Pirates Knock on Wood

The Pirates are miles away from a return to their former glory at shortstop, but at least they're trying.

Art by David Levenson

If you open The New Bill James Historical Abstract, and turn to the chapter on shortstops, you'll find that the Godfather of baseball statistics has two Pirates rated as the best shortstops in the history of the game.

The legendary Honus Wagner is first, of course. It's hard to overstate Wagner's greatness, but consider his performance in 1908. That season was the height of the dead ball era. The Pirates second best hitter in '08 was Tommy Leach, who hit just .259/.324/.381, which was well above league-average on the season. Wagner hit .354/.415/.502, including 10 homers, 39 doubles, and 19 triples. That Pirates team had a .309 on base percentage (OBP), but Wagner still drove in 109 runs.

James' second-ranked shortstop of all-time is Arky Vaughan. Vaughan is one of the great forgotten Pittsburgh Pirates. His career started in 1932 and the Pirates traded him to Brooklyn in 1941. The club didn't win a World Series in that span, but they also weren't terrible. Most of the players from that era were forgettable. Except for Vaughan, that is. As a 23-year old in 1935, he hit .385 and had a .491 OBP. He actually lead the National League in OBP from 1934-1936. In his ten years as a Pirate, he got on base at a .415 clip and complimented his slugging with good defense at short.

James' book was written in 2001, and it's possible that Wagner and Vaughan won't be ranked 1-2 in the next edition (James himself admits that Vaughan is a non-traditional choice at no. 2 and Alex Rodriguez would almost certainly be up for consideration, but only if you consider him a shortstop; he'll almost certainly end his career with more games at third base than at short), but the point remains; the Pirates have one of the proudest shortstop traditions in the history of baseball.

In the past 18 years, though, things haven't been so great. Jay Bell stuck with the club as the primary shortstop through 1996, but after he was traded to the Kansas City Royals the shortstop position has been manned by Kevin Elster, Kevin Polcovich, Shawon Dunston, Lou Collier, Abraham Nunez, Mike Benjamin, Pat Meares, Enrique Wilson, Jack Wilson, Brian Bixler, Ronny Cedeno, Bobby Crosby and now Brandon Wood.

That's hardly an inspiring group of players, and so we find ourselves in a position where the Pirates have claimed Wood, a former-first round pick with a career on-base-plus-slugging percentage lower than the career slugging percentage that Wagner put up in the Dead Ball Era. Still, fans have talked themselves into being semi-excited about the move. After all, how can anyone be worse than Ronny Cedeno?

Really, though, Wood is just another player in the Andy LaRoche/Lastings Milledge/Jeff Clement mold, though he's probably a longer shot to have a successful big league career than of those three were when they joined the Pirates. He put up some fantastic minor league numbers with the Angles (43 homers in 2005, 23 in 2006, 25 in 2007, and 31 in 2008 as he journeyed from A-ball up through Triple-A) in some very hitter-friendly environments, but he really struggled at the plate in the major league.

How bad of a hitter was Wood in Los Angeles? Put it this way; in four games with the Pirates, Wood has drawn two walks. That's just four shy of his career high for any season. He walked six times in 243 plate appearances last year and only 13 times total in 494 plate appearances with the Angels. By comparison, he struck out 154 times in the same span. The Pirates' hope is that regular playing time will help Wood out of his funk, but it's hard to see how he's going to overcome what seems to a huge issue with pitch recognition.

And yet, it's hard to fault the Pirates for trying. Cedeno obviously isn't a long-term answer at short and the club isn't stacked with shortstop prospects in the minors, either. Chase D'Arnaud, currently in Triple-A, has shown bright spots in his minor league career but struggled with the bat in Double-A Altoona last year. Behind him is Brock Holt, currently in Altoona, who has hit well but thanks to a knee injury last year hasn't even hit 600 career minor league plate appearances yet. Both are far from sure things, so it's easy to see why the Pirates keep throwing things at the wall.

Of course, Wood is far from a sure thing himself; if he can't find his swing, his poor plate discipline and defense could actually make him a worse player than Cedeno. After picking up Wood, I joked that the Pirates had become baseball's version of the Island of Misfit Toys. It's frustrating to see that they're still at that point, but at the same time, they won't fill the hole at shortstop by sitting on their hands, either.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


The Mosaic Stairway: You've Never Seen Steps Like These

The Mosaic Stairway: You've Never Seen Steps Like These

When viewed from the foot of the South Side Slopes of Pittsburgh, the stairs ascending Josephine Street form a massive image that consists of more than 7,500 individual mosaic tiles.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
The Café Carnegie Now Open in Oakland

The Café Carnegie Now Open in Oakland

Chefs Sonja Finn and Becca Hegarty helm the refurbished restaurant at the Carnegie Museums.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

We’ve compiled the best pumpkin patches for fall family fun.

Comments


Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

The park's winter celebration is great for families and a fine choice for anyone who loves Christmas (and/or funnel cake).

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Big Ten-Champion Nittany Lions More Worthy Than Buckeyes

Big Ten-Champion Nittany Lions More Worthy Than Buckeyes

For some reason Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in the latest playoff rankings and Penn State is No. 7. That has to change if Penn State beats Wisconsin on Saturday night.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Locket Full of Joy

Locket Full of Joy

The handcrafted piece opens to hidden treasures.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

PM film critic Sean Collier picks ten forthcoming flicks likely to rake in nominations for the 89th Academy Awards.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Thinking Small: Pittsburgh Weddings That Are Intimate Affairs

Thinking Small: Pittsburgh Weddings That Are Intimate Affairs

Bigger isn’t always better, at least when it comes to these couples’ wedding ceremonies.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

The Carnegie Museum of Art is full of Christmas cheer — and great deals. Plus, get the scoop on The Block Northway’s latest retail offering.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Classic Christmas Tale Gets a Twist at Slippery Rock University

Classic Christmas Tale Gets a Twist at Slippery Rock University

An adapted version of “A Christmas Carol” will be presented during a seven-show run.

Comments

Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags