Number One – Roberto Clemente
Yea, this shouldn’t be a surprise to no one. The late but great Roberto Clemente is one of the greatest Pirates ever. Roberto Clemente was a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Brooklyn Dodgers, and this ended up being the best Rule 5 Draft pick in history. Clemente didn’t get off to the hottest of starts to his career. From his 1955 rookie season up until his age 25-season in 1959, the legendary outfielder hit just .282/.311/.395 with an 89 OPS+. But even though he wasn’t effective with the bat yet, Clemente was easily a top-tier defender having +69 total zone runs. From 1960 onward, Clemente would never look back.
Clemente’s bat would finally come around to match his outstanding glove work. From 1960 to his final season in 1972, Clemente batted .329/.375/.503 with a 144 OPS+ and 143 wRC+. Consistency was key for Clemente in this 13-year span. He only ever missed one All-Star Game, that being 1968 when he still finished with a 152 OPS+ and 8.2 bWAR. Although he wasn’t a big time home run hitter, Clemente never dipped below double digits.
Clemente, like the last two names we’ve talked about, has also won an MVP. That being in 1966. During that year, the right fielder hit .317/.360/.536 with 29 home runs, a 146 OPS+/143 wRC+, and had +17 total zone runs. This all accumulated to an 8.2 bWAR. The thing about it? This wasn’t even close to his best season. Clemente had an OPS+ higher than 146 five separate times (min. 500 plate appearances a season). He also had a bWAR of at least 8.2 two other times.
Clemente’s tenure came to a tragic ending on December 31, 1972. While delivering medical and other survival supplies to Nicaragua, which was recently struck by an earthquake, Clemente’s plane malfunctioned, and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. What makes it worse is that Clemente, who was just 38 at the time, still had a lot more baseball left in him. In his final season, Clemente finally hit the 3,000 hit mark, and is the only player with exactly 3,000 hits. He still posted really strong numbers that consisted of a .312/.356/.479 line. Despite his advancing baseball age, Clemente was still 38% better than the league average batter (138 OPS+), and had +11 total zone runs, which still made him an elite defender.
But we should not end on that unhappy note. Clemente’s bottom line includes a .317/.359/.475 slash in 10,212 plate appearances, 240 home runs, and a 130 OPS+/192 wRC+. He has a career 94.8 bWAR, which is the 37th highest mark of all time. His +205 total zone runs is the 5th highest of all time as well. Last but certainly not least is the inhuman like arm he had. Clemente’s 283 outfield assists is the 17th most of all time.