Sam Miller posted a fun story for ESPN this week where he ranked each team as if every player on the roster was in their prime. The Pirates are near the bottom, but that was probably to be expected because it’s a young team. It’s easier to pinpoint Albert Pujols’ prime than it is to project Jameson Taillon’s peak.
Miller’s idea got me thinking about the primes of Pirates past. We’re 25 years removed from the 1993 season that started a long downward spiral, so let’s build a 25 man roster of players’ primes from this era in Pirates history.
Then I remembered Kurt beat me to the punch about 13 months ago. Thanks for stealing my idea I thought of a year after you wrote it, Kurt! But I’ll take the mature route and do the exact opposite: what is the worst Pirates team was can assemble from the last 25 years?
There are only two rules. 1. This has to be an actual roster. I can’t have a dozen first basemen or put a backup catcher in center. 2. Every year only has one representative. This (hopefully) creates a little bit of strategy to this exercise. It would be easy to throw Jason Bay’s 2007 performance on the roster, but he was spared in favor of a reliever who posted a slightly higher WAR total. It’s harder for a relief pitcher to accumulate or lose WAR, so a really bad reliever may be more “valuable” to assembling this dud of a team than a bad outfielder.
This team I assembled is worth -26.5 fWAR. A replacement level team projects to win 48 games. This monster I’ve created would set a pace for a 21-141 season. For reference, the Cleveland Browns have won 39 of their last 162 games played. This team would win roughly half the as often as the Browns.
Let’s take a look and remember the names of players we had forgotten.
Catcher: Keith Osik, 1999: .186/.239/.251, 21 wrC+, -0.9 WAR
Keith Osik was a replacement level player before we knew what replacement level players were. This was his career low-point, but he bounced back with a respectable 2000 campaign.
First Base, Randall Simon, 2004: .194/.264/.280, 33 wRC+, -2 WAR
Second Base: Akinori Iwamura, 2010: .182/.292/.267, 60 wRC+, -1.4 WAR
A poster child of why takeout slides at second base needed to be addressed.
Third Base: Doug Strange, 1998: .173/.217/.216, 8 wRC+, -1.8 WAR
Strange is currently a special assistant to Neal Huntington, so I really should be on my best behavior. Hi, Doug.
Shortstop: Pat Meares, 2001: .211/.244/.304, 35 wRC+, -1.7 WAR
Meares’ replacement Enrique Wilson posted -1.3 WAR the same year, too.
Left Field: Mike Kingery, 1996: .246/.304/.337, 66 wRC+, -2.1 WAR
Here is Mike Kingery’s Wikipedia page, in full:
He truly left his mark on the baseball world.
Center Field: Chad Hermansen, 2000: .185/.226/.296, 25 wRC+, -1.4 WAR
Hermansen was a first round draft pick that absolutely dominated minor league pitching. Logically, the Pirates rushed him to sit on the bench on a fifth place team and ruined his career. What could have been.
Right Field: Jose Guillen, 1997: .267/.300/.412, 82 wRC+, -3.1 WAR
You actually have to be a good player (or at least a promising one) to reach three wins below replacement. Most of these guys were either demoted, cut or benched before they can reach this level. Guillen was good enough to rack out over 500 PAs over 143 games played. That’s…impressive, in a masochistic way.
Catcher: Tom Prince, 1993: .196/.272/.307, 54 wRC+, -0.8 WAR
Heh, this is all in good fun, Tom.
Infielder: Steve Pearce, 2011: .202/.260/.255, 45 wRC+, -0.8 WAR
Pearce was a 5 win player his first full season away from Pittsburgh because of course he was.
Infielder: Phil Gosselin, 2017: .150/.190/.175, -5 wRC+, -0.6 WAR
A rare five-tooless player. Gosselin couldn’t hit for average, power, run, field or throw. Fortunately for the Pirates, it looks like Frank Duncan- the player they traded to acquire Gosselin- has a questionable at best major league future.
Fun fact: Gosselin was optioned to AAA a total of SIX times last year. SIX!
Outfielder: Nate McLouth, 2012: .140/.210/.175, 9 wRC+, -0.6 WAR
Imagine losing your major league job to Gorkys Hernandez.
Outfielder: Andrew Lambo, 2015: .040/.111/.080, -50 wRC+, -0.6 WAR
Lambo recorded a .191 OPS in 2015. One-armed pitcher Jim Abbott had a career .190 OPS.
Utilityman: Jose Bautista, 2006: .235/335/420, 96 wRC+, -1.1 WAR
This spot almost went to Jeromy Burnitz, who also was worth -1.1 WAR the same year. Bautista gets the nod because he stunk defensively at multiple positions.
Ace: Tom Gorzelanny, 2008: 6-9, 105.1 IP, 6.66 ERA, -1 WAR
I could have filled out half of this staff with just guys who pitched this year. The lowlights were John Van Benschoten (-0.7 WAR), Sean Burnett (-0.5) and Matt Morris (-0.4).
This pick has a happy ending, though. Gorzelanny pitched a few more years in the majors and the Pirates traded him for Josh Harrison. That’s a win-win after a season of loss after loss.
Two: Wandy Rodriguez, 2014: 0-2, 6.2 IP, 6.75 ERA, -0.8 WAR
Rodriguez’s arm was dead on arrival after sitting out most of 2013. Who knows how low he would have gone had the Pirates gave him a few dozen more starts.
Three: Oliver Perez, 2005: 7-5, 103 IP, 5.85 ERA, -0.8 WAR
Ollie was the first pitcher who broke my heart. I really started to get into baseball around 2003 and 2004. Perez was one of the first players I ever gravitated to, and his 4.5 fWAR in 2004 is the second best total for a Pirates’ pitcher over the last 25 years. He followed with the second worst year for a Pirates starter in that same stretch. Baseball is cruel.
Four: Jonathan Sanchez, 2013: 0-3, 13.2 IP, 11.85 ERA, -0.6 WAR
Neal Huntington hit two home runs during the 2013 offseason, but this was a wild swing and a miss.
Five: Jimmy Anderson, 2002: 8-13, 140.2 IP, 5.44 ERA, -0.5 WAR
The staff’s inning eater, I guess. (I see what you did there, Alex — Kevin).
Closer: Mike Williams, 2003: 6.27 ERA, 5 Blown Saves, -0.6 WAR
Williams crashed and burned after a record setting turn as closer in 2002. Still, he racked up 25 saves, was an All-Star and was traded for a halfway decent prospect at the deadline. That should really tell you how much of an analytical dark age 2003 was.
Set-up: Jeff McCurry, 1995: 5.02 ERA, -0.9 WAR
I never watched McCurry pitch in person, mostly on account of me being three at the time.
Middle Relief: Masumi Kuwata, 2007: 9.43 ERA, -0.8 WAR
Kuwata was the first Japanese player in Pirates history. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
Middle Relief: Phil Dumatrait, 2009: 6.92 ERA, -0.7 WAR
He had Tommy John and major shoulder surgery in a five year span. Pirates gave him a shot, but his arm gave out.
Middle Relief: Jeff Ballard, 1994: 6.66 ERA, -0.6 WAR
It wasn’t until I encountered a second player with a 6.66 ERA that I started to fear the Devil’s presence in this post.
Swingman: Jon Niese, 2016: 4.91 ERA, -0.3 WAR
As a Pittsburgh sports writer, I am contractually obligated to crap on Jon Niese any chance I get.