Pittsburgh Pirates: Most Underrated Offensive Season in Franchise History

When you think of the best offensive season in Pittsburgh Pirates history, odds are, you do not think of the 2002 season that Brian Giles had

When you think of the best offensive seasons in Pittsburgh Pirates history, which players do you think of? One of the first names that might come to mind is early-90s Barry Bonds. If you’re older, maybe one of Willie Stargell’s great seasons, or Ralph Kiner’s fantastic years. A more modern answer would be one of Andrew McCutchen’s seasons between his dominant run from 2012 to 2015.

Those are all good answers, but one name that probably doesn’t come to mind is one of Brian Giles seasons from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The long time Pirate outfielder had a fantastic five-year run with the Bucs, but his 2002 season might just be the most underrated year in Pittsburgh Pirates history.

During that year, Giles slashed .298/.450/.622. That looks like a triple-slash Barry Bonds might have put up at one point, but what’s more impressive is when you look at the era and league adjusted stats.

This was during the baseball’s steroid era. Baseballs were flying out of the park at a historical rate. But even when you look at the adjusted rates for the huge explosion in offense, Giles was probably one of the best batters to step on the field in 2002. He finished with a 174 wRC+ and 177 OPS+, making him about 75% better than the league average batter.

In the National League, only one player outdid Giles in wRC+. That was Barry Bonds who had a season for the ages. He hit .370/.582/.799 with 46 home runs, and a whopping 244 wRC+ and 268 OPS+. He was about 150% better than the league average batter. This is the highest wRC+ mark in a single season. The only batter who was better than Brian Giles in the National League happened to also put up the best offensive season of all time.

But don’t let that take away from what Giles did with the bat in 2002. Only one player ever has put up a season in Pirate history with at least 35 long balls, and a dozen stolen bases. Giles did that twice. In 2002 he crushed 38 home runs, and stole 15 bases. The year prior, he hit 37 home runs and stole 13 bags.

Comparing players from different eras is difficult, and that’s what wRC+ tries to do as it is adjusted for things such as run environment, league averages, and ballpark played in. Giles’ 174 wRC+ is the 11th highest mark in Pirates history. Higher than Kiner’s 1947 season, higher than Cutch’s 2014 season, and higher than Dave Parker’s 1978 season.

You can’t talk about this year without talking about the outstanding plate discipline Giles displayed in 2002. Giles posted a .450 on base percentage, the 6th highest in Pirates history. He walked a whopping 21% of the time, and struck out in just 11.5% of his plate appearances. His 1.82 walk-per-strikeout ratio was the second highest in the league to, again, Barry Bonds who posted a video game like number of 4.21.

In the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, only three players have managed an isolated slugging percentage above .300. It has happened in 8 different seasons. Four times from Kiner, twice from Willie Stargell, once from Barry Bonds, and once from Giles. This year, Giles had a ..324 ISO mark. That’s the 5th highest single season mark among any Pirate.

With a .622 slugging percentage, Giles owns two of the nine seasons where a player has put up a .600+ slugging in a Pirate uniform. That’s as many as Pops Stargell. All told, Giles’ 1.072 OPS is the fifth highest single season OPS by a Pirate. That year, he was only surpassed in the NL by, you guessed it, Barry Bonds and his outrageous 2002.

He was also an extremely clutch batter as well. With men in scoring position, Giles hit .287/.516/.545. Pitchers hated to pitch to Giles when he stepped in with a chance to score runs because they walked him 52 times out of the 159 times he stepped to the plate. In comparison, he had just 29 hits with RISP. In high leverage situations, he hit .264/.423/.505. His batting average probably would have been higher, but he walked 26 times, and collected 24 hits. But over half of those hits went for extra bases (4 homers, 8 doubles, one triple).

Giles’ offensive contributions that year really slip under the radar when you talk about the Pirates’ best single season performances in the batter’s box. This is easily a top 5 season in Pirates history in terms of offensive contributions. Giles could hit for power, got on base whether that be a hit or a walk, was a solid base runner, and he was the guy you would want up when it came time to drive runners in.