It takes a player with a certain personality makeup to come off the bench ice cold and step into the box, usually in situation with added pressure, to deliver a crucial hit or at the very least just get on base. Some players excel in these types of situations, which often adds to their legend or allure. Often the ones that fit into this very specific mold are forgotten to the history books, unless they break some relatively unknown record that only us stats nerds usually care to discuss. They don’t stick out because they are generally not the every day player, the one whose jersey is worn by fans young and old or the ones whose name being announced over the public address system results in raucous cheers that echo throughout their entire home stadium or park.
In Pittsburgh Pirates history there were plenty of players that fit the bill to be considered as one of the all time best at this very specific skill set within their craft. Some found this success after they moved on to other teams, some were good, but not great and others just barely missed the mark. The ones that remained were among best at what they did for at least one season, which ended up being the criteria for this list of unlikely heroes in order to get it down to just five Pirates Pinch Hitters.
5) Jose Osuna-2019
This past season Osuna started out having to struggle to get back on the field due to a neck injury; working his way up through the system with rehab assignments in both Bradenton and Indianapolis. Arriving in Pittsburgh in late May, he spent most of his first couple of months filling in for spot starts and coming in off the bench. However, he started to make a case for himself to get more playing time, especially with his bat in pinch hitting situations, ultimately leading the league in pinch hit home runs for the season with 5. He also posted a .325 Batting Average, a 1.232 OPS and 10 total extra base hits in this role.
4) Matt Joyce-2016
In February of 2016 the Pirates signed Joyce to a Minor League contract and invited him to Spring Training with the hopes of him being able to take the job of a 4th Outfielder on the roster. In the end he made his way into the record books with the most walks in a single season by a pinch hitter with 21. He also hit 4 home runs and totaled 7 extra base hits. He did post a disappointing .234 Batting Average, but his .427 On Base Percentage more than made up for this.
3) Mark Johnson-1996
Drafted by the Pirates in back to back years (1989 and 1990) from Dartmouth College, Johnson would make it to the majors in 1995, becoming a regular contributor in 1996. During this season he had one of the highest Batting Averages of All Time at .45161; because when you make the record books they make you go out a couple more numbers after the decimal point. During this historic stretch he also had an OPS of 1.300 and crushed 4 home runs. Within two years he would be off the Pirates and was out of baseball after 2002 with minimal success during that time. However, in the summer of 1996 Johnson was one of the best pinch hitters ever.
2) Jerry Lynch-1963
Lynch came up with the Pirates in 1954, but was gone to Cincinnati by 1957. When he finally returned to Pittsburgh in 1963 he had already established himself as one of the most successful pinch hitters in MLB history by hitting 11 home runs as one. In his first year back he hit 4 pinch hit homers while slashing .317/.370/.634. As his career came to an end in 1966, he found himself on top of the NL’s All Time List with 18 pinch hit home runs.
1) Craig Wilson-2001
Wilson would spend five years and some change in a Pirates Uniform, but his first year was one of the most memorable in my opinion. Anytime you put your name in the record books during your Rookie Year, it seems to stand out all the more. As a pinch hitter it was all or nothing as he hit 7 home runs and not much else, so it felt almost like every time he stepped up to the plate the ball was going over the wall. In total he would hit 13 homers that year while slashing .310/.390/.589. He arguably had more success in other years, but it was his performance as a pinch hitter in 2001 that got him to the top of this list.
After completing the list I was fairly surprised how many Pirates players made a case for not only being the best pinch hitters in Pittsburgh, but also some of the best of all time. Sure we don’t have an Ed Kranepool, a Gates Brown or a Lenny Harris to call our own, but the guys we do have are not too shabby and there are others that arguably could have made the cut. Who did I miss?