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The Worst Pirate Hitters of All-Time


Mario Mendoza has a special place reserved for himself in Pirate history Photo via pelotapimienta

Mario Mendoza has a special place reserved for himself in Pirate history
Photo via pelotapimienta

Last week on Twitter, I put out a tweet asking our followers if they had any suggestions for story ideas.  Reader BaseballNerd sent this response back:

I thought it was a potentially intriguing idea, but what would the criteria be?  It’s impossible with a franchise as storied as the Pirates, with history stretching back to 1882, to speak eloquently on the merits of a player from 1917 versus 1971.

Additionally, there could be a whole other list of disappointing Pirates — ones that may have had big contracts or big expectations and failed to deliver.  Looking at you, Pat Meares and Derek Bell.

So I eventually decided to use Fangraphs’ team sorting page and set the parameters from 1882 to 2015, with a minimum of 200 plate appearances.  I figured 200 would be a good threshold, as it takes out guys that came up for a handful of games and never were heard from again.  If you get 200 plate appearances, the team kind of thought you were worth keeping around, even as a utility guy, for a couple of years.  The results were then sorted by Weighted Runs Created Above Average (wRC+), as it compares that player to other players of that specific year.  Clearly, the game is much different from 1915 to 2015.

And naturally, the list had pitchers filtered out.  So here’s the lineup of the worst of all-time:

C   Hal Finney (1931-36) — 123 games, 242 plate appearances — .203 AVG/.233 OBP/.260 SLG (36 wRC+)

Finney capped his Pirate tenure in 1936 by going hitless in 35 plate appearances over 21 games.  Didn’t draw a walk, either, resulting in a stunning 000 OPS.  Oddly, that was Finney’s final year in the Majors.

1B  Tony Bartirome (1952) — 124 games, 386 plate appearances — .220 AVG/.273 OBP/.265 SLG (44 wRC+)

You have to be a special brand of awful to be a first baseman, no matter what era, and not hit a home run over the course of a season spanning 386 PA’s.  The 1952 season was Bartirome’s only season in the Majors.

2B  Doug Strange (1998) — 90 games, 201 plate appearances — .173 AVG/.217 OBP/.216 SLG (8 wRC+, meaning 92% worse than average)

I’m cheating here a little bit, because Doug Strange appeared mostly as a 3B, but he did have a few games at 2B.  There were so many “good” candidates at 3B, but no one else was as awful as Strange overall, so I’m squeezing him in here.

Strange was so poor in his final season as a major leaguer that the Pirates forced him to perform penance by becoming a special assistant to then-GM Cam Bonifay, followed by even more forced labor under GM Dave Littlefield.  After working off his debt to the Pirates, Strange remains (by choice) in the Pirates organization today.

SS  Mario Mendoza (1974-78) — 324 games, 478 plate appearances — .204 AVG/.244 OBP/.245 SLG (35 wRC+)

When you have a term named after the futility of your batting prowess, you’re going to be on this list.  The Mendoza Line is the term for hitting above .200 in a season, something that Mendoza failed to do quite a bit over the course of his career.  Dishonorable mention to Huck Geary, but Mendoza had to be here.

3B  Dick Smith (1951-55) — 70 games, 216 plate appearances — .134 AVG/.255 OBP/.167 SLG (18 wRC+)

Smith managed to linger on the edges of the Pirate rosters over the course of five (!) seasons, never appearing in more than 29 games or getting more than 75 plate appearances.

OF  Duff Cooley (1900) — 66 games, 275 plate appearances — .201 AVG/.243 OBP/.241 SLG (39 wRC+)

If you remember seeing Cooley play, congratulations!  That’s really cool!  Unfortunately, you’re probably going to die at any minute.

OF  Dick Hall (1952-55) — 211 games, 545 plate appearances — .218 AVG/.282 OBP/.274 SLG (46 wRC+)

Hall was so poor as a hitter/outfielder that he started pitching in 1955.  Hall pitched for the Pirates from 1955 until 1959, then kept pitching until 1971.  He had a pretty good pitching career (93-75, 3.32 ERA), but as a hitter he was pretty poor and that’s why he’s here.

OF  Eddie O’Brien (1953-58) — 231 games, 605 plate appearances — .236 AVG/.288 OBP/.269 (48 wRC+)

Over parts of five seasons (one in the middle he didn’t appear in the Majors), O’Brien didn’t hit a single home run.  Perhaps being 5′-9″ and weighing 165 lbs was a little bit of an impediment, but you think he could run into one over nearly a full season’s worth of plate appearances.


So that’s the murderer’s row lineup of your worst Pirate hitters.  Restricting the list to one per position, aside from OF, left off some real (un)worthy candidates.  And BaseballNerd, SS Mike Benjamin only ranked as the 14th worst shortstop of all time in Pirate history.  Sorry he and his sideburns couldn’t make the cut.

About Kevin Creagh (137 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

7 Comments on The Worst Pirate Hitters of All-Time

  1. No Rafael Belliard?

    Your system, sir, is flawed.

    • Kevin Creagh // May 18, 2015 at 12:18 PM // Reply

      By the wRC+ metric and 200 PA’s, good ol’ Raffy checks in 8th worst with a 50 wRC+. And to answer your next question, Sammy Khalifa is 17th. Good lord, the Pirates have had some real banjo-hitting SS’s in their history.
      Heck, Enrique Wilson occupies the 5th worst spot — even worse than Belliard, Khalifa, adjusting for era — with a 43 wRC+.

  2. Belliard actually had a “career” as a Pirate though. He sucked for them for the better part of a decade Strange? C’mon…

    Rafael was pretty much only great at one thing: Not hitting. Don’t take that away from him because of some “accounting” gltich that will allow you to slug in Doug freaking Strange.

  3. TSweeneyG7 // May 18, 2015 at 10:25 PM // Reply

    I’m very disappointed that not only Mike Benjamin’s sideburns didn’t make the cut, but Jeff Reboulet and his glorious mustache also are absent.

  4. TSweeneyG7 // May 19, 2015 at 4:53 AM // Reply

    If you’re doing one based on biggest dissapointments just look at any of Dave Littlefield’s signings. Article done.

    • Kevin Creagh // May 19, 2015 at 11:20 AM // Reply

      An article about DL’s reign of error would be painful to write, but humorous to read probably.

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