Pittsburgh Pirates: An Overlooked Three Year Stretch by Kevin Young
By Marty Leap
For a three year stretch from 1997 – 1999, Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Kevin Young quietly put together a terrific three years stretch.
Outside of the first three years of the decade, Pittsburgh Pirates fans did not have much to cheer about during the 1990s. One year, however, that bucked that trend was the 1997 season.
In 1997 the Pittsburgh Pirates were known as the “Freak Show.” Why? Because despite having the lowest payroll in all of baseball and universally being picked to finish last, the team almost won the National League Central. The Pirates remained in the hunt for a division crown until the final week of the season before coming up short.
A key player on this squad was first baseman Kevin Young. After spending the 1996 season with the Kansas City Royals, Young returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997. He would spend the next seven seasons in Pittsburgh, going on to play 11 of his 12 MLB seasons with the Bucs.
In 1,205 career games, Young hit for a .258/.324/.438 slash line. He posted a .180 ISO, 95 wRC+, he hit 144 home runs, and posted a 7.9 fWAR. Outside of power, his career offensive output was largely below average. Defensive Runs Saved data on FanGraphs starts in 2002. In the two years of his career where DRS is available, he was worth a +1 DRS at first base in each of those seasons. He was also one of the best first baseman in Pirate history in terms of fielding percentage. So, while he had some shortcomings offensively, Young was never lacking with the glove.
From 1997 – 1999, however, Young put together by far the best three year stretch of his career. In fact, during those three seasons Young was worth a 10.0 fWAR. This is 2.1 wins higher than his career fWAR, which goes to show how much better Young was in those three seasons than he was the other nine seasons of his MLB career.
During this three year stretch Young logged 1,694 plate appearances in 412 games. As a side note, due to injury, he was limited to just 97 games in 1997. In these 412 games, Young hit for a .288/.352/.509 slash line to go with a 118 wRC+, .221 ISO, 8.0% walk rate, and a 20.1% strikeout rate.
Most Pirate fans remember Young for his glove at first base, and you can not blame fans for that. However, people should not forget about his tremendous offensive output from 1997 through 1999. This was one of the best three year offensive stretches in franchise history for a first baseman.
In retirement, Young remains involved with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He works as a guest instructor in spring training and has done a lot to help Josh Bell improve his defense at first base. You will also see him pop up on occasion on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh’s broadcasts.