Sports Magazine

Battling Bucs : All Era Team: Pre 1900

By Kipper @pghsportsforum
Currently CBS sports is doing a series in which they pick the best individual season per position per franchise and assemble a team. I like the idea of this and wanted to give it my own try but only focusing on the Pirates and splitting the franchise history up into eras. The eras will largely be random but I still figured it would be a fun exercise. Each team will consist of a starting 8, one extra player, 5 starting pitchers and 1 "reliever". For the early teams the term reliever will be used very generally. A player is only going to be elected once to a team even if he ends up qualifying at two separate positions. First up is the pre-1900 team.
Catcher: When looking at the individual seasons put up by Pirates catchers before the start of the 20th century there was really only one name worth considering and it was Fred Carroll. Carroll's 1886, 1887 and 1889 season easily best any put up by Doggie Miller who was his only real challenger. The question though became which season to pick? Really it came down to how strict I wanted to be with positional eligibility. Carroll's 1889 season was his best but that year he split his time rather evenly between catcher and the outfield. In 1887 he spent even less time at catcher meaning his only year as a primary catcher was 1886. In the end I decided to take into consideration the fact that catchers of this era often were used in tandems and when not catching it was common for a player to play another position so I gave the edge to Carroll's 1889 season. That year Carroll hit .330/.486/.484 and his offensive production as measured by wRC+ was 71% above league average. His great OBP was fueled by an outstanding 20.5 BB% nearly double his career mark of 10.6%. As previously mentioned I only really considered Carroll and Miller for this position.
First Base: Jake Beckley produced a ton of fine season during this era and legitimately has a claim to having 6 of the 7 best seasons. His only real competition came from Ed Swartwood's 1883 season but I ended up giving Beckley the nod because in Swartwood's 1883 campaign he end up with only 437 plate appearances compared to a low of 557 for Beckley. The difference in playing time was enough to tip the scales in Beckley's favor. The only question remaining was which season was his best? Upon looking at them closely his 1894 line of .343/.412/.518 because there he displayed a bit more power than in his other years. Beckley was particularly hard to strike out that year doing so just 16 times in 595 plate appearances and his offensive performance while not dominating still ended up being 22% better than league average. Beckley’s run from 1889-1895 and Swartwood's lone 1883 season were the only years I gave much consideration too.
Second Base: Here we get to a race that is a bit more wide open. Four players Sam Barkley, Pop Smith, Lou Bierbauer and Fred Dunlap have a legitimate case to make. Barkley had the strongest offensive season relative to the league in 1886 but Bierbauer's numbers weren't far behind and he has the reputation of being a very fine defender at second base. Smith represented a combination of the two as he was considered a good defender and had decent offensive numbers with it. Dunlap was the first player dropped from my conversation as he appeared to be a step behind the rest though I will admit he had one of the bests seasons ever by a 2B in 1884 but it came with Maroons not the Pirates. In the end with the offensive numbers showing only a very small difference I decided to go with the guy with the superior defensive reputation so Lou Bierbauer got my vote. From the offensive side his best season was 1894 when he hit .303/.337/.406 good for an offensive performance 9% below league average. He also sprinkled in 19 stolen bases that year his Pirates career high (his career high was 40 for the Athletics in 1887).
Third Base: With all due respect to Denny Lyons who fad a few fine seasons with the Pirates this position was never really up for debate. The best season of the era (and what CBS Sports considered the Pirates best 3B season ever) came from Jimmy Williams in his 1899 rookie campaign. That year Williams hit an impressive .355/.417/.535 which amounted to an offensive performance 52% above league average. He sprinkled in 9 homes runs and 26 stolen bases that season. He added in 126 runs scored and 116 runs batted in. Williams only spent one more year with the Pirates and was never anywhere near this good again. After leaving the Pirates Williams only played 19 more games at the 3B position becoming a regular 2B for the Orioles and later Highlanders and Browns.
Shortstop: Much like second base the shortstop position has a lot of options but none of them are particularly great ones. Again this became a balancing act Pop Smith who I previously mentioned as a strong defender had one year in which he was the primary shortstop and which he hit non-awful. Jack Glasscock came to the Pirates during the middle of a season and posted good offensive numbers but only played 66 games. In the end I decided Glasscock hadn't played enough to deserve the spot and that Smith hadn't hit enough for it so I went with Frank Shugart's 1892 season. His offensive numbers on the season were .267/.329/.352 good enough to be only 5% above league average. He did add in 28 steals and did this over the course of 605 PA. I strongly considered Glassock's 1893 campaign but he came in with almost just half the PA (314) and Pop Smith's 1886 season was poor offensively at .217/.288/.308.
Left Field: Having already credited Carroll's 1889 season (in which he split time between C and OF) to the catcher position this position quickly became a one man show featuring just Elmer Smith. The only real question was which season would take the top spot? Each of his six seasons with the Pirates were good but in the end it came down to his 1893, 1894 and 1896 seasons. The 1893 and 1894 seasons were near identical while his 1896 season featured a little bit better batting average and OBP and a little less power. In the end I decided I really couldn't go wrong so I trusted the numbers and went with 1896 campaign which wRC+ rated 51% above league average. His slash line of .362/.454/.500 was of course sensational and he also added in 33 stolen bases. At the end of the day you could have went with any of those three seasons and have been fine. Aside from Carroll's season no one else really stood out as a competitor to Smith.
Center Field: The center field position shaped up as another close battle. There ended up being three main competitors Jake Stenzel, Ginger Beaumont and the return of Ed Swartwood. Swartwood and Beaumont each only had one season worth considering where as Stenzel ended up with three. Once again I eliminated Swartwood from the conversation because he didn't play all that much. For whatever reason Swartwood would put up good numbers but barely see the field half the time. Beaumont had a fine 1899 season but for me it wasn't enough to topple Stenzel but again I was left with the question of which season to choose. I quickly determined his 1896 season was third on the list and while his 1894 and 1895 seasons were close I think 1894 had a clear edge. That year Stenzel hit .354/.441/.580 good for offensive production 40% above league average. He also scored 148 runs drove in 121 runs, hit 13 homes runs and stole 61 bases.
Right Field: Once again an Ed Swartwood season enters the discussion but this time despite it being light on playing time I did not immediately dismiss it because there was no season that was clearly just about as good spanned out over more playing time. The best other seasons I could come with were Tom Brown's 1885, Patsy Donovan's 1896 and Tom Mcreery's 1899 and after some thought none of them were enough to take down Swartwood's 1882 campaign despite him only receiving 346 plate appearances. His line of .320/.370/.489 was good for 65% above league average.
Bench: At the beginning I decided to hand out one bench spot to the most deserving player not to crack the starting lineup. In this era that really works out to be no contest. As I previously mentioned Jimmy Williams was the hands down choice for 3B but Denny Lyons had a couple very strong campaigns. His best season 1893 easily takes the prize here. That year he hit .306/.430/.429 good enough to be 31% above league average. As you can tell he didn't for all that much power but he posted a fantastic 16.3% walk rate.
Starting Rotation: Due to the how different the game was back in the 1800s picking pitchers for this era was a near impossible task so I won't get into too much detail about how I arrived at my choices but I will discuss who they ended up being.
1886 Ed Morris: Morris ended up clearly being deserving of a spot but I ended up going with his 1886 season just barely over his 1885 campaign. That year he posted a 41-20 record starting 63 games and throwing 555.1 innings while compiling an ERA of 2.45. His 1885 season was nearly identical but he struck out a few more hitters in 1886 (5.28 K/9 compared to 4.62 K/9).
1895 Pink Hawley: Hawley went 31-22 this year starting 50 games and throwing 444.1 innings. He posted a career best 3.18 ERA that season.
1896 Frank Killen: Killen went 30-18 starting 50 games while throwing 432.1 innings. He posted a 3.41 ERA that season.
1886 Pud Galvin: Galvin had a lot of similar years so I just chose the one with his Pirates career high in wins. He went 29-21 this season with a 2.67 ERA. He started 50 games throwing 434.2 innings.
1882 Harry Salisbury: Salisbury started only 38 games going 20-18 and pitching just 335 innings to the tune of a 2.63 ERA. What makes him stand out is his good K:BB ratio with 3.63 K/9 and only 0.99 BB/9.
Reliever: I'm not going to find a true reliever here no matter how hard I look. The guy I ended up choosing had 5 games in relief and 2 saves on the season. In Jesse Tannehill's 1898 season he went 25-13 throwing 326.2 innings posting a 2.95 ERA.

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