Big Lead Sports Bar


Pirates Pitching: Historically Bad

I was watching the Pirate game a few nights ago with my brother, and while observing some nameless, faceless Buccaneer laboring on the mound, I suddenly realized something...the Pirates have never had a dominating pitcher. Ever. No Bob Gibson, no Roger Clemens, no Randy Johnson, no Nolan one along those lines. Don't get me wrong, they've had many good pitchers, but not one who was an all-time great.
So I went to my own personal nerdery ( and dedided to dig a little deeper. What are the numbers behind one of this franchise's major shortcomings (the others being offense, ownership, development, scouting, leadership, etc)?
I dug as far back as 1947 for my sample size. I figured 60 years would be sufficient. And what did I find? Well, read on, my blog-loving friends...
Some facts about Pirate pitching:
The Pirates have had a grand total of six 20-game winners in the past 60 years. That's one a decade, for those of you who aren't good with calculators.
The 20-game winners:
1951: Murry Dickson goes 20-16 for a 64-90 Pirate team. Dickson's career record: 171-181
1958: Bob Friend is 22-14 on an 84-70, 2nd place Bucco squad. Friend's career marks: 197-230
1960: Vern Law is 20-9 for the World Champs. Law's career totals: 162-147.
1977: John Candelaria is 20-5 with a 2.34 ERA. Candy Man's career record: 177-122.
1990: Doug Drabek goes 22-6 and wins the Cy Young for the NL East Champs. Drabek's lifetime totals: 155-134.
1991: John Smiley goes 20-8 for the Back-to-Back NL East Champs. Smiley would finish at 126-103.
As you can see, many good pitchers there...but not even a 200-game winner among the bunch. And the one guy who was close (Friend) lost more than he won.
The Pirates have 34 players in the Hall of Fame. Nine are pitchers, and of the nine, none played for the Pirates for more than seven seasons. The only one in the postwar-era (Jim Bunning) played just two seasons.
The Pirates have had two Cy Young winners. Ever. That would be Vern Law in 1960 and Doug Drabek in 1990.
The Hall of Fame pitchers:
Jim Bunning, who played in Pittsburgh for 2 years in the late '60s. Now a US Senator, Bunning denies ever having played for the Pirates.
Jack Chesbro, a Pirate from 1899-1902. A spitball ace, he was obviously willing to do anything to win. Would probably take HGH if he were around today.
Pud Galvin, who, aside from having arguably the greatest name ever, played in Pittsburgh from 1885-1892. That 1890 season for the Pittsburgh Burghers was a memorable one, though.

Galvin, who mistakenly grabbed Sammy Sosa's corked BP bat for this photo

Burleigh Grimes, a three-time Pirate who last played for the team in 1934. Kind of like the Jose Hernandez of yesteryear...he just wouldn't go away.

Waite Hoyt, a Pirate from 1933-1937. Check out this morbid "Did You Know" from the HOF's website: "Did you know that Waite Hoyt was nicknamed "The Merry Mortician" because he worked as an undertaker during the off-season?"

Heinie Manush, a Bucco in 1938 and 39 and undoubtedly the target of ridicule for having the name "Heinie".

Dazzy Vance, a one-shot deal in 1915. He was probably dealt at the trade deadline for prospects.

Rube Waddell, a Pirate in 1900-1901. Traded to the Cubs in 1901 for Brant Brown's great grandfather.

Vic Willis, who came to the Buccos in 1906 via the Boston Beaneaters. They needed to clear room for a chubby-faced Japanese starting pitcher coming over via boat.

So what are we to conclude from these statistics?

1. Great pitching and winning go hand-in-hand. Think about's hard to win 20 games when your entire team wins 64. Which makes Rick Rhoden's 15-12 record in 1986 all the more amazing. But you see my point. If they had better pitching, they wouldn't be so consistently lousy.

2. They had a lot of solid pitchers. Make no bones about it, the Pirates had some horses over the years. Drabek, Candelaria, Friend, Law, Veale, even Steve Blass until he completely lost it in 1973. And they've had a number of guys who had greater success elsewhere, like Jason Schmidt, Bert Blyleven, and Bunning. But they never had the pitching equivalent of a Clemente, Stargell, Bonds, or Wagner. Ever.

3. I realize that win-loss record is a misleading stat. But a look at the 300-win club shows me nothing but guys I'd take on my team any day. And the pitchers on the verge of 300? Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, and Mike Mussina. Yeah, I'd take them, too.

4. Unless the Pirates draft a pitcher that doesn't destroy his arm, this trend will probably continue. The Buccos don't have a Pedro Martinez on their roster and he's not in the minors, either. And as much as I like him, I don't think we can project Ian Snell into the "All-Time Great" class.

5. Before you say, "Well, Clemens, Johnson, and Ryan are all-time greats...they don't just grow on trees...", remember, neither do players like the aforementioned Clemente, Bonds, Wagner and Stargell. And they somehow wound up in Pirate uniforms.

So after an article on bad Pirate pitching, I'm going to sit back and watch Shawn Chacon on the hill tonight. He has a career of 5.03, so that seems appropriate, although he's pitching a two-hit shutout through the first seven innings. Is our luck finally turning? I'm going to go out on a limb and give an emphatic "no".


Brought in to nurse a 2-0 lead in the 9th inning, on comes "closer" Salomon Torres, who promptly gives up two runs and leads to an eventual 4-2 Pirate loss in 11. Because of this, Torres is now out as the Pirates' closer. Way to prove me right, guys.

Update 2:

I've been informed that Heinie Manush wasn't even a pitcher. Totally true. So that means the Pirates only have eight pitchers in the Hall, not nine. Very poor fact-checking on my part. My only defense is that hours of perusing awful Pirate stats melted my brain to the point that "left fielder" looked like "pitcher". My sincere apologies to the readers and the Manush family.

More reading:

Pirates All-Time Leaders [Pittsburgh Pirates]

Pirates Hall of Famers [Baseball HOF]

Baseball Reference []


Unknown said...

But we have Torres

gatorB8 said...

I had some really good seats that I got for free tonight in the behind home plate section only to see Torres blow a 2 run lead and then see some no name (Sharpless? More like Helpless) give away back to back (well close enough) homeruns. Same old story and as you predicted, the luck has not changed.

San_Erino said...

It's Mesa time!

Seriously, I'm glad I read the entire thing (raher than jump to the comments after "20-game winners). Thank you for your clarification in regards to the most mind-numbing stat in baseball.

How about something about BA:RISP now? Wait, FJM will be covering that sometime in the next couple weeks.

Sean said...

So the Pirates had a Cy Young winner in 1960 (World Series champions) and 1990 (NL East Champs). At that pace, the Pirates will have another Cy Young winner in 2020, which will probably correspond with the next time the Pirates make the playoffs.

I think the big Pirates turnaround will come in 2017 when the Nuttings sell the team Mondesi, who made millions of dollars through his blog and radio appearances!

Unknown said...

the loss was not torres' fault. it was sanchez's. he did not make the DP.

Real McCoy said...

I'll see your Rick Rhoden 15 wins on a team with 64 and raise you a Steve Carlton.

Carlton had 27 wins out of the Phillies 59 in 1972.

I do not know if this is the highest % of team wins by a single pitcher in a single season, but it most be up near the top.

Dirty Sanchez said...

You would think a team that has had high draft picks (most often top 5) for the past 15 years would have more to show for their extended suckiness then a bunch of end of the rotation, chronically injured pitchers. Maybe it's time for the Pirates to start drafting H.S. position players and hope that the law of averages or plain dumb luck works out for once.

I'm going to the Dodgers game tomorrow night (We will!), so hopefully some of my fellow Mondesi-ers will be there to support the team. I know I asked this before, but I'll ask again - what's a good place to go to for wings and beer after the game?

Someplace close to the T-Line, since we're flying up and won't have a car. No dog fights or smoke filled clubs, just a decent place to chill out and have a few brews. And if there are a few hot girls to look, so much the better.

Unknown said...

It wasn't Chesbro who was juicing, it was Pud Galvin. He took an elixir of horse testosterone when he was playing.

Russell Lucas said...

Pud Galvin doesn't even have the best nickname in Pirate history. That honor belongs to Johnny Dickshot.

The rest of your article is right on. The law of averages says a team playing as long as the Pirates would turn out one dominating pitcher. Of course, the law of averages also says you aren't likely to have fifteen consecutive losing seasons.

Hence, a new marketing slogan riff is born:


Real McCoy said...

It is going to very tough to beat Dickshot.

Poor guy, not only does he have Dickshot for a last name but he died in Waukegan, Ill.

Dirty Sanchez said...

Johnny Dickshot. I think I just found my next throwback jersey purchase.