Pittsburgh Pirates: Ranking the Top 10 Pirates of the 21st Century
2012 has provided the Pirates and their fans with entertaining baseball and a legitimate shot at a postseason birth for the first time since 1992.
This could mark the first time since the turn of the century that the Pirates have surpassed 80 wins, let alone contended for the playoffs.
Yet, this century, while providing plenty of heartache to Pirates fans, has provided some players that were worth the price of admission to come and see play. Naturally, some grace the field at the present day.
I will attempt to rank the top 10 Pirates since Y2K over the next few slides to revive good memories from a much drearier past as well as to show where current Buccos stand amongst them.
The only criteria is that the player played on the Bucs for at least parts of three separate seasons. The rest is simply personal opinion mixed in with some statistics.
Wells was a mainstay in the Pirates rotation for five seasons spanning from 2002 to 2006. He posted impressive numbers during both the 2002 and 2003 seasons when he notched 22 total wins, had ERA's of 3.58 and 3.28, and pitched 395.2 innings. Yet, he had a disastrous ending to his Pirates career with three poor seasons, one of which he led the National League in losses.
Mike Williams began the millennium as the Pirates closer, and notched 117 saves for the Bucs at the beginning of the century; including a team-record 46 in 2002. However, Williams always sported an exceptionally high WHIP for a closer, and wasn't as talented a player as those above him on this list.
Perez pitched the finest season in recent team history during the 2004 campaign when he posted a 2.98 ERA and led the league in K/9 with a 10.975 mark, due to his godly 239 K's in 196 innings. Of course, this was the only good season of his Pirates career, as the other three seasons he was a part of provided nothing but headaches to fans.
10. Paul Maholm
I'll start the list with who was undoubtedly the top Pirates pitcher between 2005-2011 in Paul Maholm.
Maholm was the "ace" on some really bad Pirates teams, yet he was an incredible innings-eater, who managed to stay off the disabled list all the way until the very end of his Pirates career when he was lost for the year in August of 2011.
At times, such as 2008, the beginning of 2009 and 2011, he was a pretty dominant pitcher with an excellent curveball and he deserves recognition for the hard work he put in just to play on some of the worst teams the city has ever seen.
9. James McDonald
In one of Neal Huntington's top trades to date, the Pirates acquired James McDonald and Andrew Lambo for what ended up being a month's worth of Octavio Dotel.
While Lambo has yet to prove himself in the minors, McDonald has ascended to Ace of the Pirates rotation.
Posting three consecutive positive WAR's in the Bucs' rotation is unheard-of this century, as McDonald has been a 4.5 WAR player since arriving from Los Angeles. He was snubbed from the All-Star team this year, but look for McDonald to continue improving and eventually move far up this list.
8. Joel Hanrahan
Joel Hanrahan has been the best reliever the Pirates have had during the century since he was acquired from Washington along with Lastings Milledge for Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan. While Milledge didn't last long on the team, Hanrahan took off, immediately posting a 1.72 ERA after the trade.
Hanrahan proved that the '09 campaign was no joke as he has gone on to post a career 2.48 ERA with 73 saves (and counting) for the Bucs, including a 40-save season a year ago as well as a 27-save season at the moment that looks as if it will surpass last year's total.
Having a 10.4 K/9 rate as well as only giving up a measly 12 home runs in 207 innings, the two-time All-Star strikes fear in every opponent he faces. Hanrahan is another who can climb up to the top of this list after another great season or two.
7. Jack Wilson
Wilson, the longest-tenured Bucco on this list, manned the shortstop position for the better part of nine seasons.
Over that time, he was the Pirates All-Star representative in 2004 as well as the National League Silver Slugger at shortstop when he hit .308 with 201 hits, 64 of which went for extra bases.
Offense was not Wilson's forte; it was his defense that proved invaluable to the team. He ranked in the top five in a multitude of fielding categories during his time in Pittsburgh, as well as owning a 19.4 WAR for the Bucs.
Wilson was also heavily involved in the community, becoming the face of the Pirates after Jason Kendall left. It's truly a shame that Jumpin' Jack Flash isn't a part of a Pirates team that is finally winning.
6. Aramis Ramirez
As most Pirates fans can attest to, the Bucs had been searching for a power-hitting third basemen since a certain someone was dumped to the Chicago Cubs during the 2003 season. Thankfully, Pedro Alvarez has finally filled that void, which was filled by guys such as Chris Stynes, Joe Randa, the mediocre Jose Bautista, and Andy Laroche. Yikes.
That certain someone, Aramis Ramirez, was one of the most productive Bucs of the century, and would be much higher on this list had management kept him around instead of trading him for peanuts, a whiffle ball, and a water bottle filled with backwash.
Sad, but true.
Ramirez burst onto the scene in 2001, posting one of the greatest seasons ever by a Pirates third baseman. After injuring himself in a brawl with Ben Sheets and having a semi-down season as a result in 2002, Ramirez rebounded the following year, and was on pace to have yet another 100 RBI season until GM Dave Littlefield pulled the trigger on a deal that ended the Pirates 2003 season.
Ramirez would go on to produce year in and year out, and is still tearing up big league pitching at the present day.
5. Jason Kendall
The Pirates all-time leader in games caught, Jason Kendall was quite the player during his time in Pittsburgh.
Kendall posted batting averages of .319, .320 and .325 in the 2000's and was an All-Star during the 2000 season. Kendall also played at least 145 games every season he was with the Bucs during the 21st century, almost unheard-of for a catcher.
The Pirates have been looking for stability from the catcher position ever since Kendall was traded to Oakland before the 2005 season.
4. Brian Giles
From 2000-2003, Brian Giles was one of the most feared sluggers in the entire league.
Posting years of 35, 37 and 38 home runs back to back to back will cause that reaction.
After bursting onto the scene with the Pirates in 1999 with a 39-home-run season, Giles continued his strong play through the remainder of his time in Pittsburgh, accumulating 124 home runs in the new millennium as well as having multiple seasons with an OPS over 1.000.
Giles, a two-time All-Star, finished as high as 13th in MVP voting, and will be remembered for his awe-inspiring power.
In what was one of Dave Littlefield's 'better' deals, Giles was shipped off to San Diego for Oliver Perez and Jason Bay, both of which would go on to have a large impact on the team in the coming years.
3. Freddy Sanchez
A three-time All-Star, Freddy Sanchez had his finest season in 2006 when he won the National League batting crown with a .344 average.
Sanchez was a staple on the Bucs for six seasons after coming over in a trade from the Boston Red Sox and finished his Pirates career with a .301 average.
Whether it was at second or third, Sanchez was always one of the hardest-working Buccos during a time when hope was bleak. A close friend of Wilson's from before their time together with the Bucs, Sanchez was also heavily involved in the community, giving back to the fans who supported him.
Sanchez came from adversity to end up in the major leagues. He was born with a club foot and doctors didn't know if he would even be able to walk, let alone play baseball. Sanchez defied these odds and provided a story that brings inspiration to all.
Sanchez, a deserving champion, would go on to win the 2010 World Series with the Giants.
2. Andrew McCutchen
Current Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is widely regarded as the best Pirates player since Barry Bonds, yet he will have to accomplish slightly more to take over the number one spot on this list.
McCutchen is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season where he is leading the NL in batting while being second in both homers and RBI.
He has been a mainstay in center since the trade of Nate McLouth early during the 2009 season, and has been the most fun Pirates player to watch that I can remember, as anytime he is on the field he is capable of highlight-reel plays.
After signing a long-term extension this offseason, look for McCutchen to lead the Bucs to the promised-land of the postseason and continue to lead this team for years to come.
1. Jason Bay
The best Pirates player of the 21st Century is also the only Rookie of the Year the franchise has ever had.
Jason Bay wore the black and gold for parts of six seasons, three of which he had over 30 home runs and 100 RBI; the gold standard for a power hitter. A two-time All-Star as well as the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year, Bay was at one point one of the best right-handed power hitters in the game.
Even more impressive, he was able to put up such good numbers playing at PNC Park, a tough place for righties to hit bombs.
The greatest Pirate to date during the 21st Century, Bay, like so many others, was traded for what has amounted to be nothing but a AAA relief pitcher four years after being shipped off to Boston.