The Unluckiest And Luckiest Seasons In Pittsburgh Pirates History


There’s a lot of luck involved in baseball, both good and bad. So what Pittsburgh Pirates have recieved the most and least amount of luck in their history?

Baseball is simply just a harshly unfair game. There are so many factors that go into baseball that makes the sport full of random chance. Swinging just a hair late or a hair early can be the difference between a foul ball or a line drive hit. Some pitchers have missed 6+ inches above the strike zone yet have given up home runs on those pitches. Meanwhile, there are plenty of times when a pitcher gives up five runs and gets bailed out by the offense. Many little things can significantly decide the outcome of a baseball game.

Plenty of players throughout MLB history has been dealt with tough seasons and to no direct fault of their own, and they simply just do not have luck in their corner. Today, I want to look at some of the unluckiest seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates history, and there have been plenty of lucky and unlucky seasons post-integration.


All-Time Pirate great Ralph Kiner has the lowest single-season batting average on balls in play in the organization’s history. Now I know what you’re thinking; how can Kiner, who led the National League in home runs every year he played with the Bucs, ever be unlucky? Well, take a look at his 1952 season.

Although Kiner was good, he absolutely could have been better if he had better batted-ball luck. The outfielder was still one of the league’s best hitters as he hit for a robust .244/.384/.500 line, .407 wOBA, and 139 wRC+, ranking in the top 12 batters in wRC+, wOBA, and OPS. However, he registered just a .221 batting average on balls in play, well below the .265 mark he established in the six seasons prior. Even if Kiner had a .250 BAbip, he likely would have had a .260+ batting average. Kiner was never a high-BAbip hitter, but .221 was low, even for him.

While wins and losses are the last thing you want to look at when evaluating a pitcher, they can indicate good pitching/bad run support and vice-versa. Although Dock Ellis may have had lady luck on his side when he threw his LSD no-hitter, it definitley was not in his corner in 1969, his sophmore season. Ellis had put up a healthy 3.58 ERA, 2.86 FIP, and 1.29 WHIP through 218.2 innings of work for the Pirates. Ellis wasn’t the only pitcher on the 1969 Pittsburgh Pirates who was tagged with more losses than wins, as Bob Veale had 13 W’s and 14 L’s.

For a team that averaged 4.5 runs a game, the second-most in the National League East was second in the league in runs scored while ranking top two in team batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, the bats didn’t seem to want to wake up when Ellis took the mound. They averaged just over three runs a game with Ellis, and the team was 16-19 during Ellis’ starts. He never pitched with a lead greater than three runs, and even then, he only did that once. He pitched when the game was tied 28 times, with a one-run lead four times, and was down a run just once. Ellis’ ‘69 season is just one of the many times a pitcher has a good campaign but is burned by some poor run support.

Another unlucky season from a pitcher comes from Bob Friend in 1954. Friend had a 5.07 ERA while serving as a swing-man for the Pirates. He started 20 of his 35 total appearances, totaling 170.1 innings pitched. While he gave up plenty of earned runs, he had a FIP of 3.80. The defense was one of the many weak points of the ‘54 team, having -36 total zone runs, the lowest in the National League by an 18-run difference. Only three of the seven Pirates who appeared in 100+ games were above average defenders, and none had +5 TZR. Friend wasn’t the only pitcher who suffered a lousy ERA despite pitching solid. The pitching staff as a whole had a 4.92 ERA but 4.14 FIP and led the league in opponent BAbip.

Among Pirate relievers, John Grabow could have had a better season in 2004. The right-hander pitched 61.2 innings with the Bucs with a 5.11 ERA. But he also had a 4.00 FIP and 3.53 xFIP. Grabow was burned by a .393 batting average on balls in play, which is surprising that he had such a high mark given his strong 47% ground ball rate. Again, it was a case of good pitching but lousy fielding. The Pirates were a -17 total zone run team. Although they were significantly better than in 1954 when it came to defense, they were still the third-worst National League team when it came to fielding.

Another very unlucky season from a Pirates’ reliever came from Tommie Sisk in 1964. Sisk pitched a total of 61.1 innings and had a 6.16 ERA. But his 3.88 FIP is the most enormous difference between ERA and FIP in the team’s history (among relievers). Again, it was another case of one of the league’s worst defenses not doing any favors and, if anything, hurting pitchers more often than not. The Pirates had -22 total zone runs, the third-worst in the league. The only thing that saved them from being even worse was the fact that Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski combined for +21 TZR. This led to Sisk posting a .390 BAbip.

One last reliever worth mentioning is Chris Resop in 2011. Resop had a 4.39 ERA in 69.2 innings but still had a decent 25.6% strikeout rate, 9.7% walk rate, and 1.0 HR/9. But he had a 3.67 FIP and 3.08 SIERA (skill-interactive ERA). Resop 2011 has the most significant difference between ERA and SIERA among all Pirates relievers with 50+ IP.


You probably wouldn’t think that a guy who hits a ton of ground balls and not too many line drives would have a good season at the plate, but Starling Marte did just that in 2013. Marte hit .280/.343/.441 with a .344 wOBA, and 122 wRC+. Once you look at the batted ball rates, Marte’s 2013 doesn’t seem like it should have happened. He had a 50.8% ground ball rate and sub-30% GB%, yet hit 12 home runs and had an above-average .161 isolated slugging percentage. His home runs-per-plate appearance rate was about league average as well. He had just a 4.4% walk rate and 24.4% strikeout rate but still had a .343 on-base percentage, well above the league average .315 mark. A lot of that has to do with his .363 BAbip and 24 HBPs.

The most RBIs in a sub-95 wRC+ season come from Bill Robinson in 1978. Robinson racked up 80 in 136 games and 552 plate appearances. Despite his healthy RBI total, he only hit for a 91 wRC+. The Pirates as a team were decent at reaching base at a solid rate, with a .320 OBP. Robinson was solid but not great with runners on base, only having had a .265 average and .791 OPS, but also had 268 plate appearances with runners on base. That was 53 more opportunities than Willie Stargell had in ’78.

Kevin Correia in 2011 and Ian Snell in 2006 are two of the many examples of why no one looks at pitcher win/loss record anymore. Correia had an ERA and FIP just under five, at 4.79 and 4.85, respectively, yet won 12 games, two more than Jacob deGrom had in 2018. The most wins recorded by a Pirates pitcher with an ERA over 4.50 comes from Ian Snell. In 2006, Snell posted a 4.74 ERA and 4.58 FIP but had a 14-11 record. Both pitchers had just two more losses than Bob Gibson in 1968 when he had a 1.12 ERA. Each of Corriea and Snell received nearly five runs of run support on average during their starts. It’s pretty wild how much run support each got from the Pirates’ offense. The team ranked 16th and 14th in runs scored in 2006 and 2011 while also ranking in the bottom three in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage between the two years.

One last peculiar win/loss record comes from Roy Face in 1959. Face was the original Pirates closer and was the first Bucs pitcher to record 10+ saves in a season. In ’59, Face won 18 games in 57 appearances/93.1 innings pitched. Although he was effective with a 2.70 ERA, 2.60 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP, 18 wins and no starts is an MLB record. Face only pitched more than 2 innings 11 times and never pitched before the seventh inning. The Pirates just happened to take the lead while he was in the game very often.

Eddie Solomon was a pitcher for the Pirates in 1980, and while he had a pretty standard 7-3 record for a swing-man type pitcher, he was bailed out by the offense multiple times. Solomon had a 2.76 ERA but 4.32 FIP in 100.1 innings. While his FIP wasn’t awful, it’s still one of the largest differences between ERA and FIP in the Pirates’ post-integration history. The Pittsburgh Pirates were the best defensive team in the league this time around with +27 total zone runs.

Next. Henry Davis Homers in Double-A Debut. dark

Chasen Shreve’s 2021 season is quite impressive once you take a deeper dive into it. Shreve had a 3.20 ERA but a 5.15 xFIP. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings of work, which is in the top 10 of lowest ERA’s among pitchers with an xFIP above 5.00. Ironically, another former Pirate has an ERA even lower and an even higher xFIP, at 2.94 and 5.36. He also has the highest single-season SIERA (skill-interactive ERA) for Pirates relievers with 50+ IP, at 4.93.