Pittsburgh Pirates: Forgotten Opening Day Starters
Jim Bunning is one of two, one-and-done Hall Of Fame Opening Day starters in the Pirates’ history. Bunning spent most of his Major League career with the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. A nine-time all-star, Bunning was elected into the Hall Of Fame in 1996. The Pirates acquired the talented pitcher in the ‘67-’68 off-season, and he became their Opening Day starter the following year.
In 160 innings, Bunning had a 3.88 ERA, 3.39 FIP, and 1.35 WHIP. He had a 13.9% strikeout rate, along with a 7% walk rate. While these might seem like solid numbers, these were well below average. 1968 was the year of the pitcher. The league average ERA and FIP was just 2.98 while the average WHIP was 1.19. After adjusting for the insane pitching environment, Bunning had just a 75 ERA+, making him 25% worse than the average pitcher at limiting earned runs. Just to show how pitcher friendly 1968 was, Bryse Wilson, who ended 2022 with a 5.52 ERA, also had a 75 ERA+.
Bunning’s first outing as a Pirate didn’t go so well. In eight innings, he allowed four earned runs against the Houston Astros. He struck out five batters, but also allowed three free passes and a home run. The Pirates lost 4-5, and Bunning ended the day with a no-decision. The Astros walked the Pirates off with three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Bunning was brought back for the 1969 season, where he worked to a 3.81 ERA, 2.81 FIP, and 1.26 WHIP across 156 innings. While the Pirates were in contention, they traded Bunning to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Ron Mitchell and Chuck Goggin in August. Mitchell never appeared in the big leagues for the Pirates and Goggin only had nine plate appearances in black and gold. Bunning would return to the Phillies for his last two season in the major leagues. He struggled, but he was in his age-38 and 39 campaigns.