Pittsburgh Pirates Single Season Team: PNC Park Era

Pittsburgh Pirates single season team

Last week, there were some interesting posts on Bucs Dugout and Eye on Baseball which featured the Pirates’ “All-Time Single Season Team.” They both ranked the best single seasons in team history, position-by-position.

Since the lists mainly consisted of players before our time (with the exception of Cutch), I figured I’d recognize some of the best individual seasons in recent memory by doing a similar list for the PNC Park era.

We did something along the same lines last winter, ranking the top ten Pirates since PNC opened. This is a little different in that it’ll go by position and depend solely on single season success.

To do it as simply as possible, I used FanGraphs’ WAR to be the judge. Whether or not you’re a fan of WAR, it’s still an all-encompassing stat that will give us an idea of who was the best at each spot.

So, here they are, the best Pittsburgh Pirates of the last 13 years, 2001 – 2013…

Catcher: Jason Kendall, 2004 = 4.7 WAR

No surprise here. An all-around solid backstop, Kendall had a nice year in 2004, his last season as a Pirate. He was a tough out, hitting .317 with a .399 OBP and a low 6.2 K%. From behind the dish, Kendall threw out runners at a 36% rate.

Honorable mention: The 2003 version of Kendall was pretty good, too (4.3 WAR). And how about Russell Martin? His 2013 was worth 4.3 wins above replacement.

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First BaseGarrett Jones, 2009 = 2.7 WAR

The fact that Jones was much more valuable over 82 games than any other first baseman in the last 13 years shows how much the Pirates have struggled at the position. And it’s still a weakness.

G.I. Jones broke into the bigs in July of ’09, hitting .293 with 23 homers and a .938 OPS. Besides a nice showing in 2012, Jones never reached those heights again, but he was at least productive enough to make a career out of it. He picked up a two-year, $7.75 million deal from Miami this winter.

Honorable mention: Adam LaRoche (2007) and Matt Stairs (2003) tied for second in WAR at 1.9. Really not much there; serious lack of talent overall.

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Second BaseFreddy Sanchez, 2005/2007 = 2.8 WAR

“Steady Freddy” was just a solid hitter for Bucs through the mid-2000’s. His best year was in 2006 when he won the NL batting title, but that was when he was over at 3B (more on that in a second).

Honorable mention: Neil Walker‘s last three seasons, in order, are right behind Sanchez. If he can stay healthy for a full year, maybe get a little luckier with the BABIP, maybe hit a little bit more from the right-side, I could see him being a 3-win player.

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Third BaseAramis Ramirez, 2001 = 4.7 WAR

A-Ram opened PNC with a bang, hitting .300/.350/.536 with 34 HR and 112 RBI in the stadium’s inaugural season.

Honorable mention: As previously mentioned, Sanchez had a great 2006 over at third base, but Ramirez just beat out his 4.5 WAR.

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ShortstopJack Wilson, 2004 = 4.4 WAR

Wilson was an All-Star and Silver Slugger in ’04, hitting .308/.335/.459 with a league-leading 12 triples. Jack Flash entertained with the glove on a nightly basis, as he saved 11 runs and posted an 8.0 UZR.

Honorable mention: Wilson in ’07, ’05, and ’09… then Jordy Mercer last year at 1.4 WAR. Shortstop has been a huge area of weakness for the Pirates since Jack left.

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Left FieldBrian Giles, 2002 = 6.8 WAR

Take a moment to take in these incredible numbers: .298/.450/.622, 38 HR, 103 RBI. That insane .450 on-base percentage ranked second in the league, only behind … Barry Bonds at .582.

Honorable mention: The man who replaced him/was acquired for him, Jason Bay, had a few great years. Starling Marte was pretty good last year at 4.5 WAR.

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Center Field: Andrew McCutchen, 2013 = 8.2 WAR

Not even close here. MVP.

Honorable mention: Pretty much every season of Cutch, plus Nate McLouth (2008), etc.

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Right Field: Reggie Sanders, 2003 = 2.9 WAR

Another position that hasn’t been too kind to the Bucs. Sanders hit the ball well in 2003, though: .285 average, .913 OPS, 31 homers. It was his only season in Pittsburgh.

Honorable mention: Xavier Nady? Craig Wilson? Again, not much there.

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Starting Pitchers (Leaderboard)

Oliver Perez, 2004 = 4.4 WAR

A.J. Burnett, 2013 = 4.0 WAR

Ian Snell, 2007 = 3.1 WAR

Francisco Liriano, 2013 = 3.1 WAR

Todd Ritchie, 2001 = 3.0 WAR

Honorable mention: Paul Maholm, Zach Duke.

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Relief Pitchers (Leaderboard)

Mark Melancon, 2013 = 2.5 WAR

Joel Hanrahan, 2011 = 1.7 WAR

Matt Capps, 2007 = 1.7 WAR

Mike Gonzalez, 2004 = 1.6 WAR

Josias Manzanillo, 2001 = 1.6 WAR

Jason Grilli, 2013 = 1.5 WAR

Salomon Torres, 2004 = 1.2 WAR

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Thoughts? Let us know.

Go Bucs

Throwback Thursday: Giles’ Walk-Off Grand Slam

Each Thursday from now until the start of the season, we will post a “throwback” video from the pirates.com archives.

The Pirates faced off with the Houston Astros on Saturday, July 28th, 2001. Vinny Castilla‘s three home runs carried the ‘Stros, and they went into the bottom of the ninth with an 8-2 lead. However, the Battlin’ Bucs stormed back for seven runs, including four off the bat of Brian Giles. Giles deposited a walk-off grand slam into the right field stands off Billy Wagner to give the Pirates an exhilarating 9-8 victory:

11 days until Opening Day.

Go Bucs

Previous Editions:
Stanley Cup Visits PNC Park
Ward Meets the Wall
Cordova, Rincon No-Hit Houston
Giles Climbs the Wall
Cutch’s Three-Homer Night

Bucs Turn a Triple Play in Cincy
Kendall Leaps to Score
Mackowiak’s Walk-Off Grand Slam
Mesa’s 300th Save

Jack Flash’s Slick Double Play

Throwback Thursday: Giles Climbs the Wall

Each Thursday from now until the start of the season, we will post a “throwback” video from the pirates.com archives.

Brian Giles made one of the best plays in PNC Park history on June 21st, 2003. Brandon Phillips, back when he played for Cleveland, crushed a Joe Beimel offering deep down the line in left in the top of the eighth inning. Giles traveled a long distance before leaping up to make an unforgettable catch. Check it out:

It was a dramatic game, as the Bucs went on to win, 7-6, in front of 36,856 at PNC. Abraham Nunez scored the winning run on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 15th inning.

60 days until Opening Day.

Go Bucs

Top Ten Pirates of the PNC Park Era: #3 Brian Giles


1999 28 141 109 164 39 115 .315 1.032
2000 29 156 111 176 35 123 .315 1.026
2001 30 160 116 178 37 95 .309 .994
2002 31 153 95 148 38 103 .298 1.072
2003 32 105 70 116 16 70 .299 .951
PIT (5 yrs) 715 501 782 165 506 .308 1.018

Brian Giles performed at a high level for the Bucs from 1999 to 2003, especially offensively. He came to Pittsburgh from Cleveland in November of 1998, in exchange for Ricardo Rincon. Giles’ best years as a Pirate came in Three Rivers Stadium. His two and a half seasons in PNC Park were still spectacular, as he mashed a combined 91 home runs and 268 RBI. The two defining moments of his Bucco career: his walk-off grand slam after the Pirates trailed by six runs headed to the bottom of the ninth on July 28th, 2001 (video) and his phenomenal catch to rob Brandon Phillips of a home run on June 23rd, 2003 (video). Giles was traded to his hometown of San Diego in August of 2003 after a memorable five seasons the ‘Burgh. The Pirates received Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, and minor leaguer Corey Stewart in the deal. Giles went on to play through 2009, and finished his career as a .291/.400/.502 hitter.

Photo: ewen and donabel/Creative Commons