In 1977, Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander John Candelaria had an odd season where he became one of the all-time single-season leaders in one category.
There are a lot of ways to determine luck in baseball. Batting average on balls in play, left-on-base rate, batted ball raets, ERA estimators, there are plenty of ways to see how forces outside of the individual player’s control affected their overall season. During the Pittsburgh Pirates 1977, right-hander John Candelaria had an interesting season that stands out in the stat books.
Now a 2.34 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and 1.07 WHIP aren’t too out of the ordinary. Yeah, he definitely has a large difference between ERA and FIP, but that happens to low-strikeout pitchers. Plus the Candy Man gave up his fair share of home runs that season and the defense helped him out a ton. We’ll get into the defense later, but there’s one stat in particular that really stands out. It’s the 88.8% left-on-base rate dating back to integration.
Candelaria’s left-on-base rate is the second highest of all time, among all seasons where a pitcher threw 180+ innings of work. The single-season left-on-base rate leaderboard is quite interesting. You have some of the best pitchers in the sport’s history like Justin Verlander, Bob Gibson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Seaver, Zack Greinkie, Curt Schilling.
But there are also some peculiar names on there as well. Robbie Ray set the LOB% last season with a 90.1% rate. Then you have Blake Snell’s 2018 Cy Young season. He had an 88% rate during that year. Jon Lester is in the top 15, with his 2016 campaign coming in at no. 13, but would you have expected Lester, or any of Snell, Ray, or Candelaria to be among some of baseball’s GOATS in any stat?
Then you have the Candy Man, with the second highest left on base percentage since integration. He was pretty freaking good when runners were on base. He held them to just a .192/.226/.245 line when a batter stepped up with men on. Batters had a higher OPS against Bob Gibson with runners on during his 1.12 ERA, 1968 season, coming in at .484.
Although Candelaria did a lot of the work himself, he could also thank his defense for doing the rest of the job. The Pittsburgh Pirates had +47 total zone runs. That was the second most in the National League and one of the best defensive teams in Pittsburgh Pirates history.
Their +47 TZR is the 7th best mark by any Pittsburgh Pirates team in a single campaign. Overall, a lot of work was done by the defense given the Pirate pitchers had a .269 batting average on balls in play, the 8th lowest mark by any Pirates team post-integration.