Pirates’ Top 5 left fielders: Berry's take

April 28th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Adam Berry’s ranking of the top 5 left fielders in Pirates history. Next week: center field.

• Pirates All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS

1) , 1946-53
Key fact: Hall of Fame slugger, premier power hitter of his day, is only player to lead his league (or share lead) in homers seven years in a row

Keep in mind: We ranked Willie Stargell as the Pirates’ best first baseman of all time for the purposes of this exercise, so he wasn’t eligible here. That made this pick a little bit easier, although this list is loaded all the way down into the honorable mention category.

In Pirates history, only Stargell has hit more home runs (475) than Kiner’s 301. Only six players -- Stargell, Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Pie Traynor, Paul Waner and Bill Mazeroski -- have driven in more runs than his 801. Only Brian Giles owned a better OPS (1.018) than Kiner’s .971. Simply put, he is one of the greatest sluggers in the long history of Pittsburgh’s franchise.

Kiner, a six-time All-Star, led the National League in homers (or tied for the lead) every year from 1946-52. He hit 35 or more homers every season from ’47-53. He averaged 111 RBIs per season from '46-53. He led the NL in walks three times, and the feared right-handed hitter was intentionally walked an MLB-leading 19 times in '50.

There have been 17 individual seasons in which a Pirates player hit at least 35 home runs, and Kiner put together six of them -- including his franchise-record 54-homer campaign in 1949. He might not rank first in Wins Above Replacement, in part because he only played 1,095 games for the Bucs, but he was certainly a bright enough star to turn the top spot here into Kiner’s Korner.

2) , 1986-92
Key fact: MLB’s all-time home run leader began career with Pirates as multi-dimensional star and two-time NL MVP

There’s something ironic about placing Bonds behind someone who was more of a power threat, but keep in mind we’re dealing only with Pittsburgh-era Bonds here. And while the Pirates' version of Bonds was not yet the game’s most dangerous home run hitter, he was elite in every way.

Despite his limited time in Pittsburgh, Bonds ranks ninth in franchise history with 50.3 bWAR. He slashed .275/.380/.503 (good for a 147 OPS+) with 176 of his 762 homers and 251 of his 514 stolen bases. He walked more times (611) than he struck out (590) and he won three straight NL Gold Glove Awards from 1990-92.

Leading the Pirates to three straight division titles from 1990-92, Bonds won two NL Most Valuable Player Awards and finished second in ’91. During those three years, he totaled 26.8 bWAR -- and that stretch alone would place him 21st on the franchise’s all-time position-players list, between Hall of Famer Jake Beckley and Brian Giles.

Bonds’ career legacy is obviously complicated, and he’s not always warmly remembered in Pittsburgh due to his interactions with the media and the club’s lack of postseason success. But there’s simply no denying he is one of the greatest players to wear a Pirates jersey.

3) , 1900-11, ’13-15
Key fact: Hall of Fame player/manager led the Pirates to four pennants and the 1909 World Series while batting .299 over 15 seasons

Clarke is the winningest manager in Pirates history, with a 1,422-969 record in 16 seasons, but he’s on this list for his exploits on the field. He hit .300 or better six times with the Pirates, and he leads all Pittsburgh left fielders with 261 career stolen bases and 156 triples.

During the Bucs’ 1909 championship season, Clarke hit .287/.384/.373 with 31 steals and a league-best 80 walks. For his Pirates career, he slashed .299/.379/.418 with 1,638 hits, 622 RBIs and 1,015 runs scored.

Clarke led the NL in doubles (32) and OPS (.946) in 1903. Managing from his post in left field, he also twice ('07, ’09) led all NL outfielders in fielding percentage. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945, 15 years before he passed away.

4) , 1999-2003
Key fact: Franchise’s OPS leader (1.018) ranks seventh in Pirates history with 165 home runs

Giles had the misfortune of being a star on a bunch of losing teams, including the Pirates’ 100-loss club in 2001, which is one of the reasons he’s not regarded as fondly as the three players listed above. But he was one of the game’s best sluggers during his time in Pittsburgh, as he slashed .308/.426/.591 with 165 homers, 506 RBIs and far more walks (519) than strikeouts (338) in 715 games.

From 1999-2002, Giles averaged 37 homers and 109 RBIs per season and earned two NL All-Star nods. He did all that at the plate while spending quite a bit of time in center field, although he eventually settled into playing more left field from '01-03.

Not a bad return for reliever Ricardo Rincon, especially considering the Pirates eventually flipped Giles for Jason Bay and lefty Oliver Pérez, who started his Pittsburgh career with great promise.

No, Pittsburgh didn’t experience nearly the same level of success in the disastrous deal that sent Bay out of town in 2008. But it’s worth noting that the trade tree’s branches nonetheless extended a long way: The return for Bay included Bryan Morris, who was dealt for a '14 Competitive Balance Round A Draft pick, which turned out to be Connor Joe, who was traded to the Braves for Sean Rodríguez on Aug. 5, 2017, and Rodríguez remained in Pittsburgh until Aug. 31, 2018 -- almost 20 years after the initial Rincon-for-Giles deal went down.

5) , 2012-19
Key fact: Two-time NL Gold Glove Award winner and 2016 All-Star ranks fourth among Pirates left fielders in bWAR (28.4)

Marte was the Scottie Pippen to Andrew McCutchen’s Michael Jordan, a high-level player who was never the star of his own team. But he had a major role in the Pirates’ return to the postseason from 2013-15, and he easily ranked as the club’s second-best player of the past decade.

Marte slashed .287/.341/.452 with 108 homers and 239 steals in his eight seasons with Pittsburgh. When he was dealt to the D-backs, he left the Pirates with 1,047 hits, 192 doubles and 420 RBIs. That puts him on several short lists with elite company. Consider: Marte and Bonds are the only players in the Pirates’ 100-homer/200-steal club, and he’s one of only 11 players in Pittsburgh history to record 1,000 hits and 100 homers.

From 2013-16, he averaged 4.9 bWAR per season. Marte’s occasional mental lapses, his '17 PED suspension and his teams’ lack of postseason success will serve as blemishes on his resume, but he was nonetheless one of the most dynamic players in recent franchise history.

Honorable mentions

(2003-08) won the '04 NL Rookie of the Year Award, and the two-time All-Star with Pittsburgh totaled 139 homers and 452 RBIs in six seasons. Like Giles, he was a productive player for a bunch of losing teams. He ranks fourth all-time among Pirates left fielders (not including Stargell) in homers and ranks third in OPS behind only Giles and Kiner.

Richie Zisk (1971-76) ranks seventh among Pirates left fielders (not including Stargell) in bWAR primarily on the strength of the 1973-76 run in which he slashed .302/.367/.481 with 68 homers, 115 doubles and 318 RBIs.