If you want to talk about domination, you may not have to look much further than the Pirates home run leaders for a single season. Seriously, though — the top-10 is made up of just three dudes. Three!
Ralph Kiner is listed more than the other two combined, and it shows just how dominant he was during his MLB career. Due to the lack of different names on the list, we’ve extended it to the top-27 so we can see how else hit a lot of home runs in a single season for the Pirates.
Pirates Home Run Leaders: Top 10
When you see someone is a Hall of Famer despite playing just 10 big-league seasons, you know that player dominated during their short time in The Show. That’s exactly what happened for Kiner. He doesn’t just hold the Pirates’ single-season home run record, he completely overtakes the top of the leaderboard.
He led the league in homers during his first seven MLB seasons, and the only time he didn’t finish with fewer than 20 homers was his final year in 1955 with Cleveland (he hit 18). Regarding Pirates history, six (!) of Kiner’s seasons in Pittsburgh are still within the top-15 of the franchise leaderboard, with five of them in the top seven.
Here’s a quick rundown of them all (with his franchise rank in parenthesis):
- 54 homers in 1949 (first)
- 51 homers in 1947 (second)
- 47 homers in 1950 (fourth)
- 42 homers in 1951 (sixth)
- 40 homers in 1948 (seventh)
And as we can see here, Kiner enjoyed five straight campaigns of 40-plus homers from 1947 to 1951. Let’s take a second to marvel over the performance that towers over the rest, which was his 54-dinger output in 1949. Kiner also led the league with 127 RBI while slashing .310/.432/.658 in 667 plate appearances.
Although Kiner’s first-half OPS (1.095) was higher than his second-half OPS (1.084), he hit 31 of his home runs following the All-Star break. How did that happen? Well, he absolutely went off in August and September, hitting 27 combined home runs (11 in August, 16 in September). That final month had some crazy stats attached to it, as the Hall of Famer added 33 RBI and a .330/.481/.870 line to all those dingers.
Related: Pirates All-Time Home Run Leaders
Willie Stargell is Pittsburgh’s all-time home run leader, and he did that by being a consistent slugger throughout his big-league career. He suited up for 21 years — all with the Pirates — and slugged at least 20 homers 15 total times (including 13 years in a row between 1964 and 1976). Stargell got himself over 30 on six different occasions, but two instances stand out from the rest.
In 1971, he slugged 48 home runs, which is third all-time in Pirates history. Two years later in 1973, he got close to matching that number but settled for the fifth-most dingers in a single season for Pittsburgh with 44. The four other times he surpassed the 30-homer plateau, Stargell didn’t hit more than 33.
Stargell did the majority of his work in the first half, slashing .320/.396/.705 with 30 homers and 87 RBI prior to the All-Star break. Those numbers dropped to .265/.399/.535, 18, and 38, respectively, in the second half. There were only two months where Stargell surpassed 10 homers and 20 RBI during the ’71 campaign: April (11 homers, 27 RBI) and June (11 homers, 36 RBI). They were also the only times his OPS got up over 1.000.
Brian Giles spent nearly five years with the Pirates, and they were the most powerful years of his career. Not including 2003 when he went from the Pirates to the San Diego Padres, Giles enjoyed four seasons with at least 35 home runs. Three of those instances are still in Pittsburgh’s top-10: 39 homers in 1999, 38 homers in 2002, and 37 homers in 2001. The other one (35 dingers in 2000), you’ll see below.
How significant was Giles’ prime with the Buccos? Well, in years he didn’t spend the entire season with the club, he accumulated 20-plus homers just two other times: 20 in 2003 (split between San Diego and Pittsburgh) and 23 in 2004 (with San Diego). That’s it.
During the 1999 campaign, there were two specific pitch counts where Giles hit the majority of his home runs. The outfielder slugged eight dingers with a 1.145 OPS on the first pitch and another eight with a 1.465 OPS on 1-1 counts. The 2002 Pirates finished 72-89, so if a player was going to rack up stats, they’d have to do it when the team was winning and losing. While Giles was more effective in wins (1.227), he was still pretty good in losses (.952) and hit the same number of homers (19) in each situation. Of course, he had more chances to get there when the Pirates ended up in the loss column.
Pirates Home Run Leaders: The Rest
Here’s what the remainder of the Pirates’ top-27 single-season home run performances looks like:
- Ralph Kiner, 1952: 37 home runs
- Josh Bell, 2019: 37
- Pedro Alvarez, 2013: 36
- Brian Giles, 2000: 35
- Jason Bay, 2006: 35
- Dick Stuart, 1961: 35
- Frank Thomas, 1958: 35
- Barry Bonds, 1992: 34
- Aramis Ramirez, 2001: 34
- Barry Bonds, 1990: 33
- Willie Stargell, 1966 and 1972: 33
- Jason Bay, 2005: 32
- Bobby Bonilla, 1990: 32
- Andrew McCutchen, 2012: 31
- Jason Thompson, 1982: 31
- Willie Stargell, 1970: 31
If you’re wondering which performances fall outside of the top 27, check out the rest of this list on FanGraphs.