Sam Leever, also known as the "Goshen Schoolmaster," also also known as "Deacon," (the third time on this countdown a pitcher has used this nickname), was a 5'10" pitcher from Goshen, OH. Born on December 23, 1871, the right hander was an actual schoolmaster for seven years before beginning his major league career. He made his first professional appearance in 1897 with the Richmond Giants, a class "B" level outfit in the Atlantic League, going 21-18 with a (no typo) 1.05 ERA.
He joined the Pirates in 1898, a 26-year old rookie. He pitched 33 innings over his first five appearances, going 1-0, 2.45 with five walks and 15 strikeouts and a WHIP just south of one. The Pirates finished eighth out of the 12-team National League, with a 72-76 record.
In 1899, Leever was with the team from opening day, eventually leading the NL with 51 appearances and with 379 innings pitched. He posted his first and only losing record, going 21-23 on the season with an ERA of 3.18, a career high. He finished the season with a 6.5 pWAR (NL ninth), a 1.253 WHIP (NL 10th), an 8.383 H/9 (NL fifth), a 2.873 K/9 (NL eighth), 121 strikeouts (NL third), a league leading three saves, 39 starts (NL fifth), 35 games completed (NL seventh), and four shutouts (NL second). Paired with staff ace Jesse Tannehill (24-14), the Pirates already had in place the skeleton for their early 1900's dynasty. Pittsburgh finished at 76-73, seventh in the National League.
1900 would see Leever go 15-13 (NL ninth with a .536 winning percentage), a 2.71 ERA (NL fourth) with a 4.7 pWAR (NL sixth) for the Bucs. He had a 1.221 WHIP (NL sixth), 84 strikeouts (NL ninth), and three shutouts (NL fifth). He was the only pitcher on the squad to hit a home run on the season, hitting .205 with five RBI. Pittsburgh went 79-60, second by 4.5 games to the Brooklyn Superbas.
In 1901, Leever went 14-5 (an NL best .737 winning percentage) with a 2.86 ERA (NL 10th) over 176 innings pitched. He completed 18 of his 20 starts with one relief appearance. He posted a .966 fielding percentage (NL fourth) and a 4.193 K/9 rate (NL ninth). Over the course of the season, the Pirates out scored their competition by an average of 1.7 runs per game en route to a 90-49 record. They won the pennant, clinching by 7.5 wins over the Phillies.
Leever went 15-7 (for a .682 winning percentage, NL sixth) with a 2.39 ERA in 1902. He completed 23 of his 26 starts, along with two relief appearances (both saves). He had a 1.054 WHIP (NL fourth), allowed 1.257 walks per nine innings (NL fifth), and finished seventh in the NL with four shutouts. Believe it or not, Leever's win percentage was the lowest amongst the five-man rotation on the Bucs team that finished 103-36. The Superbas finished 27.5 games back, Pittsburgh's closest competition for the pennant.
In 1903, Leever led the NL with a .781 winning percentage, going 25-7 (NL third in wins). He also led the senior circuit with a 2.06 ERA, seven shutouts, and an ERA+ of 159. He finished with a 6.5 pWAR (NL fourth), a 1.108 WHIP (NL third), and an 8.072 H/9 (NL fourth). He completed 30 (NL eighth), of his 34 starts (NL sixth), making 36 appearances in total (NL 10th). Partner Deacon Phillippe also won 25 games that season. The two combined were accountable for more than half of Pittsburgh's 91 victories, while being on the hook for less than a third of their losses. The team finished at 91-49, winning the pennant for the third year in a row, 7.5 games ahead of the New York Giants. They met the AL champion Boston Americans in the best-of-nine World Series. Leever started two games, losing both by allowing six runs on 13 hits and three walks over 10 innings. Phillippe pitched 44 of the Pirates 70 innings during the series as Boston came out on top in eight contests.
In 1904, Leever went 18-11 (NL 10th in wins and with a .621 win percentage) and a 2.17 ERA. He completed 26 of his 32 starts, along with two relief appearances. Additionally, he posted a 4.7 pWAR (NL ninth), a 1.097 WHIP (NL ninth), and a .987 fielding percentage (NL third). He also enjoyed a good season at the dish, going 26-for-99 (.263) with five extra-base hits and 14 RBI. The Pirates finished fourth in the league, 19 games behind the Giants at 87-66.
Leever led the NL in winning percentage (.800) for the third time in five seasons in 1905. He went 20-5 (NL fifth in wins) with a 2.70 ERA. He completed 20 of 29 starts with three shutouts and a save in four late-inning insertions. He also logged a 1.102 WHIP (NL eighth). Pittsburgh posted a 96-57 record, finishing the season nine games behind the Giants for the pennant.
1906 would see Leever post a 22-7 (NL fourth in wins, third with a .759 winning percentage) record with a 2.32 ERA. He collected six shutouts (NL third), finishing 25 of 31 rotation starts. He had a 4.4 pWAR (NL 10th), a 1.076 WHIP (NL sixth) and a 1.659 BB/9 rate (NL second). The Pirates finished 23.5 games back of the pennant with a normally good-enough 93-60 record.
In 1907, Leever went 14-9 (an NL 10th best .609 win percentage) with a career best 1.66 ERA (NL fourth). He finished 17 of 24 starts with five shutouts (NL eighth) and seven games in relief. He also ranked highly with a 1.052 WHIP (NL eighth). Pittsburgh finished 17 games behind Chicago with a 91-63 record.
Leever went 15-7 (for an NL fifth best .682 win percentage) with a 2.10 ERA in 1908. He completed 14 of 20 starts with an unprecedented 18 relief appearances and two saves. His 14 games finished ranked him second to Boston's mopup man, Cecil Ferguson. The Pirates finished tied for second in the crowded top of the NL with the Giants at 98-56, one game behind the Cubs.
Leever only started four games in 1909, appearing in relief an additional 15 times. He totaled 70 innings on the campaign, for the first time since 1901 allowing more than a hit per inning. He still had a good record, going 8-1 with a 2.83 ERA. Pittsburgh did well, going 110-42 and winning the pennant by 6.5 games over Chicago. The Pirates won the World Series in seven games over the Detroit Tigers, Leever did not see any action.
Leever finished off his major league career in 1910, going 6-5 for the Bucs with a 2.76 ERA over 111 innings pitched. He made eight starts and appeared in relief 18 times. Pittsburgh finished in third place in the NL, posting an 86-67 record.
For 12 full seasons, Leever was a model of consistency for the early century version of the Pittsburgh dynasty. He averaged less than two walks per nine innings over the course of his career, and finished up 94 games above .500. He only appeared on 0.5% of the Hall of Fame ballots in 1937, and wasn't again considered.
All-Time Statline: 13 seasons, 194-100, 2.47 ERA, 388 games, 299 starts, 241 CG, 39 shutouts, 13 saves, 2660.2 innings pitched, 2449 hits allowed, 587 walks, 847 strikeouts, 1.141 WHIP, 38.8 WAR (39.0 as a pitcher, -0.2 at the plate).