A History of the Pittsburgh Pirates Giving Away Wins: Part One

On Monday I posted a chart looking at how much playing time the Pittsburgh Pirates have given to players who produced negative-WAR. The chart looked at the seasons from 2007-2021.

The totals correlated with the rise and fall of the team. That’s not a surprise. You’d expect contending teams like the 2013-15 Pirates to be full of positive-WAR players. You’d expect horrible teams like 2010 and 2020-21 to be filled with negative-WAR producers.

Digging deeper into this topic, I wanted to review each year individually to see what we can gather from the numbers. Today, we’ll break down 2007-2015.


The final year of Dave Littlefield’s tenure with the organization saw the team surprisingly combining for 77% positive-WAR playing time. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much top-end talent on this team. The best producers on offense were Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Ryan Doumit, and Adam LaRoche, who all put up a WAR in the 1.9-2.9 range. Nate McLouth wasn’t far behind. This offensive group gave a few future trade pieces, with McLouth ending up landing the biggest return. Ironically, the best long-term WAR player on this team was Jose Bautista, who had an 0.7 WAR this season in 614 plate appearances.

For more irony, the worst player on the team was Jason Bay, with a -1.0 WAR.

On the pitching side, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny each had a WAR above 3.0. Only three other pitchers (Matt Capps, Paul Maholm, Damaso Marte) were above 1.0, and all were under 2.0.

Negative War Loss

Hitters: -4.6

Pitchers: -2.7


McLouth emerged this year as the top offensive performer with a 3.8 WAR. Xavier Nady and Jason Bay also stepped up, but were each traded as part of Neal Huntington’s rebuilding efforts. Adam LaRoche and Jack Wilson were the only other players with 1+ WAR. All five would be gone by July 2009. Jose Bautista remained on this team with an 0.1 WAR. The biggest loss for this team was Ryan Doumit, who had an incredible -3.4 WAR, despite an .858 OPS in 465 plate appearances. The losses were entirely on the catching side.

The Pirates were battling themselves on offense. They had 69% of playing time from hitters with a positive WAR, leading to 13.7 WAR. They also had 28% of playing time going to negative-WAR players, leading to a loss of 7.4 WAR. This offense had some good players, but once they were removed, things got ugly.

The pitching staff was led by Paul Maholm (3.3), Zach Duke (2.8), and Ian Snell (2.3). I’ll note that the Pirates eventually moved on from these three. Maholm had his option declined, Duke was traded for Cesar Valdez, and Snell was salary dumped in the Jack Wilson trade a year later. I’m not sure if any of them had any trade value before those points, but 2008 seemed like a good year to move them for some value as the Pirates entered a rebuild.

Negative War Loss

Hitters: -7.4

Pitchers: -3.2


This is when Huntington’s rebuild really kicked in. The Pirates saw 73% positive WAR this season, but traded anyone good away over the summer. The following year, they’d drop to 63% positive WAR and 33% negative, which is one of the worst seasons in this article.

The highlight here is that the best performers were Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, and Andy LaRoche even had a 2.2 WAR. Obviously LaRoche didn’t repeat that, but McCutchen and Jones played big roles in the future winning teams. Ryan Doumit once again had a horrible season with a -2.1 WAR.

On the pitching side, Paul Maholm and Zach Duke each returned with WAR totals in the 3-4 range. Ross Ohlendorf and Charlie Morton emerged in the 1-2 WAR range. The pitching staff wasn’t great, but was efficient. It only had 12% playing time going to negative-WAR players, with a total loss of 1.3 WAR. This was emerging as a strength for Huntington, though they let Maholm and Duke expire on the vine when they probably should have been moved during this season.

I’ll note that the negative-WAR playing time isn’t always bad. In seasons like this, it can be prospects making their debuts. This season’s negative-WAR guys included Neil Walker, who made his MLB debut.

Negative War Loss

Hitters: -5.9

Pitchers: -1.3


This is where the rebuild really kicked in and got ugly. As noted above, this is one of the worst seasons in this article, third to the 2020-21 seasons. The offense had 36% negative-WAR while the pitching had 22%.

The downside of the pitching is that Maholm and Duke had started to decline. Maholm dropped below 2 WAR, but still led the staff with a 1.9. Duke dropped to n 0.3 WAR. The negative pitchers included Brad Lincoln, Charlie Morton, and a -0.7 WAR from Daniel McCutchen.

The offense featured Andrew McCutchen (3.4 WAR), Neil Walker (1.9), Jose Tabata (1.7), and Pedro Alvarez (1.5). These four represented hope of the rebuild. They were also the only position players with a WAR over 1.0.

On the negative side, Doumit returned again with a -2.2 WAR. Aki Iwamura had a -1.4 WAR. Garrett Jones, Alex Presley, Brandon Moss, Jeff Clement, and Andy LaRoche all were in this group as well, with a few of those guys being brought in as part of the first rebuilding efforts. In total, the hitters combined for a 1.4 WAR, after the negative-WAR group gave 9.6 wins away.

Negative War Loss

Hitters: -9.6

Pitchers: -2.7


The 2011 season saw an improvement over 2010. The offense was still a disaster, with 44% of playing time going to negative-WAR players. The pitching improved and started emerging as the strength of the team.

Things weren’t completely horrible on offense. Andrew McCutchen had a 5.4 WAR. Neil Walker had a 2.5 WAR. Alex Presley (1.1) and Garrett Jones (1.0) were the only others with more than a 1 WAR. The negative group included Pedro Alvarez and several of the emergency catchers the Pirates used this season. It also featured Lyle Overbay, Ryan Ludwick, Matt Diaz, and other veterans the Pirates brought in as fillers.

The pitching staff saw Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton lead the way, each posting a 2.0 WAR. The negative group included Tony Watson and Jeff Locke.

This is a year that highlights the importance of top-end talent. The offense in 2010 had 51% playing time going to positive-WAR. The 2011 group only went up to 56%, but finished with 5 more wins. Credit goes to McCutchen there. The pitching also saw improvements, going to 81% positive WAR. The percentages from 2011 are almost identical to 2014. I’ll touch on this later.

Negative War Loss

Hitters: -7.6

Pitchers: -2.7


I just want to note that the Pirates did an exceptional job here on the pitching side. They only had 6% of playing time going to negative-WAR players, and most of that was Joel Hanrahan, who was traded after the season for Mark Melancon. The biggest positive here was A.J. Burnett, who put up a 3.5 WAR.

The offense was still dragging behind, but saw big improvements. Andrew McCutchen led the way with a 7.3 WAR. Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker were each in the 2.5 range. Most of the improvements came from a massive reduction of negative-WAR. They did effectively replace Ryan Doumit, bringing in Rod Barajas for a -2.4 WAR. They lost 6 WAR from this group, which improved by 2-4 wins over the previous years. I’ll note that -1.2 WAR was due to really bad pitcher hitting (Burnett was the worst of the group, followed by Kevin Correia). That will be a topic to review if the DH disappears.

Negative War Loss

Hitters: -6.0

Pitchers: -0.5


Now things are starting to get fun. The Pirates as a team combined for 80% positive WAR in 2013, which was their first season in this article getting to 80% or higher. That broke down as 71% for hitters and 90% for pitchers.

On the hitting side, the impact talent led the way. Andrew McCutchen had an 8.1 WAR in his MVP season. Russell Martin had a 5.4 WAR. Starling Marte had a 4.3 WAR in his first full season. Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker each hovered around a 2.5 WAR. The Pirates even had three more guys at 1.0 or higher in Jordy Mercer, Gaby Sanchez, and Jose Tabata. They didn’t have a Doumit or a Barajas, so the total WAR lost was less than 2012, even if they gave more playing time to negative-WAR players.

The lesson: Negative-WAR starters are more impactful than a collection of negative-WAR bench players.

The pitching staff had an amazing season, led by Burnett (4.0), Francisco Liriano (3.1), Mark Melancon (2.5), and Gerrit Cole (2.4). On the negative side, they only gave 9% of playing time, leading to a -2.4 WAR.

The Pirates were one of the best teams in 2013 after being one of the worst teams in 2010. The improvements from the internal guys like McCutchen, Alvarez, and Walker, plus additions of Burnett, Liriano, Martin, Melancon, and Cole, led to a big increase in WAR. However, it also helped that they reduced the amount of negative-WAR by 6 wins over this time. That’s like adding another Russell Martin just by giving less playing time to struggling players.

Negative War Loss

Hitters: -4.5

Pitchers: -2.4


This is another year to point out the importance of top-end talent. The pitching staff saw a regression, with 17% negative-WAR. What was worse is that Gerrit Cole led the way with a 2.1. The Pirates did have five other pitchers who posted a WAR over 1.0.

I mentioned earlier that the 2011 and 2014 pitching seasons were identical from a percentages standpoint. The Pirates gave 17% of playing time to negative-WAR players. That had a worse result this year, due to struggles from Wandy Rodriguez, Bryan Morris, Jason Grilli, Jeanmar Gomez, and Jared Hughes.  All five were expected to play big roles with the team. The Pirates had two more 1-2 WAR pitchers in 2014 than they did in 2011, making up for the loss.

The offense carried this contending team. Andrew McCutchen (7.4) and Russell Martin (6.2) led the way. Even more impressive, the Pirates had three other players in the 4-5 WAR range, with Josh Harrison (4.8), Starling Marte (4.5), and Neil Walker (4.1). The offense had 84% positive playing time and only 9% negative, making this one of the best seasons.

You don’t need impact players on both sides of the ball. You just need it somewhere, while limiting how many wins you’re giving away on either side. The Pirates had a loaded offense this season, and a decent pitching staff. The pitching staff was about the same as the 2011 group. The offense was the best that we’ve seen in Pittsburgh during this stretch of time.

Negative War Loss

Hitters: -3.0

Pitchers: -3.6


We’ve reached the pinnacle of the Neal Huntington years. The 2015 group was one of the best teams in the game, winning 98 games before losing in the Wild Card round to one of the other “best teams in the game.” In total, this team saw 89% positive WAR playing time, with 95% on the pitching side and 84% on the hitting side.

The offense was led by McCutchen (6.0), Francisco Cervelli (5.9), and had solid years from Jung Ho Kang (3.7), Starling Marte (3.3), Neil Walker (2.6), and Gregory Polanco (2.2).

The pitching staff was the best we’ve seen during this stretch. Gerrit Cole led the way with a 5.1 WAR. He was followed by Francisco Liriano (3.3), A.J. Burnett (2.6), and J.A. Happ (2.0), with Happ only playing with the team for two months. The strength of the pitching was their health. Only 21 pitchers were used all year, and only three of those pitchers had a negative-WAR, amounting to less than a win.

In total, the Pirates only gave away 4.5 wins from negative-WAR playing time. By comparison, they gave away almost triple that total in 2010, and gave away 4.5 wins on offense alone in 2013. This was an extremely efficient year, and the pitcher health played a huge role.

Negative War Loss

Hitters: -3.6

Pitchers: -0.9

I’ll continue this article tomorrow with 2016-2021, covering the downfall of the Huntington years, and the beginning of the current rebuild.