Continuing with some season long themes:
With Friends (Teammates) Like That, Who Needs Enemies?
In an effort to score more runs and improve an offense that ranked 10th out of twelve teams in runs scored in 1984, the Pirates acquired three players who had previously driven in 100 or more runs in a single season: George Hendrick, Steve Kemp and Sixto Lezcano.
Hendrick turned 34 during the season and was coming off his worse season in a decade. The Cardinals sent him to Pittsburgh for John Tudor and Brian Harper.
Kemp was battling all sorts of physical ailments. He’d suffered a broken cheek bone in 1983 and was coming off leg surgery after the 1984 season. Reports were mixed about whether the Pirates knew about Kemp’s leg problems before he was acquired from the Yankees (Jay Buhner went to the Bombers). He was just 30 years old at the beginning of the season. I remember Kemp putting on hitting shows in BP at Riverfront in 1985. Laser beam after laser beam into right field. Some into the blue seats, some into the green seats and some off the wall. Unfortunately, it was only BP and he couldn’t carry it over to the game.
Lezcano was a good fielder when he was younger. He actually won a Gold Glove in 1979 – the same year he drove in 101 runs for Milwaukee. He turned 32 down the stretch in 1985. He was released prior to the 1986 season and the Pirates ate his $500,000 million salary for 1986.
The plan to increase offense with these three backfired. Badly. Those three combined to get 608 at bats. They yielded 142 hits, 30 doubles and just 7 homers. They scored 58 runs and drove in 55. They hit .234/.318/.324.
The Pirates finished 11th in runs score in the NL in 1985 and 12th in home runs. The best laid plans of mice & men…
With a seeming abundance of pitching that allowed the 1984 Pirates to lead the NL in ERA, the rotation was overhauled heading into 1985.
John Tudor was dealt to St. Louis in the aforementioned Hendrick trade. All he did was lead the league in shutouts and finish second to Dwight Gooden in Cy Young balloting. John Candelaria was moved from the rotation and into the bullpen.
The starting rotation in 1984 had five regular starters. Only three other pitchers even made starts (a combined 9 starts between those three). In 1985, the five members of the rotation weren’t doing the job. So, five other pitches were employed as starters at some point and they combined for 33 starts.
The starters lasted over 100 more innings over the course of their starts in 1984 compared with 1985. Complete games fell from 27 to 15. The load on the bullpen was dramatically increased and the pitchers were ill-equipped to handle it.
Candy had been a starter his whole career, yet was stuck in the pen despite the ineffectiveness of the starters. He led the staff with 9 saves. Former closer Kent Tekulve was dealt on April 20th to Philadelphia for former Rolaids Fireman of the Year Al Holland. Unfortunately, Holland came with plenty of baggage – and I don’t just mean his weight. His first stop in Pittsburgh was to testify in the cocaine trial that was taking place.
Speaking of cocaine, Rod Scurry, who had been in rehab for an addiction, was pitching pretty well out of the pen – a 3.21 ERA in 47-2/3 innings. He was sold in September to the Bombers. Scurry’s past caught up to him as he died of cardiopulmonary arrest in 1992 at the age of 36.
The steadiest contributor was Cecilio Guante. He led the staff in appearances with 63 and had a sub 3.00 ERA for the season. Within a couple of years, he was packaged with Rick Rhoden to acquire Doug Drabek and a couple of other young pitchers from the Yankees.
Jim Winn was an anchor (in the bad sort of way) in the bullpen. He had a team worst 5.23 ERA in 75-2/3 innings that included seven starts among his 30 appearances.
Both Holland and Candy, along Hendrick, were traded to California in late July for a package of young players – reliever Pat Clement, swing man Bob Kipper and outfielder Mike Brown. Neither Clement nor Brown lasted long in Pittsburgh. After an unsuccessful attempt at starting, Kipper became an effective lefty out of the bullpen.
Between 1983 and 1987 the Pirates failed to have a reliever record 20 saves in a single season. The only other team that can make that claim is the Dodgers.
Third Time is a Charm
The Pirates went nearly the whole season between three game winning streaks. The Bucs finished 1984 with a three game sweep in Philadelphia. Their next three game streak came on September 18, 19 & 20 of 1985 as they beat the Expos twice in Canada and the Mets once in NY. ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported earlier in the year, while discussing the futility of the Royals, that the Pirates 144 game stretch between three game winning streaks was the longest in the last 25 years. That, of course, is the kind of record nobody wants to have.
1985 Pirates Retrospective – Part 5
Continuing with some season long themes: