We ignored the great Paul Waner here during our run of history articles recently. It wasn’t done on purpose of course, but I’ve been correcting that oversight this week with an article looking at his six-hit day in a Game Rewind on Tuesday, as well as yesterday’s Card of the Day feature. Finishing off the mini-series, today we look at his best season in our 15th edition of Pittsburgh Pirates Seasons. The first 14 articles are all linked below.
Waner was a 23-year-old rookie during the 1926 season. He batted .336/.413/.528 in 144 games, with 101 runs scored, 35 doubles, eight homers and a league leading 22 triples. In 1927, his younger brother Lloyd (pictured above with Paul) joined him in the Pirates outfield. Lloyd would hit .355 as a rookie and score 133 runs, yet he was overshadowed by Paul, who put together one of the best seasons of offense in team history. The brothers helped lead the Pirates to their second World Series appearance in three years.
The 1927 season started on April 12th, and Paul Waner got off to a somewhat slow start in the early goings. He had six hits in the first eight games, with no multi-hit contests. After that point, his season was all uphill. It all started with a three-hit game that included a double, homer and a walk on April 23rd. He finished April with a .298/.431/.489 slash line.
After driving in two runs on May 1st, Waner put together back-to-back three-hit games to give him a .356 average. He collected four hits on May 7th, as his season average peaked at .373 during the month. In 25 games in May, Waner batted .369/.421/.541, with eight triples, 24 runs scored, 30 RBIs and 41 hits.
While May was a strong month, it paled in comparison to June. Waner hit .453/.487/.783 in 25 games, with 16 doubles, five triples and three homers. He had 26 runs scored, 32 RBIs and 48 hits. From June 3rd through June 19th, he had at least one extra-base hit in all 14 games, which is a still-standing Major League record. Waner had a 1.580 OPS during that stretch. The streak was broken by a game in which he still had two singles and a walk.
The Pirates ended up playing 32 games in July and Waner topped his June hit total by one, collecting 49 hits. It wasn’t nearly as big of a month as June, but it was still quite a performance in the middle of summer while playing more games than days in the month. Waner hit .363/.403/.459, with 20 RBIs and 21 runs scored. Perhaps most impressive was his contact rate. He struck out once in 146 plate appearances.
August ended up being his second best month. Waner played 27 games, and put up a .384/.430/.563 slash line. He had his fourth straight month with at least 20 runs scored and 20 RBIs.
The Pirates were a game behind the Chicago Cubs going into play on September 1st and the Cubs just happened to be visiting Forbes Field that day. The Pirates won 4-3 that day, then Waner put the team on his back the next three days, collecting nine hits, three walks and six RBIs. He was hot for the rest of the month, finishing September (and one October game) with a .375/.457/.455 slash line in 32 games. The Pirates clinched the pennant at the very end of the year, with just enough time left for Waner to take the final day of the regular season off to rest for the World Series. It was the only game he missed all season.
The final season line for Waner showed a league leading .380 average, with a .437 OPS and a .549 slugging percentage. He led the league with 155 games played, 709 plate appearances, 237 hits, 18 triples and 131 RBIs. All of those stats combined led to him with the National League MVP award.
Waner’s .380 average that year was one off the team record at the time, held by Honus Wagner since 1900. His 237 hits broke the mark of Kiki Cuyler set two years earlier and it remains a team record to this day. His 342 total bases ranked second at the time, only trailing Cuyler’s 1925 season (see link below). Waner’s total currently still ranks as the fourth best season. His 131 RBIs broke the team record set in 1901 by Honus Wagner, and it’s still the most ever in a season for the Pirates.
From May 27th to June 20th, Waner batted .461 during a 23-game hit streak. From May 27th until July 7th, he had a 38-game on base streak in which he posted a .454 OBP. While it didn’t count for an on base streak, Waner reached base on a fielder’s choice on May 26th and scored a run in a 2-1 win. That game snapped a seven-game hit streak prior to his 23-game hit streak/38-game on base streak. So even when he didn’t get “on base”, he was still a part of the win.
He had five games with four hits during the season. He also had 21 games with three hits and another 52 games with two hits. That’s 78 multi-hit games out of 155 games played, or slightly more than 50% of his games. Waner had just 16 games all season in which he didn’t reach base via a hit and/or walk.
On defense, Waner led all NL right fielders with 324 putouts and a .980 fielding percentage. His 19 outfield assists ranked second for all right fielders.
The Pirates lost in four games in the 1927 World Series, with Waner batting .333 with three RBIs.
While this isn’t his highest WAR season during his career (he had a 6.9 mark in 1927), it still tops his 1936 season (7.1 WAR) for me. He had a higher OPS in 1927 and set two team records that still stand, while helping the Pirates to the World Series. We will eventually feature the 1936 season here, but in my opinion, the 1927 season was the best place to start for Waner.