Pittsburgh Pirates Pitcher, Doug Drabek

From 1987 until 1992, Doug Drabek was a workhorse in the Pirates rotation, averaging 33 starts and 227 innings pitched per season over his six years in Pittsburgh. He remains to this day, the last Pirates pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. Born on July 25,1962 in Victoria, Texas, the 6″1 right-hander stayed local for his college baseball, attending the University of Houston. He was drafted by the Cleveland Indians out of high school in 1980, but chose not to sign. Three years later, his stock had dropped, going to the Chicago White Sox in the 11th round of the 1983 draft. Doug signed within a week of the draft and began his pro baseball career.  

Just one year after being drafted, Drabek was already on the move, going to the New York Yankees as a player to be named later in a deal for infielder Roy Smalley. Doug had an impressive first full season in the Yankees system, going 13-7 2.99 in 26 starts at AA. He began the 1986 season at AAA and while he struggled there(1-4 7.29 in 8 starts), he was up in the majors by the end of May. Doug made 21 starts and six relief appearances for the Yankees, posting a 7-8 4.10 record in 131.2 innings. In the off-season, the Yankees and Pirates hooked up in a deal that sent veteran pitchers Rick Rhoden, Cecilio Guante and Pat Clements to New York in exchange for Drabek, Brian Fisher and Logan Easley.

Pittsburgh put Doug right in the rotation in 1987 and never looked back. He made 28 starts and went 11-12 3.88 in 176.1 innings, with one shutout to his credit. It was just a glimpse of the true potential he would begin to reach the very next season. The 1988 Pirates finished second in the NL East, although they were never really close with the Mets running away with the division. A big reason for that finish for the Pirates, after finishing just below .500 the previous season, was the emergence of Drabek as the Pirates ace. He didn’t have the best ERA on the team, that belonged to Bob Walk with his 2.71 mark, but Doug did have the best record and lead the team in innings pitched. That season he finished at 15-7 3.08 with 219.1 innings pitched.

The Pirates were expecting to contend in 1989 but they faltered through no fault of Drabek. He went 14-12, with five of those wins coming by shutout. His 2.80 ERA was .01 ahead of teammate John Smiley, who finished four games over the .500 mark. Doug pitched 244.1 innings that season, the fifth highest total in the NL. He made 34 starts and pitched eight complete games.

The Pirates’ ship was righted in 1990 and behind the pitching of Drabek, they made the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. He had a remarkable season, winning the NL Cy Young award with a 22-6 record. Doug had the best winning percentage in the league, finished fifth with his 231.1 innings pitched and sixth with his 2.76 ERA. His season was good enough that he finished eighth in the NL MVP voting as well. He was strong in the playoffs, even during his 2-1 complete game loss in game two against the Reds. Drabek staved off elimination five days later, winning game five by a 3-2 score.

Doug’s record in 1991 doesn’t tell the whole story. On the outside, it looks like a bad season, going 15-14 for a team that almost won 100 games, but Drabek’s ERA at 3.07 was one point better(for a second time) than John Smiley, who finished with a 20-8 record. Drabek made a career high 35 starts and finished fourth in the NL with 234.2 innings pitched. In more than half of his starts, the Pirates scored three or less runs. He topped his 1.65 playoff ERA from the previous season by allowing one earned run over 15 innings. Unfortunately, that one run led to a loss in game six as the Pirates were shutout by the Braves.

Drabek had one last season left in Pittsburgh before free agency kicked in, and he made the most of the 1992 season. He helped the Pirates to their third straight NL East pennant, by going 15-11 2.77 in 34 starts, throwing ten complete games and four shutouts. Doug threw a career high 256.2 innings that season, en route to a fifth place finish in the Cy Young voting. His run of playoff dominance was over though, losing all three starts to the Braves that post-season.

After the season ended, Doug signed with his hometown Houston Astros, where things didn’t go well. That first season he had a respectable 3.79 ERA, but he led the NL with 18 losses. His last two years with Houston, he went 17-18 combined with an ERA over 4.50 each year. Things got worse for Doug after leaving the Astros, posting a 5.74 ERA in 31 starts for the 1997 Chicago White Sox, then a 7.29 ERA in 108.2 innings for the 1998 Orioles, his last major league stop.

Doug made 196 starts for the Pirates, going 92-62 3.02 in 1362.2 innings. He ranks 20th in team history in wins and no pitcher over the last 34 years has won more games in a Pirates uniform. Overall in his career, he went 155-134 3.73 with 387 major league starts. He is currently a minor league pitching coach in the Diamondbacks system and his son Kyle Drabek, is a pitcher for the Blue Jays.

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About John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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