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Battling Bucs : ATP Near and Far: Outfielders

By Kipper @pghsportsforum
ATP Near and Far is a 10 part series dedicated to assembling two teams of All Time Pirates greats based upon their place of birth. The "near" team will consist of players born exclusively in the state of Pennsylvania and the "far" team will consist of players born outside of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia. Each roster will consist of 25 players the particulars of how the rosters will be assembled can be found in the introduction post here.
All Time Pirates Near and Far: Outfielders
International: There are a staggering 50 eligible players for the all international team outfield. An additional 23 players have also played the position and of those I will highlight the interesting case of Manny Jimenez. The Dominican born Jimenez played for the Pirates in 1967 and 1968 appearing in 116 games but remarkably he only saw time in the field in 11 of those games. Equally remarkable in those 11 games he started 9 of them and finished just 3 of them. He was a pinch hitter extraordinaire and excelled in the role posting a solid 126 wRC+. He by far has the most PA of anyone who doesn’t qualify for a position on either team.
Of the 50 eligible players, 32 received fewer than 500 PA. In order for this not to be a long drawn out process I will just briefly touch on these 32 highlighting the ones I see as notable. In the fewer than 10 PA crowd we have Bill Farmer (1888, Ireland), Angel Mangual (1969, Puerto Rico), Alberto Lois (1978-79, Dominican Republic), Bill Miller (1902, Germany), Phil Routcliffe (1890, Canada) and Tony Armas (1976, Venezuela). Manguel and Armas are the two players that had the longest most successful careers of the bunch. Manguel played with the Athletics from 1971-76 mainly serving in a reserve capacity whereas Armas played from 1977-89 with 3 different clubs earning three All Star appearances and twice finishing in the top 5 for MVP.
With fewer than 50 PA we have Luis Marquez (1954, Puerto Rico), Jose Gonzalez (1991, Dominican Republic), Gorkys Hernandez (2012, Venezuela), Felix Pie (2013, Dominican Republic), Frank Smith (1884, Canada), Ruben Mateo (2004, Dominican Republic) and Michael Martinez (2014, Dominican Republic). I am actually a bit surprised by the recency of this list as a player from each of the past 3 seasons appears. Hernandez an all defense outfielder is back in the system, Pie was a useful depth outfielder (even though he didn’t hit at all) down the stretch in 2013 and Martinez was the pinnacle of the infield frustration last year so it’s kind of funny to see him here in the outfield. As for the rest Jose Gonzalez who had a rather long career with the Dodgers (1985-1991) before joining the Pirates and Ruben Mateo who played a few years with Texas and Cincinnati before joining the Pirates are the most notable.
In the under 100 PA crowd we find Yamaico Navarro (2012, Dominican Republic), Conny Doyle (1884, Ireland), Alex Hernandez (2000-01, Puerto Rico), Miguel Dilone (1974-77 & 1983, Dominican Republic), Billy Reid (1884, Canada) and Tony Alvarez (2002 & 2004, Venezuela). Some of you may remember Navarro as he was acquired to fill a utility infield bench role plus his name has recently resurfaced as he was one of the top hitters in the KBO last season. Miguel Dilone began his career with Pittsburgh getting sparse playing time over 4 seasons and he later returned to Pittsburgh in 1983 picking up 7 additional plate appearances. The bulk of his major league playing time came with the Indians from 1980-83 where he was a solid player for the first two seasons but not so good over the last two.
Moving up to a 200 plate appearance max we find Raul Mondesi (2004, Dominican Republic), Alex Ramirez (2000, Venezuela), Gus Dugas (1930 & 1932, Canada), Sixto Lezcano (1985, Puerto Rico), Fred Osborne (1890, Canada), Felipe Montemayor (1953 & 1955, Mexico) and Manny Martinez (1998, Dominican Republic). Mondesi some of you may recall was a fairly noteworthy free agent signing by the Pirates prior to the 2004 season he then played a little fake retirement stunt where he left the team and was ultimately released only to wind up signing with the Angels about a week later. Prior to joining the Pirates Mondesi enjoyed a long successful career with primarily the Dodgers and Blue Jays where he was an above average every day corner outfielder. Lezcano finished his career off with the Pirates but prior to that he played 11 seasons primarily as a Brewer and like Mondesi he was a good starting corner outfielder. Of all the players mentioned so far Lezcano probably had the best Pirates career as his 107 wRC+ ranks 5th amongst all players mentioned so far but he received 153 plate appearances which is more than the 108 PA the 4 ahead of him have combined.
Remaining in the sub 500 PA group we have just six players. Armando Rios (2001-02, Puerto Rico) some of you may remember as part of the Jason Schmidt deal. He was a solid player while in San Francisco but after the trade he played in only 2 games before being out for the year and showed little the following season. Joe Christopher (1959-1961, U.S. Virgin Islands) was the 5th outfielder for the 1960 World Series champion and moved up to the top backup spot the following year. He wasn’t anything special in the role but got a starting shot with the Mets from 1962-65 where he handled himself ok posting roughly league average numbers. Matt Stairs (2003, Canada) was previously covered at 1B he joined the Pirates that year and did an excellent job as a part time player at 1B and the OF. He of course had a long career spanning two decades from 1992-2011. Carlos Bernier (1953, Puerto Rico) got a crack at a starting job in 1953 after the 1952 debacle of a season. He didn’t do much and never played in the majors again. I have alluded to Wil Cordero (2000, Puerto Rico) before but he has never officially been mentioned as eligible for the team. He was signed prior to the 200 season to be the everyday left fielder and he did well but the team was bad so he was traded away mid season which is fine but oddly the return for him was two random bench players, including the previously mentioned Alex Ramirez, instead of prospects with some sort of upside.
A quick count will show that one player is missing. I opted to give this player his own mention as he is slightly different from the rest. One day soon this player very well may find himself in the conversation to be a part of the team but that day isn’t here yet. I am of course speaking of the Pirates current right field, Gregory Polanco. We all know Polanco and that he had a shaky debut last season but is primed to get a chance to play every day and his talent is immense. In just 2 or 3 years time it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see Polanco enter the conversation as one of the best internationally born outfielder ever to play for the Pirates and by the end of his Pirates career I believe there is even a realistic shot of him being thought of as the second best outfielder but right now he is far from either of those points.
Remaining are 18 players eligible for the team all of whom have at least 500 plate career plate appearances with the Pirates. Of these 18 players three have been previously covered at another position. Jose Bautista (2004-08, Dominican Republic) has went on to do great things with the Toronto Blue Jays but with the Pirates he was far from anything special. His offense wasn’t terrible with the team as he posted a 91 wRC+ but he provided no value defensively or on the base paths which caused him to end his Pirates career with a -0.8 fWAR. Jocko Fields (1887-89 & 1891, Ireland) was previously covered at the catcher position and he hit decently with the club posting a 104 wRC+ but with only 755 plate appearances he really doesn’t enter the conversation. The last player to be previously mentioned Orlando Merced (1990-96, Puerto Rico) is a solid candidate for this team as his 13.7 fWAR is good enough to be tied for third place and his 114 wRC+ is the 5th best mark of all eligible outfielders with at least 500 PA. However Merced is also a strong competitor at the 1B position meaning he may not be in play here.
As for the remaining 15 outfielders I have decided to lump them together based upon their fWAR (remember this is just a guiding tool for this process). Up first with a negative career fWAR we have Jose Guillen (1997-99, Dominican Republic), Midre Cummings (1993-97, U.S. Virgin Islands) and Roman Mejias (1955 & 1957-1961, Cuba). Guillen went on to become a solid ball player but with the Pirates he was pretty terrible posting a team worst -4.2 fWAR in 1,263 plate appearances. The Pirates rushed him to the majors in 1997 not having him even get one plate appearance in AA and the results show he wasn’t ready. Then in 1999 in a desperate attempt to fill the catcher position after Jason Kendall’s ankle injury and give the team a shot to finish above .500 Guillen was traded to the Rays for two rather lackluster catchers. Cummings (who was the lesser known piece acquired in the John Smiley trade) with 501 PA barely qualifies for the above 500 crowd and finds himself in the negative fWAR group due to a bad 52 wRC+. After being waived by the Pirates he finished 1997 strong with the Phllies and actually had a solid season the following year with the Red Sox but then quickly reverted back to his old form. Mejias had a long run with the Pirates but by his final two years he was just an emergency call up as had only 1 PA in each of the 1960 and 1961 seasons (oddly enough he struck out in both of them). He wasn’t a complete nothing with the bat posting a .653 OPS but the Pirates simply had better options for a bench outfielder at that time. In 1962 he actually became a regular outfielder for Houston and performed well but the next year after going to Boston it was more of the same and he was out of baseball after 1964.
Doug Frobel (1982-85, Canada) and Frank Colman (1942-46, Canada) find themselves just a step ahead of the previous group with 0.0 and 0.4 career fWARs respectively. The two players actually have very similar career stat lines with the Pirates. Frobel and Coleman were both respectable but below average hitters with career wRC+ of 82 and 85 respectively and they got there by showing similar OBP (.287 and .297) and SLG (.378 and .379). After leaving the Pirates Frobel went on to play for Montreal and Cleveland and Coleman played two seasons for the Yankees.
Like to the last duo the two remaining outfielders with lower than 5.0 career fWAR with the Pirates also have quite similar career numbers. Jose Tabata (2010-14, Venezuela) is often overlooked by Pirates fans as he is definitely overpaid for what he does but he still is a solid big leaguer. In his career with the Pirates he has posted a .275/.336/.379 line good for a 101 wRC+ and has produced 2.9 fWAR. Vic Davalillo (1971-72, Venezuela) posted similar numbers to Tabata in his time with Pirates putting up a batting line of .290/.327/.381 good for a 102 wRC+ and he produced 2.6 fWAR in his time with the club.
Remaining we have 8 players and for me this is where the competition really begins (unless you include Orlando Merced that is). Tom Brown (1885-87, United Kingdom) is one of the best of the early days candidates. It is near impossible to compare players from the 1800s with the more modern equivalent but Brown was a solid ball player positing a 125 wRC+ (third best of eligible OF with 500+ PA). He was originally acquired by Pittsburgh when they bought the Columbus Buckeyes. After leaving the Pirates he remained in the majors until 1898. Continuing our look at pre 1900 players we have Patsy Donovan (1892-99, Ireland) who is arguably the best pre 1900 player eligible for this team. Overall his 11.6 fWAR ranks him 8th out of all position players and tops out of all players to play before 1900. Donovan though is a bit of a compiler as he is generally not regarded as a great defender and at the plate he posted roughly a league average line with a 98 wRC+. What pushes Donovan up the fWAR lists is his 4,512 PA which ranks 2nd of all eligible outfielders and 3rd amongst all position players.
Manny Mota (1963-68, Dominican Republic) collected 1,859 plate appearances with the Pirates. He was capable of playing all 3 outfield positions and bounced around a lot while with the Pirates and at the plate he was a solid hitter positing a 110 wRC+ with the Pirates. Upon leaving the Pirates he went on to spend 13 seasons with the Dodgers but the last 8 were in a reserve capacity. If you are looking for defense in the outfield then Omar Moreno (1975-82, Panama) is your man. The 3,978 PA he collected with the Pirates ranks him 3rd of all eligible outfielders but with just a career 80 wRC+ it isn’t his bat that puts him in this conversation. Moreno made a career in baseball by being a strong defensive center fielder and in his peak he was also a demon on the base paths as his 412 stolen bases is 100 more than the next highest total on the international team. Measuring defense even now is a difficult thing to do but I feel pretty confident in saying that Moreno is one of the 2 best outfield defenders eligible for this team.
Much like I did earlier for Polanco I am going to give Starling Marte his own special mention. Right now Marte is legitimately part of the conversation to be in the starting outfield for this team but the exciting part is that with him under control through 2021 there is quite a decent chance that he could end up cementing himself into a position. With 9.7 career fWAR Marte currently ranks 6th of all qualified outfielders and all the 5 players in front of him have at least double his career plate appearances. He is an elite defender quite possibly at least the 3rd best one eligible for this team and his career 123 wRC+ is the third best mark of all eligible OFs with a minimum of 500 PA. In short he is a dynamic two way player who is a threat on the bases and only getting better. He may or not make this team right now but by the looks of things he could be a near lock as early as the end of this upcoming season.
Matty Alou (1965-70, Dominican Republic) ranks second amongst all OFs with 14.2 fWAR which is also good for the 5th spot amongst all international players. Alou is not considered to have been an elite defender but he was perfectly capable of playing center field and did so for most of his Pirates career. At the plate he was a solid hitter posting a 115 wRC9. While with the Pirates Alou had two All star appearances and one Top 10 finish in the MVP voting. Alou had spent the previous 6 seasons before joining the Pirates with the Giants and would play for a few other franchises after leaving the team but his time with the Pirates was the best of his career. By wRC+ the best offensive outfielder eligible for the international team was Jason Bay (2003-08, Canada). He posted a 130 wRC+ barely edging out the second place finisher. Bay became the first Pirate ever to win rookie of the year in 2004 and if it wasn’t for how bad those Pirates teams were he would have likely finished in the top 10 in MVP voting at least a couple times (he does have a 12th place finish on his resume). Bay was a great power hitter for the Pirates as his 139 home runs are second most on the international team. In 2008 Bay was traded to Boston for what turned out to be a disappointing return and he went on to finish that season strong and have a good 2009 before completely collapsing after signing a big deal with the New York Mets.
Finally we have one remaining player who transcends everyone else listed and makes the competition for three starting outfield jobs really a competition for two. Much like Honus Wagner in the last section the presence of this player on the team couldn’t be more obvious and he will serve as the team’s captain. I of course can only be talking about one man here and it is the great one, Roberto Clemente. At the plate Clemente was a great hitter and his career 129 wRC+ just barely falls behind Jason Bay’s 130 putting him in second place. While with the Pirates he recorded 10,212 plate appearances easily the most on the team and his 240 career home runs is also easily the most on the team. His 80.6 career fWAR is more than the next top 4 players combined. In the field Clemente was something else winning 12 straight gold gloves from 1961-72. As for other awards he was a 12 time All Star appearing every year from 1960-72 except 1968. In 1966 he won the MVP award and in his career he had another remarkable 7 top 10 finishes. As an amazing player as he was we all know that one truly set him apart was how great a man he was. As you all probably know major league baseball honors Clemente by handing out the Roberto Clemente award every year to a player based upon character. I am sorry I never got a chance to see the man play.
Pennsylvania: The field of eligible outfielders for the Pennsylvania team has a significantly smaller pool of 34 players. Only 17 additional players actually played at least one game in the outfield with the most going to Honus Wagner. When I originally started pulling all of this together I had my threshold for eligibly at 10% of your career games at the position but I opted to change it in large part because I didn’t want to be tempted to stick Wagner anywhere but his true position.
Once again we will start by weeding out the players with few plate appearances. The trio of Ren Wylie (1882), Russ McKelvy (1882) and Bill Rodgers (1944-45) each had fewer than 10 career plate appearances for the Pittsburgh ball club (PBC). Of the three only McKelvy played elsewhere at what is today considered the major league level when he played for the Indianapolis Blues in 1878. Piggy Ward (1891, real name Frank) and Steamer Flanagan (1905, real name James) each collected fewer than 30 PA for the PBC. Ward played parts of 5 other seasons at the top level whereas Flanagan never saw any other action. Tom Burns (1892) and Chuck Lauer (1894 & 1899) who have both been covered previously (3B and C respectively) round out the group with less than 100 career plate appearances.
Moving up we find Spike Shannon (1908), Eddie Burke (1890), John Richmond (1885) and Chappy Lane (1882) with fewer than 250 plate appearances. Shannon had a few productive seasons for the Cardinals and Giants before joining the Pirates but struggled in his time here and Burke played with 5 different teams over and 8 season career. Richmond and Lane were previously covered at SS and 1B respectively.
Remaining in the under 500 PA club are 6 players. Dan Costello (1914-16), Bobby Del Greco (1952 & 1956) and Pop Corkhill (1891-92) all were very poor hitters in their time in Pittsburgh posting wRC+ of 72, 62 and 56 respectively. Costello’s only other MLB time was a cup of coffee with the Yankees before joining the Pirates. Del Greco and Corkhill both had relatively long careers of 9 and 10 seasons with Del Greco starting his with the Pirates and Corkhill finishing his in Pittsburgh.
Moose McCormick only played part of the 1904 season with the Pirates but he hit well in that time posting a 122 wRC+ in 260 PA a mark only bested by two players in the above 500 PA crowd. Roy Thomas who spent most of his career with the Phillies played part of 1908 with the Pirates and was solid posting a 121 wRC+ and 2.7 fWAR which is good enough to rank him 10th amongst qualified outfielders. Bill Hallman (1906-07) has the most plate appearances in the below 500 and he was a decent hitter posting a 91 wRC+ over 454 PA.
Looking at the above 500 PA group we have 17 players, 7 of whom were previously covered and of those 7 only 2 look like viable contenders for a spot in the outfield. The 5 players who are not really contenders and have been previously discussed are John Wehner (1991-96 & 1999-2001), Paul Smith (1953, 1957-58), Tun Berger (1890-91), Al Maul (1888-89, 1891) and Tom O'Brien (1898 & 1900). Of that quintet O’Brien has the most PA at 885 and highest fWAR at 1.4.
Remaining we have 12 players and of those 3 players come in with fewer than 800 career PA. Al Gionfriddo (1944-47) got nearly all of his playing time for the Pirates in ’45 and ’46. He was a solid hitter with the team posting a 104 wRC+ and he was capable of playing all 3 outfield positions. Otis Clymer (1905-07) is the only eligible outfielder with over 500 PA who never hit a home run for the Pirates. A low home run total for a player in the early 1900s isn’t surprising but none from an outfielder over 3 seasons is a bit so. Nonetheless he proved to be respectable with the bat, 96 wRC+ even without the long ball in his arsenal (he would go on to hit 2 career HR after leaving Pittsburgh). Cal Abrams joined the Pirates in 1953 just a year after what is considered the worst season in franchise history. He ended up being a solid pick up for what was still a bad team and was the team’s 2nd best hitter posting an .801 OPS. He stuck around for the beginning of the 1954 season but got off to a slow start and was traded to Baltimore after playing just 17 games for the Pirates that year.
Two of the remaining nine players recorded less than 1,000 plate appearances with the Pirates. One of those two is Tom McCreery (1898-1900). McCreery was a fine hitter for the Pirates in his time posting a 118 wRC+ which is the third best mark of all outfielders with 500 or more PA. McCreery was never a regular starter with the club but in his middle season, 1899, he earned roughly an even split of playing time with the 3 starting outfielders. Prior to joining the Pirates he played Louisville and the New York Giants and after leaving he saw time with the Brooklyn Superbas and Boston Beaneaters. In all he had a 9 year career and was an above average hitter for his era. Jimmy Sebring (1902-04) is the other player and while he received more playing time than McCreery he wasn’t quite as good of a hitter posting a more average 104 wRC+. He was a regular outfielder in 1903 and 1904 until getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds in a three team deal that brought in the previously mentioned Moose McCormick. He played the remainder of the 1904 seasons and the 1905 season with Cincinnati before falling out of the major leagues. He did get brief appearances with the Brooklyn Superbas and Washington Senators in 1909 to finish up his career.
Of the remaining 7 players, Bill Robinson (1B) and Frank Thomas (3B) have been previously covered at other positions where they are very much in play for a starting spot however they are very much in this race as well. Bill Robinson (1975-82) was a very good hitter with the Pirates posting a 112 wRC+ over 2,649 plate appearances. His 109 home runs is second most of any Pennsylvanian born player for the Pirates and his 9.6 fWAR ranks him 5th amongst all outfielders. He played a bit of everywhere filling in at 1B and 3B when needed but primarily he was an outfielder spending most of his time in left field. Robinson received a handful of MVP votes in ’76 and ’77 seasons and was the everyday left fielder and key contributor to the 1979 World Series champions. Thomas (1951-58) is the only Pennsylvanian born player to hit more career home runs for the Pirates than Robinson. He had a largely similar career to Robinson but one that lasted longer as he posted a 110 wRC+ over 3,838 PA the most of any qualified outfielder. In all he produced 12.2 fWAR which is third highest mark of all eligible outfielders. Thomas was a three time All Star with the Pirates and received MVP votes 5 times including a top 5 finish in 1958. He went on to play through 1966 with multiple different teams.
Adam Comorosky (1926-33) received 2,478 plate appearances with the Pirates. He was a solid all around hitter posting a .293/.347/.422 but for his era that was slightly below league average as he had just a 95 wRC+ with the Pirates. His best season was likely 1930 when he led the league in triples and sacrifice hits and posted an even .900 OPS. His Pirates career concluded when he was traded to Cincinnati after the 1933 season. Bill Hinchman (1915-18 & 1920) was previously mentioned as a notable non-qualifier at 1B but the outfield is the position he calls home. Hinchman was a regular for the Pirates his first two years and then suddenly fell off and found himself in more of a reserve/depth role for the rest of his career. In his first two years he received 1,277 PA and posted a strong 146 OPS+ but over the rest of his Pirates career he received just 432 PA while posting a 76 OPS+. With 8.8 fWAR Hinchman ranks 6th amongst all qualified outfielders but his 1,709 PA is nearly one thousand less than any of the 6 players in front of him. Hinchman’s career took a bit of an odd path as he debuted in 1905 as a 22 year old for Cincinnati played a few solid seasons for them and the Indians but then fell out of the majors after 1909 and didn’t reappear until his stint with the Pirates. After 1920 his playing days appeared to be over but in 1931 at the age of 48 he made a comeback attempt in the St Louis Cardinals minor league system.
Clyde Barnhart (1920-1928) just barely missed qualifying for the 3B position as he came in just 2 games short. He would have been a real competitor for that spot and is a real competitor here with 12.2 fWAR he ranks 3rd amongst all qualified outfielders. In all he received 3,049 plate appearances and posted a solid 102 wRC+. In his debut season, 1920, Barnhart pulled a feat that is likely never to be equaled when he tallied a hit in each game of a rare triple header (he also played the entirety of all 3 games). No player had even done that since and no player is ever likely to do it again as the probability of a triple header ever actually happening again is quite minute. Jim Russell (1942-47) received 3,021 plate appearances in his career and produced 14.2 fWAR the second most of any eligible outfielder. During his first year he received basically just a cup of coffee but after that he was regular starter for the Pirates in the outfielder throughout his tenure. In the first game of a double header in 1944 Russell, who was starting in the second game, pinch hit in the 7th inning and hit the first pinch hit home run in franchise history. The 1944 season would prove to be the best of his career and actually garnered him some MVP votes.
Finally we have Elmer (Mike) Smith (1892-97 & 1901) who has a very strong case for being the best pre-1900 player in Pirates history. In all he produced 23.6 fWAR with the Pirates which is the third most of any Pennsylvanian born Pirates. Like I have said multiple times it is tough to compare this era but Smith appears to have been a legitimately good player. In 3,425 PA (second most of all OF) he posted a batting line of .324/.415/.466 good enough for a 132 wRC+ (the best amongst all eligible OFs with 500 PA). He also stole 173 bases while with the Pirates easily the second highest total of all players eligible for the team (behind only The Flying Dutchman). Smith will also appear late on as a pitcher but based on just his merits alone as an outfielder the only real knock against him is his era. In addition to his years with the Pirates he also played significant time with the Reds and had brief appearances for the Giants and Beaneaters.
All eligible position players have now been discussed. Thirteen or fourteen of the mentioned players from each squad will ultimately find themselves on the final squad. The outfield in particular seems highly competitive for each team with five to ten players having realistic cases for a starting position on each squad. Next up we move over to the pitchers.
Quite a long list of players here but even with essentially doing three spots in one it only increased the length from 4,000 to 5,000 words. Feel free to chime in with some thoughts as the final teams are still up in the air.

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