With February being Black History Month we will honor some of the great African American players throughout the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Today, we’ll start with right-handed starting pitcher Bob Veale.
When you think of the best starting pitchers in Pirate history you likely think of arms like Bob Friend, Vern Law, John Candelaria or Doug Drabek. While they were all very good pitchers with the Pittsburgh Pirates, arguably the best pitcher in Pirate history is lefty Bob Veale.
Veale was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1935. The Pittsburgh Pirates picked up Veale before the 1958 season and by 1962 Veale had made his MLB debut. 1963 was the first year Veale got a good look in the Majors. He served as the team’s swingman starting seven of the 34 games he pitched in, but was overall excellent in the 77.2 innings he tossed. Veale put up a 1.04 ERA, 2.49 FIP and 1.27 WHIP.
Even back in this era, those were outstanding numbers. His ERA+ was 317 while his ERA- was 32. His 21.2% strikeout rate was well above the league average mark, which was just 15%. He allowed just a single home run for a .12 HR/9 rate, again well above the league average mark of 0.8. Although Veale did walk 12.5% of all the batters he faced, his breakout campaign was a major success. Among any season by a Pirate pitcher who tossed at least 70 innings, Veale has the lowest ERA in franchise history.
This season locked Veale down as one of the Pittsburgh Pirates starters for the next seven seasons. From 1964 to 1970, Veale pitched a total of 1690 innings to the tune of a 3.01 ERA, 2.74 FIP and 1.305 WHIP. He put up a very good 115 ERA+ and 86 ERA- and FIP- of 83.
Veale was a big time strikeout pitcher for the era with a 20.9% strikeout rate. The league average strikeout rate never rose above 16% throughout his entire career. This also came with four 200 strikeout seasons. In 1964, Veale struck out 250 batters in 279.2 innings, which was the first 200+ strikeout season since Ed Morris in 1886 who struck out 326 batters in 555.1 innings.
Veale also only allowed 79 home runs for a 0.4 HR/9. While home runs obviously weren’t as common during the 60s and 70s as they are today, this was still a very good number as Veale was consistently above the league average.
Veale was among the best pitchers in the league during this seven year span. Among starters with at least 1000 innings pitched, he ranked 18th in ERA, 5th in FIP and strikeout rate, had the lowest HR/9 in baseball, seventh in FIP- and 16th in ERA-. All told, his fWAR of 34.1 was only outdone by five other pitchers, four of which are in the Hall Of Fame: Bob Gibson (48.5), Sam McDowell (43.4), Juan Marachial (40), Gaylord Perry (36.6) and Jim Bunning (35). Notably though, Veale pitched much less innings than the other five.
Since the end of the deadball era, 42 pitchers have thrown at least 700 innings with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Veale ranks top 10 among the important stats. In terms of fWAR, Veale has a 35 mark, which is only outdone Bob Friend who has more than 1500 innings on Veale. However, Veale ranks 2nd in ERA at 3.03, first in FIP at 2.75, 2nd in strikeout rate at 20.9%, first in opponent average at .229, 10th in HR/9 at 0.42, 9th in ERA- at 86, 3rd in FIP- at 83 and 9th in K/BB ratio at 2.0. The only worthwhile measurements Veale wasn’t particularly strong in was walk rate at 10.5% and WHIP at 1.31.