By Jason Shetler
Entering 2017, there were questions in regards to the power that Josh Bell would hit for this year as the Pirates everyday first baseman. The power has been a pleasant surprise for him, with an outside shot of hitting 30 by season’s end. Here now are the ten most unexpected home run seasons in Pirates history.
10. Neil Walker 2014: Neil Walker became the Pirates second baseman in 2010 and displayed some good pop from the position. In 2014, Walker’s power increased even more so, hitting 23 home runs, which were tied with Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins for most among MLB second basemen, as well as the single season record by a Pirates second baseman.
9. John Vander Wal 2000: The Pirates acquired John Vander Wal from the San Diego Padres in a deal that involved Al Martin prior to the 2000 season. Outside of Brian Giles, the Pirates lacked power in their lineup for the most part, but Vander Wal provided some, although rather unexpectedly. He hit a career high 24 home runs that year, this after never hitting more than 15 in a season, minors included.
8. Bill Mazeroski 1958: While Bill Mazeroski’s stellar defense as a second baseman has been well-documented, he wasn’t really much of an offensive threat, aside from Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. After hitting a combined 11 homers in his first two big league seasons, 1956 and 1957, Maz had 19 home runs in 1958, which was his first All-Star year. That record for Pirates second basemen stood for 56 years, until Neil Walker surpassed the mark in 2014.
7. Nate McLouth 2008: Following an impressive rookie season in 2005, Chris Duffy took over as the Pirates everyday center fielder. After failing to live up to expectations, Duffy was replaced by Nate McLouth. McLouth’s power came out of nowhere in 2008, with 26 home runs, which was literally half of what he hit the year before. The 2008 season was the first and only All-Star year for McLouth.
6. Andrew McCutchen 2012: On June 3rd, 2009, PNC Park nearly turned into ashes following the news of Nate McLouth being dealt to the Atlanta Braves. What’s unfortunate is that the outrage of the trade completely overshadowed the MLB debut of Andrew McCutchen. In 2011, McCutchen hit 23 home runs, which seemed like that would be his career high. He outdid himself however in 2012, blasting 31 homers, becoming the first Pirates center fielder to have 30 in a season. McCutchen finished third in the NL MVP voting that year.
5. Brian Giles 1999: Former Pirates GM Cam Bonifay made without question is best move in November of 1998 when he acquired Brian Giles from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for reliever Ricardo Rincon. Before joining the Pirates, Giles highest long ball total was 20 for the Indians former AAA club Buffalo. He took his power to another level during his first year with the Pirates in 1999, as he clubbed 39 home runs. Giles would hit 35 plus homers the three seasons after that.
4. Jason Bay 2005: In August of 2003, Jason Bay was obtained by the Pirates from the San Diego Padres in the Brian Giles deal. After becoming the first Pirates player to capture NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2004, Bay followed that up with an impressive 32 homer season in 2005. With PNC Park being more friendly to left-handed hitters, it made Bay’s power stand out even more so as a right-handed batter.
3. Arky Vaughan 1935: Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan was the best Pirates player during the 1930’s, as well as one of the greatest in franchise history in terms of on base percentage. Vaughan wasn’t known for his power, but he showed it off in 1935 by hitting 19 home runs, this after a combined 25 the three seasons prior. 19 homers from a shortstop at that time would be a shortstop today hitting 40.
2. Willie Stargell 1971: Although Willie Stargell’s power shouldn’t be categorized as unexpected, it’s what he did in 1971 that made it so. Prior to that year, Stargell’s best home run total was 33 in 1966. In 1971, he hit 48 homers. Stargell was in his age 31 season that year, which is generally when most players begin to exit their prime. Also consider the fact that he had really bad knees and was still able to generate that kind of power.
1. Ralph Kiner 1947: Ralph Kiner is regarded as the first true power hitter in Pirates history. His rookie season in 1946 resulted in 23 homers, which is still very good, but was nothing compared to what he would do the following year. In 1947, Kiner did the unthinkable, as he hit 51 home runs, a mark that had only be reached by Babe Ruth, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson. What’s more surprising than the home run total that season from Kiner was him not even being named an All-Star. For Kiner to only become just the fifth player in MLB history with 50 homers in a season makes it the most unexpected in one season by a Pirate.