One of the most frustrating aspects of being a Pirates fan, if I had lived in Pittsburgh prior to 2008, must have been the great seasons that were wasted. During the past decade there were great, even historically great seasons. Here's the best lineup I could come up with from the 2000-09 teams. Indeed, compressing ten years into one would produce a World Series champion.
1. C Jason Kendall '00 (R)
.320/.412/.470, 112 R, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 22 SB
Even in the offense-happy era of 2000, Jason Kendall's season was unreal. A .412 OBP from a catcher with some pop. Not only that, but Kendall started an unbelievable 147 games and threw out 30% of base stealerrs. At this point, in his third consecutive season of a .400 OBP, Jason Kendall looked like a Hall of Fame catcher. Until age 32 his most comparable players were Mickey Cochrane and Thurman Munson.
2. RF Brian Giles '02 (L)
.298/.450/.622, 95 R, 38 HR, 103 RBI, 15 SB
Acquired for Ricardo Rincon in one of the great trades in history by any team, Brian Giles was a completely ridiculous player during his time in Pittsburgh. In five years he put up an OPS over 1.000, with a .426 OBP and .591 slugging percentage. Mickey Mantle had a .421 OBP and slugged .557 in his career. Yeah, Brian Giles was awesome.
3. LF Jason Bay '05 (R)
.306/.402/.559, 110 R, 32 HR, 101 RBI, 21 SB
I could have chosen several Jason Bay seasons. Bay was, and still is, a legitimate top 10 run producer in MLB. Oh, and he stole 21 bases while being caught once. It's too bad the Pirates didn't get more for him as he was one of the greatest talents ever to be traded at the July deadline.
4. 3B Aramis Ramirez '01
.300/.350/.536, 83 R, 34 HR, 112 RBI, 5 SB
He's put up similar numbers for the past seven years in Wrigley, but Ramirez's '01 season was otherwordly. Can you even fathom driving in 112 runs for the '01 Pirates? He played good defense too, and he was 23. Mike Schmidt hit .196 when he was 23.
5. CF Nate McLouth '08 (L)
.276/.356/.497, 113 R, 26 HR, 94 RBI, 23 SB
In his first full season, Nate McLouth made a lot of us wonder why the hell he wasn't starting earlier. McLouth has the speed and contact skills of your father's leadoff hitters, but he adds the power of the new generation of leadoff men. Add in a gold glove and only 3 times caught stealing all year, and you wonder why Nate couldn't still be playing left field at PNC.
6. 2B Freddy Sanchez '06 (R)
.344/.378/.473, 85 R, 6 HR, 85 RBI, 3 SB
I guess not walking isn't a problem when you hit .344. I know batting average is an overrated statistic, but you have to realize how unreal a .344 batting average really is. Going 1-for-3 would decrease that average. Freddy got 200 hits and a league leading 53 doubles in '06, and managed to get MVP votes despite playing for a 95 loss team.
7. 1B Adam LaRoche '08 (L)
.270/.341/.500, 66 R, 25 HR, 85 RBI, 1 SB
Pittsburgh fans never warmed up to Adam LaRoche, but he quietly had a few very good years here. He's not Ryan Howard but as the 2004-05 Braves proved, you can go to the playoffs with Adam LaRoche as a first baseman. In classic LaRoche fashion, Adam hit .304/.361/.613 in the second half and drove in 42 runs in 49 games despite having no one to drive in.
8. SS Jack Wilson '04 (R)
.308/.335/.459, 82 R, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 8 SB
A slick fielder who's valuable even when he doesn't hit, Jack Wilson hit a ton in 2004. We're talking 201 hits and 64 extra base hits from a guy who played Gold Glove caliber defense. I wish him the best in Seattle.
9. P Oliver Perez '04
12-10, 2.98, 1.15 WHIP, 196 IP, 239 K
Not surprisingly, no Pirate pitchers have good win totals in the decade. But Oliver Perez in 2004 was as dominating as any pitcher has been this century. It's hard to believe considering some other seasons he's put up, but 2004 Oliver struck out a cool 11 batters per nine innings while batters hit .207 against him. Oh, and he was 22 at the time.