First Pitch: A Look at How Our Players of the Year Started Off Their Big Seasons

Over the last two days, we have looked at the past players who were named as our Player/Pitcher of the Month for April. We have named our winners for seven years, so there was a decent sample size to check out.

In most cases, the monthly winner for April tailed off for the rest of the season. Part of that is from being promoted to a tougher level, while another part is just from being the best from a large group of players. If you’re the best for an entire month, then you performed at a pace that would be near impossible to keep up over the course of an entire season. It showed, for the most part, that a hot start to the season doesn’t always lead to success.

Today I wanted to do the opposite article and look at our Pitcher/Players of the Year and see how they started the season. Even the best players over the course of a season will hit a rough patch, but a good start to the season never hurts. I’ll begin with the hitters today and move on to the pitchers tomorrow. We started the yearly awards back in 2011, so it’s a little bit bigger of a sample size for this group.

2019: Mason Martin – Martin hit .254/.351/.558 in 131 games last season, with 32 doubles, 35 homers and 129 RBIs. He split the year between Greensboro and Bradenton. In Low-A last April, Martin got off to a .222/.314/.489 start in 23 games. It was his worst month of the season.

2018: Kevin Kramer – Kramer hit .311/.365/.492 in 129 games with Indianapolis in 2018, before finishing the year with the Pirates. In April, he hit .284/.346/.378 in 19 games. It’s a nice average, but it was also his lowest OPS for any month that year (not including the majors)

2017: Jordan Luplow – Luplow began the year in Altoona and finished it in the majors. In 117 minor league games in 2017, he hit .302/.381/.527, with 23 homers. With Altoona for all of April, Luplow hit .257/.313/.473 in 20 games. Just like Martin and Kramer, April was the worst minor league month for Luplow.

2016: Josh Bell – Bell hit .295/.382/.468 in 114 games for Indianapolis, prior to being called up by the Pirates. He batted .312/.411/.519 in 20 April games. Finally, someone who didn’t have their worst month first. It was actually his second best month behind a 1.085 OPS in June.

2015: Josh Bell – Bell split 2015 between Altoona and Indianapolis, batting .317/.393/.446 in 131 games. In 17 April games with Altoona, Bell hit .352/.418/.451, in what ended up being the middle of the road for him. June and July were worse, May and August/Sept. were better.

2014: Josh Bell – Bell split 2014 between Bradenton and Altoona, batting .325/.375/.459 in 108 games. In 24 April games with Bradenton, Bell put up a .287/.323/.447 slash line. He did better in May and especially well in June, but July was worse and August was off to a slow start before he got injured and missed the rest of the season.

2013: Andrew Lambo – Lambo is another case of someone starting with Altoona and ending in the majors. In 120 minor league games, he hit .282/.347/.574, with 32 homers and 99 RBIs. In 25 April games with Altoona, he hit .287/.349/.457, in what was tied for his “worst” month. It feels wrong labeling an .807 OPS as the worst.

2012: Gregory Polanco – Polanco spent the entire 2012 season with the West Virginia Power. In 116 games, he hit .325/.388/.522, with 16 homers and 40 stolen bases. In 23 April games, he batted .286/.343/.495 with five homers and ten steals. In was his second worst month, but just like Lambo, he was over an .800 OPS every month of the season.

2011: Starling Marte – Marte spent all of 2011 in Altoona. He hit .332/.370/.500 in 129 games. In April he hit .326/.363/.453 in 20 games. Another case of this being the second worst month, though he had a somewhat rough July for a Player of the Year, posting a .719 OPS.

I started the article without knowing the results. I’m quite surprised that no one had their best month in April. The odds alone with a five-month season and nine season total tells you that there should be at least one, with a great chance for it to have happened two times. These players for the most part had strong Aprils, but overall they were much better over the rest of the season.


A YouTube wormhole led me to this video when I was just trying to see something completely different about 45 minutes earlier.


Do you remember ten years ago?


John Fredland, who contributed here in the past (and will likely/hopefully in the future), posted his game recap from a big day in the career of a young third baseman named Aramis Ramirez. You can check out the link on SABR here.


By John Dreker

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players and two trades for today. Also, Austin Meadows, who you all know and love, turns 25 today. He’s too recent (and painful) to recap in a history column.

Ivan Cruz, first baseman for the 1999-2000 Pirates. He was originally drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 1989 amateur draft. Cruz didn’t make his Major League debut until eight years later while with the 1997 Yankees. After spending three seasons in the Yankees system and getting into just 11 big league games, Cruz signed with the Pirates on December 22, 1998. He began the year in Triple-A, hitting .338 with 23 homers and 77 RB’s through 65 games, when he was called up on June 24th to take the place of Jose Guillen, who was sent to the minors. Less than two weeks after being called up, Cruz strained his oblique during batting practice and was put on the DL. He returned to Triple-A briefly before going back on the DL. In 2000, he again began the year in Triple-A, getting recalled in mid-May. After going 1-for-11 at the plate, the Pirates designated him for assignment. He finished the year in the Mexican League, then signed to play in Japan in 2001. Cruz played for the Cardinals in 2002, spending the year in Triple-A until being recalled in September when the rosters expanded. He then spent his last season of pro ball (2003) in Japan. Cruz hit 254 homers in the minors and five times topped 90 RBIs in a season.

Chris Cannizzaro, catcher for the 1968 Pirates. He was originally drafted by the St Louis Cardinals in 1956. He played in the majors every seasons from 1960 until 1965, before spending the next two years in the minors. The Pirates acquired Cannizzaro from the Detroit Tigers on November 29, 1967 in exchange for minor league player Mike Derrick. For Pittsburgh in 1968, he spent most of the year in the minors, getting called up to the Pirates in August after hitting .243 at Triple-A with 31 RBIs in 88 games. Cannizzaro played 25 big league games that year, starting 18 of them behind the plate. In 58 at-bats, he hit .241 with seven RBIs. In his 11th at-bat after getting called up, he hit home run. It was significant in the fact he went 592 at-bats during his first six seasons in the majors without hitting a home run. On March 28, 1969, the Pirates traded Cannizzaro to the San Diego Padres in a four-player deal. He ended up playing in the All-Star game in 1969 and lasted in the majors until 1974. In 13 seasons, he hit .235 with 169 RBIs in 740 games. In his career, he attempted twenty stolen bases at the Major League level, he was successful just three times.

The Trades

On this date in 1947, the Pirates traded outfielder Al Gionfriddo and $100,000 in cash (some sources say $125k), to the Brooklyn Dodgers for pitchers Cal McLish, Kirby Higbe, Hank Behrman, catcher Dixie Howell and infielder Gene Mauch. The deal was originally going to be a straight up purchase of the five players, but the Pirates threw Gionfriddo into the deal. The day before the trade, the newspapers were reporting that the Pirates were going to purchase just two players. As for the players after the trade, Behrman was returned to the Dodgers after giving up 25 runs in 24.2 innings for the Pirates. With his return, the Pirates recouped as much as $50,000 from the original sale price. Mauch was just 21 years old at the time of the trade, with only five games of Major League experience. He ended up hitting .300 in 16 games for the Pirates before being dealt back to the Dodgers in a six-player trade.

Dixie Howell was signed by the Dodgers in 1938, but never played a big league game for them. With the Pirates in 1947, as a 27-year-old rookie, he hit .276 with 25 RBIs in 76 games. Ten months after being acquired, he was one of the players the Pirates sent (along with plenty of cash) to the San Francisco Seals in exchange for highly touted pitcher Bob Chesnes. McLish was just 21 years old when the trade occurred, with 24 games of Major League experience over two seasons. He pitched three games for the Pirates over two seasons before being traded to the Cubs. That trade was made exactly one year after the Mauch trade mentioned above. McLish eventually became a very good big league pitcher, but not until age 31, well after being dealt by the Pirates.

That left Higbe as the only player in the deal that was still with the team by the time 1949 rolled around. He was a serviceable pitcher for his two full seasons, pitching 102 games, 38 as a starter. He won 19 times and saved 15 games between 1947-48, but he quickly went downhill the next season and was traded to the New York Giants by the beginning of June. Before the deal, Kirby had a 70-38 record in five seasons in Brooklyn. Gionfriddo played 37 regular season games for the Dodgers in 1947 and hit .177 with six RBIs. He also played four games in the World Series and made one of the most memorable catches of all-time, robbing Joe DiMaggio in game six to help the Dodgers send the series to a seventh game. That game ended up being his last game in the majors.

On this date in 1952, the Pirates traded pitcher Bil Werle to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for veteran pitcher Red Munger. Werle began his career in Pittsburgh and had been with the Pirates since 1949, going 28-35, 4.76 in 147 games, sixty as a starter. Munger at age 33 was just two years old than Werle, but he had nine seasons of Major League experience at that point, all with the Cardinals. He had a 74-49 record in 233 games, 144 as a starter. He was also a three time All-Star. Munger made one start for St Louis, two weeks prior to the trade, and he did not pitch well, giving up six runs in 4.1 innings. Werle had pitched five games in 1952, all out of the bullpen and he too, did not pitch well. In four innings, he gave up ten baserunners and four runs.

After the trade Munger showed no signs of the All-Star pitcher he once was, going 0-3, 7.18 in four starts and a relief appearance. He ended up going to the minors for the rest of 1952 and all of the next three seasons. The Pirates brought him back in 1956 after he went 23-8, 1.85 in 1955 for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. He ended up making 13 starts and 22 relief appearances in 1956, posting a 3-4, 4.04 record in 107 innings, in what would be his last season in the majors. Werle pitched 19 games for the Cardinals, all in relief, before being put on waivers in October, where he was picked up by the Red Sox. He pitched 19 games over two seasons in Boston (1953-54) before returning to the minors for good, although he was far from done. He last pitched at age 42 in 1963.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

Support Pirates Prospects

Related articles

join the discussion

Share article

Pirates Prospects Daily

Latest articles

Pirates Prospects Weekly

MONDAY: First Pitch

TUESDAY: Article Drop


THURSDAY: Roundtable

FRIDAY: Discussion

SATURDAY: Pirates Winter Report

SUNDAY: Pirates Business

Latest comments