which came in a row from 1962 to 1966. In 1963, Maz had his best season defensively, as he posted a fielding percentage that was 10% above the league average at .984 along with a dWAR of 3.3.
Shortstop – Jack Wilson: During the 2000 season, the Pirates traded reliever Jason Christiansen to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for a minor league shortstop named Jack Wilson. In 2001, Wilson was the Pirates everyday shortstop as a rookie, and would play eight more seasons at the position. His defense in 2005 was incredible, posting a 4.1 dWAR with 32 Defensive Runs Saved. One could argue that Jack Wilson is the best defensive shortstop never to win a Gold Glove award.
Third base – Pie Traynor: The greatest offensive third baseman in Pirates history is also the best on the defensive side as well. From 1920 to 1937, Pie Traynor played the hot corner in Pittsburgh. The Hall of Famer had his top defensive year in 1924 with a .968 fielding percentage, 12% above league average and a 0.8 dWAR.
Left field – Barry Bonds: During his seven seasons in Pittsburgh, Barry Bonds established himself as the first true defensive left fielder in franchise history. Three of his eight Gold Gloves came with the Bucs from 1990 to 1992. Bonds had his best defensive season in 1989 when he posted a dWAR of 3.5 and had 14 outfield assists.
Center field – Andy Van Slyke: On April Fool’s Day of 1987, the Pirates dealt Tony Pena to the Cardinals in exchange for Andy Van Slyke, Mike Lavalliere and Mike Dunne. The trade was considered very unpopular by Pirates fans at the time. Van Slyke however made the most of his opportunity in Pittsburgh, capturing five straight Gold Gloves in center field from 1988 to 1992. He had his best defensive season in 1989 by posting a 1.5 dWAR along with nine outfield assists.
Right field – Roberto Clemente: The unquestioned greatest defensive right fielder for the Pirates is of course Roberto Clemente. After being selected in the Rule 5 Draft from the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954, Clemente displayed his phenomenal defensive talents almost immediately. His 12 Gold Glove awards are the most by any Pirates player in history, and he won them all consecutively from 1961 to 1972. Ironically enough, the year in which he didn’t receive a Gold Glove, 1958, was his best defensive work. That season, Clemente put up a 2.2 dWAR and threw out 22 baserunners.