The best stat to determine a player’s worth is WAR–wins above replacement–an analytical metric that was not available until relatively recently. The formula for WAR differs for position players and pitchers, and I’ll lay it out in layman’s terms. WAR uses every aspect of the game– batting, baserunning, and fielding, factors in position and ballpark and determines how many wins better than a league average player an individual player might be. Using WAR to help us rank them, let’s look at the top 24 players in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise.
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Honus Wagner 1900-1917 (120.3 WAR)
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Shortstop Honus Wagner joined the Pirates in 1900 after playing the first three seasons of his career with the Louisville Colonels, and in Pittsburgh he quickly blossomed into one of the biggest stars in the game. Wagner played for the Pirates for 18 years, slashing .328/.394/.468 with 865 extra-base hits, 1,474 RBI, and 639 stolen bases. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in both triples and runs, and his complete resume makes him arguably the best overall player of his era. Wagner won an incredible eight batting titles, led the league in doubles seven times, RBI four times, hits twice, triples three times, and steals five. He was the star on Pittsburgh’s World Series winning club in 1909 and was easily elected into the Hall of Fame in 1936. The Pirates retired his number 33 in ’56.
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Roberto Clemente 1955-1972 (94.8 WAR)
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Right fielder Roberto Clemente is hands down one of the most talented players to ever play in the Major Leagues, and even now, more than 50 years since his tragic death, he remains one of the most polarizing people in the sport’s history. Clemente played his entire career in Pittsburgh with the Pirates, slashing .317/.359/.475 with 240 homers, 1,305 RBI, 440 doubles, 166 triples, and 83 stolen bases across 18 seasons. He was the 1966 NL MVP, represented the Pirates in an amazing 15 all-star games, took home 12 Gold Glove awards, and earned four batting titles. Most importantly, Clemente helped lead the Bucs to World Series championships in both 1960 and 1971–and was even named the MVP of the Fall Classic in the second one. Sadly, Clemente died in a small plane crash while on a humanitarian mission to help bring supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve in 1972. He was rightfully ushered into Cooperstown in a special election a few months later, and the Pirates took his number 21 out of circulation forever at the same time.
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Paul Waner 1926-1940 (70.2 WAR)
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Left-handed swinging outfielder Paul Waner was an underrated offensive player during his career, but he was somewhat quietly one of the most productive hitters in his era. The Harrah, OK native played in Pittsburgh for the first 15 years of his career, slashing an outstanding .340/.407/.490. Home run power was not his specialty as he cleared the fence just 109 times in a Pittsburgh uniform, but he did contribute 558 doubles, 187 triples, and 1,177 RBI. Waner led the Majors in hits twice, won the batting title in 1927, 1934, and 1936, and wore a Pirates hat in four all-star games. He was named the MVP of the National League in ’27 and finished in the top five of the MVP voting three other times. Waner was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1952, and the organization retired his number 11 in 2007.
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Arky Vaughan 1932-1941 (67.5 WAR)
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Infielder Arky Vaughan debuted for the Pirates as a 20-year-old rookie in 1932 and ended up spending the first decade of his career in western Pennsylvania wearing the black and gold. In 1,411 games with the Pirates, Vaughan slashed .324/.415/.472 with 84 homers, 764 RBI, 291 doubles, 116 triples, and 86 stolen bases. He represented Pittsburgh in eight straight all-star games from ’34-’41, won the batting title with a remarkable .385 clip in 1935, and led the National League in OBP three years in a row from ’34-’36. Pittsburgh traded Vaughan to the Brooklyn Dodgers in exchange for four players in December of 1941. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1985.
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Willie Stargell 1962-1982 (57.6 WAR)
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Left-handed swinging first baseman Willie Stargell was the face of the Pirates organization for two decades, and is on the short list of guys who can say they played for one team for over 20 years. Only Honus Wagner and Roberto Clemente played for games in a Pittsburgh uniform than Stargell did, and in nearly all of the 2,360 times he took the field for the Pirates he did something to help them win. The Earlsboro, OK native finished his career with a .282/.360/.529 slash line, to go along with 475 home runs, 1,540 RBI, and 423 doubles. He was the 1979 National League co-MVP alongside the Cardinals Keith Hernandez, represented Pittsburgh in seven all-star games, and drove in over 100 runs for the Bucs five times. Stargell helped the Pirates earn World Series rings in ’71 and ’79, and was named the MVP of the 1979 Fall Classic. Pittsburgh retired his number 8 when he retired after the ’82 season and he was voted into the Hall of Fame six years later.
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Max Carey 1910-1926 (53.4 WAR)
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Switch-hitting outfielder Max Carey reached the big leagues as a 20-year-old in 1910 and ended up playing the first 17 seasons of his long career in Pittsburgh. With the Bucs, Carey slashed .287/.363/.391 with 590 extra-base hits, 721 RBI, and a franchise-leading 688 stolen bases. He led the league in steals 10 times while with the Pirates, and his ability to impact games with his legs was probably the primary reason for his Hall of Fame induction in 1961. The highlight of Carey’s Pittsburgh tenure was unquestionably the 1925 World Series title he helped the team win, hitting .458 in the seven-game series against Washington.
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Babe Adams 1907, 1909-1916, 1918-1926 (53.0 WAR)
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Righty Babe Adams spent all but the first season of his 19-year career in Pittsburgh with the Pirates, and for the majority of that time, gave the Bucs one of the most dynamic hurlers in the game. Adams took the mound 481 times for the Pirates and earned 194 victories with a 2.74 ERA across 2,991.1 innings. His 44 shutouts are the most in franchise history, and Adams was a big reason why Pittsburgh won the World Series in both 1909 and 1925.
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Wilbur Cooper 1912-1924 (52.5 WAR)
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Southpaw Wilbur Cooper pitched for the Pirates for 13 years in the first part of the previous century and was the best hurler on Pittsburgh’s staff for most of his tenure. In 469 appearances in a Bucs uniform (369 starts), Cooper worked to a 2.74 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP in 3,199 innings. He tossed 263 complete games for the Pirates including 33 shutouts, and even registered 14 saves in his sporadic relief appearances. He led the league in both wins and innings in 1921, and gave Pittsburgh over 250 innings nine different times.
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Barry Bonds 1986-1992 (50.3 WAR)
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Barry Bonds is obviously remembered much more for the incredible exploits he controversially achieved in a San Francisco Giants uniform, but people tend to forget that he began his career in Pittsburgh and was already one of the best players in baseball before he even headed out west. In seven seasons with the Pirates Bonds won two NL MVP awards, three Gold Gloves, and three Silver Sluggers. In just over 1,000 games he slashed .275/.380/.503 with 176 homers, 556 RBI, 220 doubles, and 251 stolen bases. The left-handed slugger is not in the Hall of Fame right now solely because of the legitimacy of the records he set in San Francisco, but I think it’s important to remember just how dominant he was long before the steroid era.
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Fred Clarke 1900-1911, 1913-1915 (46.9 WAR)
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Left-handed swinging outfielder Fred Clarke came to Pittsburgh in a trade with the Louisville Colonels in December of 1899, and he thrived almost instantly in his new environment. Playing the final 15 seasons of his career in western Pennsylvania, Clarke slashed .299/.379/.418 with 427 extra-base hits and 622 RBI. He swiped 261 bases in a Pirates uniform while being gunned down exactly zero times. ZERO. The Winterset, IA native led the National League in SLG%, OPS and doubles in 1903, and helped Pittsburgh win the World Series in 1909. The Old Timers Committee ushered him into the Hall of Fame in 1945.
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Ralph Kiner 1946-1953 (43.3 WAR)
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Left fielder Ralph Kiner’s career was relatively short in the grand scheme of things, but for the entirety of his eight-season stint in Pittsburgh, he was the most feared power hitter in the sport. Kiner led the National League in homers in each of his first seven seasons in the big leagues, a feat that will simply never be matched. He led the league in both SLG% and OPS three times, represented the Pirates in six consecutive all-star games, and drove in over 100 runs six times. In 1,095 games with Pittsburgh Kiner slashed .280/.405/.567 with 301 homers and 801 RBI, while also doubling 153 times and even registering 32 triples. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975, and later in life, became a beloved broadcaster for the New York Mets.
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Bob Friend 1951-1965 (42.3 WAR)
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Righty Bob Friend debuted for the Pirates as a 20-year-old rookie in ’51 and enjoyed a highly successful decade and a half with the organization. Friend took the mound for Pittsburgh 568 times (477 of which were starts) and won 191 games with a 3.55 ERA. He won the ERA title in 1955, led the league in innings in both ’56 and ’57, and led the Majors with 22 wins in ’58. Friend threw 161 complete games for the Pirates including 35 shutouts, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in starts, innings, and strikeouts. He represented the club in four all-star games, and most importantly, was a key piece of the team’s 1960 World Series championship.
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Andrew McCutchen 2009-2017, 2023-present (40.9 WAR)
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The Pirates selected outfielder Andrew McCutchen with the 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft coming out of Fort Meade High School in Florida, and 18 years later his legacy as one of the best players in the organization’s history is secure. McCutchen represented Pittsburgh in five straight all-star games from ’11-’15, was the National League MVP in 2013, won four Gold Gloves, and a Silver Slugger. His well-rounded game with the rare blend of both power and speed, made him arguably the most dangerous offensive player in the NL in his prime. The Pirates traded the face of their franchise to San Francisco ahead of the 2018 season in a deal that netted them their current best player, Bryan Reynolds. He spent the next few seasons playing for the Giants, Yankees, Phillies, and Brewers, but Pittsburgh is always going to be home, and fans in the Steel City were over the moon excited when he returned this past winter to finish his career where it started.
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Sam Leever 1898-1910 (40.5 WAR)
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Right-hander Sam Leever spent his entire 13-year career with the Pirates and was one of the best pitchers in the National League during his era. The Goshen, OH native made 388 appearances in a Pittsburgh uniform (299 of them were starts), and pitched to a strong 2.47 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP in 2,660.2 innings. He earned 194 victories, won the ERA title in 1903, and registered an incredible 241 complete games. In 1899 Leever turned in a stat line that will simply never be duplicated in the modern era, appearing in 51 games, completing 35 of his 39 starts, picking up three saves in relief, and tossing a ridiculous 379 innings. The highlight of his career was certainly the part he played on the Pirates championship team in 1909 and for that he’ll always be membered fondly in the Steel City.
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Pie Traynor 1920-1935, 1937 (38.7 WAR)
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Pie Traynor first appeared for Pittsburgh in 1920 at the ripe age of 21, but he would soon go on to become a mainstay at the hot corner for this franchise for a decade and a half. In 1,941 games with the Pirates Traynor slashed .320/.362/.435 with 593 extra-base hits, 1,273 RBI, and 158 stolen bases. While he never captured the award he finished in the top 10 in the National League MVP voting six different times, while representing Pittsburgh in two all-star games and driving in over 100 runs seven times. Traynor was a Pirates World Series winning team member in 1925 and the club retired his number 20 in ’72. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1948.
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Bill Mazeroski 1956-1972 (36.6 WAR)
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Second baseman Bill Mazeroski was not exactly known as an impact offensive player during his career, and in fact, had a reputation as someone who would win you a game with his glove far more often than his bat. Mazeroski won eight Gold Glove awards during his career and his defense was the primary reason he participated in 10 all-star games. It wasn’t like he was an automatic out at the plate as his .260/.299/.367 slash line wasn’t terrible, but power was just not his game and he hit only 138 long balls in 17 years. But if anyone mentions the name Bill Mazeroski today, I’m sure the first thing you think about is his amazing walk-off bomb in game seven of the 1960 World Series that won the Pirates the World Series against the Yankees. That one swing is the single biggest reason Mazeroski was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001 by the Veteran’s Committee and also the primary motivation for Pittsburgh retiring his number 9 in ’87.
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Tommy Leach 1900-1912, 1918 (36.5 WAR)
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French Creek, NY-born Tommy Leach played six different positions for the Pirates during his 14 seasons with the team, and was a serviceable part of this team a long time at the turn of the previous century. In 1,574 games with Pittsburgh, Leach slashed .271/.332/.373 with 374 extra-base hits, 625 RBI, and 271 stolen bases. He led the National League in both triples and home runs in 1902, and scored a league-high 126 runs in 1909–the same season the Pirates won the World Series.
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Dave Parker 1973-1983 (34.8 WAR)
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Left-handed slugger Dave Parker was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 1970 draft, and in short order became the focal point of their offensive attack. In 11 seasons with the team Parker slashed .305/.353/.494 with 166 homers, 758 RBI, 296 doubles, 62 triples, and 123 stolen bases. He won back-to-back batting titles in ’77 and ’78, was the National League MVP in 1978, represented the Pirates in four all-star games, and won three Gold Glove awards in the outfield. Parker helped Pittsburgh defeat the Orioles in the 1979 World Series, and it’s somewhat surprising the club never decided to take his number 39 out of circulation.
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John Candelaria 1975-1984, 1993 (34.0 WAR)
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Southpaw John Candelaria very nearly won the Cy Young award in 1977 when he earned 20 victories and won the ERA title with a 2.34 mark, but somewhat surprisingly he was never able to duplicate that success. That’s not to say Candelaria was not an important part of the Pirates pitching staff for years afterwards, as his 3.17 ERA across 345 games with Pittsburgh is obviously strong, but he was just never able to recapture that ’77 magic. That season ended up being the only one in which he reached the all-star game, and while Candelaria settled into more of a middle-of-the-rotation guy rather than ace, he was still an important part of a starting staff that helped Pittsburgh win the World Series in 1979.
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Vern Law 1950-1951, 1954-1967 (32.3 WAR)
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Righty Vern Law debuted for the Pirates as a 20-year-old rookie in 1950, but after just 31 big league starts over two seasons he had his career interrupted by a two-year military service hiatus. When he returned in ’53 Law was understandably rusty, but he soon settled into a prominent role on this team’s pitching staff. He spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, and in 483 outings he won 162 games with a serviceable 3.77 ERA in 2,672 innings. Law won the NL Cy Young award in 1960 following the best season of his career, represented the Bucs in two all-star games, and helped the club win the World Series in ’60.
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Deacon Phillippe 1900-1911 (31.5 WAR)
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Deacon Phillippe spent all but one of his 13 Major League seasons in the Steel City with the Pirates, and for most of his dozen years in Pittsburgh he was the club’s best pitcher. In 330 outings (251 of which were starts), the righty won 168 games with an excellent 2.50 ERA and a sparkling 1.08 WHIP. He threw 209 complete games in a Bucs uniform, gave the club over 250 innings five times in a six year span from 1900-1905, and towards the end of his career helped Pittsburgh win the World Series in 1909.
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Andy Van Slyke 1987-1994 (31.0 WAR)
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Left-handed swinging Andy Van Slyke began his career with the Pirates division rivals in St. Louis before Pittsburgh was able to acquire him in a 1987 trade that sent Tony Pena the other way, and his career really took off in the Steel City. In 1,057 games with the Pirates Van Slyke slashed .283/.353/.458 with 117 home runs, 564 RBI, 203 doubles, 67 triples, and 134 stolen bases. He wore a Bucs hat in three all-star games, won two Silver Sluggers, and took home five Gold Gloves at a premium position in center field. Van Slyke led the National League in hits and doubles in 1992 and was a fan favorite in Pittsburgh for a long time before finishing his career in Philly and Baltimore.
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Jesse Tannehill 1897-1902 (30.8 WAR)
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Jesse Tannehill did not play in Pittsburgh all that long, but in the six seasons he called the Steel City home he was able to be a much more productive two-way player than most of his peers that were attempting it at the same time. On the mound Tannehill was tenacious, winning 116 of his 192 outings with the Pirates and pitching to a 2.75 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP. He tossed an incredible 149 complete games for the Bucs including 17 shutouts, and was easily the team’s top pitcher. Offensively he was a switch-hitting outfielder that was far from an automatic out. In 946 at-bats in a Pittsburgh uniform Tannehill slashed .277/.325/.360 with 53 extra-base hits and 96 RBI. He wasn’t exactly a yesteryear Shohei Ohtani, but what he was able to do in his era was notable nonetheless.
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Jason Kendall 1996-2004 (30.7 WAR)
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Jason Kendall was a mainstay behind the plate in Pittsburgh for a long time and had a hard earned reputation as one of the best two way catchers in the National League. The San Diego, CA native spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Pirates, slashing .306/.387/.418 with 67 homers, 471 RBI, 256 doubles, 29 triples, and even 140 stolen bases. He was an all-star in 1996, 1998, and 2000, and is on the short list of the top catchers in this organization’s history.