1925 Pirates Replay

Welcome to a new Pirates’ season replay, this time the 1925 season.  I won’t spoil the ending now, but it’s an oddly overlooked season in Pirate legend.  Obviously, the dates won’t be matching up.  That means I can skip over off-days.

A few things to keep in mind, if you’re not familiar with 1920s baseball.  Batting averages were very high; the NL as a whole hit .292 in 1925, so a .300 average wasn’t all that impressive.  Power came more in the form of doubles and triples than home runs.  Typically only a handful of players in each league would hit 20 homers, and a lot of those were inside-the-park.  Complete games were much more common and there were few real “relievers.”  Saves wouldn’t be a stat for over 30 years.  A team typically would have 5-6 pitchers who’d handle the vast majority of the innings, both starting and relieving.  Strikeouts were rare; unless your name was Dazzy Vance or Lefty Grove, you were doing very well to fan three per nine innings.

The Pirates in 1924

The Bucs had a strong season in 1924.  They finished third, just three games out of first, with a 90-63 record.  They started slowly and didn’t reach .500 for good until June 25.  A 40-21 record in July and August got them within a game of first, but they never led the league.  The improvement resulted from upgrades to the offense, which averaged 4.2 runs per game in the first three months and 5.1 after that.

The Pirates’ infield seems like it should have been better than it was  in ’24.  Third-year third baseman Pie Traynor, a standout defender, fell off a bit at the plate to a league average OPS+, batting 294/340/417.  Rookie shortstop Glenn Wright led the team with 111 RBIs, but his 287/318/425 line was slightly below average.  He played so well defensively, though, that he led the team in bWAR with 5.6.

The right side of the infield was weaker.  Rabbit Maranville, one of the more colorful players of the era, moved from short to second to accommodate Wright.  Known mainly for speed and defense, he had an OPS+ of 86.  Charlie Grimm represented a fading breed of first baseman.  He was a so-so singles hitter who was reputed to be strong defensively, although FanGraphs and bb-ref strongly disagree on the latter.

The outfield at the start of the season was a problem.  That didn’t include center field, where Max Carey remained a star at age 34.  Carey played good defense (hence the nickname “Scoops”), hit 297/366/417, led the league with 49 steals, and scored 113 runs.  That was Carey’s ninth stolen base title; two years earlier, he’d stolen 51 bases in 53 tries.  Right fielder Clyde Barnhart and left fielder Carson Bigbee had more difficult years.  Barnhart didn’t run or field well, but he normally was a good hitter.  In ’24, though, he slumped to 276/338/384.  Bigbee had been one of the team’s mainstays, batting .350 in 1922.  He was increasingly plagued by sinus problems, though, leaving him with headaches and blurred vision.  He hit just 262/331/284 in ’24.

Catcher also was partly a problem for much of the year.  Teams then generally went with two catchers.  The Pirates had switch-hitter Johnny Gooch and veteran Walter Schmidt.  Gooch was all-around average-ish for the position, but the 37-year-old Schmidt was nearing the end and struggled.

During the season, the Pirates made several changes that impacted the offense.  Most importantly, rookie Kiki Cuyler, who’d made a handful of appearances the previous three seasons, increasingly took over a regular job starting in May.  In his first four starts, Cuyler went 11-for-17 and he eventually became an everyday player in left.  By the end of the year he was by far the team’s best hitter, batting 354/402/539 and finishing second in the league with 32 steals.

There were two other significant additions.  Rookie Eddie Moore got into the lineup in June, playing third when Traynor missed some games.  Moore missed July with an injury, but took over in right in August.  In 72 games, he batted 359/437/464.  In mid-July, the Pirates purchased lefty-hitting catcher Earl “Oil” Smith from the Boston Braves.  Smith had been a good-hitting backstop, mainly in a platoon role, for John McGraw’s New York Giants for several years, but he was also one of baseball’s most pugnacious players.  McGraw finally shipped Smith to Boston, where he again wore out his welcome.  That worked out nicely for the Pirates; he hit 369/435/586 for them in 39 games over the season’s last two-and-a-half months.

The Pirates’ pitching in 1924 was strong and consisted almost entirely of five guys.  Wilbur Cooper, Ray Kremer, Lee “Specs” Meadows, “Jughandle Johnny” Morrison (yes, his big pitch was a curve), and Emil Yde combined to throw 1,189, or 86%, of the team’s 1,382 innings.

The lefty Cooper had been one of the Pirates’ two aces since 1914.  In 1924, he went 20-14, 3.28, his fourth 20-win season, and tied for the league lead with four shutouts.  That gave him a 202-159 record in 13 years with the Bucs.

Kremer was a 29-year-old rookie whom the Pirates acquired from Oakland of the Pacific Coast League.  He’d been a star there for years.  (In those days, there wasn’t as sharp a distinction between the majors and minors as there is now.  It was a bit closer to the current relationship between MLB and the Japanese and Korean leagues.  The PCL, especially, had many successful players who stayed there for a long time.)  In his rookie year, Kremer went 18-10, 3.19, relying on outstanding control.  He also tied Cooper for the lead in shutouts.

Meadows was a solid, veteran pitcher whom the Pirates had rescued from the perenially bad Phillies in 1923 for infielder Cotton Tierney (the inspiration for the name of the site, “Cot’s Baseball Contracts”) and pitcher Whitey Glazner.  The trade was panned in Pittsburgh because Meadows was thought to have a lame arm, but his demise had been exaggerated.  Meadows could have used a bit more support in ’24, but still went 13-12, 3.26.  His nickname was notable because he was one of the few players to wear glasses.  With no plastic lenses, players were afraid of being maimed by shattered glass.

Morrison had won 25 games in 1923.  In ’24, he slumped to 11-16, 3.75.  He completed only ten of his 25 starts, a low percentage in those days, and was shifted mostly to relief in the last couple months.

The lefty Yde, a sidearm thrower, was yet another notable rookie on the ’24 Bucs.  He led the league in winning percentage, going 16-3, 2.83, and was a third Pirate tied for the lead with four shutouts.  Yde was an athletic player who also served as a pinch hitter and pinch runner.

The only other pitcher of note was Babe Adams, who’d combined with Cooper for years to give the Pirates a strong 1-2.  Adams was 42 by 1924 and appeared in only nine games, but put up a 1.13 ERA.