Top 10 Control Starting Pitchers in Pirates History

By Jason Shetler

Since being acquired by the Pirates from the New York Yankees at the 2016 trade deadline, Ivan Nova has been one of the best control starting pitchers in all of baseball. The impeccable control has also played a big part in him being one of the better starters in the National League. So which other starting pitchers in Pirates history have displayed excellent control? – Here are the ten best. 

10. Harvey Haddix: Prior to the 1959 season, Pirates GM Joe L. Brown pulled off his best trade, dealing Frank Thomas to the Cincinnati Reds for Don Hoak, Smoky Burgess and Harvey Haddix. The great control from Haddix during his first year in Pittsburgh helped give him the lowest WHIP in the NL at 1.06. In five seasons with the Pirates, Haddix posted a 2.2 BB/9. 

9. Doug Drabek: Anchoring the Pirates staff for their three consecutive NL East division titles from 1990-1992 was Doug Drabek. While Drabek did not possess phenomenal stuff, he succeeded by throwing strikes with regularity. During his six seasons with the Pirates, he put up a BB/9 of 2.2, the same as his Cy Young year in 1990. Drabek’s best control season was 1992, his final year in Pittsburgh, posting a 1.9 BB/9. 

8. John Candelaria: One of the great lefty starters in franchise history was John Candelaria. He pitched 12 seasons with the Pirates, as he registered a 2.2 BB/9. In 1977, Candelaria had his best control, with a 2.0 BB/9, while being named an All-Star for the first time and finishing fifth in the NL Cy Young voting. 

7. Wilbur Cooper: In 13 seasons with the Pirates, Wilbur Cooper became the first and only pitcher in franchise history to collect 200 victories. Cooper’s control numbers were consistently great, as he posted a BB/9 of 2.1. His best walk rate came in 1920 when he allowed just 52 walks in 327 innings pitched (1.4 BB/9).

6. Sam Leever: The Pirates captured their first World Series championship in 1909, and one of the pitchers to help lead the way was Sam Leever. Like Cooper, Leever also pitched 13 seasons in Pittsburgh. In 1902, he put up a 1.3 BB/9, walking only 31 batters in 222 innings. Overall, Leever had a 2.0 BB/9.

5. Bob Friend: For 15 seasons, Bob Friend was one of the better pitchers that the Pirates have had in their history. A key component on the Bucs 1960 championship club, Friend displayed outstanding command, posting a 2.2 BB/9. During the 1963 season, he had a BB/9 of 1.5, which was the best mark in the NL that year.

4. Vern Law: A longtime teammate of Bob Friend in the rotation was Vern Law. Law is best remembered for being the first Cy Young award winner in Pirates history, capturing the honor in 1960. That season, he pitched 271.2 innings and walked just 40 batters (1.3 BB/9). Law registered a 2.0 BB/9 during his 16 seasons with the Pirates.

3. Zane Smith: The Pirates acquired Zane Smith from the Montreal Expos in August of 1990 and he certainly played a big part during their three straight division title years. In his six seasons with the Bucs, Smith posted a BB/9 of 1.6. He had the lowest walk rate in the NL in 1991, as he allowed only 29 walks in 228 innings, which comes out to a remarkable 1.1 BB/9.

2. Deacon Phillippe: Perhaps one of the more forgotten pitchers in the Pirates long history was Deacon Phillippe. Phillippe was obtained by the Pirates as part of the infamous 15-player deal with the Louisville Colonels in 1899. He put up a 1.2 BB/9 in his 12 seasons in Pittsburgh. Phillippe had the best walk rate in the NL five times, three times consecutively in 1905, 1906 and 1907. 

1. Babe Adams: Regarded as the greatest pitcher in franchise history, Babe Adams is also the best control hurler as well. From 1919-1922, Adams had the best walk rate in the NL. He also had the lowest WHIP in the league on five different occasions. Adams was able to put up a 1.3 BB/9 in the course of 18 seasons with the Pirates, which is quite phenomenal. 







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